Archive for Bob Dylan

Talkin’ John Birch Paranoid Blues

Posted in Current Events, Music with tags , , on April 13, 2011 by greedycherry

So today there was a CD release that I feel is worth mentioning to you….so I will.

I was driving down the road the other day listening to some local college radio when a song came on by a very popular artist that I’d never heard before. It was, in my opinion, a very good and – unusually for this artist – funny song, and I thought to myself, “Gotta get a copy of that!”

The song was “Talkin’ John Birch Paranoid Blues,” and the artist was Bob Dylan.

Dylan wrote this one way back in 1962, and it was one of the first songs recorded for his “The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan” album in April of that year. If you are a Dylan fan, you will at this point shout to me quite loudly that this song is not on that record, and you would be correct. We can attribute that to fate…whether you look at it in a good light or bad light is up to you.

Dylan actually recorded a ton of songs that year, and, as it would turn out, his songwriting prowess was developing so quickly that none of the approximately fourteen songs he recorded in April ended up on the album (at least not those particular recordings). For instance, when he resumed recording in July of that year, he brought “Blowin’ In The Wind,” one of his perennial classics, to the table….he had only performed it live for the first time shortly before the initial recording sessions, and didn’t have it ready to go until these later sessions. More classics followed, of course, which did make it on to the record, but never would have had they just pressed the original batch of tunes he recorded.

Still, “Talkin’ John Birch” was still scheduled to be on the record, if Ed Sullivan hadn’t gotten involved. Dylan was scheduled to appear live on the Sullivan show in May of 1963, and he had chosen to perform “Talkin'” that night. However, the “head of program practices” at CBS told him that the song was “potentially libelous” to the John Birch Society, and therefore asked him to play another number. Dylan considered this censorship and refused to do the show.

Unfortunately, the controversy over the song was already brewing at Columbia Records. Accounts differ as to whether it happened before or after the Sullivan show incident, but apparently Columbia got nervous about the tune as well (as well as a couple of other political-minded songs that were scheduled to appear on the LP) and made Dylan pull the song and replace it with some of the other material he had recorded. If you’re a rarities collector, take note….the initial pressings of the album got through before the songs got pulled, and, even though Columbia quickly recalled and then destroyed most of the records, some still exist. If you’re at a local flea market or yard sale, take a look….if you find a copy of “Freewheelin'” with “Talkin’ John Birch Paranoid Blues” on it, you could make a pretty penny! (The last one is rumored to have sold for about $35,000.)

Anyway, today a CD hit the stores called “Bob Dylan In Concert – Brandeis University 1963.” The recording itself is most likely taken straight from the mixing desk of the show, and, as it turns out, was actually forgotten for over forty years until turning up in the personal effects of late music writer and Rolling Stone magazine co-founder Ralph Gleason. The disc, if you decide to buy it, is actually priced pretty cheap, as it only has seven songs on it….but one of them is “Talkin’ John Birch.” As it turns out, this is the exact version I heard on the radio, so I can assure you that this disc will be part of my collection before the week is up! (Also of note: the link I gave you above is not for the version on this CD, unfortunately, but I did want you all to hear the song in some form….the one on the new disc is far better!)

The song is done in that old folk style where a story is told in a speaking voice, not sung. It’s a very popular performance method that has been done extensively, especially in old country records, and I have heard and enjoyed many tunes that were done in this manner (Johnny Cash’s “One Piece At A Time” is probably my favorite). Dylan is a great storyteller, and quite funny as a narrator, all the while chugging away on his acoustic guitar, punctuating his verses with bursts of harmonica. It will show a new side to Dylan for most people, I think….you should give it a listen!

(And if you live in Boston, Newbury Comics is selling it for $7.99 this week! CHEAP!!)