Song of the Day #1,458: ‘It Takes a Lot to Laugh, It Takes a Train to Cry’ – Bob Dylan

Best Albums of the 60s – #5
Highway 61 Revisited – Bob Dylan (1965)

It never ceases to amaze me that Bob Dylan’s Highway 61 Revisited was released just five months after Bringing it all Back Home. And to top that off, The Beatles released Help! and Rubber Soul in the four following months.

How amazing must it have been to be a music fan in the mid-60s? Not just every year but seemingly every month brought some new masterwork by a rotating cast of artists who were in the process of defining popular music.

Kids today get what? Justin Bieber and Katy Perry?

While half of Bringing it all Back Home was electric, Highway 61 Revisited exhibited no such split personality. This was a folk rock album with the emphasis on rock. From the opening notes of ‘Like a Rolling Stone,’ it was clear that Dylan had flipped the musical apple cart.

‘Like a Rolling Stone’ is the most celebrated track on the album, but this record also features the classics ‘Desolation Row,’ ‘Queen Jane Approximately,’ ‘Just Like Tom Thumb’s Blues’ and ‘Ballad of a Thin Man,’ as well as the title track and today’s SOTD. Every song is packed with vicious, clever wordplay and performed by a band on a mission.

I don’t know if Dylan ever sounded more focused or driven than he does on this album.

Well, I ride on a mailtrain, baby
Can’t buy a thrill
Well, I’ve been up all night, baby
Leanin’ on the windowsill
Well, if I die
On top of the hill
And if I don’t make it
You know my baby will

Don’t the moon look good, mama
Shinin’ through the trees?
Don’t the brakeman look good, mama
Flagging down the “Double E?”
Don’t the sun look good
Goin’ down over the sea?
Don’t my gal look fine
When she’s comin’ after me?

Now the wintertime is coming
The windows are filled with frost
I went to tell everybody
But I could not get across
Well, I wanna be your lover, baby
I don’t wanna be your boss
Don’t say I never warned you
When your train gets lost

3 thoughts on “Song of the Day #1,458: ‘It Takes a Lot to Laugh, It Takes a Train to Cry’ – Bob Dylan

  1. Dana says:

    An amazing time for great music indeed, and a great album deservedly high ranked. I just heard the title track the other day and it just put a big smile on my face.

  2. Shawn says:

    Such an iconic beginning to a song, that little flick on the bass string and then a bluesy strum. Just as memorable as the snare drum snap on Like A Rolling Stone. There is something so off kilter about this tune, its hard to understand how the take didn’t fall apart somehow during the recording. Folsom Prison, another song with train metaphor, is more straight ahead trying to sound like a train, it chugs along nicely, though I think its imitation is more obvious. But here the train is rickety, old, and clamoring slowly down the tracks, coming in seemingly on its last ride. The piano player, it seems to me, is being a little defensive (or is demonstrating expertise), as if trying to fit in a few flicks on the keys so he doesn’t play too long and get out of time. I’ve heard this song for years and I still can’t sing along with Bob and predict when he is coming in with a “Well” or how long he is going to hold a note or sing a particular word. You hear the basic blues shuffle in the background, and you can listen to a thousand others in the same key with the same rhythm, but it won’t stick with you five minutes after its ends. Then there is that harmonica. Here the whole band and Dylan are being cool, laid back, grooving away in their own time, and Bob decides he’s just going to start blasting away on the harmonica over everything else. Its the whistle of that out of date train screaming out for once last chance to show it still has the right stuff.

  3. Phil says:

    Wow, if this is number 5, I can’t wait to see what you have as number 1.

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