Top 10 “Story Songs” # 1 Bob Dylan – (Lily Rosemary and The Jack Of Hearts)

Authored by Dale Nickey:

Click for other story songs>>>>>> 10  9  8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1

The story song is the toughest gig in songwriting. The song lyric format is tailor-made for the cut and paste Felliniesque’ imagery of a Dylan; or the run and gun pop couplets of The Beatles and  The Beach Boys.  However, constructing a story with a beginning, middle and satisfying end; with rich characters and a good tune in the span of a few minutes? YOU try it. I have yet to succeed. I’ve written a wedding song and a Christmas Song. Both forms are childs play compared to the story song. Here is my number 1 pick…..


Upon first listen, one might think “Lily, Rosemary And The Jack Of Hearts” is just another of Dylan’s marathon, stream of consciousness curios. I did. However with the aid of repeated herbally enhanced  listenings, the mind-boggling brilliance of this masterpiece revealed itself.  Dylan had somehow exceeded the bar he had set for himself in the 60’s at a time when people least expected.

But first some background….

After Dylan’s trilogy of 60’s masterworks, (“Bringing It All Back Home”, “Highway 61 Revisited”, and “Blonde on Blonde”), Dylan laid down his chopper, busted up his neck and became a mere mortal. His comeback album “John Wesley Harding” was generously bequeathed the title of masterpiece (it wasn’t). After Dylan issued his ramshackle, supersized slab of mediocrity  “Self Portrait”; the 1970 release “New Morning” was lauded as a ‘return to form’ by critics. Yeah, it was…kinda…. But, the Babe Ruth of Rock had just posted a 23 Home Run /80 RBI season. Clearly, our hero had lost a step. Fans and critics were discreetly concerned. Perhaps Dylan was as well.

Fast forward to 1975. Dylan rewarded the faithful with “Blood On The Tracks”. Perhaps the finest album in Dylan’s career. Maybe the finest in ANYONE’S career. Break-up songs were nothing new at the time. But, Dylan upped the ante with an unflinching, drop-dead genius divorce album. Just as Woody Allen’s “Annie Hall” had revolutionized the landscape of romantic comedy in film; Dylan’s new album had forever altered the landscape of the relationship record. Prior to ‘Blood’, Dylan seldom came off well in relationship songs. His snarky, nasal bray was not the most sympathetic medium to describe emotions of the heart. With “Blood On The Tracks”, we now had a kinder, gentler Dylan. Moreover, time and circumstance had weathered his trademark sneer into raspy, world-weary croon that suited him (and the audience) better.

At first blush, this protracted horse opera seems odd man out on an album full of finely detailed psychodramas.  However, look closer and you’ll find “Rosemary…” not only belongs on “Blood On The Tracks”, but in a sense ties the whole album together. The whole yarn is analogous to a poker game. However, the face cards are real flesh and blood humans. Set in the ‘Wild West”; the story is all about bluffing, calculation, duplicity and cheating. The stakes are life, love and lucre. Big Jim is the kingpin of the town and owns it’s only ‘diamond’ mine. His wife Rosemary enters the cabaret looking like “a queen without a crown…” When Rosemary starts “drinkin’ hard and seeing her reflection in the knife….” Suddenly, Rosemary morphs into the queen of ‘spades’. Dylan turns in a career vocal performance full of camp, pathos and fun. He sticks the landing on every verse.

There are story songs and then there is “Lily, Rosemary And The Jack Of Hearts.” The scope of the story and characters can only be described as ‘cinematic’. Indeed, two screenplays have been inspired by this song. Dylan switches effortlessly from first to third person in his narrative. He gives us flashbacks, character studies, quick cuts….and it all makes sense and comes together. The best thing about this song is that no video exists. It’s theater of the mind. We know that young Robert Zimmerman was a  disciple of old time Radio Theater as a child in Hibbing Minnesota in the fifties. The pictures he painted in his mind of far away places and exotic people inspired him to leave stifling small town rural America for New York to seek his fortune. Our culture would be forever altered if there had been an MTV to do Dylan’s visualizing for him.

“Lily, Rosemary And The Jack Of Hearts” is an unqualified masterpiece. Dylan captures lightning in a bottle with every line. Throw your ear-buds away please. Do not listen to this song as background music for jogging, blogging, housework or any other peripheral activity. Some songs demand and deserve your undivided attention and enjoyment. Close your eyes hit the play button, and let the curtain rise on the greatest “story song” yet written.


Dear Stereo Loungers:

Thanks to all of you who followed this coundown to it’s conclusion. Lists are silly and subjective….But, it keeps me off the streets at night.

I will not be doing your legwork for you this time. It’s far more rewarding to discover music as an active participant. Seek this song out. Pull up a couch, turn off the lights, close your eyes and listen on a good stereo like god intended.

Johnny Winter Remembered

Author: Dale Nickey

Johnny Winter, was a storm force gail that issued forth from Texas just in the nick of time to bring hard electric blues to the tie dyed Woodstock Nation. He had androgyny, an endless well of virtuosity and blind blues mystique. He was the whole package. To say his passing was a shock would be lying. He had been playing seated for several years prior to his death.


Imagine the talent agent that first caught wind of Johnny Winter. “Wait, you’re tellin’ me that you got a snow white Texas albino who sings and plays the blues like a mother#$%*%#! and his name is WINTER?……Huh, what?!! Are you shitting me? He’s got a TWIN??!!”

Its great that Stevie Ray Vaughn gained admittance The R&R HOF. However, Johnny Winter should have gone in first. How many Texas blues rockers has he blazed the trail for?  ZZ Top,  StevieThe Fabulous Thunderbirds to name a few.  He’s one of the few blues players who displayed staggering virtuosity without compromising the blues ethos.  Substance abuse and bad management blunted his hopes of a commercial crossover.  He refused to sign a release allowing his Woodstock performance to be included in the film.  And, rumors persist that he shrugged off an offer to replace Duane Allman in the Allman Brothers.  No, matter. He was a trailblazer and a hell-raiser.  He produced three Grammy winning albums for Muddy Waters when the blues giant was kicked to the curb after Chess Records closed.  Now he’s gone, found dead in a hotel room in Zurich. He leaves a void in the universe and a void in The Hall.

R&R Hall Of Shame (Spotlight) – Rory Gallagher

Rory Gallagher:

30 million albums sold

The greatest white bluesman to walk the planet. God himself,  (Eric Clapton) runs a pale and distant second.  Don’t believe me?  Ask, the patron saint of cool, Slash (a Rory disciple) who has initiated a petition to get Rory into the hall.  It has been widely reported that when Rock Guitar’s chairman of the board, Jimi Hendrix was asked by a Rolling Stone journalist what it was like to be the greatest guitar player in the world,  he is quoted as responding, “I don’t know, go ask Rory Gallagher”  Still not convinced?  Gallagher was approached by the Rolling  Stones to fill their vacant guitar slot…..twice!  He was on the short list when Brian Jones passed as well as when Mick Taylor quit.  In the case of Taylor’s departure, Rory’s brother Donal has gone on record as saying Rory got the first call.  However, Gallagher had a world tour to do and The Stones were in mid-life crisis. A successful solo artist who also recorded with Muddy WatersAlbert King and Jerry Lee Lewis;  Gallagher respectfully recorded with the Stones a couple of days then excused himself to return to his day job.  Many believe that the uncredited ghost of Rory Gallagher haunts the backround mix of The Stones album “Black And Blue” to this day.

When researching Gallagher’s bio, it seems his life path was pre-ordained. He was born March 2, 1948 in Rock Hospital and baptized in The Rock Church in Donegal County, Ireland.

Gallagher was a shy, saintly, hard-drinkin’ Bluesman of the first order.  He repeatedly vowed never to compromise himself in the pursuit of celebrity and he stayed that course for his entire life.  Major labels waved the brass ring of super-stardom in his face several times in his fabled career and Rory walked away from every soul-selling pact offered. He also earns Rock and Roll mythology points for refusing to  release  singles,  dumping an entire unreleased album master in the trash bin on a whim, and dying (too young at age 47) of liver failure.

The following video is Rory live  ripping through one of his best originals, “Shin Kicker”.  Rory was a live animal whose power was seldom  accurately chronicled in the studio.  Did Eric or Jimi ever burn this bright? Just askin’