Song of the Day #784: ‘Tangled Up in Blue (Demo)’ – Bob Dylan

My favorite tracks on Bob Dylan’s first Bootleg Series release are the demo versions of two other Blood On the Tracks classics.

The first is ‘Idiot Wind,’ which I featured on the blog nearly two years ago. That slow, aching version of a song that became so frantic and angry on the finished record, is one of the finest Dylan recordings I’ve heard.

It’s partner is today’s track, ‘Tangled Up in Blue,’ which hews closer to the final version but is equally enchanting.

One notable difference between the two versions of this song is Dylan’s use of the first person in the opening verses of the album track. In this version, Dylan sings those early verses in third person before switching to first person about midway through. That shift reminds me of a similar moment in ‘Simple Twist of Fate,’ when Dylan goes from singing in third person about a couple sitting together in the park before commenting “I remember well” almost as an afterthought.

As Dylan explained this toying with narrative voice:

“I was trying to deal with the concept of time, and the way the characters change from the first person to the third person, and you’re never sure if the first person is talking or the third person. But as you look at the whole thing it really doesn’t matter.”

My favorite touch on this recording is the light clacking sound you hear occasionally beneath the music. It’s the sound of Dylan’s cuff links brushing against his guitar as he strums. That little inadvertent detail puts me right there in the room with him, as he sits in front of a microphone with just his guitar and this masterpiece of a song and lays it all out. I prefer this version to the more polished studio cut for that reason.

Early one mornin’ the sun was shinin’
He was layin’ in bed
Wond’rin’ if she’d changed at all
If her hair was still red
Her folks they said our lives together
Sure was gonna be rough
They never did like Mama’s homemade dress
Papa’s bankbook wasn’t big enough
And he was standin’ on the side of the road
Rain fallin’ on his shoes
Heading out for the old East Coast
Lord knows he’s paid some dues gettin’ through
Tangled up in blue

She was married when they first met
Soon to be divorced
He helped her out of a jam, I guess
But he used a little too much force
And they drove that car as far as they could
Abandoned it out West
Split up on a dark sad night
Both agreeing it was best
She turned around to look at him
As he was walkin’ away
She said, “This can’t be the end.
“We’ll meet again someday on the avenue”
Tangled up in blue

He had a job in the old north woods
Working as a cook for a spell
But he never did like it all that much
And one day the ax just fell
So he drifted down to L.A.
Where he reckoned to try his luck
Workin’ for a while at an airplane plant
Loading cargo onto a truck
But all the while he was alone
The past was close behind
He seen a lot of women
But she never escaped his mind, and he just grew
Tangled up in blue

She was workin’ in a topless place
And I stopped in for a beer
I just kept lookin’ at the side of her face
In the spotlight so clear
And later on as the crowd thinned out
I’s about to do the same
She was standing there in back of my chair
Said to me, “What’s your name?”
I muttered somethin’ underneath my breath
She studied the lines on my face
I must admit I felt a little uneasy
When she bent down to tie the laces of my shoe
Tangled up in blue

She lit a burner on the stove
And offered me a pipe
“I thought you’d never say hello,” she said
“You look like the silent type”
Then she opened up a book of poems
And handed it to me
Written by an Italian poet
From the thirteenth century
And every one of them words rang true
And glowed like burnin’ coal
Pourin’ off of every page
Like it was written in my soul from me to you
Tangled up in blue

He was always in a hurry
Too busy or too stoned
And everything she ever planned
Just had to be postponed
He thought they were successful
She thought they were blessed
With objects and material things
But I never was impressed
And when it all came crashing down
I became withdrawn
The only thing I knew how to do
Was to keep on keepin’ on like a bird that flew
Tangled up in blue

So now I’m goin’ back again
I got to get to her somehow
All the people we used to know
They’re an illusion to me now
Some are mathematicians
Some are doctors’ wives
Don’t know how it all got started
I don’t know what they’re doin’ with their lives
But me, I’m still on the road
Headin’ for another joint
We always did feel the same
We just saw it from a different point of view
Tangled up in blue

One thought on “Song of the Day #784: ‘Tangled Up in Blue (Demo)’ – Bob Dylan

  1. Dana says:

    I was wondering what that clicking was. Thanks for clearing that up.

    This isn’t the version to which I was referring in previous posts. I think the one I have heard may have been a live acoustic version? Not sure.

    Anyway, I can see why you might favor this version. The singing is a bit more low key, and I’m not the biggest fan of Dylan’s harmonica playing generally–it can get a bit monotonous.

    Still, in whatever version, I maintain this is Dylan’s best song, period.

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