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"Visions of Johanna" Verse Fun
Hey Everybody, welcome to the Spotter Spots blog.
Today I’m going point out a funny little thing I noticed when listening to Bob Dylan’s song “Visions of Johanna,” from Blonde on Blonde.
First off, IMHO, the song is better described as a ‘poem’ set to I-IV-V chords, than a standard pop song. I mean, if you plug it in to the Verse-Chorus-Bridge ‘form language’ of pop songs: it’s just five verses and an outro, not too interesting on the surface right?
But, it’s in the verses themselves that you find the song’s extraordinary shape, I mean, these are some funky “Italian poet from the 15th century” type verses here.
First you got your 4 bars of requisite harmonica intro. Then 12 bars of three rhymed stanzas. In the middle there’re 8 bars of 3 rhymed half-stanzas--half when you compare them to the ones before—followed by a fourth rhymed lyric, slipped in a little early.
It’s like your basic boxing combo, jab-cross-hook-cross--except instead of that last cross, he elbows you in the face right after the hook, early, before you were expecting it…pretty sure that’s illegal, but anyway.
It finishes with 8 bars of 2 rhymed stanzas, where the last stanza always starts with the title of the song, but finishes with C stanza’s rhyme.
So yeah: Upper case A, B, &C and little b&c--that’s five different lyrical flows--or ‘pentameters’ if you want to use a fancy word—all in one verse.
Amazing, and, all that would be cool enough for a video all on its own--but the extra spottable thing here, is in the last verse, Dylan decides to slip in 3 extra rhymed B stanzas--presumably without telling his musicians he was going to do that, because: they’re moving on to the little b stanza, just like they’d done in all previous verses.
And then when they realize what’s going on, they have to make a course correction. You can tell because the bass player and organ player are playing notes from a V chord, when they should be playing notes from the repeated Big B stanza’s IV chord. Love it.
And, Dylan’s famous for putting out first takes, right?
Well I’d be willing to bet this is one of them, because this is the kind of quote-unquote “mistake” that Nashville Session Players do not make twice.
So yeah, what we got here, is something that really illustrates the fact that your music doesn’t have to be ‘perfect’ in order to make it to the big time.
I mean, this album is one of the top ten albums of all time, according to Rolling Stone: and no one cares that some musicians might have played this note instead of that note if they’d known what was going on. On the contrary: this example shows how in good music, and good art in general, you should expect the unexpected, and you should appreciate it when you see it.
Alright well, thanks, and we’ll see ya next time! Go spot something.