"Torch Songs" and "Cast Iron Ballads": Deep Cuts from the Planet Waves Era

On his 1973 album Planet Waves, Bob Dylan seems to be caught in between two words: the domestic tranquility represented by New Morning and the dark sad night of Blood on the Tracks. Songs like "On a Night Like This" represent that maybe the party with friends far and wide isn't quite over, while "Forever Young" serves as a touching tribute to his children, a truly moving and heartfelt song that uplifts the sacred duty of parenthood to the spiritual.

We've got friends, children, and big dreams, but what else? The romance. There are four major songs of romantic involvement from this era that also are worth mentioning: "Nobody 'Cept You", "The Wedding Song", "Dirge", and "Going, Going, Gone".

"Nobody 'Cept You", a tune recorded for Planet Waves that didn't see the light of day until the first Bootleg Series in 1991. Everything about the song, from the sound to the lyrical content, suggests it would've fit snugly on Planet Waves, but never made the cut.



The song follows a simple G-D-G chord pattern only to be thrown off with some scattered E minor and C chords. In other words, the song seems to be hesitant at first, but Dylan jumps in the melodic saddle around the ten-second mark. From that point on, Dylan and his band are locked in, as a distant organ pairs with a sliding lead guitar to provide a simple, yet somehow intense accompaniment to "raw Dylan"- the man and his acoustic.

For a song that clocks less than three minutes, it packs a lot of punch. It is a song of utter devotion, a song that captures Dylan at his mid 1970's peak, as the singer catches the rhythm of Robbie Robertson's lead guitar exclaiming that he's "a stranger here and no one sees me" and that "everyone wants my attention/ everyone's got something to sell' 'cept you/ yeah you". This self-described "torch" or "cast-iron" ballad is as raw as they come, as it presents romantic love as a shelter from the storm.



28 years later, the singer would echo a similar lament in his masterpiece "Mississippi"- "walking through the leaves/ falling from the trees/ feel like a stranger/ nobody sees".

Also from the Planet Waves era lies another hidden gem: "The Wedding Song", which sounds like it has one foot in the sentiments of romantic commitment featured on Planet Waves and the other in his songs of romantic lament on 1975's Blood on the Tracks. "The Wedding Song", much like "Nobody 'Cept You", it is a song of devotion- "I love you more than ever more than time/ more than love/ I love you more than money/ more than the stars above" and a song of brokenness in equal parts- "what's lost is lost/ we can't regain what went down in the flood". There's a certain sense of trouble, here, on Dylan's part, as his steady playing on the acoustic guitar works in unison with his desperate voice to give light to a song that contains deep layers of love, fear, loneliness, and community.

Dylan would claim on the pitch-black, regret-filled lament "Dirge" that "there are some who worship loneliness/ I'm not one of them/ in this age of fiberglass I'm searching for a gem/ the crystal ball up on the wall/ has it shown me nothing yet?/ I've paid the price of solitude/ but at least I'm out of debt". If "Nobody 'Cept You" and "The Wedding Song" have some hope and desperation in them, "Dirge" just has the desperation. The death rattle of the acoustic guitar pairs with a piano that paints a bleak, yet emotionally moving picture.

Lastly, the second track of Planet Waves, "Going, Going, Gone", bids farewell. Unlike "Nobody 'Cept You" and the "Wedding Song", there isn't an expression of desire and love detected in this song. Instead, a sort of resignation takes hold, underneath a veneer of piano, drums, and a snarky lead guitar. "Going, Going, Gone" also features Bob ignoring his grandmother's advice to don't "let you and your one true love ever part".

Taken together, these (almost) four songs off of Planet Waves help paint a masterpiece portrait of love. It isn't always pretty, but it's always on our minds.





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