There’s something very playful about Bob Dylan’s “Leopard-Skin Pill-Box Hat”; it sounds like a parody of the blues, in some way, with such a traditional backing and basic riff playing under Dylan’s usual whining (Although, this is from Blonde On Blonde, one of “the” classic Dylan albums, so maybe it sounded more fresh and exciting back then), and there’s a fun bounce to the whole thing. You can imagine everyone having a good time playing it, even as Dylan complains about an unfaithful lover who apparently was very into her headwear. This, however, wasn’t the way that I discovered the song.
No, I found it through a cover by Beck from a couple years back that has an entirely different vibe to it:
This is… bouncy, yes, but it’s a more glam rock stomp, and performed in such a way that recalls Beck’s music from the Scott Pilgrim soundtrack, so much so that I wonder if it was recorded at the same time; definitely, the fuzzy bass and cymbal-happy drums feel very similar to, say, “Garbage Truck” or whatever, and the beeps and blops at 1:27 are, I’m sure, lifted from the Katayanagi Twins battle from the movie:
I far prefer the Beck version; it’s a cover, yes, and it’s as much as unfaithful rip-off of other people’s music as the original, and yet… I don’t know. It sounds more fun, more exciting to listen to, and more into the joke behind the whole thing, if that makes sense. Like his Sex Bob-Omb tracks from Pilgrim, it’s a song that makes me wish I was twenty-years younger and able to play guitar.
I think I’ve always ended up focusing too much on Dylan’s vocals every time I’ve listened to his music in the past; they’re so distinctive – especially when you come to them after years of hearing people make fun of their whiny, wheezy quality, the weird lilt of melodic tunelessness that he brings to everything – that they tend to overpower everything else, admittedly, but when this song came on my iPod when I wasn’t really paying attention earlier today, I finally heard the music under Dylan’s voice, and had this moment of… surprise, I guess, when I finally saw the Byrds/Dylan connection that everyone talks about for myself.
For all of the well-deserved, hard-earned praise and applause that is thrown at the feet of Dylan’s songwriting genius, I found myself weirdly hypnotized by the way that his backing in this song sounds to me like “I Feel A Whole Lot Better” by the Byrds; it’s the performance as much as the melody, a wonderfully jangly pop jaunt to the whole thing behind the harmonica and the singing. The pop-ness of Dylan has always been somewhat absent to me until now, and discovering it by accident today just made me like the song all the more; previously, it had always been Dylan’s lyrics I’ve admired the most in his own performances (And the lyrics for this don’t disappoint: “The silver saxophones say I should refuse you/The cracked bells and washed-out horns/Blow into my face with scorn/But it’s not that way/I wasn’t born to lose you” indeed), but now I want to go back and revisit the entire early back catalog and find some way to turn all of the vocals off and find out what’s going on in the background.