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My Essential Albums: 'Nashville Skyline' by Bob Dylan

Released: April, 1969

Cover Art for the Album

Recorded in the days between the 12th and 21st of February 1969, Nashville Skyline features a timeless cover image of a happy, healthy Bob Dylan holding an acoustic guitar. The cover is a reminder that Bob Dylan has changed since his Blonde on Blonde days. You can just about tell that those two men are the same person. Bob Dylan's output in the 1960s was incredible and I feel, personally, that Nashville Skyline is under-appreciated because of how large the output was. 

Nashville Skyline is a country rock and blues album that was initially given mixed reviews. Working with Johnny Cash, Bob Dylan was able to once again, make the music he wanted to make the way he wanted it made. Some of the lyrics and the songs on this album are heartfelt and incredible and, when you hear his singing voice, you are going to be way more than just surprised. 

Let's have a look at exactly what Bob Dylan did on this album to now make it one of the most essential albums in country rock history. We won't be covering every song because well, you and me both know we'd be here all day. We will, however go through some essential songs which I think you'd find it interesting to listen to. 

He is a chameleon of music, he's a legendary lyricist, but he's also an incredible vocalist. 

'Girl from the North Country'

Arguably one of Bob Dylan's most famous songs, a musical based on his output was made and given the same name. The song was a duet with Johnny Cash, the Man in Black himself and recorded originally for The Freewheelin' Bob Dylan where it initially appears (without Cash and in a more folk style). 

Bob Dylan's voice is soulful on the whole album, but on this song especially he really punches the subtlety of the soul vibe and his vocal chords are polished. Let's have a look at the lyrics then: 

"If you're travelin' in the north country fair

Where the winds hit heavy on the borderline

Remember me to one who lives there

She once was a true love of mine." 

I love the last two lines of this set because Bob Dylan makes his voice really low and bluesy on the final line. I love it when he goes low and then levels it out again, it sounds really timeless and classic. 

I love these lines the best: 

"Please see if she's wearing a coat so warm

To keep her from the howlin' winds..." 

Again, I love the way his voice goes really low and soulful, especially at the end of that first line, and the end of the second. When he sings "howlin' winds" there is no way you can't appreciate that incredible intonation. His vocal chords are some of the most incredible of their time and I have to say, he really outdoes himself with this album. 

Girl from the North Country is also featured as a slightly different state of affairs on The Freewheelin' Bob Dylan and it is still pretty brilliant. It also appears on albums such as Real Live and there is a really good version of it on the deluxe edition of the bootleg Trouble No More 1979-81 , which I highly recommend. The only other one I can think of that I like is Live 1962-66: Rare Performances from the Copyright Collections which I've only heard once unfortunately! It was also used on No Direction Home which means it has to be good.

Some of the covers include: Johnny Cash and Joni Mitchell, Rod Stewart and Leon Russell. Those are the good ones I think, but you may find some more that you like somewhere. 

'To Be Alone With You'

Is it Rolling, Bob? 

Recorded on the February 13, 1969, this song is classic country rock mixed with soul/blues. That piano in the background is beautiful and the way the guitar plays a simple tune is brilliance. This song is clearly very polished, it has an amazing sound and Bob Dylan's vocals fit perfectly with it. 

Let's take a look at the lyrics then: 

"To be alone with you

Just you and me

Now won't you tell me true

Ain't that the way it oughta be..." 

The way he climbs the scale with his vocals is amazing - the second line starts that and his vocal chords are really sounding great on it. He has this amazing way of changing his voice to suit the music. It is soulful and the piano makes it bluesy. It fits him and its a beautiful sound. 

My favourite part of the song is: 

"They say that nighttime is the right time

To be with the one you love

Too many thoughts get in the way in the day

But you're always what I'm thinkin' of..." 

The way he does this bridge is brilliant because he changes the key and his voice becomes even more soulful and bluesy as it hits a bit of a change. I love the way he holds the last line ever so slightly. He has an incredible singing voice that he's showing off here and the bridge is an excellent way to do that. It is so polished and sounds so right. 

The last line of the song is amazing because he stays quite high, presenting closure to the song. It is awe-inspiring what he can do with that voice. 

'I Threw it All Away'

This is my favourite song from the album because his vocals are absolutely beautiful. This is actually one of my favourite vocally-charged songs of all time because Bob Dylan likes to prove he can sing better than most everyone else, and this is how he does it. 

The song was released as a single as well, as the A-Side for Drifter's Escape and features a close-up of Bob Dylan's face from the Nashville Skyline album cover. 

This song is something of legend and makes for a brilliant addition to the album. It may be a sad topic choice but the song itself is absolutely beautiful and Bob Dylan's voice is exactly what makes it so beautiful. It may be short but it displays exactly what he does with those amazingly soulful vocals, he gives it great intonation even within words themselves. 

The lyrics start after a guitar and a set of drums playing a melancholy introduction so we know that Bob Dylan's soulful crooning will totally fit with this: 

"I once held her in my arms

She said she would always stay

But I was cruel, I treated her like a fool

I threw it all away." 

The way he sings the word "stay" is brilliant, his intonation is beautiful the way he goes low, then high. It is incredible to listen to. The way he sings the last line, the refrain, has a beauty about it because it is far lower than where we were at the end of the second line. 

My favourite part of the song is the bridge: 

"No matter what you think about it

You just won't be able to do without it

Take a tip from one who's tried..." 

I love the last line of this set. He sounds really melancholy and sad, but it's a soulful kind of sad. His voice echoes the atmosphere of the song and it is all so beautiful to listen to. I love this song because of the way it all fits together perfectly, it is so well-designed and passionate. I cannot believe he actually sang like this at one point. 

'Peggy Day'

This song is the blues and country song you have been waiting for. Peggy Day is probably my second favourite song on the album because it offers contrast. It has a brilliant bouncing blues rhythm from the guitar and Bob Dylan's voice sounds happy and soulful.  It makes you feel happy and it is supposed to be a passionated but light song to add a different side to the record. I love how "Peggy Day" lyrics are so syllabic and yet, so smooth. 

Let's take a look: 

"Peggy Day stole my poor heart away,

By golly, what more can I say,

Love to spend the night with Peggy Day." 

His intonation is amazing on this song, he goes high for the end of the first line and then, he changes his voice for the second line from low to high and then low again. Then, he goes low for the last line. All that in one set of lyrics, that's beautiful, isn't it? It is. 

I love this part of the song: 

"An' I tell 'em all, wherever I may go,

Just so they'll know, that she's my little lady

And I love her so." 

His voice goes really high here, you can tell that he's really making his best attempt to sing and it sounds amazing. He has an incredible way with his vocals on this album and I think that "Peggy Day" is the best song to listen to in order to understand where his vocals are going on this album. 

How can we talk about this song without talking about that epic ending? We can't. It is a brilliant blues-filled ending and the piano and guitar come together with the drums and Bob Dylan's vocals that descend, to give us the best closing to a song on the whole album: 

"Love to spend the night with Peggy Day." 

The way he holds that last note could make you shiver. It is a brilliant level note, not as low as the others, but not as high as the bridge. It is a beautiful way to end the bluesy song with that bluesy, slow ending. He really does let the tempo drop and allow himself that time. It ends up sounding amazing. 

'Lay Lady Lay'

This seems to be the seminal song on the album, known by everyone from Madonna to the Byrds, "Lay Lady Lay" is a brilliant achievement of technicality and control. It has been performed many times by many different people and was first recorded on Valentine's Day, 1969. It was released as the A-Side to the single "Peggy Day" and serves as a different kind of song. It is written in the key of A Major whilst Bob Dylan sings in F#-2 and D-4, which is a lot more complex than we are used to. The song features the grand sound of the pedal steel guitar, which is incredible on the album and on this particular song. It is today, considered one of the most beautiful love songs ever written. 

The lyrics open with the iconic: 

"Lay, lady, lay, lay across my big brass bed

Lay, lady, lay, lay across my big brass bed." 

The way he holds the word "brass" is beautiful, because it is a low croon, not the high notes that in "Peggy Day," we are so used to. This is Bob Dylan displaying his lowest vocal range and it sounds brilliant. It sounds so passionate and lovely that you cannot help but be moved when you hear it. 

These are my favourite lyrics from the song: 

"Stay, lady, stay, stay with your man awhile

Until the break of day, let me see you make him smile..." 

That second line is a little bit longer and the way Bob Dylan sings the last part, he holds "smile" a little longer than the other words and it sounds beautiful. The beauty of the song is definitely in the way Bob Dylan holds certain notes longer than others because it really adds the dimension of passion to the song, alongside the low bluesy soul vocals Dylan presents. 

It is one of the greatest love songs ever written. Did you really expect anything less from Bob Dylan? His voice is passionate, his notes are low and soulful and the words are filled with energy and love. It is one of the most beautiful and smooth sounds you'll ever hear. 

'Country Pie'

Here's a fun fact: The famous (and brilliant) podcast Definitely Dylan recently ruined this song for me and I'm not going to tell you why because I want you to enjoy the song, but I now can't stop laughing every time I listen to this song. 

If you want to know, the very first time I heard this song I thought it was about food. (Apparently not, am I right Definitely Dylan?) 

But, to you, this song if about food. Unless you read something somewhere else.

We're not really here to discuss what the song is about, though. We're here to discuss the way this song sounds. It sounds brilliant. 

The song is a bluesy, rockin' classic and Bob Dylan's voice is high and soulful. It bounces around and it's just really happy. It echoes the same vibe of "Peggy Day" but is more bluesy than that song. 

Let's take a look at the lyrics: 

"Just like old Saxophone Joe

When he's hot, the hogshead up on his toe

Oh me, oh my

Love that country pie." 

I love the way he sings "Oh me, oh my" because his voice really bounces around. He gets louder and higher and it sounds just like the blues, but we all know it's more country. Bob Dylan's voice does incredible things on this song - that third line being the best. 

I want to share with you my favourite part of the song: 

"I don't need much and that ain't no lie

Ain't runnin' any race

Give to me my country pie

I won't throw it up in anybody's face." 

This is the bridge to the song and that fourth line when the music stops and you can just hear his voice is beautiful. He descends on the scale and gets slightly higher and does it again, all in the space of one line. His voice sounds brilliant and he really does know what he's doing when it came to forming this song and designing his vocals. The piano that comes in at the end is definitely the blues. 

'Tonight I'll Be Staying Here With You'

This song is a beautiful blend of a soft piano and guitar and the steady drums whilst Bob Dylan croons his love song over the top. The turns in the song really make the sound of the whole atmosphere more powerful. The various ways Bob Dylan makes his voice higher and lower sound beautiful and really do add to the timelessness of this song. 

The song was initially recorded on the February 17, 1969, and was released as the A-Side to "Country Pie." Both songs definitely have an underlying blues sound and both keep their stance when it comes to that piano in the background. It sounds brilliant. 

Let's take a look at the lyrics to the song's opening: 

"Throw my ticket out the window

Throw my suitcase out there, too

Throw my troubles out the door

I don't need them any more

'Cause tonight I'll be staying here with you." 

It starts with some pretty iconic lyrics to be honest. I love how he descends the scale on the third and fourth line because his voice sounds so passionate and strong. He sounds so damn powerful that you really can't believe that this is the same guy that recorded "Rainy Day Women." Can you? (Even though "Rainy Day Women" is a great song, the comparisons are drawn from the vocals). 

This is my favourite part of the song: 

"Is it really any wonder

The love that a stranger might receive

You cast your spell and I went under

I find it so difficult to leave." 

I love the way he sings the first line because he really does hold those notes and shows he is getting better with those vocals. It is so soulful and heartfelt. You can tell he has really been working on those vocals for this album. It is a brilliant way to show the world he has some of the greatest vocal chords around. He's just awe-inspiring. 

How could we mention this song without mentioning the best other version of it? 

Live at the Rolling Thunder Revue features the opening song "Tonight I'll Be Staying Here With You" from 1975 when Bob Dylan had his "Desire" and "Blood on the Tracks" vocal chords and well, most people say it is better than the album version (including myself). I think though, the album version fits with the album. The Rolling Thunder version is just absolutely incredible to listen to, so please listen to it. The Rolling Thunder version is strong and powerful, it rocks and rolls. It is faster and louder than this one. It is absolutely beautiful and really, if you were to take the songs on their own, The Rolling Thunder one is better by a small slither.  

Conclusion

Nashville Skyline is one of the most underrated albums I have ever witnessed. The amount of people who don't listen to the various, non-famed songs on the album hurts me. Songs like "Peggy Day," "Country Pie" and the album version of "Tonight I'll Be Staying Here With You" are incredible additions to the record. I would love for you all to pay more attention to this beautiful creation and adore it as much as I do. 

Thank you for engaging in this work. 

Annie Kapur
Annie Kapur

English and Writing (B.A), Film and Writing (M.A).

Musical Interests: Bob Dylan, Billie Holiday, Elvis Presley, Michael Jackson, Buddy Holly 

Favourite Films: I'm Not There & The Conjuring Series

Instagram: @3ftmonster 

Twitter: @3ftmonster

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