The phrase, ‘Murder Most Foul’ is said by the ghost of Hamlet’s father and it was used as
the title of a Miss Marple film starring Margaret Rutherford in 1964. The song itself is
based around the assassination of President Kennedy. Dylan thinks it is a conspiracy and
that Lee Harvey Oswald was not acting on his own. Oswald’s statement, “I’m just a patsy”
is turned into “I’m just a patsy like Patsy Cline”, but don’t read too much into this – even
when serious, Dylan plays with words and makes little jokes. According to the song,
Kennedy has a sense of foreboding that something is going to happen, but if that were so,
would he have ridden in an open-topped car?
Dylan runs through the 1960s referring to the Beatles, the Rolling Stones and even Gerry
and the Pacemakers. Then we get into the Eagles and Fleetwood Mac. Some of the
references are like cryptic crossword clues and to work out one couplet, you would need to
know that Warren Zevon was backed up by Carl Wilson when he sang a song about Gower
Street in Los Angeles, ‘Desperadoes Under the Eaves’.
It’s a world gone wrong, full of foreboding and dread, but what does “It’s 36 hours since
Judgment Day” signify? There is a line about Kennedy’s missing brain and possibly Dylan
is alluding to his own soul being missing for 50 years. If so, it is a chilling thought. Does it
all add up to anything – as Dylan sings, “It is what it is and it’s murder most foul.” The
song has been recorded with piano, violin and light drums. The melody is unexceptional
but it’s really there to contain the lyric. It couldn’t have been written by anybody else.
The second single, ‘I Contain Multitudes’ gave Dylan a US No.5 placing, and it is just as
strong as ‘Murder Most Foul’ and in the same tempo and style. In his 1892 poem, Song of
Myself, Walt Whitman wrote, ‘Do I contradict myself? Very well, then, I contradict
myself; I am large — I contain multitudes.’ That thought and that conclusion appealed to
In ‘I Contain Multitudes’, Dylan lists some of his influences (William Blake, Sun Records,
Gene Vincent) and includes Anne Frank, Indiana Jones (!) and the Rolling Stones. The
song follows on from ‘Murder Most Foul’ but the choices, on the whole, seem more
personal. Does Dylan really play Beethoven sonatas and Chopin preludes and will we ever
hear his versions? Then again, maybe the reference is to playing them on CD. Cryptic as
ever, Dylan sums himself up beautifully: ‘I’m a man of contrasts, I’m a man of many
moods, I contain multitudes’.
The third single, ‘False Prophet’, is based around a Muddy Waters’ blues riff and the song
is mysterious with the verses being somehow connected but not quite. Dylan attests to
the truthfulness of his work with ‘I ain’t no false prophet, I know what I know’ and ends
with the brilliant ‘Can’t remember when I was born, And I forgot when I died.’
On the album, Dylan pays tribute to another bluesman with ‘Goodbye Jimmy Reed’, the
originator of ‘Big Boss Man’ and ‘Baby, What You Want Me To Do’. As Jimmy Reed died
in 1976, this is a long goodbye. It’s the liveliest track on the album and brings back
memories of ‘Leopard-Skin Pillbox Hat’ from Blonde on Blonde in 1966. Incidentally, Lil’
Jimmy Reed has been playing on Merseyside in recent years: he told me that when
Jimmy was either too sick or too drunk to play, he would send Lil’ Jimmy in his place.
Nobody objected as they got a really good show.
These days I am warming more to Bob’s voice in which he half-growls, half-narrates his
songs. He has been this way for 20 years but now he has mastered how to deal with his
limitations. Dylan has written the CD notes for Dion’s new album, Blues with Friends,
and he is clearly envious that the 80 year old Dion has come so far with his vocal cords