A strong contender for “best hidden Dylan song”, “Cross the Green Mountain” was written and recorded for the film Gods and Generals. I had forgotten that this film even existed. This is a Civil War film that was entirely financed by Ted Turner as a personal pet project. It was then nearly universally loathed by critics and faded into oblivion. I don’t think that I have ever so much as heard someone mention it. I’ve never seen it, I don’t think I’ve ever really had the opportunity to see it, and I can’t imagine that I will ever see it.
However. It has an eight-minute Dylan epic on it. A Dylan epic with fiddle! This is a really simple song, musically repetitive with Dylan sing-talking a long story. It’s nearly a perfect use of his talents by this point in his career. I am sure it must be the best thing in the film (my guess is that it likely plays over the end credits). Seems like it may have been a bid for a second Oscar, but for that to happen some one in the Academy probably has to watch the film. So no luck on that.
Dylan included this song on Bootleg Series v8: Tell Tale Signs, which is where I first heard it. Had he done so, it might have been forgotten by all but the most hardcore (actually, it probably still is – my guess would be that that is the least purchased part of the entire Bootleg Series to date). It really is too bad, because this one ranks among his best epic songs. It should be far better known than it is.
Here is a sadly abbreviated version that was used as the official music video. It will give you a taste, but you want the whole thing.
If you haven’t heard this one, you really owe it to yourself to listen. In a lot of ways it is the most bizarre thing that Dylan has ever recorded.
“Gonna Change My Way of Thinking” is Bob Dylan’s contribution to a compilation of covers of his own gospel songs. He sings it with Mavis Staples, of the Staples Sisters. All that sounds pretty straightforward. However, the song opens as Dylan solo, with the scratchiest Dylan voice we have yet heard on album, and then it stops after about thirty seconds. At this point Dylan says “Well it looks like someone is coming up the road, boys”. After a knock on the door, Dylan introduces Staples and the two have an old time radio show dialogue about Hawaii, chickens, and “SnoozeWeek”. Dylan tells her that he has the blues and she tells him that they need to sing about it to get over it.
I mean, this one comes right out of nowhere. There was no part of me that thought I would be listening to Dylan and Staples doing radio comedy in the middle of this song. Gobsmacked, would be the word.
What is even more surprising is that the song was nominated for a Grammy: Best Pop Collaboration with Vocals. Dumbfounded. The album itself was also nominated in Traditional Gospel Soul Album. That’s a lot to have to process.
I can’t find a copy online anywhere (there are lots of videos of Dylan doing the song live, but that’s not what is interesting here). It is on Spotify (in Canada at the very least). Do yourself a favour and check this one out. Truly and utterly a bizarre moment.
Edited to add after Graham’s comment (below):
That’s what I get for blogging late at night and unthinkingly. Of course, Graham is completely correct that the dialogue in this song between Dylan and Staples is based on the dialogue in “The Carter Family and Jimmie Rodgers in Texas”, with minor tweaks (you can almost see into Mexico from Rodgers’s house; you can almost see Hawaii from Dylan’s, for example). I should have caught this – I have a complete Carter Family discography, but since listening to Dylan all year I’ve begun to forget it all. Next year: nothing but Carter Family.