Song of the Day #664: ‘One More Cup of Coffee (Valley Below)’ – Bob Dylan

I’ve referenced my Dylan Six — the six albums I consider his unqualified masterpieces — many times over the past few months. And I’ve named five of them already: The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan, Bringing it all Back Home, Highway 61 Revisited, Blonde on Blonde and Blood On the Tracks.

1976’s Desire is not the sixth. But I adore this album and I’m tempted to expand that list to a Dylan Seven just to sneak it in there. It’s one of the most musically adventurous and lyrically compelling releases of Dylan’s career and contains a few songs I count among my very favorites.

Desire was the first album of newly recorded material since Blood On the Tracks, which was released just a year earlier. In between, The Basement Tapes had finally made it to the shelves, making the period between January 1975 and January 1976 one of the most incredible years any recording artist has ever had.

For those who thought Dylan had declined post-Blonde On Blonde and John Wesley Harding, these albums served as a powerful rebuttal.

Desire stands out as one of the only albums where Dylan worked extensively with a collaborator. He teamed up with writer/psychologist Jacques Levy on seven of the album’s nine tracks. Interestingly, Levy’s contributions were to the songs’ lyrics, an area you’d think the verbose Dylan would require no help.

As it happens, my two favorite songs on Desire are the two Dylan wrote on his own. ‘One More Cup of Coffee (Valley Below)’ comes first on the album and it’s a splendid showcase for the overall sound of this record. The lush atmosphere created by the bass, drums and especially violin form a perfect backdrop for one of Dylan’s finest vocal performances. A then-unknown Emmylou Harris provides backing vocals (something she went on to do with great success for countless others).

I either read or was told once that, following the release of Desire, a young man killed both of his parents while listening to today’s SOTD and sprinkled coffee grounds on their dead bodies. I’ve always believed that to a be a true story until I came across no mention of the incident in reading up on the song today. Not one mention anywhere on the Web that I could find.

So now I’m perplexed. Where on earth did I hear this apparently completely fictitious story, and what was the motive of the twisted but inventive person who told it? If anybody out there can shed some light on this mystery, please do so.

Your breath is sweet
Your eyes are like two jewels in the sky.
Your back is straight, your hair is smooth.
On the pillow where you lie.
But I don’t sense affection
No gratitude or love
Your loyalty is not to me
But to the stars above.

One more cup of coffee for the road,
One more cup of coffee ’fore I go
To the valley below.

Your daddy he’s an outlaw
And a wanderer by trade
He’ll teach you how to pick and choose
And how to throw the blade.
He oversees his kingdom
So no stranger does intrude
His voice it trembles as he calls out
For another plate of food.

One more cup of coffee for the road,
One more cup of coffee ’fore I go
To the valley below.

Your sister sees the future
Like your mama and yourself.
You’ve never learned to read or write
There’s no books upon your shelf.
And your pleasure knows no limits
Your voice is like a meadowlark
But your heart is like an ocean
Mysterious and dark.

One more cup of coffee for the road,
One more cup of coffee ’fore I go
To the valley below.

6 thoughts on “Song of the Day #664: ‘One More Cup of Coffee (Valley Below)’ – Bob Dylan

  1. Amy says:

    You sure that wasn’t some scene you toyed with writing in a screenplay you never completed? Sounds like something you would have dreamed up as you were crafting a Tarantinoesque sequence for a film yet to be written. Either that or Dad said it after hearing you play the song one too many times 🙂

    This is the first time I’m hearing this song, and, despite the gruesome image you planted in my mind to accompany this first listen, I’m liking it very much. I always love the interplay between a gruff or unpolished voice and one that is more obviously melodic, even sweet. Harris and Dylan work so well together on this track. The lyrics are quite haunting, really. Is the “valley below” hell? I’m intrigued.

    I’m further intrigued that he cowrote songs on this album with a psychologist. What’s that all about? Do the songs have a more overt (than usual?!) presence of characters who are suffering from some psychological disorder or another? Or is Levy’s contribution something other than his psychological expertise? Fascinating.

    Anyway, it’s good to have you back. Missed you this past week.

  2. This song has always been one of my favorites on Desire. The whole modal quality of the melody and vocals lends a “gypsyesque” feel to it. Bob captured that well. In true Dylan fashion he did another completely different arrangement on the Live At Budokan album he recorded in Japan. I always liked this version better because of the layers of percussion, horns, keyboards and vocals, as well as the more driving and frenetic feel following the chorus.

    I also thought it was incomplete with no verse for the beauty’s mama, but knowing Bob and the time in his life he worked on this album, I’m sure that was intentional. I attempted to write that verse, but I think it is on my other computer. If i find it later while watching the Yankee game on that computer I’ll post it.

    Thanks for the song choice and excellent post. I look forward to hearing about your sixth favorite album.

  3. Jackie Hayden says:

    Aprt from Dylan’s own superb versions of this song, there’s a brilliant interpretation by the Turkish singer Sertab on the CD of Masked And Anoymous. The song adapts perfectly to the Middle Eastern style of this version, especially in the swaying strings and the vocal. You might also get a kindly chuckle from the singer’s attempt to pronounce the word “mysterious”.

  4. Dana says:

    This ranks among one of my favorite albums of Dylan’s as well. I remember my sister playing this album quite a bit when it came out, and it may have been one of the first times I really gravitated to Dylan. While I have always liked this SOTD, my favorites on the album were “Hurricane,” “Joey” and “Sara.”

    By the way, I had no idea this was Emmylou Harris singing with him. She really has sung with some of my favorite artists, including Costello and Lovett.

    • There were many brilliant songs on this album. Also, many creative experiments on Dylan’s part (e.g. Mozambique and Romance in Durango) which were serious departures from things he did before.

      In addition to the 3 songs you mention, I also loved Romance In Durango for its rhythmic quality and alliteration, Isis for its amazing tale of love and desperation, and Black Diamond Bay for its epic, irreverent story line.

      I was sittin’ home alone one night in L.A.
      Watchin’ old Cronkite on the seven o’clock news
      It seems there was an earthquake that
      Left nothin’ but a Panama hat
      And a pair of old Greek shoes
      Didn’t seem like much was happenin’,
      So I turned it off and went to grab another beer
      Seems like every time you turn around
      There’s another hard-luck story that you’re gonna hear.

  5. musicofbobdylan says:

    The Bob Dylan Project’s goal is to present, in an accessible way, from a database, every available piece of information related to The Music of Bob Dylan. Every Album, every Song, all the great Artists and all the Documented stories streaming on Spotify, Deezer, SoundCloud and YouTube.

    All the relevant information at the Album, Song, Artist and Document level because we link to the available source reference material from Wikipedia, the Bob Dylan website, Untold Dylan, Haiku 61, Daniel Martin, Every Song, Expecting Rain, All Dylan, Steve Hoffman, Commentaries, Music Brainz, Positively Dylan, Second Hand Songs etc. as well as the actual music.

    So when you are read and if you are interested in accessing a comprehensive anthology on this topic, then you can find the links to all the relevant information plus Bob Dylan’s recorded versions and many other related versions inside Bob Dylan’s Music Box at: http://thebobdylanproject.com/Song/id/471/One-More-Cup-of-Coffee-(Valley-Below)

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