My Essential Albums: 'Desire' by Bob Dylan

Released: January, 1976

My Essential Albums: 'Desire' by Bob Dylan
Cover Art for the Album

One of Bob Dylan's most respected albums and one of his most iconic outputs, this album has become one of the most revered amongst his discography. The album was recorded between July and October 1975, meaning that it is possibly one of the longest recording sessions we have covered so far. It was finally released in all its glory on the January 5, 1976.

The 1970s were really a great, and sad time for Bob Dylan. Atop albums like Desire, Blood on the Tracks,and the famed Rolling Thunder Revue, Bob Dylan suffered terribly through his divorce, even penning a song on this album entitled "Sara," referencing Sara (Lownds) Dylan.

With his marriage breaking down, Bob Dylan still managed to make great music, releasing Blood on the Tracks in 1975 and then moving straight to Desire in 1976. Bob Dylan also works with some incredible people on Desire, including the famed violinist Scarlet Rivera, the beautiful vocalist Emmylou Harris and, on "Romance in Durango," he works with Eric Clapton—who needs no introduction.

As number 174 on Rolling Stone Magazine's"500 Greatest Albums of All Time," we can automatically tell how well respected this is in music history. This album is a very pure folk rock sound, echoing the same sounds of the early 20th Century. Bob Dylan brings a modern sound to something that sounds like it could've been partly inspired by the legendary Hank Williams. The songs are perfect and feature a range of exotic instruments and lyrics. They, I believe, are some of the most beautiful songs you will ever hear.

This is the height of folk rock, in its purest and most beautiful form.

"Hurricane"

"Hurricane"is by far the most popular and recited song on the whole album. It is politically charged as the story of Rubin Carter's false imprisonment, which Dylan is attempting to rebel against. The song is a true achievement of music and sounds amazing. Everyone knows the line "here comes the story of the hurricane..."

Released as a single to the B-Side named "Hurricane Part II"and recorded in the July of 1975, this song is actually listed as a "protest song." (Even though according to Dylan, "all of (his) songs are protest songs.")

The song opens with the low guitar and drums to add drama and atmosphere to the song before the lyrics kick in and begin to tell you the gruelling story:

"Pistol shots ring out in the barroom nightEnter Patty Valentine from the upper hallShe sees the bartender in a pool of bloodCries out, "My God, they killed them all!"

Bob Dylan states these really quickly as he sings and descends that scale. It has a brilliant vibe to it—it is very dramatic. It's all passion and theatre because now we have Bob Dylan trying to make a point. His voice is powerful and raw. His lyrics and the way he sings is loud and controlled. It is a beautiful song. The violin Scarlet Rivera plays between the verses and under Bob Dylan's singing it absolutely incredible and the song wouldn't be what it is without her.

My favourite part of the song is where Bob Dylan introduces the character of Rubin Carter to the song:

"Meanwhile, far away in another part of townRubin Carter and a couple of friends are drivin' aroundNumber one contender for the middleweight crownHad no idea what kinda s*** was about to go down."

(Sorry guys, I'm still keeping this PG)

The way Rubin Carter is introduced is brilliant because Bob Dylan is trying to show that he was nowhere near the scene of the crime at the time. Also, the fast pace of this adds to the fast-paced nature of how the police accused Carter. It's all adding to that atmosphere of how quick it happened and how it couldn't have therefore, been fair.

I love the ending to this chorus (still PG):"You'll be doin' society a favorThat son of a b**** is brave and gettin' braverWe want to put his ass in stirWe want to pin this triple murder on himHe ain't no Gentleman Jim."

The last line is brilliant, the way he holds that last note is so powerful and my God, he can really sing out those lines. The way Bob Dylan presents his resentment is through the building power of his voice and seriously, it is brilliant.

The drama in these lines presents that opposition—the softer, more subtle side that is Rubin Carter:

"Rubin could take a man out with just one punchBut he never did like to talk about it all that much..."

Rubin Carter is presented as a less angry and overly dramatic human being by the way Bob Dylan sings about him in the middle here. He dramatises that Rubin Carter is actually a soft guy because he only throws punches for work. His low, slower voice presents this brilliantly.

But the most powerful part of the song is the trial scene:

"All of Rubin's cards were marked in advance, The trial was a pig-circus, he never had a chanceThe judge made Rubin's witnesses drunkards from the slums, To the white folks who watched he was a revolutionary bumAnd to the black folks he was just a crazy n-No one doubted that he pulled the trigger, And though they could not produce the gunThe D.A. said he was the one who did the deed and the all-white jury agreed."

(Nope, we are not saying that word, not ever. I know it is used for the effect of the song and the power, but I can't leave it in for obvious reasons).

The way he sings "to the white folks who watched, he was a revolutionary bum" always gets me because he sings it with so much power behind his voice. You can really tell that this is the climactic point of the song - the trial. Another part of this set I like is when he sings "the D.A says he was the one who did the deed"—he slows it down slightly to emphasise it a lot and it definitely works. There's so much passion in this one song that it just makes you appreciate the whole album no matter what else is on there.

"Isis"

This is one of my favourite songs on the album. This is a brilliantly controlled song that has so much intonation and Scarlet Rivera's violin is beautiful. Bob Dylan's singing is telling you a story and the story has an exotic tone to it with all its diamonds and riches. It is a beautiful song and seriously, you need to listen to it. So damn beautiful.

The song was recorded on the 31st of July, 1975 and is written in the 3/4 time which gives it that waltzing beat that so many people love about this song. It's written in B-flat Major, which gives it that essence of exoticness when you listen to it. The theme is definitely somewhat Mexican because of the marriage taking place on Cinco de Mayo. I love this song for its absolute beauty and its storytelling quality. The song is technically brilliant and I would really love to share it with you.

The lyrics open:

"I married Isis on the fifth day of mayBut I do not hold on to her very longSo I cut off my hair and I rode straight awayFor the wild unknown country where I could not go wrong."

These lyrics are not only syllabically perfect, but they really give that essence of Bob Dylan's singing we haven't heard before. We have never heard him do this sort of blend of Latin Rock and Folk Rock, we can see he's experimenting but his singing voice still fits absolutely perfectly with the track.

This is my favourite part of the song, which happens to be on the last verse:

"Isis, oh, Isis, you mystical childWhat drives me to you is what drives me insane..."

Love the way he sings "you mystical child" because he sounds so passionate about the song. He sounds so soulful on this verse, like he's really got into the beat but he's also holding those essential notes to make the song sound more exciting.

It's one of my favourite songs on the whole album, so please listen to this more than essential song.

"Mozambique"

The guitar that starts this song is brilliant. It strums constantly and gives a brilliant atmosphere, bringing that really smooth sound to the song. The record was recorded on the 30th of July, 1975 and serves as the A-Side to "Oh, Sister,"it is also one of the best songs on the album. Clinton Heylin called it the weakest song on Desire but who cares about his opinion? That's right; absolutely nobody. I think one of the best things about this song is, you guessed it, Emmylou Harris. Her voice is amazing and I absolutely love her. Emmylou Harris on this album is brilliant and Bob Dylan works with her so well, their voices fit together perfectly.

We're not going to talk about the whole Independence situation, the satire and the meaning, we're gonna talk about that wild sound the songs has. The lyrics open with a guitar strumming in the background:

"I like to spend some time in MozambiqueThe sunny sky is aqua blueAnd all the couples dancing cheek to cheekIt's very nice to stay a week or twoAnd maybe fall in love just me and you."

I think everyone's favourite part of this verse is when the drums build up at the end. It sounds incredible and really rocks the song. The drums start building from "It's very nice to..." and then comes that brilliant beat of "just me and you". It sounds incredible because it makes their voices a little louder and a little more powerful. I really do love this song and don't agree with Heylin's comment that it's the worst song on the album—it's a light song. Every album needs a nice, light song amongst the depth.

My favourite part of the song is the bridge, when Bob Dylan's voice becomes really soulful and powerful:

"Lying next to her by the oceanReaching out and touching her handWhispering your secret emotionMagic in a magical land."

I love the way he holds that last note, his voice is so damn powerful. It sounds brilliant because we again have that build up of the drums towards the last chorus.

Definitely one of the strengths of the album musically.

"One More Cup of Coffee"

I love this song (and not just because it has coffee in it!) I love this song because out of all the songs on the album, Bob Dylan sings this one the best. His voice is pure power, strength and dominance on this song. Again, Emmylou Harris provides her beautiful vocals on the chorus and Bob Dylan strings out those folk vocals for the verses and it sounds mind-blowingly good. The song opens with the brilliant guitars and that amazing violin solo in which you really do know that this is a Bob Dylan folk rock song, the lyrics begin:

"Your breath is sweetYour eyes are like two jewels in the skyYour back is straight, your hair is smoothOn the pillow where you lie."

I love the way he sings the second line because there is a serious sense of power and passion there. He isn't just singing it, he's making you feel it to. His voice is perfectly tuned and his passion is at the most perfect pitch. There isn't too much and there isn't too little. It is right on the point and Bob Dylan has got it completely right once again. His voice is something to be beheld, especially on this song. If I've said it once, I've said it a million times: Bob Dylan is one of the greatest male vocalists in history for various reasons. This song is one of those reasons.

My favourite part of the song is:

"But your heart is like an oceanMysterious and dark..."

I love the last verse so much because you know he's packing in the power to build up to the final chorus to give that epic ending to the song with again, the violin solo. With Bob Dylan it is always perfection and nothing less, so I'm not surprised he really wanted to give it that soulful, passionate ending.

"Oh, Sister"

This song opens with the best introduction on the whole album. The slow guitars, the subtle drums, that violin etc.—the instrumentation is absolutely awesome. It is something that you could listen to over and over again, it is through-and-through pure folk music. It is Bob Dylan returning to the most soulful and pure of the folk movement and re-interpretting it to suit the slightly Latino vibes he is trying to give off. It is passionate and incredible. Though, I did have my doubts that this song may have been about incest, I'm not entirely sure so I won't get into it. This song is technically brilliant. The lyrics begin:

"Oh, sister, when I come to lie in your armsYou should not treat me like a strangerOur Father would not like the way that you actAnd you must realize the danger."

I love the way Bob Dylan sings the second and the fourth lines, holding those notes a little longer to present a slight change to the syllables of the song. Especially the way he says "stranger," holding it for the impact of the passion and story of the song. Emmylou Harris' voice sounds incredible, and a little louder than on other songs—it is incredible to listen to.

This is my favourite part of the song because it's so powerful:

"We grew up togetherFrom the cradle to the grave."

I love that second line because Bob Dylan sings it with a passion that only climbs up to the final verse. As you can tell, this build up is a theme of the album and I really enjoy it. It really suits Bob Dylan's soulful, folk vocals on this song—no wonder they call him the God of Folk.

"Joey"

Now, this is my favourite song on the whole album, with "Isis"at a close second. It opens with that guitar and again, those subtle drums that are now a characteristic of the album:

"Born in Red Hook, Brooklyn, in the year of who knows whenOpened up his eyes to the tune of an accordion..."

These opening lines are beautiful, describing the first viewings of Joey and where he was born. I really love the second one because we get a description of him without actually being told anything. It's subtle but it's still a powerful set of lyrics. I really love the way Bob Dylan sings this with a steady, slow passion. It builds perfectly to that chorus when he makes his voice slightly lower and then hits the higher note for the refrain. "What made them want to come and blow you away?" such a brilliant line.

I have a few favourite parts of this song, this is one of them:

"The hostages were tremblin' when they heard a man exclaim"Let's blow this place to kingdom come, let Con. Edison take the blame"

I love the part when Bob Dylan characterises the song by almost shouting the second line. It sounds beautiful and oh so powerful that you really feel the passion of the song and understand the story in the background.

This is another part I love:

"What time is it?" said the judge to Joey when they met"Five to ten, " said JoeyThe judge says, "That's exactly what you get"

I love the way he characterises this part again, he sings it lower and descends when he gets to the last line. The way he sings "that's exactly what you get" is beautiful, it's soulful, it's brilliance.

There's also this line:

"Yet he walked right into the clubhouse of his lifelong deadly foeEmptied out the register, said, "Tell 'em it was Crazy Joe"

Again, the way he sings "Tell 'em it was Crazy Joe" is pure excellence because he really does have Joey's voice, just like you imagine it. After years of imprisonment, he's tired and out of luck—he just wants to get back at people one last time. It is a seriously good song and, by now, the drums have totally built up to suit that powerful violin.

These lines are the next ones I love:

"He pushed the table over to protect his familyThen he staggered out into the streets of Little Italy."

This is presenting us with an almost-ending. It's Bob Dylan singing about how the song is almost over and how Joey is most likely, going to die. How do we know this? He pauses slightly after "staggered out" and descends pretty fast for the rest of the line. It's beautiful, but it is also presenting tragedy. I love it so much.

The final lines I love:

"And someday if God's in heaven overlookin' His preserveI know the men that shot him down will get what they deserve..."

The last line serves as a sort of warning because of the way he sings them. They descent of the last line works almost all the time and on this verse it works perfectly. The nature of this line is brilliant and I think you really need to listen to it to appreciate it.

I love this song so much, it is one of my all-time favourite Bob Dylan songs and I think it needs to be heard by everyone. I got mad when I heard it was on Rolling Stone Magazine'stop ten worst Bob Dylan songs as decided by a voter's poll. Pathetic. It is a brilliant song with an incredible story, some people are just too stupid to get it.

Listen to it for yourself, I'm sure you'll love it.

"Romance in Durango"

One of the most brilliant folk songs ever recorded in my opinion, "Romance in Durango"is something more than just an achievement of this record. It is more like an achievement of the genre. It is a brilliant song with incredible lyrics and an amazing story behind it. After the strumming of the guitars on a steady beat, the lyrics open:

"Hot chili peppers in the blistering sunDust on my face and my capeMe and Magdalena on the runI think this time we shall escape."

I love the way he sings the last line because he really belts it out, doesn't he? The lines at the end of the verses are sang so nicely it is an act of pure brilliance when he does them—it's like he is really trying that act of pure power and yet, unrivalled subtlety. Bob Dylan's vocals are really something on this song, so different to what we hear on Blood on the Tracks and yet they are about a year apart.

This is my favourite part of the song:

"Past the Aztec ruins and the ghosts of our peopleHoofbeats like castanets on stone."

The first line, the way he sings the second half and holds the word "people"—he is really going for that Latino vibe and really making the atmosphere of the song just right.

In this song, he really does create the right atmosphere for storytelling in the song. You need to hear the way he sings that chorus. He descends that scale so well and the way he holds the word "Durango" as "Du-Ran-Go" going low for the last part, is brilliant.

The whole song itself is an awe-inspiring feat of vocals and storytelling, they are the two main incredible things about this song and they definitely take a forefront as being the things we need to look out for.

"Black Diamond Bay"

The drive of this song is wonderful. It's got a steady beat and sounds wonderful. Not my favourite song on the album, but one of them. I think the way the drums keep the rhythm of the song, especially given its complex rhyme scheme, is incredible and the way the song has been written is like a type of late 19th Century Poetry. It has a real grandness to it from the very beginning:

"Up on the white veranda, she wears a necktie and a Panama hat."

The way this is described, it has a real opening sense to it—by that, I mean it opens amazingly and has this indescribable atmosphere of mystery. It's like we need to know who she is because she's important. Bob Dylan sings this song with such amazing subtlety and his intonation produces the power he needs for the refrain. It is a great achievement of this song (which I believe goes overlooked on the album, most of the time).

My favourite part of the song is the ending:

"There's another hard-luck story that you're gonna hearAnd there's really nothing anyone can sayAnd I never did plan to go anywayTo Black Diamond Bay..."

I love this part because it answers and closes the song, there's no want to go there but Bob Dylan uses intonation between power and subtlety again to convey the dislike for the idea of going to Black Diamond Bay. The story in this song is mostly told through the way Bob Dylan uses his voice and, more importantly, the unrivalled power in it. He knows he has a lot of vocal power, but decides when to use it carefully as to convey the correct atmosphere at the correct time by vocalising the correct sound.

"Sara"

This song, most obviously dedicated to Bob Dylan's (ex) wife, Sara (Lownds) Dylan. Recorded on the 31st of July, 1975, "this is an autobiographical song" (those of you who listened to the Rolling Thunder Revue Bootleg will get that joke). Anyways, "Sara"is considered to be one of Bob Dylan's greatest songs. Next to "Sad-Eyed Lady of the Lowlands,"it is a love song of human emotion and complexity. It is a song about human frailty and a homage to a woman who dealt with an ever-changing man. I am seriously surprised she stuck around through all he'd been through. She is an amazing woman (and she is so beautiful!). But we aren't here to hear me weep about Sara Lownds, we are here to cover the song. The lyrics open:

"I laid on a dune, I looked at the sky,When the children were babies and played on the beach.You came up behind me, I saw you go by,You were always so close and still within reach."

I feel like this is the most close and personal Bob Dylan has ever got with his songs and that's why the singing sounds so good. It's paced so well and is technically brilliant. I love the last line because he really does build to that chorus without it being overwhelming. I think he doesn't really want to overwhelm the song because the atmosphere is supposed to be a lament of lost love.

My favourite part of the song is the chorus, obviously:

"Sara, Sara,Whatever made you want to change your mind?Sara, Sara,So easy to look at, so hard to define."

I love the way he sings that last line because it really does sound like it comes from the heart and soul. Bob Dylan is really making use of his subtlety because of the way he gives this some soul without again, being overwhelming. It's a really melancholy part of the song, as if the first part of the line is supposed to be lamenting and the last part of the line is supposed to be realising that the love has been now, lost. That is the exact way he sings it as well, to create the atmosphere of that lamentation.

Conclusion

I love this album and it serves to be one of the best Bob Dylan albums out there. I love the way it has those Latino undertones and those lyrics straight out of the folklore traditions of old. There is a strangeness about Dylan at this time because even though he looks fairy happy on the front cover—he's actually going through his break up and divorce, which must be driving him mad. There are many theories as to how many of the songs on this album make reference to Sara, but I think, because of the predicament he might have included more than one reference through more than one song.

album reviews
Annie Kapur
Annie Kapur
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Annie Kapur

Film and Writing (M.A)

Focus in Film: Adaptation from Literature, Horror Filmmaking Styles and Auter Cinema

Author of: "The Filmmaker's Guide" series

Email: [email protected]

Interests: Film, Literature and Bob Dylan

See all posts by Annie Kapur