Here’s a great example of a Dylan misstep. “When the Night Comes Falling from the Sky”, the second single from Empire Burlesque, is pretty dreadful. As with “Tight Connection to My Heart”, the primary offender is the synthesizer. This is as close as Dylan would ever come to releasing a straight up dance song. “Disco Bob”, as it were.
What makes it such a shame is that it didn’t have to be this way. Lyrically the song is fine – it sort of a minor cryptic/apocalyptic love song. There are good lines everywhere (“For the love of a lousy buck I watched them die”), although they don’t really add up to much. It’s all a bit of mess with its horns and swirling synths and congas and who knows what else.
But listen to the version on Bootleg Series v3 (which, I’m sorry, I can’t find an embeddable version online). Recorded in New York on February 19, 1985, this version features two members of Bruce Springsteen’s E-Street Band, Steven Van Zandt and Roy Bittan. It is about a thousand times better than the version that made it onto the album.
The Bootleg Series version is all guitars and power chords, but it completely works. Dylan’s vocal is nice in the opening, but it really picks up when the entire band comes in on the second verse, and, in particular, the keyboards pick it up. Dylan seems lifted by the band and he gives one of his strongest vocal performances in years here. Had this been on the album, not only would it have been the best song on Empire Burlesque, but it would be regarded as one of the best things he did all decade.
It’s hard to imagine why he didn’t use it. It does sound a lot like a typical Springsteen song (the piano playing, in particular) and I wonder if he considered it as such. Nonetheless, it’s the highlight of the whole year, and he buried it.
As for the video, well, it’s probably the best Dylan music video to date. It opens with Dave Stewart of Eurhythmics getting on a bus with Dylan where they will go to a warehouse to play the song in black and white. That’s about it. One of the advantages is that the video omits two verses, so the whole thing is shorter than the album track. That has to be a good thing.
Also, as a bizarre footnote, in googling “Dave Stewart” in connection to this song I found myself reading Stephanie Wilder-Taylor’s book I’m Kind of a Big Deal: And Other Delusions of Adequacy. Apparently she was one of the crowd members during the video. Sadly, it was not insightful at all. I don’t know who Wilder-Taylor is but she has a strong sense of her own importance.