Recorded: Aug 1986 to May 1987
Released: May 31, 1988
- Let’s Stick Together
- When Did You Leave Heaven?
- Sally Sue Brown
- Death Is Not The End
- Had A Dream About You, Baby
- Ugliest Girl In The World
- Ninety Miles An Hour (Down A Dead End Street)
- Rank Strangers To Me
Down in the Groove came at a time when Dylan wasn’t exactly at the zenith of his powers as a recording artist. His struggles with the modern recording techniques (at the time mostly resulting in lost battles), as well as a steadily decreasing audience since his religious trilogy, hadn’t been good for his reputation. And Down in the Groove didn’t make things much better.
It is probably one of the last albums people buy. And in my most critical moments I’m inclined to say: “And for good reason.” But still: the album has qualities, not only compared with Knocked out Loaded, which only has one quality (“Brownsville Girl”).
I’ll return to the qualities in a moment. First a general overview: The six first songs, and eight out of ten songs on the album as a whole, are in the key of A major, most of them are fairly standard 12-bar blues, with slight variations (such as the F#m in Had A Dream About You, Baby, which in this case is counterbalanced by the rather monotonous singing)(I didn’t say it was bad, though). The main difference between Let’s Stick Together, Sally Sue Brown, Had A Dream About You, Baby and Ugliest Girl In The World is the titles.
Death Is Not The End is, I think, the only Dylan song that has left a really bad taste in my mouth. It was a general joking subject around here, until someone wanted to borrow the album to play this song in his wife’s funeral. They had heard it on the radio a few days before she died, probably the only time it was ever played on the radio. I pass her gravestone every day on my way to work. It hasn’t changed my opinion about the song, I just don’t laugh about it anymore.
Silvio is a strange song in many ways. The lyrics by Grateful Dead-lyricist Robert Hunter are often referred to as typical Dylan-wannabe-writing. Be that as it may – on this album it compares favourably not only to the non-Dylan songs. For a very long time it was the regular ending of the first electric set of just about every show, which added to its strangeness: a song that for tape-collectors was a nuisance and a drag, as the eternal song no. 5, but which most others had never heard – who had got Down in the Groove apart from the collectors (the song request of all times: in Stockholm, June 9 1998 someone yelled out “SILVIO” after song nr. 4)?
Musically it is a carbon copy of Isis. That’s perhaps not where the real genious of Isis lies, but it’s a persistent little bugger of a riff.
The songs that are neither square rock’n’roll in A or “Death is not the end”, go to the other opposite – three of them are played in a very loose rhythm (When Did You Leave Heaven?, Shenandoah, Ninety Miles An Hour (Down A Dead End Street)). These are not only standing out, they are really outstanding. Sure enough, the drumming on “When did you leave heaven” is a bit strange, but that’s forgiveable. “Ninety miles” is a perfect example of how to create an intensive pulse (quite fitting the lyrics) without a drum or even a fixed rhythm.
One song left, one performance, and what a performance! Rank Strangers To Me is one of the reasons to have this one on CD – not because of the sound, but
because of the repeat button.