Song of the Day #679: ‘When He Returns’ – Bob Dylan

I could have gone with any of the remaining eight tracks on Slow Train Coming to finish off this weekend.

‘Slow Train’ and ‘Gonna Change My Way of Thinking’ are two fine examples of how Dylan does the blues better than most (the latter boasts a guitar lick straight out of the Clapton songbook).

‘I Believe in You’ is a beautiful gospel ballad with a melody that sounds so familiar to me that I’m sure it was either stolen or has been stolen, though I’m not sure which.

‘When You Gonna Wake Up?’ is the funkiest white-boy Christian rock song you’ll ever hear.

The oddest, and somehow most addictive, song on the album is ‘Man Gave Names to All the Animals,’ which boasts verse after verse of straight-faced nursery rhyme brilliance like this:

He saw an animal up on a hill
Chewing up so much grass until she was filled.
He saw milk comin’ out but he didn’t know how.
“Ah, think I’ll call it a cow.”

But I chose to go with the album closer (how many album closers does that make it now on the Dylan Weekends?), ‘When He Returns.’ This is a beautiful piano ballad that really captures the spirit behind Dylan’s religious awakening.

This is the plea of a man who made it to the very top and found nothing waiting for him. Can you blame Bob Dylan, so many things to so many people, for wanting to “surrender [his] crown” and “lay down [his] mask?”

The iron hand it ain’t no match for the iron rod,
The strongest wall will crumble and fall to a mighty God.
For all those who have eyes and all those who have ears
It is only He who can reduce me to tears.
Don’t you cry and don’t you die and don’t you burn
For like a thief in the night, He’ll replace wrong with right
When He returns.

Truth is an arrow and the gate is narrow that it passes through,
He unleashed His power at an unknown hour that no one knew.
How long can I listen to the lies of prejudice?
How long can I stay drunk on fear out in the wilderness?
Can I cast it aside, all this loyalty and this pride?
Will I ever learn that there’ll be no peace, that the war won’t cease
Until He returns?

Surrender your crown on this blood-stained ground, take off your mask,
He sees your deeds, He knows your needs even before you ask.
How long can you falsify and deny what is real?
How long can you hate yourself for the weakness you conceal?
Of every earthly plan that be known to man, He is unconcerned,
He’s got plans of His own to set up His throne
When He returns.

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3 thoughts on “Song of the Day #679: ‘When He Returns’ – Bob Dylan

  1. Dana says:

    have to admit it, a decent enough song, at least musically, though not one I would feel the need to hear again.

    Of course, if this album represents the best of the born again phase, I am bracing for the worst:)

  2. Will says:

    Great vocal. Great passion. Great song. Glad he didn’t pay atttention to the culturally-elite Christian haters of the time (and this time!).

  3. Dave says:

    How could anyone possibly miss the prophetic nature of this song? He wrote it 10 yrs. before the iron curtain fell. It’s an awesome tune.

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