Shot of Love - Songs

Songs

Unlike Dylan's two previous studio albums (Slow Train Coming and Saved), Shot of Love included more secular material as well as overtly religious and evangelistic songs.

The opening title track of Shot of Love either fits somewhere in between, making a few spiritual references while railing against substance abuse as a way of fulfilling or escaping life, or is squarely among his evangelistic songs. Some argue that the "love" the narrator declares he needs a shot of is "agape" and that the theme of this song is, like "Watered Down Love", centered around 1 Corinthians 13. The 13th chapter of Corinthians is about how all of gifts of God are useless without the love of God for other people. Each verse (except the first which is the song's intro) is a restating of some New Testament verse about Love. Verse 2 ("I seen the kingdoms of the world and it's makin' me feel afraid.") restates 1 John 4:18, "There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear." Verse 3 ("So don't show me no picture show/Don't give me no book to read/It don't satisfy the hurt inside or the habit that it feeds.") is from 1 Corinthians 13:2 "If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge ... but have not love, it profits me nothing." Verse 4 and 5 are drawn from Matthew 5:43-44 "I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you." Verse 4 is especially seen as allegorical: Why would I want to take your life?/You've only murdered my father (New York Time famously declaring "God is Dead") /raped his wife (the Church) /Tattooed my babies with a poison pen (perhaps the hostility Dylan's songs had met among the media and in concerts) /Mocked my God/Humiliated my friends." Verse 5 ("My conscience is beginning to bother me today.") is said to riff off of 1 Peter 4:8 "Love will cover a multitude of sins".

"The purpose of music is to elevate and inspire the spirit," Dylan said in a 1983 interview with NME. "To those who care where Bob Dylan is at, they should listen to "Shot of Love". It's my most perfect song. It defines where I am spiritually, musically, romantically and whatever else. It shows where my sympathies lie. It's all there in that one song." Produced by Bumps Blackwell, it's the only Blackwell production featured on Shot of Love.

The second track on Shot of Love fits, again, somewhere between in secular and religious territory. A slight but jaunty, Tex-Mex number, "Heart of Mine" is a love song, Dylan's first in several years, but it is founded on Jeremiah 17:9, "The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it?" Instead of singing to a person of interest, the narrator addresses his own "heart", trying to tame his own impulses and emotions in fear of getting hurt.

An earlier performance was already selected for use when Dylan decided to re-record "Heart of Mine" with Ronnie Wood and Ringo Starr. In an interview taken in 1984, Dylan admitted that "Heart of Mine" was "done a bunch of different ways ... but I chose for some reason a particularly funky version of that—and it's really scattered. It's not as good as some of the other versions, but I chose it because Ringo and Ronnie Wood played on it, and we did it in like ten minutes." The original version of "Heart of Mine" remains available only on bootlegs.

Continuing the evangelism of Slow Train Coming and Saved, the satirical "Property of Jesus" is another one of Dylan's sharp put-down songs, this time aimed at non-believers who sneer at the Christian faithful.

The fourth track, "Lenny Bruce", is about the subversive Jewish comedian of that name. An influential entertainer whose use of provocative language led to a famous obscenity trial, Bruce died of a drug overdose in 1966. Despite the secular tone of the lyrics, the music is "anchored in the resolute cadences of piano gospel," according to music critic Tim Riley. Often regarded as a bizarre tribute, the song portrays Bruce as some kind of martyr, even though its characterizations of Bruce have been described as peculiar and almost non-descript. When Dave Herman asked why, after so many years, Dylan chose to write a song about Lenny Bruce (July 2, 1981 interview), he answered, "You know, I have no idea! I wrote that song in five minutes! I found it was a little strange after he died, that people made such a hero out of him. When he was alive he couldn't even get a break. And certainly now, comedy is rank, dirty and vulgar and very unfunny and stupid, wishy-washy and the whole thing. ... But he was doing this same sort of thing many years ago and maybe some people aren't realizing that there was Lenny Bruce, who did this before and that is what happened to him. So these people can *do* what they're doing now. I don't know."

The first verse might, in fact, be seen to offer a subtle cut to Bruce's imitators for whom the use of profanity is a cheap "shock" gimic, while for Bruce it was a strike for free speech: "He was an outlaw, that's for sure/More of an outlaw than you ever were."

When Shot of Love was reissued for Compact Disc, "The Groom's Still Waiting at the Altar" was added into the album sequence. Recorded during the Shot of Love sessions, it was originally issued as a B-side to the 45rpm release of "Heart of Mine". Throughout the song, Dylan sings of a theological schism that ultimately separates the narrator and a woman, whom he addresses as 'Claudette.' Widely praised and heavily played on progressive radio, Riley called it "a generous return to slow-burning defiance that restores not only the lust to Dylan's heart, but the power to his voice." Together with "Caribbean Wind" (an outtake discussed below), "The Groom's Still Waiting at the Altar" marked a dramatic change in lyrical direction, one Dylan would continue to follow in his next album, Infidels.

"Watered-Down Love" is Dylan's version of 1 Corinthian's 13, describing "love that's pure", and lamenting that pure love is not what many people want.

The reggae-tinged "Dead Man, Dead Man" is another evangelical song. As Greil Marcus writes in Salon.com, it "is a textbook warning against the devil, if you listen as if you're reading; if you hear it, it's a poker game, and the singer's winning." But, actually, the song's theme is Romans 7:24 "O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from the body of this death?", and "dead man" that Dylan is addressing is himself, admitting his moral fallibility and mocking his own appearance "Satan's got you by the heel/There's a bird's nest in your hair."

A song based in wistful retrospection, "In the Summertime" is perhaps the most relaxed, upbeat song on the entire album. Even Paul Nelson of Rolling Stone conceded that "In the Summertime" has "a lovely feel to it, and Dylan's harmonica playing hangs in the air like the scent of mimosa."

"Trouble" is the quintessential blues song about how tribulation is intrinsic to human existence.

In recent years, some critics have grown to appreciate Shot of Love while others continue to disparage it. If there is any critical consensus, it's to be found on the closing track. Marked by an ethereal quality that is not found elsewhere on Shot of Love, "Every Grain of Sand" is one Dylan's most celebrated recordings. In this song, Dylan puzzles over the dilemma of whether his disappointments, temptations, failings, and triumphs were due to his actions alone or ordained by God's delivering hand ("I've gone from rags to riches in the sorrows of the night/In the violence of a summer's dream/In the chill of a winter light" and "I hear the ancient footsteps like the motion of the sea/Sometimes I turn and there's someone there, sometimes it's only me").

It's "perhaps his most sublime work to date," writes Clinton Heylin, "the summation of a number of attempts to express what the promise of redemption meant to him personally. One of his most intensely personal songs, it also remains one of his most universal. Detailing 'the time of my confession/the hour of my deepest need,' the song marks the conclusion of his evangelical period as a songwriter, something its position at the conclusion of Shot of Love tacitly acknowledges." Paul Nelson called it "the 'Chimes of Freedom' and 'Mr. Tambourine Man' of Bob Dylan's Christian period ... it has surety and strength all down the line. Also vulnerability ... Dylan's beautifully idiosyncratic harmonica playing has metamorphosed into an archetype that pierces the heart and moistens the eye. And, for once, the lyrics don't let you down. The artist's Christianity is both palpable and comprehensible ... For a moment or two, he touches you, and the gates of heaven dissolve into a universality that has nothing to do with most of the LP."

Tim Riley described "Every Grain of Sand" as "a prayer that inhabits the same intuitive zone as "Blowin' in the Wind" - you'd swear it was a hymn passed down through the ages." Rock critic Milo Miles wrote, "This is the one Dylan song in ten years ... in which he examines a pop-culture paradox (that legendary stars in particular have to believe in ideals greater than themselves) more eloquently than any other performer has." When Bruce Springsteen inducted Dylan into the Rock 'n' Roll Hall of Fame on January 20, 1988, he would also cite "Every Grain Of Sand" as an example of his best work.

Read more about this topic:  Shot Of Love

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