Going For A Song: ‘Sign On The Window’

Bob Dylan – Sign On The Window

I’m currently reading Yeah Yeah Yeah: The Story of Modern Pop by Bob Stanley. At over 700 pages I’m only a quarter of a way through, but already I’m seriously impressed. One of the things evident is the enthusiasm and the love Stanley has for his subject. And it is not an enthusiasm restricted to just obscure acts, musicians or songs, but an enthusiasm that extends to those more well-known episodes in pop history.

The story of Dylan is well known to me (maybe you too), but as Stanley writes in his introduction, context is everything; and it’s by putting Dylan in the context of pop which makes the period of Dylan he discusses – a period that perhaps the heaviness and amount of writing on over the years has blunted and made dull by the force of reiteration – seem vital again. His chapter on Dylan was also a reminder to me to remind you (or introduce you) to how great I think you should think Bob Dylan is.

Stanley picks Dylan’s often overlooked 1970’s New Morning as ‘maybe his best album’. I wouldn’t go that far, but I do agree with Stanley when he says ‘you could draw a straight line’ from the Dylan on New Morning to the Dylan now ‘several decades on’ in the twenty-first century.

New Morning is an album that’s been referred to as transitional. And certainly transition and its accompanying complications can be best heard on the song ‘Sign on the Window’. In its odd formless structure, to the questioning lyrics (“that must be what it all it’s about”), it’s a song which does not paint a picture of someone certain of transition, but someone looking for places to go, formulating options, and at the end unresolved as to what will happen and how.

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