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PostPosted: Tue April 27th, 2010, 01:58 GMT 

Joined: Sat August 16th, 2008, 21:48 GMT
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Location: Connecticut
What a quality tune this one is! Last Played live 4-17-05. Has it really been that long? Bring it back Bob!! Covered well a few times, love the JGB doing it. Just a great track indeed!! MEZ


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PostPosted: Tue April 27th, 2010, 02:11 GMT 
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I LOVE this one! Definitely one of my favorites from H61 and one of Bob's all-time sexiest songs for sure. His voice is so warm, the singing is perfectly drawn out and of course the loose, bluesy piano playing. That shit makes me go weak at the knees.

Don't the moon look good, mama,
Shinin' through the trees?
Don't the breakman look good, mama,
Flaggin' down the Double-E?
Don't the sun look good
Goin' dooown over the seeeeeeeaaaa?
And don't my gal look fine
When she's comin' aaaaafter me?

:oops: :oops: :oops: 8)


Edit: I enjoy like the "Phantom Engineer" version, lots of fun, but not nearly as sexy.


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PostPosted: Tue April 27th, 2010, 02:16 GMT 
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its a toon - da phantom engineer is still hangin on in there through to the bitter end. its a good tune to play in a number of styles, so tonight..... boogie, tomorrow waltz? plus one can add verses ad infinitum.... you can get 'em dancing with this one.... cool.


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PostPosted: Tue April 27th, 2010, 02:18 GMT 
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Love it! This is one that's best on the original, for me, though I like live versions plenty that feel it has on HWY 61 is just fantastic.


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PostPosted: Tue April 27th, 2010, 02:28 GMT 
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One of the best tunes ever!

"I ride on a mailtrain, baby"

'nuff said.


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PostPosted: Tue April 27th, 2010, 02:34 GMT 

Joined: Thu August 30th, 2007, 22:44 GMT
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One of the best examples of how Bob's continuing to revise and rearrange his songs throughout the recording process can lead to inspired results. Not that there was anything "wrong" with the song as the rollicking PHANTOM ENGINEER, per se, but the gentle and nuanced rendition that graces the album is simply a cut above what preceded it. I think he really "got it right" with that one.

The one from The Concert For Bangla-Desh isn't bad, either.


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PostPosted: Tue April 27th, 2010, 02:48 GMT 

Joined: Sat December 20th, 2008, 23:30 GMT
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Great song, the album version is the best of course--but I like the '04 jazz version with the Wynton Marsalis Septet a ton. 8)


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PostPosted: Tue April 27th, 2010, 02:52 GMT 
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Fantastic song written at the height of his power - covers a lot of bases, some of his greatest lines. My favorites -

"can't buy a thrill" - Steely Dan lifted that for an album title. They stole from Bob!


____________________________________________-

"Now the wintertime is coming,

The windows are filled with frost.

I went to tell everybody,

But I could not get across.

Well, I wanna be your lover, baby,

I don't wanna be your boss.

Don't say I never warned you

When your train gets lost."


The last two lines, "Don't say I never warned you when your train gets lost", I've used many times in arguments on some issue as a kind of closing statement. It's perfect.

That's why, enjoyable as Bob is, he is also a great weapon. Who knew?


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PostPosted: Tue April 27th, 2010, 04:10 GMT 

Joined: Thu July 13th, 2006, 23:31 GMT
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Location: Muscle Shoals, AL
I've been listening to this song a lot this week, mainly the live versions. Lovvve the 75 versions (particularly the one from Madison Square Garden) and the lone 78 version.

Just curious did they include that live version of Phantom Engineer on that "The Other Side Of The Mirror" dvd they put out awhile back? I read he performed at the newport festival.


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PostPosted: Tue April 27th, 2010, 04:34 GMT 

Joined: Wed April 11th, 2007, 04:15 GMT
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Location: City of Angels
It's a classic Dylan blues of loneliness and dislocation employing many great appropriations from older songs:

'Don't the moon look good honey shining down through the trees'
&
'Don't my gal look fine when she's chasing after me?'

both are derived from this Charley Patton tune (as well as echoing the melody):
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9Ip7U-aAMTc

I know there are more but I can't think of them right now. Regardless, it's got that great original Dylan as Christ thing goin on:
'If I die on top of the hill'...

I've heard many of these by Dylan throughout the years, some good, some ridiculously boring and none will ever hold a candle to the original....except maybe the ones from 75 where he kicked the tempo on high and took it to new heights. Nothing beats Bootleg RTR75
for my money but visually it's one of the best parts of Renaldo & Clara:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bEGfh134Jcw

I love a lot of covers of the album:

Most Interesting:
Bloomfield, Al Kooper, & Stephen Stills
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Qz47XGsi2e0

Dirtiest:
Blue Cheer
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=A0wEjlmzO8w

Best:
Earl Scruggs
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HycJlsTho5g


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PostPosted: Tue April 27th, 2010, 12:44 GMT 

Joined: Mon July 6th, 2009, 21:29 GMT
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The album version is one of Bob's best recordings.


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PostPosted: Tue April 27th, 2010, 13:56 GMT 
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Another reason why HWY 61 is such a great album.. The song is great on so many levels - the lyrics, music, and most importantly, the overall feeling of the song. Never heard a version better than the album track, but some of the covers are really good.

marker wrote:
Bloomfield, Al Kooper, & Stephen Stills
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Qz47XGsi2e0


That's a great track, marker. There's one on that Tangled Up In Blues compilation by Taj Mahal that's pretty good: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=V0yfzRZZvaY


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PostPosted: Tue April 27th, 2010, 13:59 GMT 

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This is the type of Dylan song I love best. Not epics, but fun bluesy numbers that can stand a bombardment of arrangements and perspectives.


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PostPosted: Tue April 27th, 2010, 15:41 GMT 
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Never really cared for this song. If I never heard it again, I doubt I would miss it. For me, the best performances rate around a four or five. The worst are forgetable. The Rolling Thunder era are okay... I'm sure there are some from the Never Ending Tour that are better (after all, everything from the Never Ending Tour is, by definition, better) and yet, none come to mind.

But it is a Bob song and therefore, worthy of our praise and adoration! :D


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PostPosted: Tue April 27th, 2010, 17:07 GMT 
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Don't the moon look good, mama,
Shinin' through the trees?
Don't the breakman look good, mama,
Flaggin' down the Double-E?
Don't the sun look good
Goin' dooown over the seeeeeeeaaaa?
And don't my gal look fine
When she's comin' aaaaafter me?


I do love this one, love to belt those lines along with Bob!


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PostPosted: Tue April 27th, 2010, 17:13 GMT 
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Location: Maybe it isn't a tour, maybe he's just lost.
Callahan wrote:
One of the best tunes ever!

"I ride on a mailtrain, baby"

'nuff said.


Common mistake. The words are actually "I ride on a male train, baby." And the original version was written "for Marlon."


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PostPosted: Fri April 30th, 2010, 22:06 GMT 
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Isn't that what Callahan said?


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PostPosted: Sat October 15th, 2011, 15:46 GMT 
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IT TAKES A LOT TO LAUGH, IT TAKES A TRAIN TO CRY / PHANTOM ENGINEER

Robert Shelton

Wry title for a traditional blues form, rooted in an old shuffle sound from Kansas City or St Louis in the 1940s. Bobby Gregg’s lazy-slap drumming sets the draggy tempo with an ever-so-slight emphasis on the offbeat. No room here for technical flourishes, which would have robbed the song of its old-timey feeling. The unusual harmonica fabric adds to the rough-hewn texture. The singing is straightforward blues, with sustained holds on “sea” and “boss” that add a little dramatic push to an otherwise low-key blues.

Paul Cable

The outtake of It Takes A Lot To Laugh It Takes A Train To Cry just cannot be compared to the familiar version. Again, for all intents and purposes it is a different song. It is much faster and the lyrics are only a pale shadow of those of the final version.

Andy Gill

On a couple of levels, It Takes A Lot To Laugh, It Takes A Train To Cry provides a succinct illustration of Dylan's creative processes in action.

Firstly, it shows he was still keen on borrowing from old blues songs, the second verse being an adaptation of lines ("Don't the clouds look lonesome shining across the sea / Don't my gal look good when she's coming after me?") from Brownie McGhee and Leroy Carr's Solid Road – which, as Rocks And Gravel, had been one of the tracks Dylan recorded for The Freewheelin' Bob Dylan but pulled at the 11th hour. (Ironically, Dylan's own song then went on to provide similar second-hand inspiration for Steely Dan, Dylan fans who borrowed the line "Can't buy a thrill" as the title of their debut album.)

Secondly, It Takes A Lot To Laugh, It Takes A Train To Cry offers a glimpse of the malleability of Dylan's material and the improvisational nature of his recording methods. Two different versions of the song were recorded, sharing the same lyrics, though completely separate in mood and approach. The first version, since included on The Bootleg Series, Vols 1-3, was recorded the same day as Like A Rolling Stone, along with an unreleased track which later turned up on various bootlegs (and eventually on The Bootleg Series, Vols 1-3} called Sitting On A Barbed Wire Fence (aka Killing Me Alive). The letter's tart, bluesy sound seems to have provided the basic inspiration for this first, uptempo run-through of It Takes A Lot To Laugh, It Takes A Train To Cry, a sleek rhythm and blues groove dominated by Mike Bloomfield's quicksilver guitar, one of whose breaks is punctuated by an exhilarated "Aaah." from Dylan. At that time, the song was called Phantom Engineer, but by the next sessions, six weeks later, it had been transformed in both title and style into the slow, loping, piano-based blues that was included on Highway 61 Revisited.

Al Kooper, who played one of the two pianos on the song, liked the original, faster version so much he later recorded the song that way on the Super Session album he made with Mike Bloomfield and Stephen Stills. "I don't want to put down the version that’s on Highway 61, though," he assures me, "because it's a wonderful mood – you can slice the mood on that song. All these songs went through incredible metamorphoses, like Like A Rolling Stone being in 3/4 originally. Phantom Engineer was done fast at first, then slow a day or two later, after Bob had had a chance to think about it. It might just have happened, but I suspect it was premeditated."

Paul Williams

It Takes A Lot To Laugh, It Takes A Train To Cry is a good example of how Dylan's songs shift and transform from performance to performance. There is an outtake of this song, maybe from the same session, maybe from the 16 June 1965 session six weeks earlier, that has a com¬pletely different sound and energy from the album track. This outtake differs from but is closely related to the Newport version of the song (performed 25 July 1965). Both have a more raucous, up¬tempo, noisy shuffling musical feel, similar to From A Buick 6 on the album; it is almost as if Phantom Engineer (as the song was called) split into two parts, one aspect of it becoming It Takes A Lot To Laugh, It Takes A Train To Cry and the other From A Buick 6. Four lines of lyrics changed between the earlier performances and the album version: the "wintertime is coming" section was originally

Well, I just been to the baggage car
Where the engineer's been tossed
I stamped out forty compasses
Sure don't know what they cost.

Partick Humphries

Nobody ever had the gall to ask Dylan to explain why It Takes A Lot To Laugh, It Takes A Train To Cry? As an album filler, the song displayed Dylan’s tiredness of touring, and its refrain gave Steely Dan a title for their debut album. Dylan returned to the song when he was touring in 1991, hammering it into a jagged, electric Chicago southside blues.

Clinton Heylin

Phamtom Engineer:
Known studio recordings: Studio A, NY, 15 June 1965 – 10 takes [TBS - tk.10]; [NDH-tk.9?].
First known performance: Newport Folk Festival, 25 July 25, 1965.

It Takes A Lot To Laugh, It Takes A Train To Cry:
Published lyrics: Writings and Drawings; Lyrics 1985; Lyrics 2004.
Known studio recordings: Studio A, NY, 29 July 1965 – 7 takes [H61 - tk.7]
First known performance/'s: Madison Square Garden, NY, 1 August 1971 [CFB].

The pace of Dylan's helter-skelter existence and scale of personal fame may have accelerated at an exponential rate through the winter and spring of 1965, but he seems to have reached something of an impasse when it came to further songwriting. He admitted as much to Melody Maker's Ray Coleman at the end of his first English tour in May, “I have these things ready – nothing's finished. I know I'll write a lot of stuff, but exactly what shape it'll take has yet to be decided.” He was fully entitled to take a breather. After all, he had completed Bringing It All Back Home just four months earlier. And he was clearly not worried about any temporary drought. He had experienced a similar three-month respite after The Times They Are A-Changin', following it with two breakthrough songs in rapid succession.

Ideas still crowded his head. A wealth of new footage from the English tour, released on the deluxe DVD edition of Dont Look Back, suggests he still could not walk past a piano without vamping a tune (two hours of outtakes also appeared on a Japanese bootleg DVD beforehand which director Pennebaker decided to leave in the bootleg domain). It would appear that Dylan was increasingly inclined to work out melodies on the ol' stand-up. When Tom Wilson came to call at his Savoy suite at tour's end, Dylan sat at the stand-up and played him (and Pennebaker's camera) a new song he was hoping to record – Phantom Engineer. Wilson, delighted at the thought of a Dylan rhythm and blues single, soon set up session in London.

The tape log for 12 May 1965, session at Levy's Recording Studic backed by John Mayall's Bluesbreakers, is now lost, so we cannot know for sure whether Dylan attempted to record this new song at this west end studio (we do know The Bluesbreakers were paid £28 for the session) But Phantom Engineer was just the kind of electric blues The Bluesbreakers could play in their sleep; and the one contemporary report o the session, in Record Mirror, states that they recorded two songs – along with some (unspecified) blues material – until “one of the huge tape reels was almost filled.”

The guitarist on that session was a young Eric Clapton, whose own memory is that “It was just a jam session. We played for about two hours. There was a lot of stuff down on tape. We did a lot of blues songs which [suggested] he was making it up. He was sitting at the piano and we just joined in.” This sure sounds more like Phantom Engineer than If You Gotta Go, Go Now – especially if one applies some significance to the fact that Dylan and Clapton decided to do a joint version of It Takes A Lot To Laugh, It Takes A Train To Cry as the song became, at the October 1992 “Bobfest” concert. (Though the song was cut at the last minute, video exists of them running the song down a number ol times at the dress rehearsal the previous day.) I suspect they had been down this road before.

As for Clapton's suggestion that “he was making it up,” parts of Phantom Engineer sound like Dylan is doing exactly that. Having already transposed a pair of lines – “Don't the clouds look lonesome across the deep blue sea / Don't my gal look good, when she's coming after me” – from Alabama Woman Blues to Rocks And Gravel back in 1962, it was but a short journey from there to here. However, there is no doubt that the final verse is all Dylan, including a second couplet that would not have been out of place on From A Buick Six:

I've just been to the baggage car, where the engineer's been tossed.
I've stomped out forty compasses, God knows what they cost.
Well, I wanna be your lover baby, I don't wanna be your boss.
I just can't help it if this train gets lost.

The May 12 session may have been a bit of a bust, but it taught Dylan something - he need not hijack entire blues bands, just elements thereof. When he and producer Tom Wilson met again at their usual stomping ground, Columbia's New York Studio A, a month later, Dylan brought along guitarist Mike Bloomfield from the Paul Butterfield Blues Band, a white Chicago bluesman who had done his apprenticeship when knee-high to the great Joe Williams.

As at the 12 May 1965 session, Dylan elected to play piano, leaving Bloomfield to let rip with the electric guitar. He attached just one caveat, instructing the young bluesman, “I don't want you to play any of that BB King shit.” Bloomfield had already been shown the ropes, having spent a weekend in Woodstock letting Dylan demonstrate his new songs to him. Bloomfield found the whole experience “very weird, he was playing in weird keys which he always does - all on the black keys of the piano.”

And though 15 June 1965, may have gone down in history as the day Dylan recorded the fabled Like A Rolling Stone, that song proved a mere afterthought that spilled over to the following day. It was Phantom Engineer that occupied most of the first afternoon, requiring ten takes – six complete – as Dylan worked at getting a new sound outta his head and onto tape. No longer “making it up” on the spot, he was still not happy with the opening to the second verse, which at this point read:

Don't the moon look good, shinin' down through the trees
Don't the ghost child look good, sitting on the madman's knee.

Seemingly happy with the final take, he continued to tinker with the song as June turned to July 1965. A typed version of the song from this period, which somehow ended up among the Margolis and Moss papers, along with I'll Keep It with Mine, showed he had yet to give up on either song. Phantom Engineer is how it is identified at the top of the page. On this typescript, that “ghost child” couplet has been changed to fit the rest of the song's train motif – “Don't the break [sic] man look good / Being where he wants to be” – which is how he sings it on its live debut, at what the organizers still thought of as America's premier annual folk festival.

The Newport version in every other way remained the dose of rhythm and blues medicine recorded back in June (listen closely between songs and you can hear someone onstage call out Phantom Engineer). It would take until a lunch break at the third Highway 61 Revisited session, four days later, for the song to slow down to an uphill crawl, for the brakeman to “look good / Flagging down the double E,” and for the windows to be “filled with frost.” Before that break Dylan recorded three more takes of Phantom Engineer (while also running through another song debuted at Newport, Tombstone Blues).

According to eye-witness Tony Glover, who stayed on in New York after Newport, “As most of the musicians and [studio] crew split [for lunch], Bob sat down at the piano and worked over Phantom Engineer for an hour or more. When the crew was back in place, Bob ran down how he wanted it done differently – and in three takes they got the lovely version on the album with some tasty guitar and piano builds in it.” It also got a new name, It Takes A Lot To Laugh, It Takes A Train To Cry, though the studio engineer continued to log the song by its original title.

Phantom Engineer continued waiting in the wings, and when the song was restored to the live set as a roustabout replacement for an electric A Hard Rain's A-Gonna Fall on the latter stages of the 1975 Rolling Thunder Revue, it reverted to the kind of up-tempo midnight stomp that rattled sabers at Newport. Since then Dylan has occasionally allowed blues guitarists to cut their teeth on the song, giving Mick Taylor the opportunity to have a wail at Nantes in 1984, allowing GE Smith the same privilege in Spain in 1989, and even letting Eric Clapton show the world what he might have done back in 1965 at the 1992 “Bobfest” rehearsals. Said train, though, has recently got lost.

Mark Polizzotti

If there is a recurring thread in Dylan's music, it is its con¬stant reinvention. Performances, lyrics, genres, tempos – any number of his songs have been subject to intense makeovers, often in public from one concert tour to the next, sometimes on vinyl, more often than not behind the scenes, hidden in the CBS vaults or following the whimsy of bootleg circulation. Like A Rolling Stone found its beat when it shifted from 3/4 to 4/4 time. Desolation Row started out with electric accompaniment, before a last-minute remake gave it its definitive sound. The most radically redesigned song on Highway 61 Revisited, however, is the enigmatically tided It Takes A Lot To Laugh It Takes A Train To Cry.

Originally called Phantom Engineer (or Phantom Engineer Number Cloudy on the studio sheet), this was among the first songs on the album to be attempted at the 15 June 1965 session. It was one of three songs Dylan chose to play at Newport, and it was one of the first songs the reconvened musicians tried out on 29 July 1965, on their first day back in the studio. The outtakes in circulation show it to have been a close cousin of Outlaw Blues, with the same up-tempo Em-F#m-Gm-F#m blues progression (originally carried by Paul Griffin's pealing organ) and snarling licks from Bloomfield. The overall atmosphere of the early state is jagged, reinforced by the surrealism noir of the lyrics:

Don't the sun look good, baby, shinin' down through the trees
Don't the ghost child look good, mama, sittin' on his madman's knee...

Well, I went into the baggage car where the engineer's been tossed
I stamped on forty compasses, sure don't know what they cost
Well, I want to be your lover, baby, I don't want to be your boss
I can't help it if this train gets lost

Another thing the lyrics show, from the start, is Dylan's ear for "floating" verses, or lines that travel from song to song as a kind of universal word bank or poacher's field. Notably a staple of blues and country songs, "floaters" have no recog¬nized author and are rarely traceable back to their first occur¬rence, but are familiar to any devotee of the music: "My baby's gone, she won't be back no more"; "I woke up this morning, blues around my bed"; "I said please, please don't do me wrong"; "Sun's gonna shine in my back door someday"; and so on. In It Takes A Lot To Laugh IT Takes A Train To Cry, the verses "Don't the sun look good goin' down over the sea / Don't my gal look fine when she's comin' after me" are closely modeled on lyrics Dylan had sung before, notably in the traditional Rocks And Gravel.

Dylan has sometimes played fast and loose with compo¬sition, either passing off some early originals of his own as songs learned on the road or, more often, borrowing from traditional songs – to the point where in some cases (particu¬larly on Self Portrait] his claims of authorship are hard to defend. He has also been known to help himself liberally to friends' melodies, and at one point found himself in Dutch with his Greenwich Village peers for failing to credit his friend Paul Clayton with the melody to Don't Think Twice It’s All Right (he later paid Clayton a settlement). "You have to understand that I'm not a melodist," he said in 2004, voicing a process that, whether acknowledged or not, has been common currency in folk music for centuries. "My songs are either based on old Protestant hymns or Carter Family songs or variations of the blues form." (He was nonetheless taken aback at a 1965 press conference when Allen Ginsberg, who was more aware than most of Dylan's casual approach to intellectual property, puckishly asked if he was afraid of being hanged for a thief. "You weren't supposed to say that," Dylan giggled.) Critic Jon Pareles likened Dylan's lyrics to "magpie's nests, full of shiny fragments from parts unknown." As with Robert Johnson or Woody Guthrie, it is in large part Dylan's particu¬lar way of blending, interpreting, and reinventing lines and melodies from the vast spectrum of American music that has made him one of that music's true originals.

According to Tony Glover, it was during a lunch break, after yet another fast-paced take of Phantom Engineer, that Dylan "reworked the tune alone at the piano and came back with a sweeter, bluesy version which appeared on Highway 61 Revisited" This is possible, given Dylan's unparalleled abili¬ties as a quick-change artist, and the studio sheets for the 29 June 1965 do mention further takes that morning. But this might also be a moment to heed Al Kooper's warning that a title listed on the studio sheets "doesn't necessarily mean there was a recording session. It could also mean there was a mixing ses¬sion, a mastering session, or even that acetates were cut. Misreading of session sheets has caused the most misinfor¬mation about Columbia recording artists, especially Dylan." In other words, it is also possible that the morning was spent simply trying to mix the 15 June 1965 takes, and that Dylan then dropped them to try out a slower, bluesier approach he had already devised in the days following Newport.

The final version, which, once arrived at, was captured fairly quickly, provides the album's first moment of rolling calm, a needed breather between (in the definitive sequence) the high-energy workouts of Tombstone Blues before it and From A Buick 6 afterward. Where Phantom Engineer is charged, It Takes A Lot To Laugh It Takes A Train To Cry is almost mellow, a loping saloon piano taking the lead in place of Bloomfield's guitar, which now contents itself with some shuffling fills. Even the lyrics have softened, the eerie "ghost child" line changing to the nat¬uralistic "Don't the brakemen look good, mama, flagging down the 'Double E,'" and the final verse from an aggressive tantrum to an almost bucolic lament:

The wintertime is coming, the windows are filled with frost
I went to tell everybody but I could not get across
Well, I wanna be your lover, baby, I don't wanna be your boss
Don't say I never warned you when your train gets lost

One of the most noticeable differences between the two versions is Dylan's use of harmonica, harsh and sketchy in the early takes, but here fluid, melancholic, a key element of the song's gender atmosphere, as if we have abandoned the highway for a stretch and continued the journey onboard an easy-rolling steam engine. The harmonica has always been a hall¬mark of Dylan's performance. Audiences at the Concert For Bangladesh, the Before The Flood tour, and down to his most recent shows have applauded its first appearance as if it were a surprise guest artist brought on for a featured number. The instrument has already been heard on Highway 61 Revisited, but only as punctuation between the verses of Like A Rolling Stone. On It Takes A Lot To Laugh It Takes A Train To Cry, it steps out into the limelight, adding strokes of its own to the landscape rolling by, stretching like the plains or whipping like a sudden crosswind.

It Takes A Lot To Laugh It Takes A Train To Cry is also the first song on Highway 61 Revisited to take the measure of Bob Johnston's influ¬ence. Anticipating the Nashville tone of Blonde On Blonde, he here injects an inaugural note of country into Dylan's sound, replacing Wilson's urbane jazz sophistication with a thicker, fuller, more down-home atmosphere, in which every instrument stands full forward. Crispness is replaced with depth, and perhaps nowhere more obviously than in the drum sound – an echoing, jingle-rich bass drum; a lazy, full-bodied slap, not fancy but just right, that provides the album with one of its distinctive elements.

The drum, in fact, was one of the starting points in Johnston's approach to recording:

“I tell the engineer I want the best bass drum sound they can come up with. If it's not as good as Pink Floyd or Stevie Wonder, don't x' call me. And when they call me, the drum sounds better than anything. I get the best possible sound that I could ever get on each instrument.”

“Then I put them up even [in recording volume]. Once they're even, I let 'em play. I don't want four engineers in there, "Bring the guitar up, turn the bass down," you know? I just let them play, and when we get ready to mix, what will take six months for somebody else takes me three or four hours. Because I can't get a better sound than I get on each instrument.”

Listening to the song today, in remastered stereo, one can appreciate the brightness and roundness of the album's sound, the way Dylan's voice, guitar, and harmonica emerge from the middle (joined late in the first verse by Bloomfield's electric), while a jingly honky-tonk piano and bass add flour¬ishes to the left and the drums and second piano pound rhythm on the right. This is more or less the same separation used throughout the album (though with certain instruments occasionally bleeding between channels, as if unable to stand still), and it is now the standard way of hearing it. In 1965, on the other hand, many listeners would have heard Highway 61 Revisited in mono, with all instruments pushed toward the center – the mix that most faithfully represents what the artist and pro¬ducer heard in their heads. What is remarkable is how much, even in the mono mix, the different parts still stand out, and how clearly Dylan's vocal and guitar emerge, while managing to stay fully integrated in the ensemble.

As audiophiles have noted (and a comparative listen con¬firms), the mono Highway 61 Revisited also differs in length, with near¬ly every song on the album shorter than its stereo counter¬part – the total difference is a full four minutes. With no song is this more the case than It Takes A Lot To Laugh It Takes A Train To Cry, which in stereo continues for 40 seconds past the mono fade-out. This time, however, less might have been more – the stereo mix's additional instrumentals simply repeat the middle break, with Dylan reprising the same harmonica lines, seemingly out of things to play, and Bloomfield reduced at the end to slid¬ing repetitively up the neck of his guitar. Overall, in fact, the mono mix of the album has a slightly punchier feel than the stereo, each song ending the moment it has said its piece, with¬out leaving too long an exhaust trail.

Along with the harmonica, Dylan's singing voice also soft¬ens on this song, changing from the rasp of Bringing It All Back Home and Tombstone Blues into a more expressive instrument – one that conveys spite at a lover's fickleness ("don't say I never warned you"), but also tenderness, sadness, and weary detachment. This time out, he replaces fire with simple warmth. To counter Dylan's well-known tendency to wander from the microphone, Johnston placed "three or four or five mikes, so there would be a left, a right, and a center. That way, with Dylan left, right, and center, you can raise the backgrounds and the band several more decibels. You can walk anywhere in the room and hear it" – which might account for the less tinny vocal quality of this album vis-a-vis its predecessor.

"A prairie dog caught on a barbed-wire fence," a "barbed yawp": call it what you will, Dylan's vocal style remains one of the most distinctive in popular music, the best suited not only to his own songs but to the whole, raw tradition out of which they grew. (Columbia's advertising slogan, "Nobody sings Dylan like Dylan," was more truthful than they knew.) Those seeking the dulcet tones of a Johnny Mathis, the crystalline purity of a Joan Baez, are missing the point – as with the blues and roots singers that are his true predecessors, Dylan's voice conveys emotional nuances that have little to do with, and lit¬tle to gain from, more standard excellence. His talent lies in finding and exploiting the rough contours that give the songs their bite, and that in his best moments can be devastating.

Part of this ability, almost paradoxically, comes from the nearly affectless quality of Dylan's vocals, a quasi-deadpan that knows not to overplay emotion, but rather to let it insin¬uate itself through the lines – what one critic calls a "mixture of sangfroid and barely disguised panic." Half sung, half spoken (or shouted), his delivery avoids the obvious emo¬tional stretches (just listen to most covers of his songs to hear how much is lost by overplaying them), veering into a less expected inflection at the turn of a syllable. It is Dylan's singing, as much as his lyrics, that reveals him as an heir to Clarence Ashley, Buell Kazee, and other denizens of the "old, weird America."

Dylan has frequently waxed defensive about his voice. "I'm just as good a singer as Caruso. Have you heard me sing?" he taunted Time magazine's Horace Judson. "I happen to be just as good as him. A good singer – have to listen closely [laughs], but I hit all those notes and I can hold my breath three times as long if I want to." Perhaps he was responding to the incomprehension of his record label, which was still coming to grips with "Hammond's folly." Bandleader Mitch Miller, one of Columbia's head A&R men at the time, spoke for many of his colleagues when he commented, "I will admit I did not see the greatness of it – He has no voice. He does¬n't produce a beautiful sound. I was used to finding guys like Bennett and Damone and Mathis. But when somebody like John Hammond is so confident of somebody's talent, you have to respect that."

We might joke about the delivery, the inflection that comes from Mars as much as from any Midwest, the charac¬teristic drawl that makes Dylan, especially the mid-1960s Dylan, as recognizable and imitable as Gregory Peck, Ed Sullivan, or Bette Davis. But the real attraction of Dylan's voice is that it exists on its own terms, neither pandering to audience expectations – as witnessed by his many changes of voice over the years – nor shutting itself away in impenetra¬ble idiosyncrasy. Like few performers before him, it creates a space that remains entirely its own, that forces you to remem¬ber it, to notice it, that invites you in even while holding you at a safe distance.

Warehouse Eyes

The bluesy It Takes A Lot To Laugh, It Takes A Train To Cry seems oddly out of place here, but it is a wonderful song. More restrained than the rest of the album, Dylan uses one of his favourite images, the railroad, as a starting point (and provided Steely Dan with the title for their 1972 album) "I ride on a mailtrain, baby / Can't buy a thrill."

This short, evocative piece has an atmospheric feel to it with lines like "Don't the moon look good, mama / Shinin' through the trees?"and "Now the wintertime is coming / The windows are filled with frost", and none of the raucous intensity to be found on most of the album.

Hank Kalet

It Takes A Lot To Laugh, It Takes A Train To Cry is Dylan's easy blues, a hobo song that ambles along its way, the languid beat masking the urgency - hinted at throughout by Dylan's keening harmonica - an urgency that suddenly spills out in the final verse: "Don't say I never warned you / When your train gets lost." That hidden urgency explodes in Al Kooper's bouncing organ on From A Buick 6, as the singer navigates the cruelties of the world, with a little help from his "soulful mama".

Oliver Trager

Dylan began working on this bluesy song (mixing the age-old idea of the railroad as a symbol of masculine virility with the cliché of the emotionally vulnerable poet) in June 1965, completed it within a month, and included it on his epochal LP Highway 61 Revisited, released later in 1965. But unlike the balance of the songs on that album in which Dylan’s sneering bark castigates so much that was happening around him, It Takes A Lot To Laugh (It Takes A Train To Cry) finds his voice full-throated, warm and even inviting as he sings, however obliquely, through the smouldering barrelhouse plaint.

Discussing the evolution of It Takes A Lot To Laugh, It Takes A Train To Cry (originally titled Phantom Engineer), keyboardist Al Kooper said in the Biograph liner notes that the songs on Highway 61 Revisited “changed all the time” in the studio. “We would try different te,pos, he would try other words. Most of the songs had different titles. It was a long time, for example, before I realised that It Takes A Lot To Laugh, It Takes A Train To Cry was not called Phantom Engineer. Many early studio renderings of the song, on unofficial releases, are much more up-tempo than that on Highway 61 Revisited.

Like many of the tunes on Highway 61 evisited, the song is a moody, shuffling blues expressing feelings of frustration and loneliness through a string of barely connected images obliquely hinting at a relationship, with even more buried allusions to a Christ-like death “on top of the hill”. While nobody on record has ever had the gall to ask Dylan just what the title means, the song, in its final Highway 61 Revisited mix, echoes the looping blues that spilled from Midwest cities like Kansas City or St Louis in the 1940s. Even many of the lines in the song are stock blues lines. “Don’t the moon liik good shining through the trees” and “Don’t my gal look fine when she’s comin’ after me”, for instance, can be found in Charlie Patton’s Poor Me, Kokomo Arnold’s Milkcow Blues and the traditional Rocks And Gravel – all tunes with which Dylan was undoubtably familiar.

It Takes A Lot To Laugh, It Takes A Train To Cry is a Dylan concert perennial. Since performing it in his notorious electric set at the Newport Folk Festival in July 1965, Dylan has hardly let it miss a tour (or reinterpretation) right up to, including, and beyond his triumphant 1994 Chicago blues-style delivery at Woodstock II. By late-2003, Dylan had grafted a drunken harmonica solo onto the song’s front end.

FD – Mojo 100 Greatest Dylan Songs #87

Dylan rides a coal-blazin’, whistle-wailin’, yakety-track loco all the way to gloryland. It is Dylan showing off. Proving that he knows the blues, knows that roots equate with routes that find their way via rails just 4 feet 8½ inches apart. And it is a great ride as he recalls stanzas from old 12-bars – “Don’t the moon look good, mama, shining through the trees”, lines that blues-kids were fed at birth. He is having fun even though it is a mail-train, a slow train that is forever getting flagged down by brakemen. Woody Guthrie rode the trains, Jimmie Rogers rode the trains. And here is Dylan doing it musically and doing it with such panache that you pray the terminus will never loom into view.

Roger Ford

This lovely song displays the biggest difference between the mono and stereo mixes, with the stereo version nearly 40 seconds longer. While this was a marvellous novelty on first hearing the stereo LP, I do not find it much of a gain in artistic terms. The mono version fades out at a logical point, on completion of the instrumental verse, and wisely leaves you wanting more; the stereo version continues with Dylan (on harmonica) and the band falling into a jam that seems to lose the shape of the song's verse pattern for half a minute or so, until the final repetition of the descending chord sequence. Dylan seems particularly short of ideas for the harmonica on the "flat" stretch, and the only justification I can think of for its inclusion is that the chugging groove is maybe reminiscent of the train in the song's title. The rough mix tape gives us a further 9 seconds before it finally fades out.


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PostPosted: Sat October 15th, 2011, 15:52 GMT 
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Thanks again, nellie.

That Humphries guy is so wrong. This is one of the best songs on the album, maybe my favorite.


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PostPosted: Sat October 15th, 2011, 16:04 GMT 
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it's a joy to hear in any context; I particularly enjoy a drumless take at the BanglaDesh Concert with Leon Russell propelling the bass and George Harrison play slippery slide; also love the blockbuster early 90's takes.


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PostPosted: Sat October 15th, 2011, 16:10 GMT 
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Oh, yeah, the Bangladesh version is one of the highlights of the concert for me.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9nzwPUS_Glo


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PostPosted: Sat October 15th, 2011, 17:46 GMT 
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CShoe wrote:
The album version is one of Bob's best recordings.


Agreed. Love the Bangladesh version too. :D


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PostPosted: Sat October 15th, 2011, 18:48 GMT 
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Always reminds me of how superb of a singer he is/was @ his best.


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PostPosted: Sun October 16th, 2011, 11:49 GMT 
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Giada wrote:
Thanks again, nellie.

That Humphries guy is so wrong. This is one of the best songs on the album, maybe my favorite.



I think you are misinterpreting him - I know Patrick, he has one leg and lived next door to my sister in Brixton - a Dylan (and Tom Waits) fanatic and all round good egg.... I think he is right in saying the song displays a certain weariness - 'can't buy a thrill' 'up all night leaning on the window sill' 'i tried to tell everybody but I could not get across' - i don't think it is 'filler' but maybe stuck between Like A Rolling Stone and Ballad of a Thin Man anything is filler. I can guarantee that PH loves it!


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PostPosted: Sun October 16th, 2011, 15:05 GMT 
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I agree with the weariness part, I was objecting to his calling of the song filler. This song could be stuck between Tangled and Idiot Wind, and I still wouldn't call it filler. It's such a fantastic song.


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