The 30 Greatest Bob Dylan Songs of All Time: #28 “Angelina”

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In the mid-Sixties, Bob Dylan wrote “Farewell Angelina,” which featured a melody that was very much in the folk idiom, but lyrics that found him stretching towards a deeper surrealism, one he would soon explore full-time on Bringing It All Back Home.

“King Kong” “Little Elves,” and “Jacks and Queens” populated the song’s strange landscape. Joan Baez was a fan — she covered it and borrowed the title for her 1965 album of the same name.

Flash forward to 1981, when Dylan’s career was in a comparative state of decline. His ability to write poetic lyrics that were both obscure and obscenely meaningful, however, was in full flower.

“Beat a path of retreat up them spiral staircases/pass the tree of smoke, pass the angel with four faces
Begging God for mercy and weepin’ in unholy places/Angelina”

Dylan uses his words like a painter here, blending religious imagery from several sources, so that they seem more primal than specific.

His eyes were two slits that would make a snake proud
With a face that any painter would paint as he walked through the crowd
Worshipping a god with the body of a woman well endowed
And the head of a hyena

The impassioned vocals (“just step into the arena!”) are what drag the song into “classic” territory though. His voice is ravaged from whatever excesses lead him to sound like a bull frog in the fog, but he must have taken his “annunciation pills” that day, as every word is as clear as a bell, and as piercing as an epiphany at three in the morning.

It was recorded for 1981’s Shot of Love, the third and final album from Bob’s born-again Christian period, but was left on the cutting room floor, to appear ten years later on The Bootleg Series Vol 1-3 (along with “Farewell Angelina.”)

This is just one of those Dylan songs where you have to say, “where were you hiding yourself?” and, “thank god you arrived.”

3 COMMENTS

  1. i have found through the years that some of the best of dylan’s song are left on the recording studio’s floor. listening to the boot leg series even the arrangement that hit the cd would be far inferior to an outtake for examle when the night comes falling from the sky is so far ahead of the released version, why not put angelina on an album or release it as a single also? blind willie mc tell is another the list could go on and on and makes me wonder why? or what was he thinking at the time? was he being influenced by someone we don’t know? but then again if all our favorite songs or arrangements were put on cd we wouldn’h have these sites.

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