Mixed Up Confusion

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The thing that has most surprised me about listening to nothing but Bob Dylan’s 1962 recordings this week is that he invented folk rock several years before he invented folk rock.

Folk rock is understood as the combination of folk song traditions and electrified instruments and amplification. It also is indicative of the presence of a band – particularly a drummer. Obviously lots of folk groups existed before folk rock – The Weavers, The Kingston Trio, and so on. Performing as a “band” wasn’t the shift, it was playing with a “band”. This is what Dylan would do in 1965 at Newport that would lead to his excommunication. But then how do we explain “Mixed Up Confusion”?

In fall 1962 Dylan had begun recording his second album, Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan. This would be his breakthrough in 1963. Before the end of the year, however, Columbia Records released his first single: Mixed Up Confusion (with Corrina, Corrina as the b-side). Corrina, Corrina made it onto Freewheelin’, and it is the only non-solo acoustic song on that album (it even has a, very subtle, drummer).

Mixed Up Confusion was totally at odds with the rest of the album and it doesn’t appear on it. Allegedly written in a cab on the way to the session, it featured George Barnes and Bruce Langhorne on guitar (one electrified), Dick Wellstood on a prominent, driving piano part, and a rhythm section of Gene Ramsey on bass and Herb Lovelle on drums. Band. Electric guitar. Hard driving rhythm. This was a rock song. A folk rock song three years early.

The single went nowhere. Researching it, I came across this site that breaks down various versions and takes and issues of it. This is too much for me, though I appreciate that there are people out there in the world who do this kind if analysis.

Mixed Up Confusion is an incredible selection for a first Bob Dylan single – almost unbelievable given how he was understood at the time by fans, peers, and media. When I first heard it, on Biograph, as a teenager, I must have placed it much later in his career. I’ve always liked it, and even when I didn’t listen to it for years and years I would still occasionally break out into its memorable opening whine – “I’ve got mixed up confusion, aaaaaand it’s a-killin’ me!”. It was really only this week that I comprehended its place in his development, and it still seems out of place.

A premonition of what was to come, Mixed Up Confusion has a title that seems to define its position in Dylan’s evolution across 1962.

Mixed Up Confusion on YouTube

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