Ranking Bob Dylan Songs, #118, #120: In My Time of Dyin’, Fixin’ To Die

These are the two worst songs on Bob Dylan’s self-titled debut album and, as such, two of the worst songs Dylan would record in the 1960s. To my knowledge, he never played either of them in concert; Dylan would, for the most part, abandon the songs that he didn’t write when he started performing regularly, although there is a performance of “Man of Constant Sorrow” featured in Martin Scorcese’s No Direction Home, as well as extant live recordings of a few other songs from the album, but none of “Dyin’” or “Fixin.’”

And that’s probably a good thing. They are two wholly forgettable songs. Of Bob Dylan’s entire 1960s catalog, they may be the only two songs I never get stuck in my head and never have the real desire to listen to.

“Fixin’ to Die” features too much of Dylan’s poor impression of traditional blues singers (the song was originally written by Bukka White) with an artificially harsh and gravelly voice; it is the vocal equivalent of performing in blackface. There is also nothing particularly memorable or melodious about Dylan’s guitar play or his arrangement of this song.

“In My Time of Dyin’” is slightly more redeemable, if only because Dylan refrains from scratching through the vocals. Instead, he embraces the sing-songy quality of the melody. The way he builds up to and eventually sings the line, “Jesus gonna make up my dying bed,” could even pass for catchy in some cultures. Nevertheless, Dylan’s version’s got nothing on Led Zeppelin’s.

What’s most interesting about these songs is what they illustrate about the young singer. Choosing to record these two songs, particularly in the manner he does, aping the sound of bluesmen, shows that a significant part of Dylan always wanted to be a blues musician. This helps support the thesis that his embrace of rock music in the mid-60s wasn’t a betrayal so much as it was a return to his roots.

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One response to this post.

  1. […] if I don’t still end up listening to the album often—I find something to like in every (well, almost every) one of the […]

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