Ranking Bob Dylan Songs, #93: Pretty Peggy-O

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Other than the great “Song To Woody,” which I praised last week, I haven’t ranked the songs on Bob Dylan’s first album very high. In fact, if you leave out “Song To Woody,” the average ranking of the songs from Dylan’s debut has been about 99th, and none of the other tracks has come in higher than 70th.

This may give the indication that I don’t like Bob Dylan as a whole; comparatively speaking, I don’t. But it’s not as 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 tracks.

“Pretty Peggy-O” is a nice example of this. This song is not going to blow anybody away or change the way you think about Dylan, but there are actually several things to like about this song. For one, the harmonies between the guitar and the harmonica are some the best and most natural from Bob Dylan’s early period. Compared to a lot of the tracks on his first album, which were mostly recorded in single takes, “Pretty Peggy-O” has a professional shine to it. The quick pace and bouncing rhythm of the song also showcases some of Dylan’s more impressive vocal gymnastics. As opposed to sounding artificial, as his voice does on some other tracks from this album, here it sounds more playful and effervescent.

The main reason to enjoy this song, though, is that Dylan himself seems to be enjoying himself. One of the things that stands out from reading Chronicles is the romanticism of the early folk part of Dylan’s career, and this song gives an impression of what that period was like: Here is Dylan, singing a simple love song, but capturing the energy through the rush of his guitar and his harmonica. You can almost see him on stage, living it up…

3 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by soulmerchant on April 27, 2010 at 10:22 AM

    Dylan’s version pales by far in comparison with the far-superior Grateful Dead rendition.


  2. Posted by Shawn on August 24, 2010 at 12:13 AM

    As I’ve said elsewhere on your blog, Dylan’s first album is better than most say about it. Every aspiring songwriter needs to hear it. To start with being influenced by Dylan’s mid 60’s and 70’s stuff is only doing a disservice to yourself. At that point he was doing things no average human can produce. It did come from somewhere though. The first album shows the transition or break from the past in folk music. It is the beginning of something great. He wasn’t imitating Woody, no way. Listen to that first disc again and then put on Woody. Woody and his buddies are improvising, Dylan is planned, no matter if it isn’t great art. It shows us mortals what we can do to improve what talent we might have, what we can do to improve our singing, our guitar, and maybe harmonica, how to balance it all into very interesting arrangements. Because, obviously, Dylan did.


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