Brownsville Girl

Last updated
"Brownsville Girl"
Song by Bob Dylan
from the album Knocked Out Loaded
ReleasedJuly 1986
RecordedMay 1986
Genre
Length11:05
Label Columbia
Songwriter(s) Bob Dylan, Sam Shepard
Producer(s) Bob Dylan

"Brownsville Girl" is a song from Bob Dylan's 1986 album, Knocked Out Loaded , recorded in May of that year. It is notable for its length, over 11 minutes, and for being co-written by playwright Sam Shepard. The song is a reworked version of a December 1984 outtake from the Empire Burlesque sessions entitled "New Danville Girl". It was anthologized on the compilation albums Bob Dylan's Greatest Hits Volume 3 in 1994 and Dylan in 2007. [3]

Contents

Background and composition

Dylan's hero Woody Guthrie wrote and recorded a song titled "Danville Girl" that included the lyrics "Got stuck on a Danville girl ... she wore that Danville curl", [4] lyrics that are echoed in "Brownsville Girl". Dylan's debt to Guthrie's song is more obvious in "New Danville Girl", the first version of the song that Dylan had recorded for 1985's Empire Burlesque. That version has not been officially released but can be found on bootleg recordings. [5]

Lyrically, "Brownsville Girl" features a first-person narrator speaking to an ex-lover, one presumably from years gone by. He speaks of her wistfully, even though it is clear he is with someone else now, and muses that his current partner reminds him of his former flame (he says she has the "same dark rhythm in her soul"). The singer often interrupts his reminiscences of the mysterious "Brownsville Girl" to describe the plot of a western movie starring Gregory Peck that he saw once (but believes he 'sat through it twice'). The plot of the film, about a young upstart who shoots an aging gunslinger, and then is warned by the dying man that now he must watch his own back, sounds like 1950's The Gunfighter . It is possible, however, that the song refers to multiple Gregory Peck films: 1946's Duel in the Sun is about two brothers in Texas fighting for the love of a dark beauty named Pearl Chavez, and the song's narrator mentions standing in line to see a movie starring Peck even though "it's not the one that I had in mind". [6]

Reception and legacy

Although Knocked Out Loaded received poor reviews upon release, "Brownsville Girl" is considered one of Dylan's best songs by some critics. [7] Dylan scholar and musicologist Eyolf Ostrem, for instance, considers it "the only real excuse" for Knocked Out Loaded to exist but adds, "Since it’s one of Dylan’s greatest epic ballads, it’s a good excuse". [8] Music critic Robert Christgau similarly praised "Brownsville Girl" as "one of the greatest and most ridiculous of Dylan's great ridiculous epics. Doesn't matter who came up with such lines as 'She said even the swap meets around here are getting pretty corrupt' and 'I didn't know whether to duck or to run, so I ran' they're classic Dylan". [9]

Gregory Peck himself quoted "Brownsville Girl" in a speech at the Kennedy Center Honors in 1997 when Dylan was being awarded the The Dorothy and Lillian Gish Prize. Peck's speech concluded with him recalling the first time he heard the song: "Dylan was singing about a picture that I made called The Gunfighter about the lone man in town with people comin' in to kill him and everybody wants him out of town before the shooting starts. When I met Bob, years later, I told him that meant a lot to me and the best way I could sum him up is to say Bob Dylan has never been about to get out of town before the shootin' starts. Thank you, Mr. Dylan, for rocking the country...and the ages". [10]

The Big Issue placed the song first on a 2021 list of the "80 best Bob Dylan songs - that aren't the greatest hits" (in spite of the fact that it is included on Bob Dylan's Greatest Hits Volume 3 ) and called it the "Ulysses of music, an 11-minute ramble...about nothing and everything, epic and ridiculous". [11] A 2021 Guardian article included it on a list of "80 Bob Dylan songs everyone should know". [12]

Will "Bonnie 'Prince' Billy" Oldham, who covered it live in 2012, [13] named "Brownsville Girl" as his all-time favorite Bob Dylan song in a 2021 Stereogum article, writing, "The song is concrete, cathartic and epic, humorous and charming. It rolls across unmapped territories and hints at a way of realizing musical ideas that has yet to be pursued since by anyone, anywhere, including by Bob Dylan". [14]

Live performance

Dylan has only performed the song live once, a partial version at a concert in Paso Robles, California on August 6, 1986. [15]

Notable cover

Comedian/singer Reggie Watts covered the song in a truncated dancehall version for the 2014 compilation Bob Dylan in the 80s: Volume One , a version referred to by Consequence of Sound as "surprisingly great". [16]

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References

  1. 1 2 Himes, Geoffrey (July 24, 1986). "RECORDS". Washington Post. Retrieved January 2, 2021.
  2. Bream, John (February 2, 2013). "June 22, 1986: The many faces of Bob Dylan". Star Tribune. Retrieved January 2, 2021.
  3. "Brownsville Girl | The Official Bob Dylan Site". www.bobdylan.com. Retrieved 2021-05-11.
  4. ""Danville Girl" ~ Woody Guthrie". www.woodyguthrie.org. Retrieved 2021-05-11.
  5. "From Danville Girl to New Danville Girl to Brownsville Girl. Dylan's epic journey. | Untold Dylan". 2016-10-19. Retrieved 2021-05-11.
  6. "Brownsville Girl | The Official Bob Dylan Site". www.bobdylan.com. Retrieved 2021-05-11.
  7. Gray, The Bob Dylan Encyclopedia, 95-100
  8. "New Danville Girl/Brownsville Girl | dylanchords". dylanchords.com. Retrieved 2021-05-11.
  9. Christgau, Robert. "Robert Christgau: CG: Artist 169". robertchristgau.com. Retrieved 10 September 2011.
  10. "Bob Dylan 971226a". www.expectingrain.com. Retrieved 2021-05-11.
  11. "The 80 best Bob Dylan songs – that aren't the greatest hits". The Big Issue. 2021-05-17. Retrieved 2021-05-19.
  12. "Beyond Mr Tambourine Man: 80 Bob Dylan songs everyone should know". the Guardian. 2021-05-22. Retrieved 2021-05-22.
  13. "Bonnie 'Prince' Billy aka Will Oldham – Brownsville Girl – The Best Dylan Covers | Born To Listen" . Retrieved 2021-05-30.
  14. "80 Artists Pick Their Favorite Bob Dylan Song". Stereogum. 2021-05-24. Retrieved 2021-05-30.
  15. "Audio: Bob Dylan Performs 'Brownsville Girl' - August 6, 2014 - Paso Robles, CA". DAYS OF THE CRAZY-WILD. 2014-08-04. Retrieved 2021-05-11.
  16. "Listen: Reggie Watts covers Bob Dylan's "Brownsville Girl", and it's surprisingly great". Consequence. 2014-03-06. Retrieved 2021-05-30.