And "A bloke who wrote songs" could serve as Billy Bragg's epitaph. The best of those songs he wrote took shots of rock n' roll, folk music, R & B and punk rock and made a concoction original and yet somehow traditional. However, Bragg has never been shy about his taste for Dylan and you could well describe his early sound as a mix of The Clash's fast n' dirty self-titled debut and Dylan's both polemical and romantic album, The Freewheelin' Bob Dylan. Over the course of his career Bragg's gone to The Dylan Well may times and always pulled up something potable. So this collection seeks to place all of Bragg's Dylan drinks up onto the bar - let us know how it all goes down.
I was hugely influenced by Bob Dylan but I knew fuck all about him. In the end, he turned out to be a bloke who wrote songs.Billy Bragg
1. Ideology (youtube)
In the intro to this live version, Billy tips his hat to Dylan, which is fitting since the song is "Chimes of Freedom" but with Bragg's own, more op-ed style lyrics.
2. Positively 4th Street
An acoustic duet with Eliza Carthy which sounds like it's coming straight outta 1963*.
(*Yes, I know...)
3. When the Ship Comes In.
A sincere, acoustic take but pitched just right.
4. This Wheel's On Fire (youtube)
A stinging duet with KT Tunstall, who seems to have modeled herself on both the Joan Jett of yesteryear and the Bonnie Raitt of today.
5. The Times They Are-A-Changin' (youtube)
Billy keeps this song po-faced and acoustic but doesn't play up the stridency as he sometimes does.
With his occasional partner-in-bluegrass, Hank Wangford, Billy did a strong version of this lyric written by Woody Guthrie, which later had music added to it by Martin Hoffman and was famously covered by Joan Baez and Bob Dylan on the Rolling Thunder Tour of 1976.
7. Don't Think Twice (youtube)
Good one but needs a bit more...slashing.
8. Evidently Chickentown (youtube)
In the loooong, rambling intro (excised for this compilation but available on the youtube link above) Bragg explains that this is his attempt to do a John Cooper Clarke poem in the style of Bob Dylan circa Highway '61.
9. You Ain't Goin' Nowhere
This is Nigel & The Crosses (a.k.a. Bragg, Mike Mills & Peter Buck of R.E.M., Glen Tilbrook of Squeeze and Peter Holsapple of The D.B.'s backing Robyn Hitchcock) on a Basement Tapes era track.
10. The Lonesome Death of Rachel Corrie (youtube)
"The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carrol", upon which this song is directly modeled, is a perfect piece of theater but Bragg's re-written lyrics seem more reminiscent of Dylan's earlier, more didactic narrative broadsides like, "The Ballad of Donald White".
11. Far From Last Thoughts on Bob Dylan
These days Billy spends over half of any given concert just talkin'. While some people object strenuously, the devout eat it up and this 'rap' about Dylan's Chronicles is pretty amusing.
And here's one more for the road; it's Dylan (who did indeed mention Billy in his "autobiography", Chronicles) playing Bragg & Wilco's "Joe Dimaggo's Done It Again"on his Theme Time Radio Hour show:
*The Dylan Side of Billy Bragg link is available in the comments - and while you're there please tell us what you think about Bragg's debt to Dylan.