Bob Dylan reportedly recorded my favorite song of his 47 years ago — on Jan. 25, 1966. The tune is “One of Us Must Know,” 4 minutes and 59 seconds of brilliance.
It may lack the pathos of “Tangled Up in Blue” or the poignancy of “Just Like a Woman” or the bite of “Tough Mama” and so on. It probably wouldn’t show up on most lists of fans’ favorite Dylan songs (though The Man Himself cited it when he talked with Rolling Stone Editor Jann Wenner in 1969).
(No wonder Dylan was in such a good, playful, upbeat mood later that night (or early the following morning) when he showed up at the radio station WBAI in NYC and talked on the air with Bob Fass)
Why do I like it so much? So many factors. The swirling organ. The counter-point of the piano. The metronome-like drumming. The understated guitar sound. But of course, what stands out is Dylan, performing in the studio at the top of the game, driving the musicians with his cynical, wounded, angry, tender (all at once) vocal. Has Dylan — up to that point, at the very least — ever sounded more stately and skilled as a vocalist?
I also love listening again and again to the story that Dylan is relating. As usual, we listeners can’t really know for sure what the hell he is putting across to us. Is he furious? Is he trying to be kind? Sarcastic? Whimsical? Is he the victim or the perpetrator in a shattered romance of epochal proportions?
He closes the monumental achievement of a song with these words: “Sooner or later, one of us must know/That I really did?Try to get close/To You.” This verse, naturally, does almost nothing to set us listeners straight or give us an inkling about the story.
In a way, this is the signature song from the amazing Blonde on Blonde album, one of the true Everests in the history of rock and roll music, not merely one of Dylan’s high points. Blonde on Blonde is an album whose lyrics confounds us at every turn. I always liked what the great Dylan author Paul Williams once proclaimed that he thought it was: a raucous farewell to bachelorhood. Dylan had gotten married on Nov. 22, 1965, and his new wife Sara gave birth to their first son, Jesse, a little more than a month later.
Blonde on Blonde leaves us shaking our heads in all of its brilliance and mystery. With a work like, say, Blood on the Tracks, we KNOW it is Dylan telling us the tale of his marital difficulties in 1974. A decade earlier, Another Side of Bob Dylan captures him in a stolen moment, when he is turning the page to a new kind of life. It came after his final break-up with Suze and his restless farewell to finger-pointing music.
“One of Us Must Know” is tough to pin down, though. I don’t know what woman (or women) he is singing about or what happened to trigger this outpouring of brilliant singing.
I have used derivations of the word “brilliant” more than once here. I should. It’s the best description of the song.
During the tour for my book on Bob Dylan — “Forget About Today” — interviewers invariably asked me what my favorite Dylan song was. Since I had borrowed a phrase from “Mr. Tambourine Man” for my book title, I dutifully cited that classic as my all-time No. 1 Dylan tune. But to tell the truth, I was lying all along. This is the one.
JONFRIEDMAN.NET QUESTION OF THE DAY: So, where does “One of Us Must Know” rank on your list of all-time favorite Bob Dylan songs? Anybody put it at the top of the heap?
Feel free to write anything you want in response to what I presented. But as always, my dear readers, show respect for people’s feelings when you make comments here. Be civil or be gone.