Song of the Day #685: ‘Pressing On’ – Bob Dylan

1980 saw the release of Saved, the born-again-iest of Dylan’s born-again Christian albums.

Full disclosure here: my prejudice against both gospel music and organized religion makes me distrust and even dislike albums like this without even hearing a bar. The very thought of it creeps me out.

But I have a greater calling here, one that has me exploring all of the Dylan albums I’ve avoided through the years, and I have to admit this is one of the more interesting detours.

Slow Train Coming was a happy surprise, not least because of the musical influence of guitarist Mark Knopfler (who, by some accounts, was as creeped out by Dylan’s evangelizing as I am). I haven’t heard Saved in its entirety but what I’ve heard seems to lack the groove and polish of its predecessor.

It does feature a gospel choir, though, and that’s either a good or bad thing depending on your tastes. I generally don’t care for it, especially when paired with Dylan’s croak, but once in awhile I can sort of see what he’s going for. And there’s something charming in the earnestness of this album.

I’ve been fascinated by the comments around the Web about Saved, which seem to split between “shit” and “one of his best albums” not so much based on the music but on the religious affiliation of the commenter. Born-again Dylan fans find something beautiful and meaningful in his exploration of their shared religion… the rest of us feel like we’ve been cornered by a Bible-toting weirdo with strong convictions and a lot of free time.

And I hate to say it, but I sort of envy the converted. Not because of their faith but because of the impact they feel from the music. I look for new music all the time in large part because I’m seeking that feeling… the transcendence you feel when something beautiful and meaningful hits you just the right way. If Dylan was able to do that for a large group of people through these Christian albums, more power to him.

Me, I’ll stick with the religious experiences I get from a dozen of his secular albums.

‘Pressing On’ is the song I know best from Saved because it was featured in Todd Haynes’ I’m Not There. And despite the creep-out factor, I actually like it quite a bit.

Well I’m pressing on
Yes, I’m pressing on
Well I’m pressing on
To the higher calling of my Lord

Many try to stop me, shake me up in my mind
Say, “Prove to me that He is Lord, show me a sign”
What kind of sign they need when it all come from within
When what’s lost has been found, what’s to come has already been?

Well I’m pressing on
Yes, I’m pressing on
Well I’m pressing on
To the higher calling of my Lord

Shake the dust off of your feet, don’t look back
Nothing now can hold you down, nothing that you lack
Temptation’s not an easy thing, Adam given the devil reign
Because he sinned I got no choice, it run in my vein

Well I’m pressing on
Yes, I’m pressing on
Well I’m pressing on
To the higher calling of my Lord

7 thoughts on “Song of the Day #685: ‘Pressing On’ – Bob Dylan

  1. Richard Wells says:

    Saved is a tough album to like. Whereas Slow Train has that Knopfler veneer, Saved is gut-bucket. It’s either inner-city or back woods, I don’t know, but it is closer to that “old weird America” that Dylan inhabits. Every song has a biblical reference – Dylan was definitely studying the “Book.” Musically I think it’s one of Dylan’s more kick-ass, unpolished albums, and brilliant in its own right, and lyrically, Saving Grace and What Can I do for You are heartfelt – in fact all the songs are, though some are better written than others. I can’t stand evangelical Christianity, but I do like Saved, and it’s for the gut-bucket sound and feel.

  2. Dana says:

    I actually like gospel at times, like when Lyle Lovett ventures down that road, I think he does it quite well. Of course, Lovett often does gospel with a wink and a nod to some of the absurdities of religion, while also remaining respectful at the same time.

    This SOTD is interesting enough musically, but the overt bible thumping lyrics ultimately just turns me off.

  3. mernitman says:

    Just to say that as a longtime Dylan lover, I like the way you’re approaching his work – interesting post, and thank you for blogrolling me!

  4. Joe B says:

    I feel that Saved is his best gospel album. With legendary Jerry Wexler producing (he did a lot of Aretha & so much more), the sound, the vibe is intoxicating. I’m not born again or anything, but this is a great record. I’ve been a life-long Dylan admirer, & when this came out, I didn’t buy it. It wasn’t until a couple of years ago that I bought it (in the cut-out bin at Sounds -St Marks;NYC). When I first played it, I was astonished. The completeness of the record slays. I urge the author of this blog to listen to the entire record.

  5. Clay says:

    Thanks for the comment, Joe… I intend to do just that. I’ve found that all of the Dylan albums I’ve picked up after years of avoiding them have pleasantly surprised me in one way or another.

  6. Bob Jesus says:

    stick to the music reviews and please avoid any personal comments toward the faith of others pease. it would be much appreciated. what’s truly creepy is people like you and their pessimism of peope of faith.

  7. Clay says:

    Thanks for the comment, Bob, but while music (and to a lesser extent, film) are the principal subjects I blog about, I don’t limit my commentary to the sounds and images.

    I can’t very well write about Dylan’s “Christian period” without commenting on the whole “Christian” thing.

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