Song of the Day #1,442: ‘Black Diamond Bay’ – Bob Dylan

When I recently counted down my list of favorite 70s albums, Blood on the Tracks was the only Bob Dylan album to make the cut. I considered adding The Basement Tapes and especially Desire to that list but ultimately decided to make room for other artists.

Listening to ‘Black Diamond Bay,’ today’s Random Weekend selection, I find myself rethinking that decision. Desire is a fabulous collection, as lyrically rich and sonically beautiful as anything Dylan has recorded.

I’d call this Dylan’s best sounding album by far, with Emmylou Harris’ backing vocals and Scarlet Rivera’s violin adding an exotic flavor that was totally new for him. And the songs, many co-written with lyricist Jacques Levy, are uniformly excellent — especially the epic story songs ‘Hurricane,’ ‘Isis’ and today’s SOTD, ‘Black Diamond Bay.’

This track describes the final hours of a group of people at an island resort that’s about to be swallowed up by an erupting volcano. In the final verse, a man watches the events as described by Walter Cronkite, then flips off the TV and grabs a beer.

Up on the white veranda
She wears a necktie and a Panama hat
Her passport shows a face
From another time and place
She looks nothin’ like that
And all the remnants of her recent past
Are scattered in the wild wind
She walks across the marble floor
Where a voice from the gambling room is callin’ her to come on in
She smiles, walks the other way
As the last ship sails and the moon fades away
From Black Diamond Bay

As the mornin’ light breaks open, the Greek comes down
And he asks for a rope and a pen that will write
“Pardon, monsieur,” the desk clerk says
Carefully removes his fez
“Am I hearin’ you right?”
And as the yellow fog is liftin’
The Greek is quickly headin’ for the second floor
She passes him on the spiral staircase
Thinkin’ he’s the Soviet Ambassador
She starts to speak, but he walks away
As the storm clouds rise and the palm branches sway
On Black Diamond Bay

A soldier sits beneath the fan
Doin’ business with a tiny man who sells him a ring
Lightning strikes, the lights blow out
The desk clerk wakes and begins to shout
“Can you see anything?”
Then the Greek appears on the second floor
In his bare feet with a rope around his neck
While a loser in the gambling room lights up a candle
Says, “Open up another deck”
But the dealer says, “Attendez-vous, s’il vous plait”
As the rain beats down and the cranes fly away
From Black Diamond Bay

The desk clerk heard the woman laugh
As he looked around the aftermath and the soldier got tough
He tried to grab the woman’s hand
Said, “Here’s a ring, it cost a grand”
She said, “That ain’t enough”
Then she ran upstairs to pack her bags
While a horse-drawn taxi waited at the curb
She passed the door that the Greek had locked
Where a handwritten sign read, “Do Not Disturb”
She knocked upon it anyway
As the sun went down and the music did play
On Black Diamond Bay

“I’ve got to talk to someone quick!”
But the Greek said, “Go away,” and he kicked the chair to the floor
He hung there from the chandelier
She cried, “Help, there’s danger near
Please open up the door!”
Then the volcano erupted
And the lava flowed down from the mountain high above
The soldier and the tiny man were crouched in the corner
Thinking of forbidden love
But the desk clerk said, “It happens every day”
As the stars fell down and the fields burned away
On Black Diamond Bay

As the island slowly sank
The loser finally broke the bank in the gambling room
The dealer said, “It’s too late now
You can take your money, but I don’t know how
You’ll spend it in the tomb”
The tiny man bit the soldier’s ear
As the floor caved in and the boiler in the basement blew
While she’s out on the balcony, where a stranger tells her
“My darling, je vous aime beaucoup”
She sheds a tear and then begins to pray
As the fire burns on and the smoke drifts away
From Black Diamond Bay

I was sittin’ home alone one night in L.A.
Watchin’ old Cronkite on the seven o’clock news
It seems there was an earthquake that
Left nothin’ but a Panama hat
And a pair of old Greek shoes
Didn’t seem like much was happenin’,
So I turned it off and went to grab another beer
Seems like every time you turn around
There’s another hard-luck story that you’re gonna hear
And there’s really nothin’ anyone can say
And I never did plan to go anyway
To Black Diamond Bay

10 thoughts on “Song of the Day #1,442: ‘Black Diamond Bay’ – Bob Dylan

  1. Dana says:

    This was the first Dylan album I ever heard, listening on my sister’s phonograph. “Joey,” “Hurricane,” “One More Cup of Coffee,” and “Sara” became instant favorites. Today’s song didn’t impact me at the time and, while it is fine enough, I don’t feel it is quite as strong as the others I mentioned.

  2. Shawn says:

    “Desire” is great, no doubt about it. But, frankly, I can hardly listen to it anymore after I heard Dylan do the songs live on Live ’75. Absolutely stunning. Ratso (author of On The Road With Bob Dylan) tried to get him to re-record the album before its release. Still, the album is a classic right out of the disco era when so much waste was produced.

  3. westiedad says:

    I love Black Diamond Bay, but probably the thing I love most is that it’s unknown to so many casual fans. Sometimes I just don’t feel like sharing. It feels like a secret for the privileged few. Selfish, huh?

  4. funisnumberone says:

    This song and Romance in Durango – “hoofbeats like castanets on stone” is one of my favorite of all Dylan lines – are my favorites on this terrific album. Good choice on this one…

  5. Borkford Shoothood says:

    Are you worried that if you don’t have this blog firing off onto expectingrain on auto that people might not read it?

  6. Clay says:

    No… I probably wouldn’t have written about more than 1,300 songs not by Bob Dylan if I was concerned about that! But I do enjoy hearing the perspectives of Dylan fans who find this blog through that excellent website.

  7. Walter B says:

    i love it when Bob intertwines the stories of some “real life” people, (watch his Santa Claus video where he does a similar visual thing) i.e the Greek, the woman with the Panama hat, the soldier, the tiny man, the casino loser and yes the dealer calmly sharing the omniscient truth : ” you can take your money, but I don’t know how you will spend it in the tomb ‘.

    I was 17, already 3 years into Dylan, and the first time I found Desire a bit too easy to swallow melodically . Scarlet Riviera, however, saved the authenticity. Bob’s lyrics were more accessible than ever. 36 years later on, I indeed prefer the life versions and the sheer raw power that exudes from many of those sessions.

    Life was a circus and Bob the narrator, a bit the “August” type of clown with the whitened cheeks, yes the medieval bard with a sense of compassion and urgency to communicate his (yes already then) very biblical message to his audience,

  8. andrea katz says:

    Wow, I know i am the Rip Van Winkle of timing but I never enjoyed the blog as much as today. First the song from one of my all time favorite albums and songwriters…hadn’t heard it in so long. Then remembering the Rolling Thunder Review, Gainesvelle 1975. Good lord, that is some very fine nostalgia. Then the comments and poetry of the fans’ comments…well, I am one contented woman today. Thanks.

  9. musicofbobdylan says:

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  10. joe sabbagh says:

    Nowhere in the world is a body of water called Black Diamond Bay; in fiction, however it does exist: in a Joseph Conrad novel called Victory: an Island Tale. It dawned on me the moment I saw it—Conrad is right down Dylan’s alley, and this story in particular would appeal to him. Like a magpie, Bob saw the phrase in the same book I did, and made it his own. The story contains a hotel, a beautiful woman in distress, and a smoking volcano…

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