Song of the Day #1,460: ‘Visions of Johanna’ – Bob Dylan

Best Albums of the 60s – #3
Blonde on Blonde – The Beatles (1966)

A couple of days ago I was expressing my shock that Bringing it all Back Home, Highway 61 Revisited, Help! and Rubber Soul were all released in 1965.

Well, in 1966, add Dylan’s Blonde on Blonde and The Beatles’ Revolver to the mix (not to mention Simon & Garfunkel’s Sounds of Silence and The Beach Boys’ Pet Sounds.

I grew up in the wrong decade, man!

Though I generally call Blood On the Tracks Dylan’s best album, and I do have one more Dylan favorite to come on this list, I can easily make an argument that Blonde On Blonde is his most fully-realized masterpiece. This double album runs 73 minutes without a weak moment and features some of Dylan’s most enduring classics (including ‘Sad Eyed Lady of the Lowlands,’ ‘Just Like a Woman’ and ‘Visions of Johanna,’ today’s SOTD).

Complementing the serious fare are lighthearted gems such as ‘I Want You,’ ‘Rainy Day Women #12 & 35’ and my personal favorite, ‘Leopard-Skin Pill-Box Hat.’ The record’s tonal shifts are executed masterfully — it’s a case study in how to sequence an album.

Blonde On Blonde is the first album following the shell shock of Dylan’s shift from folk to rock, the first to succeed on its own terms without being tied up in a discussion over what it represents. And it sounds like it — confident, brazen and brand-new.

Dylan would suffer his infamous motorcycle accident shortly after this album came out and change the focus of his music once again, producing the country folk of John Wesley Harding and Nashville Skyline and the offbeat Americana of The Basement Tapes. Blonde On Blonde stands alone as the pinnacle achievement of those early years.

Ain’t it just like the night to play tricks when you’re tryin’ to be so quiet?
We sit here stranded, though we’re all doin’ our best to deny it
And Louise holds a handful of rain, temptin’ you to defy it
Lights flicker from the opposite loft
In this room the heat pipes just cough
The country music station plays soft
But there’s nothing, really nothing to turn off
Just Louise and her lover so entwined
And these visions of Johanna that conquer my mind

In the empty lot where the ladies play blindman’s bluff with the key chain
And the all-night girls they whisper of escapades out on the “D” train
We can hear the night watchman click his flashlight
Ask himself if it’s him or them that’s really insane
Louise, she’s all right, she’s just near
She’s delicate and seems like the mirror
But she just makes it all too concise and too clear
That Johanna’s not here
The ghost of ’lectricity howls in the bones of her face
Where these visions of Johanna have now taken my place

Now, little boy lost, he takes himself so seriously
He brags of his misery, he likes to live dangerously
And when bringing her name up
He speaks of a farewell kiss to me
He’s sure got a lotta gall to be so useless and all
Muttering small talk at the wall while I’m in the hall
How can I explain?
Oh, it’s so hard to get on
And these visions of Johanna, they kept me up past the dawn

Inside the museums, Infinity goes up on trial
Voices echo this is what salvation must be like after a while
But Mona Lisa musta had the highway blues
You can tell by the way she smiles
See the primitive wallflower freeze
When the jelly-faced women all sneeze
Hear the one with the mustache say, “Jeeze
I can’t find my knees”
Oh, jewels and binoculars hang from the head of the mule
But these visions of Johanna, they make it all seem so cruel

The peddler now speaks to the countess who’s pretending to care for him
Sayin’, “Name me someone that’s not a parasite and I’ll go out and say a prayer for him”
But like Louise always says
“Ya can’t look at much, can ya man?”
As she, herself, prepares for him
And Madonna, she still has not showed
We see this empty cage now corrode
Where her cape of the stage once had flowed
The fiddler, he now steps to the road
He writes ev’rything’s been returned which was owed
On the back of the fish truck that loads
While my conscience explodes
The harmonicas play the skeleton keys and the rain
And these visions of Johanna are now all that remain

3 thoughts on “Song of the Day #1,460: ‘Visions of Johanna’ – Bob Dylan

  1. […] Wesley Harding and Nashville Skyline and the offbeat Americana of The … … Visit link: Song of the Day #1460: 'Visions of Johanna' – Bob Dylan « Meet Me … ← 23 Feel-Good Breakup Songs | Jazzed Los Angeles Praguefrank's Country Music […]

  2. Hard to argue with this pick, as it certainly amongst Dylan’s best albums. For what it’s worth though, I’ve never liked “I Want You.” The chorus just annoys me. Otherwise, there are some incredible songs on this record, including today’s SOTD.

  3. Ned says:

    Great choice — and this album towers above most in this extraordinary period in music. And this song — jesus, every verse has one (or more!) lines that are just crazy and brilliant, like ‘The ghost of ’lectricity howls in the bones of her face’. What do you do for an encore after an album like this but crash your bike and turn country?

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