Song of the Day #686: ‘Every Grain of Sand’ – Bob Dylan

1981’s Shot of Love is another of those notorious albums which have been called Dylan’s worst by fans and critics alike (and I’m guessing a ranking of Dylan album covers would see this one near the bottom of the list as well).

It’s another album I don’t own, so I can’t side with the detractors or the equally passionate fans of Shot of Love. But I will say that a trip through the album via 45-second sound samples left me a lot more intrigued than depressed. Sure, the album seems to lack focus (it introduces secular subject matter into the mix, despite being his third Christian album in a row) but it sounds pretty damn good.

I find myself wanting to revisit a number of these songs, including the title track, ‘Heart of Mine,’ ‘The Groom’s Still Waiting at the Altar’ (a bluesy rocker that Dylan added to the tracklist several years after the album’s initial release), the sublime ‘In the Summertime’ and of course today’s Song of the Day.

‘Every Grain of Sand’ is one of Dylan’s loveliest melodies and lyrics, and one of his finest vocal performances. Elvis Costello, in an essay on ‘500 essential albums‘ praised it thus:

Sometimes an album contains just one indispensable song. Shot of Love may not be your favorite Bob Dylan record, but it might contain his best song: “Every Grain of Sand.”

I wouldn’t go that far, but I’d definitely put it in the top tier. It’s lovely, profound and just about perfect.

In the time of my confession, in the hour of my deepest need
When the pool of tears beneath my feet flood every newborn seed
There’s a dyin’ voice within me reaching out somewhere
Toiling in the danger and in the morals of despair

Don’t have the inclination to look back on any mistake
Like Cain, I now behold this chain of events that I must break
In the fury of the moment I can see the Master’s hand
In every leaf that trembles, in every grain of sand

Oh, the flowers of indulgence and the weeds of yesteryear
Like criminals, they have choked the breath of conscience and good cheer
The sun beat down upon the steps of time to light the way
To ease the pain of idleness and the memory of decay

I gaze into the doorway of temptation’s angry flame
And every time I pass that way I always hear my name
Then onward in my journey I come to understand
That every hair is numbered like every grain of sand

I have gone from rags to riches in the sorrow of the night
In the violence of a summer’s dream, in the chill of a wintry light
In the bitter dance of loneliness fading into space
In the broken mirror of innocence on each forgotten face

I hear the ancient footsteps like the motion of the sea
Sometimes I turn, there’s someone there, other times it’s only me
I am hanging in the balance of the reality of man
Like every sparrow falling, like every grain of sand

Listen to the song at this link

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8 thoughts on “Song of the Day #686: ‘Every Grain of Sand’ – Bob Dylan

  1. Jerry says:

    I think that one of the big problem with ‘Shot Of Love’ lies in the shoddy production, rather than overall quality of the songs. If more thought had been put into the title track, ‘In the Summertime’, ‘Watered-Down Love’ and ‘Dead Man, Dead Man’, there would have been the makings of a classic. Add to that the fact that Dylan left of a handful of great songs recorded at the same sessions, including, as you note, ‘Groom’ from the original release, and it makes you think that maybe ‘Shot Of Love’ could have been up there with best of Bob’s out-put. You’re spot-on about the greatness of ‘Every Grain Of Sand.

  2. First off, the album cover. I agree, it’s probably the worst of all Dylan’s covers, but the “cheesy” (for lack of a better word) cover of Knocked Out Loaded ain’t far behind. The only redeeming quality of Knocked Out Loaded for me was the epic “Brownsville Girl”.

    Love the opening verse:

    Well, there was this movie I seen one time
    About a man riding ’cross the desert and it starred Gregory Peck
    He was shot down by a hungry kid trying to make a name for himself
    The townspeople wanted to crush that kid down and string him up by the neck.

    Anyway, back to Shot of Love.

    Every Grain of Sand is truly a Dylan masterpiece, and one of his finer works of art. I think Harrison did a cover of it and the demo is out on Youtube.

    The stylistic differences between some of the verses is staggering.
    Consider the straightforward, light on imagery verse :

    Don’t have the inclination to look back on any mistake
    Like Cain, I now behold this chain of events that I must break
    In the fury of the moment I can see the Master’s hand
    In every leaf that trembles, in every grain of sand

    Followed by this one whose imagery is breathtaking (at least to me).
    Oh, the flowers of indulgence and the weeds of yesteryear
    Like criminals, they have choked the breath of conscience and good cheer
    The sun beat down upon the steps of time to light the way
    To ease the pain of idleness and the memory of decay.

    I liked the songs mentioned in your post and in the comment from Jerry, and also loved “Lenny Bruce”. He did a version on the tour with Petty and the Heartbreakers that rocked a bit more and is on the video they released from the Australian tour.

    My favorites on the album were, in order:
    Every grain of Sand
    In The Summertime
    Lenny Bruce
    Heart of Mine

    Thanks for the great post, and keep up the good work.

  3. Dana says:

    As I listen to this SOTD and think about the general dismissal of Dylan’s born again phase, I am wondering if a great songwriter can ever really create “bad” music. It seems to me that when you have such tremendous innate talent, you almost need to make a willful effort to create crap.

    And so, with this phase of Dylan’s music, I suppose it would be alarming not to find wonderful moments laced into these records, and this song certainly seems to be one of them. Still not fond of the subject matter, but, as others above have suggested, Dylan’s lyrics here are compelling and the music is quite good.

  4. walker says:

    The bootleg version on Bootleg vol 1-3 is most awesome with the dog barking in the background. It’s like God is speaking through the dog, and he likes the song.

  5. HANSinFRANCE says:

    Elvis is spot on…..EGOS is the very best Dylansong ever…with or without the dog, I prefer without I think or live….not only is it Bob’s best, I don’t know of any other song by any other person that hits every single soul’s existence and every person’s path with such depth and profondness then this Masterpiece…no need to sing When I Paint My Masterpiece anymore after this really….no other song by no other artist comes close and probably never will…this is the very essence of life in a few “simple” lines….it’s unbelievable man is capable of putting this on writing and staying human….he probably ain’t would be my conclusion…..woof, woof!

  6. Joe B says:

    A truly great album & EGOS is a certified masterpiece. I do agree about the production (excepting EGOS). Too much 80’s-heavy snare reverb & compression. They should do a re-mix/master. However, there are a lot of great songs on this record.

  7. Peter Evans from Australia says:

    Song of the day? EGOS should be song of the century. Dylan recorded some absolute gems at the Shot Of Love sessions. You will find some of them in ‘The Bootleg Series Vol 1 – 3’. Check out ‘Angelina’ – it’s up there with his greatest. Thats the the thing with Bob, no matter how bad or mediocre some of his albums are, there is always a jewell to be found. Try ‘Blind Willie McTell’ & ‘Foot Of Pride’ from the “Infedels’ sessions – also on Bootleg Series Vol 1-3.

    • HANSinFRANCE says:

      Song of the century? Peter, I absolutely second that! Maybe better still: Song of the Millenium, if not…what about Song of the Universe? I am not kidding when I say, that I consider it entails all that matters in Life, Creation, the Universe and All! Totally agree also on your second point, Angelina is Immense and so is Foot of pride! Singing “Amazing Grace” all the way to the Swiss Banks is “price”less! There ain’t no going back… 😉

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