3 Songs for People Who Say They Don’t Like The Wallflowers

Founded in 1989 in Los Angeles, the Americana rock band The Wallflowers released its self-titled debut album in 1992. But it was four years later in 1996 when the group, fronted by Jakob Dylan (Bob’s son), released its breakthrough LP, the T Bone Burnett-produced Bringing Down the Horse. That record made the band famous and is loved by many.

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But still, some were dubious about a project led by an iconic songwriter’s progeny (even though Jakob tried to eschew the connection). Could he live up to his father’s lyricism? Was it just a stunt band built on nepotism? Today, while some of those questions linger, it’s clear The Wallflowers are a talented group with resonant hit songs to spare. Here below, we wanted to dive into a trio of tunes for those music listeners who still might be unconvinced.

[RELATED: The Weighty Meaning Behind The Wallflowers’ “One Headlight” and Its Many Connections to Bruce Springsteen]

“One Headlight” from Bringing Down the Horse (1996)

A popular track upon its release, this song hit No. 1 on three separate Billboard charts (Modern Rock Tracks, Mainstream Rock Songs and Triple-A). Featuring Jakob Dylan’s smokey-gravelly voice, the tune includes slide guitar, organ, and lyrics the lead singer has said are about the death of ideas. It also features references to Bruce Springsteen’s 1980 song “Independence Day,” when Dylan sings about leaving home on Independence Day, or the difficulty to do so. He references the Boss’ 1987 song, “One Step Up,” when mentioning a car engine not turning over. In total, the song is a rock dreamscape about what the world is and what it could be. “One Headlight” won The Wallflowers a Grammy Award for Best Rock Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocals. And on the song, Dylan sings,

She said it’s cold
It feels like independence day
And I can’t break away from this parade
But there’s got be an opening
Somewhere here in front of me

Through this maze of ugliness and greed
And I’ve seen the sign up ahead at the county line bridge
Sayin’ all is good and nothingness is dead
We run until she’s out of breath
She ran until there’s nothing left
She hit the end, just her window ledge

“6th Avenue Heartache” from Bringing Down the Horse (1996)

Dylan has said this was the first serious song he wrote, penning it back when he was 18 years old and living in New York City. It’s about his time in the Big Apple and on the offering, he tells the story of a homeless person who would play music outside his window. Then one day the man was gone and his things, which remained, were slowly taken away by other people. “6th Avenue Heartache” includes slide guitar from Mike Campbell of Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers and backing vocals by Counting Crows singer Adam Duritz. And the music video for the track was directed by famed movie director David Fincher. On the solemn song, Dylan sings,

Sirens ring, the shots ring out
A stranger cries, screams out loud
I had my world strapped against my back
I held my hands, never knew how to act

And the same black line
That was drawn on you
Was drawn on me
And now it’s drawn me in
6th Avenue heartache

And below me was a homeless man
I’m singin’ songs, I knew complete
On the steps alone, his guitar in hand
It’s 50 years, he stood where he stands

“Three Marlenas” from Bringing Down the Horse (1996)

This song tells the story of a woman trying to make her way in the world. Where does the money come from? What should she do with her time, herself? The song paints a picture of a hard world that has little to no softness in its heart. We have to be several people to survive, most of us anyway. Dylan had sympathy for people like this, for even though he was the son of a celebrity, he tried to make his way honestly and with his own talent, not with a silver spoon. Sounding especially like his idol Bruce Springsteen on this track, he sings,

Alone tonight in somebody’s bed
She gone and dyed her hair red

She only went and did what she did
‘Cause he would drive her home then

There’s lipstick on her new dress
She hadn’t even paid yet
But it doesn’t matter where the money went
It wasn’t how she paid ‘er rent

One, two, three Marlenas
There’s got to be someone we can trust
Out here among us

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Photo credit: Andrew Slater via New West Records

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