On the cover, Dylan’s wearing jeans and a blue collar and white dancing shoes as he stands at the bottom of the concrete stairs looking down the sidewalk, wondering, we can assume, when the hell his band’s going to show up. It’s a big band on this album–saxophone and backup singers on every track, a rock organ that solos instead of Bob’s harmonica. The sound glitters right from the fade-in on the opening track, “Changing of the Guard,” blasting out as if the band were backing Bob Seger or Neil Diamond. Is this a purposeful foray into pop, arena rock? Or did he feel the full arrangement fit the personal-yet-general (and therefore approaching universal) content of the tracks?
With a few exceptions, these songs are about Dylan’s romantic life. “Baby, Stop Crying”; “Is Your Love in Vain?”; “We Better Talk This Over”; and more. It just so happens in those exceptions are the best tracks on the album. “Changing of the Guard” takes us back to that mystical realm of princes and witches from John Wesley Harding, but the lyrics are even more enigmatic and the band is cooking all the way through. “Señor (Tales of Yankee Power)” contains in its motif of arpeggiated minor chords, looming saxophone, and haunting backup vocals all the worldly mystery of Desire. “New Pony” is a blues number that juxtaposes innuendo with the curious refrain of “how much longer?” I don’t count “New Pony” as one of the album’s best tracks, but it is one I can relate to.
I got a new pony today too. Well, a new bicycle at least. My other one was stolen a couple weeks back, somewhere between Highway 61 Revisited and Blonde on Blonde. I’m ready to ride, but the forecast has this cold, rainy spring lasting at least another week. How much longer?
Too much of a stretch there? Too many liberties torquing the song to my own purposes? Did anyone ever tell Reagan “Born in the USA” wasn’t actually a patriotic anthem?
Do I get Street Legal? It’s not Dylan’s most ambitious project songwriting-wise, but I do have a wry appreciation for the chrome-tinted arrangements. Do I need the previous albums to get it? Yes; definitely; by this point, Dylan is an acquired taste. Do I like it? We’re on a post-Blood on the Tracks downslide, but yeah, it’s still good.