Rough and Rowdy Ways is the thirty-ninth studio album by Bob Dylan. It's a double album that was released on June 19, 2020.
His first album of all-original songs since 2012's Tempest, and his first such album as a Nobel laureate, it was recorded shortly before the start of the COVID-19 Pandemic. The song "Murder Most Foul" was given a YouTube release at the end of March, just as the pandemic started flaring up in the United States. A kaleidoscopic, surreal 17-minute account of the assassination of John F. Kennedy liberally sprinkled with other cultural references, past and present, it attracted much curiosity and reached #1 on Billboard's Rock Digital Song Sales chart, making it Dylan's first #1 hit on any Billboard chart. The album itself continues the basic style he established on Time Out of Mind: brooding, lyrically dense songs sung in a quiet, raspy voice, but notably has a diverse mix of musical styles, with clear influences of Folk Music, Blues and Jazz.
The album received almost unanimous rave reviews and brisk sales, reaching #2 on the Billboard album chart, making 79-year-old Dylan the first artist to have an album reach the top 40 of the Billboard chart in seven consecutive decades.
- "I Contain Multitudes" (4:36)
- "False Prophet" (6:00)
- "My Own Version of You" (6:41)
- "I've Made Up My Mind to Give Myself to You" (6:32)
- "Black Rider" (4:12)
- "Goodbye Jimmy Reed" (4:13)
- "Mother of Muses" (4:29)
- "Crossing the Rubicon" (7:22)
- "Key West (Philosopher Pirate)" (9:34)
- "Murder Most Foul" (16:54)
Rough and Rowdy Tropes:
- Big Prick, Big Problems: "Black Rider"Black Rider, Black Rider, hold it right there
The size of your cock will get you nowhere
- Blackface: "Murder Most Foul"Blackface singer, whiteface clown
- Bookends: The opening song "I Contain Multitudes" mentions "them British bad boys, The Rolling Stones." The closer, "Murder Most Foul", mentions Altamont.
- Boring, but Practical: "Goodbye Jimmy Reed" has Dylan acknowledging his lack of flash in his performing style."You wonít amount to much," the people all said
ĎCause I didnít play guitar behind my head
Never pandered, never acted proud
Never took off my shoes and threw them into the crowd
- Breaking the Fourth Wall: "Murder Most Foul" mentions a whole bunch of song titles, real and fictional, and ends this way:Play "The Blood-Stained Banner", play "Murder Most Foul"
- Buccaneer Broadcaster: "Key West (Philosopher Pirate)"Iím searchiní for love and inspiration
On that pirate radio station
- Just like on Blonde on Blonde, the fourth side of the vinyl release contains just one song (in this case, "Murder Most Foul").
- The reference to "the boulevard of crime" in "I Contain Multitudes" is his second explicit reference to Children of Paradise, after "You're a Big Girl Now" ("Love is so simple, to quote a phrase").
- Armageddon Street mentioned in "My Own Version of You" is reminiscent of Desolation Row.
- "I've Made Up My Mind to Give Myself to You"—"My eye is like a shooting star".
- Within the album itself, Marlon Brando's portrayal of Vito Corleone is referenced in "My Own Version of You", then "Murder Most Foul" mentions another Brando character, Terry Malloy. The 1965 Billy Joe Royal hit "Down in the Boondocks" is mentioned in the album's final two songs.
- Distinct Double Album: For the CD version, the whole album could fit on one disc, but it was divided so that "Murder Most Foul" sits alone on disc two.
- Epic Rocking: Six of the ten songs exceed six minutes in length, with "Murder Most Foul", at 16:54, being the longest song Dylan's ever released.
- Evil Wears Black: The title character in "Black Rider".
- False Prophet: Used as a title, but the song is about how "I ain't no false prophet."
- Fan Flattering: A popular interpetation of "I've Made Up My Mind to Give Myself to You" is that the "you" is Dylan referencing his fans and thanking them for their support.Iím giving myself to you, I am
From Salt Lake City to Birmingham
From East L.A. to San Antone
I donít think I could bear to live my life alone
- Grave Robbing: "My Own Version of You"All through the summers and into January
I've been visiting morgues and monasteries
Looking for the necessary body parts
Limbs and livers and brains and hearts
- "I Am" Song: "I Contain Multitudes" has Dylan exploring his contradictory nature.
- Longest Song Goes Last: "Murder Most Foul" closes the album, taking up the entire second disc.
- Murder Ballad: "Murder Most Foul" is a very long, unorthodox example.
- Overly Long Title: "I've Made Up My Mind to Give Myself to You"
- Saw "Star Wars" Twenty-Seven Times: "Murder Most Foul"Zapruder's film, I've seen that before
Seen it thirty-three times, maybe more
- Seen It All: Used word-for-word to describe the lead character in "Black Rider".
- Shaped Like Itself: "Black Rider, Black Rider, all dressed in black."
- Shout-Out: This may well be Dylan's most Reference Overdosed album. Practically every song includes a list of Shout Out!s. Some of the more interesting ones:
- "I Contain Multitudes": The Irish poem "The Lass From Bally-na-Lee", Edgar Allan Poe, "all the young dudes", Anne Frank, Indiana Jones, The Rolling Stones, William Blake.
- "My Own Version of You": "Scarface Pacino and Godfather Brando", Leon Russell, Liberace, "bring it to Jerome", "move it on over", "Mr. Freud with his dreams and Mr. Marx with his axe."
- Black Rider: "Some enchanted evening Iíll sing you a song."
- "Goodbye Jimmy Reed": Jimmy Reed, of course, and the song is In the Style of him as well, plus a whole bunch of religious references.
- "Mother of Muses": The Muses, and Calliope specifically, a bunch of generals, Elvis Presley, Martin Luther King Jr., "take me to the river."
- "Crossing The Rubicon": Obviously built around a Julius Caesar reference.
- "Key West (Philosopher Pirate)": The title evokes Jimmy Buffett, and the song "A Pirate Looks at Forty", which Dylan has performed live. Also nods to Radio Luxembourg, writers of The Beat Generation like Jack Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg and Gregory Corso, a cryptic reference to "Louie, Jimmy and Buddy" (maybe Louis Armstrong, Jimi Hendrix and Buddy Holly), the Land of Oz, Harry S. Truman.
- "Murder Most Foul": Hoo boy...sixteen minutes of Shout Out!s, with appearances by The Beatles, Woodstock, Altamont, Gone with the Wind, A Nightmare on Elm Street, Tommy and the Acid Queen, Wolfman Jack, Billy Joel, Marilyn Monroe, Don Henley and Glenn Frey, Carl Wilson, and a whole bunch of Jazz greats.
- The album title recalls the songs "My Rough and Rowdy Ways" by Jimmie Rodgers and "My Rough and Rowdy Days" by Waylon Jennings.
- Shout-Out to Shakespeare: Besides the reference listed below, the line "murder most foul" is also spoken by the Ghost in Hamlet. Lady Macbeth is also mentioned in the song.
- Song of Song Titles: "Murder Most Foul" becomes this toward the end, including its own song title!
- Special Guest: Fiona Apple is one of the piano players on "Murder Most Foul".
- Who Shot JFK?: "Murder Most Foul" doesn't specifically pose this question, but it's titled after one of the earliest conspiracy theory books (Murder Most Foul!: The Conspiracy That Killed Kennedy, a self-published 1967 pamphlet by Stanley J. Marks), and references mainstays like the "magic bullet", the "three bums" and the "grassy knoll".