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Music

When Dave Davies called Bob Dylan “meaningless” in a scathing review

@SamWKemp

Bob Dylan was such an archetypal talent, so fully formed, that when he rose to prominence in the early 1960s, it was as if he’d always been around. His music was part of an oral history rapidly retreating from view. It seemed the product of America’s collective memory, where the landscapes were always wide, the people forever free.

His first three albums, Bob Dylan, The Freewheelin Bob Dylan, and The Times They Are A Changin’ established the young singer-songwriter as the voice of America at a time when the nation was looking toward a bright new future. In the UK, Dylan was no less popular. His records inspired countless young musicians to ditch sappy love ballads and start writing lyrics with real philosophical weight. Dave Davies was one such musician. But like so many of Dylan’s early fans in the UK, The Kinks guitarist had a tough time saying goodbye to the acoustic musician he had learned to know and love.

In a January 1966 edition of Melody Maker, Dave Davies – who would release ‘Sunny Afternoon’ to immense critical and commercial acclaim the following summer- was asked to review a selection of singles in the charts. While he had very kind things to say about Lee Dorsey’s ‘Get Out Of My Life, Woman’, he held nothing back in criticising Mr Dylan’s ‘Highway 61 RevisitedB-side ‘Can You Please Crawl Out Your Window’.

On hearing the single, Davies said: “This bloke annoys me – he started out writing great stuff, but he still insists on releasing this meaningless material. So much stuff on his albums is good, it’s stupid that he should bring all this weird gear on his singles. Good guitarist on this one. No, sorry, but he’s just disappointing.” Harsh words indeed, but a perfect encapsulation of the way many Dylan fans felt after he went electric in 1965. To them, he was a traitor, a sell-out, a “judas.”

There’s a wonderful sense of dramatic irony in Davies’ scathing review. While it might have alienated his puritanical fanbase, Highway 61 Revisited is now considered one of the greatest rock ‘n’ roll albums of all time. Even at the time, ‘Like A Rolling Stone’ was a huge hit despite many radio stations refusing to play it for more than three minutes. Although it wasn’t featured on Highway 61 Revisited LP, ‘Can You Please Crawl Out Your Window’ was later released on The Bootleg Series Vol. 12: The Cutting Edge 1965–1966 in 2015. With its twinkling glockenspiel dubs, honky-tonk piano, and gloriously oblique lyrics, I simply can’t understand why Davies was so reproachful.