Song of the Day #790: ‘Positively 4th Street’ – Bob Dylan

My sister, who has been reading this blog from the beginning and listening to me talk about movies and music for more than three decades, has been a real trouper when it comes to these Dylan Weekends. She’s not the world’s biggest Dylan fan (though she likes and appreciates him) and isn’t exactly thrilled to take the scenic route through every step of the man’s career.

Recently she e-mailed me asking that I at least throw in some of the hits, “like ‘Positively 4th Street’ or ‘Just Like a Woman.’ So this weekend is for her.

We kick off with ‘Positively 4th Street,’ a Dylan classic that was released as a single and never appeared on an album other than Greatest Hits. It bridged the gap between Highway 61 Revisited and Blonde On Blonde and what a memorable bridge it is.

This simple track without a proper chorus is among the most straight-forward and blunt pieces Dylan has ever recorded — a 4-minute “Fuck you!”

Lots of speculation exists about who might have been the target of this lashing (it’s similar to Carly Simon’s ‘You’re So Vain’ in that regard) and the consensus seems to be that it’s a reaction to the attacks on his switch from folk to rock music, and might be directed at any number of people who bashed him for that evolution.

You got a lotta nerve
To say you are my friend
When I was down
You just stood there grinning

You got a lotta nerve
To say you got a helping hand to lend
You just want to be on
The side that’s winning

You say I let you down
You know it’s not like that
If you’re so hurt
Why then don’t you show it

You say you lost your faith
But that’s not where it’s at
You had no faith to lose
And you know it

I know the reason
That you talk behind my back
I used to be among the crowd
You’re in with

Do you take me for such a fool
To think I’d make contact
With the one who tries to hide
What he don’t know to begin with

You see me on the street
You always act surprised
You say, “How are you?” “Good luck”
But you don’t mean it

When you know as well as me
You’d rather see me paralyzed
Why don’t you just come out once
And scream it

No, I do not feel that good
When I see the heartbreaks you embrace
If I was a master thief
Perhaps I’d rob them

And now I know you’re dissatisfied
With your position and your place
Don’t you understand
It’s not my problem

I wish that for just one time
You could stand inside my shoes
And just for that one moment
I could be you

Yes, I wish that for just one time
You could stand inside my shoes
You’d know what a drag it is
To see you

5 thoughts on “Song of the Day #790: ‘Positively 4th Street’ – Bob Dylan

  1. Here’s a different take on the song (and I like yours).

  2. Amy says:

    First, thank you! 🙂

    I can’t believe this song was never on an album. That would be an intriguing list – best songs never actually released on an album…. I wonder what other songs fall into that category.

    This song is one that I have had a strong reaction to from the first moment I ever heard it (likely as a child on our parents’ Greatest Hits reel to reel), though I surely had no reason to connect with the lyrics then. I’m sure it was a combination of intrigue at the title and curiosity about what this person had done to so thoroughly piss off the singer/speaker. Regardless, I just found it like a thunderbolt that couldn’t be ignored.

    In the many years since, it has that same effect on me whenever I hear it. I’ve featured it in lessons about tone for my students, I’ve linked it to particular characters in films and books, but mostly I just stop and marvel at three stanzas/verses that get me every time I listen:

    You say I let you down
    You know it’s not like that
    If you’re so hurt
    Why then don’t you show it

    You say you lost your faith
    But that’s not where it’s at
    You had (have?) no faith to lose
    And you know it

    I know the reason
    That you talk behind my back
    I used to be among the crowd
    You’re in with

    I’m endlessly intrigued by the notion that the speaker of the lyrics is the one actually painted as the “bad guy” in this relationship. This is his public decry against that depiction to one who might have everyone else fooled but certainly isn’t fooling our singer.

    And, of course, how can you not instantly fall in love with any song that starts off “You got a lotta nerve” – the use of 2nd person immediately puts the listener in the hot seat. Do I? What have I done? The interpretation that suggests this song is intended for his listeners/critics makes that choice all the more apt, certainly, but I like to think that he’s just randomly calling us out. After all, there’s a pretty good chance that many of us might deserve such a lashing.

  3. Dana says:

    Stumpzian—that video is hysterical!

    As for Amy’s question regarding great songs or hits that never made it to released albums, I would think the Beatles top that list. It’s stunning to me that songs such as “She Loves You,” “I Want to Hold Your Hand,” “We Can Work it Out,” “Paperback Writer,” “Strawberry Fields Forever,” “Penny Lane,” “All You Need is Love,” “I Am the Walrus,” “Hello Goodbye,” “Lady Madonna,” and “Hey Jude” never were on studio releases. How many other artists would give a lung just to have any one of those songs grace any one of their releases?

  4. Caught this version out there in the hinterlands after watching Stumpzian’s.

    Nice one, great band including Larry Campbell at the time.

    Keep up the good work!

  5. fred fat says:

    astounding song then and now

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