Bob Dylan’s best songs – Brownsville Girl – #18 (updated)

bob dylan knocked out

Bob Dylan’s best songs – Brownsville Girl – #18

 Well, in the course of life you find yourself with different people in different rooms. Working with Sam [Sheppard] was not necessarily easier, but it was certainly less meaningless. In every case writing a song is done faster when you got someone like Sam and are not on your own.
~Bob Dylan (Oct, 1997 – press conference)

it is ‘a masterpiece, a song that must rank among the five or six best songs Dylan has ever written.’
~Stephen Scobie

When Dylan is working at this level of creativity—a level that puts him head and shoulders above everyone else—there’s a magic evocativeness about everything he writes that gives the words enormous possibilities..
~ Nigel Hinton

#18 on my list of Dylan’s 200 best songs. It was originally recorded as “New Danville Girl” @ Cherokee Studio, Hollywood, Los Angeles, California 6 December 1984. Overdubbed May 1986 for the “Knocked Out Loaded” album.

It’s an amazing song with cinematic lyrics co-written with Sam Sheppard.

New Danville Girl (recorded 1984-12-06):

Lyrics to “New Danville Girl” added down towards the end of the post..

Dylan has only performed it once, on August 6, 1986 @ Mid-State Fairground – Paso Robles, California:

Altogether, the delivery is astonishing. Not a false moment, not a foot wrong. Keeping up a curious tension between the very measured, slightly too slow musical accompaniment and the urgency of his voice, he gives a faultless performance, infinitely fluid and expressive, from beginning to end a plausible, intelligent and immensely humane persona and narrator, alert to the turbulent complexities of every moment. It’s a long tour de force not a moment too long, and the Dylan who incandesces through it is the full Bob Dylan of genius and generous intelligence, fully engaged.
~Michael Gray (The Bob Dylan Encyclopedia)

Lyrics:

Well, there was this movie I seen one time
About a man riding ’cross the desert and it starred Gregory Peck
He was shot down by a hungry kid trying to make a name for himself
The townspeople wanted to crush that kid down and string him up by the neck

Well, the marshal, now he beat that kid to a bloody pulp
As the dying gunfighter lay in the sun and gasped for his last breath
“Turn him loose, let him go, let him say he outdrew me fair and square
I want him to feel what it’s like to every moment face his death”

Well, I keep seeing this stuff and it just comes a-rolling in
And you know it blows right through me like a ball and chain
You know I can’t believe we’ve lived so long and are still so far apart
The memory of you keeps callin’ after me like a rollin’ train

I can still see the day that you came to me on the painted desert
In your busted down Ford and your platform heels
I could never figure out why you chose that particular place to meet
Ah, but you were right. It was perfect as I got in behind the wheel

Well, we drove that car all night into San Anton’
And we slept near the Alamo, your skin was so tender and soft
Way down in Mexico you went out to find a doctor and you never came back
I would have gone on after you but I didn’t feel like letting my head get blown off

Well, we’re drivin’ this car and the sun is comin’ up over the Rockies
Now I know she ain’t you but she’s here and she’s got that dark rhythm in her soul
But I’m too over the edge and I ain’t in the mood anymore to remember the times
when I was your only man
And she don’t want to remind me. She knows this car would go out of control

Brownsville girl with your Brownsville curls
Teeth like pearls shining like the moon above
Brownsville girl, show me all around the world
Brownsville girl, you’re my honey love

Well, we crossed the panhandle and then we headed towards Amarillo
We pulled up where Henry Porter used to live. He owned a wreckin’ lot outside of town about a mile
Ruby was in the backyard hanging clothes, she had her red hair tied back. She saw us come rolling up in a trail of dust
She said, “Henry ain’t here but you can come on in, he’ll be back in a little while”

Then she told us how times were tough and about how she was thinkin’ of
bummin’ a ride back to from where she started
But ya know, she changed the subject every time money came up
She said, “Welcome to the land of the living dead”
You could tell she was so broken hearted
She said, “Even the swap meets around here are getting pretty corrupt”

“How far are y’all going?” Ruby asked us with a sigh
“We’re going all the way ’til the wheels fall off and burn
’Til the sun peels the paint and the seat covers fade and the water moccasin dies”
Ruby just smiled and said, “Ah, you know some babies never learn”

Something about that movie though, well I just can’t get it out of my head
But I can’t remember why I was in it or what part I was supposed to play
All I remember about it was Gregory Peck and the way people moved
And a lot of them seemed to be lookin’ my way

Brownsville girl with your Brownsville curls,
Teeth like pearls shining like the moon above
Brownsville girl, show me all around the world
Brownsville girl, you’re my honey love

Well, they were looking for somebody with a pompadour
I was crossin’ the street when shots rang out
I didn’t know whether to duck or to run, so I ran
“We got him cornered in the churchyard,” I heard somebody shout

Well, you saw my picture in the Corpus Christi Tribune. Underneath it,
it said, “A man with no alibi”
You went out on a limb to testify for me, you said I was with you
Then when I saw you break down in front of the judge and cry real tears
It was the best acting I saw anybody do

Now I’ve always been the kind of person that doesn’t like to trespass
but sometimes you just find yourself over the line
Oh if there’s an original thought out there, I could use it right now
You know, I feel pretty good, but that ain’t sayin’ much. I could feel a whole lot better
If you were just here by my side to show me how

Well, I’m standin’ in line in the rain to see a movie starring Gregory Peck
Yeah, but you know it’s not the one that I had in mind
He’s got a new one out now, I don’t even know what it’s about
But I’ll see him in anything so I’ll stand in line

Brownsville girl with your Brownsville curls
Teeth like pearls shining like the moon above
Brownsville girl, show me all around the world
Brownsville girl, you’re my honey love

You know, it’s funny how things never turn out the way you had ’em planned
The only thing we knew for sure about Henry Porter is that his name wasn’t Henry Porter
And you know there was somethin’ about you baby that I liked that was always too good for this world
Just like you always said there was somethin’ about me you liked
that I left behind in the French Quarter

Strange how people who suffer together have stronger connections than people who are most content
I don’t have any regrets, they can talk about me plenty when I’m gone
You always said people don’t do what they believe in, they just do what’s most convenient, then they repent
And I always said, “Hang on to me, baby, and let’s hope that the roof stays on”

There was a movie I seen one time, I think I sat through it twice
I don’t remember who I was or where I was bound
All I remember about it was it starred Gregory Peck, he wore a gun
and he was shot in the back
Seems like a long time ago, long before the stars were torn down

Brownsville girl with your Brownsville curls
Teeth like pearls shining like the moon above
Brownsville girl, show me all around the world
Brownsville girl, you’re my honey love

 Released version:

Lyrics – New Danville Girl

New Danville Girl
(Bob Dylan & Sam Shepard)

I wish I could remember that movie just a little bit better,
All I remember about it was that it starred Gregory Peck.
He was shot down in the back by a hungry kid trying to make a name for himself.
The townspeople wanted to crush that kid down and string him up by the neck.

Well the Sheriff beat that boy to a bloody pulp,
As the dying gunfighter lay in the sun and gasped for his last breath.
“Turn him loose, let him go, let him say he outdrew me fair and square.
I want him to feel what it’s like to every moment face his death”.

Well I keep seeing this stuff and it just comes a-rolling in,
And it blows right through me like a ball and chain.
You know I can’t believe we’ve lived so long and are still so far apart.
Your memory keeps callin’ after me like a rollin’ train.

I can still see the day that you came to me on the painted desert
In your busted-down Ford and your platform heels.
I could never figure out why you choose that particular place to meet,
Ah, but you were right. It was perfect, as I got in behind the wheel.

We drove that car all night until San Antone
And we slept near the Alamo, bedded out beneath the stars.
Way down in Mexico he went out to see a doctor and you never came back,
I stayed there a while, ’till the whole place it started to feel like Mars.

Well, I’m driving this car and the sun is comin’ up over the Rockies.
Somethin’ about it reminds me of you, like when she sings “Baby, let the good times roll”.
But I’m too over the edge to remember the things we used to talk about or do,
And she’s the one to remind me, she knows this car would go out of control.

Danville Girl with your Danville curl,
Teeth like pearls, shining like the moon above.
Danville Girl take me all around the world.
Danville Girl, you’re my honey love.

Well, we crossed the Panhandle and then we headed out towards Amarillo,
Rushin’ down where Henry Porter used to live, he owned the wrecking lot outside of town,
We could see Ruby in the window, as we came rolling up in a trail of dust.
She said “Henry’s not here, he took off, but you all can come in and stay a while”.

Well she told us times were tough but we never knew how bad off she was.
You know she would change the subject every time money came up.
You know her eyes were filled with so much sadness, she was so disillusioned with everything,
She said “Even the swap meets around here are getting pretty corrupt”.

“How far are you all going?” Ruby asked us with a sigh.
“We’re going all the way ’till the wheels fall off and burn.
Till the sun peels the paint and the seat covers fade and the water moccasin dies”.
Ruby just smiled and said “Ah, you know, some babies never learn”.

I keep trying to remember that movie though, and it does keep comin’ back,
But I can’t remember what part I played or who I was supposed to be.
All I can remember about it is it’s starring Gregory Peck and he was in it,
And everything he did in it reminded me of me. Yeah!

Danville Girl with your Danville curl,
Teeth like pearls, shining like the moon above.
Danville Girl take me all around the world.
Danville Girl, you’re my honey love.

Well, they were looking for somebody with a pompadour.
I was crossing the street when they opened fire.
I didn’t know whether to duck or to run so I ran.
Sounded to me like I was bein’ chased by the midnight choir.

Well, you saw my picture in the Corpus Christi Tribune, underneath it said
‘A man with no alibi’.
You went out on a limb to testify and you said I was with you. Ah, yes you did!
And I watched you break down in front of the judge and cry.
It was the best acting I ever saw you do.

I’ve always been the emotional person but this time it was asking too much.
If there’s an original thought out there, Oh, I could use it right now!
Yeah, I feel pretty good, but you know I could feel a whole lot better, oh yes I could,
If you were just here by my side to show me how.

Well, I’m standing in line in the rain to see a movie starring Gregory Peck.
Oh yes I am, but it’s not the one that I had in mind.
He’s got a new one out now, you know it just don’t look the same,
But I’ll see him anyway and I stand in line.

Danville Girl with your Danville curl,
Teeth like pearls, shining like the moon above.
Danville Girl take me all around the world.
Danville Girl, you’re my honey love.

You know, it’s funny how people just want to believe what’s convenient.
Nothing happens on purpose, it’s an accident if it happens at all.
And everything that’s happening to us seems like it’s happening without our consent,
But we’re busy talking back and forth to our shadows on an old stone wall.

Oh, you got to talk to me now baby, tell me about the man that you used to love,
And tell me about your dreams, just before the time you passed out. Oh, yeah!
Tell me about the time that our engine broke down and it was the worst of times,
Tell me about all the things that I couldn’t do nothin’ about.

There was a movie I seen one time, I think I sat through it twice.
I don’t remember who I was or what part I played.
All I remember about it was it was starring Gregory Peck.
But that was a long time ago, and it was made in the shade.

Danville girl with your Danville curl,
Teeth like pearls, shining like the moon above.
Danville Girl take me all around the world.
Danville Girl, you’re my honey love.

Check out:  Bob Dylan’s 200 best songs

-Egil

12 thoughts on “Bob Dylan’s best songs – Brownsville Girl – #18 (updated)”

  1. This song is way over-rated. It sounds so good on KOL because otherwise this album is really Dylan at his worst. “Brownsville” may have been a good song, but for a production standpoint it was ruined with too much echo and too many bombastic backing vocals, among other things. The horns don’t really work, either. You’ve probably heard “New Danville Girl,” the rough take, which doesn’t suffer the same production problems, but is somehow not very engaging, either. No. 18? More like 118.

  2. We may never know much about the Dylan/Shepard attribution on the lyrics (as with Dylan/Levy on some of the Desire songs) but I want to reinforce the point about Bob’s marvellous singing, phrasing and timing in the recording of the song. With which …. or rather, with which, it is a marvel and a wonder in his vast catalogue.

    Best to all Bobcats and kittens!

  3. Literally was just listening to Brownsville Girl last night on vol. 3 and loving it. Remembering it came out of nowhere, it is mostly nonsensical and just a riff on whatever. Yes Sam Shepard reportedly had a big hand in composing it.

  4. Has the shared aspect of this song between Dylan and Shepard ever been discussed? If so, where. Thanks..

  5. I have always had a sense that Sam Shepard had more input than 50% in this song. Perhaps much more.

  6. Everyone knows this song is connected to the film Gregory Peck film The Gunfighter but there is a less well known link to the Rawhide episode “Incident of the Silent Web”… In it an escaped convict finds a corpse and assumes the identity of the dead man who was called “Henry Porter”. Eventually the imposter is discovered (and shot in the back as The Gunfighter was too), as the episode ends the only thing we the viewers know for sure about Henry Porter “is that his name wasn’t Henry Porter.”

    There are a couple of other firm links to the episode from the song, for instance Rowdy Yates specifically tells the female character “I’ll be back in a little while”, also the curious phrase “he WORE a gun” is partially explained by the fact that Henry Porter does not “wear” a gun but rather carries a hidden gun.

    To me it seems the song’s narrator is mixing up the Gunfighter with Incident of the Silent Web and of course his “real” life. There is probably a third Western providing imagery too. He might start thinking about the Gunfighter “but you know its not the one i had in mind.” The “wreckin’ lot” would seem to be the ranch which was paid for by the original Henry Porter, his daughter ends up inheriting it in the Rawhide episode.

    Porter’s daughter (played by REBA Waters) seems to be set up for life as the episode ends, but obviously the Dylan update tells us that things have not worked out for her since she arrived from Baltimore, Maryland. (There is also a Brownsville area in Maryland which is interestingly only about 100 miles or so from New Danville PA).

    “Then she told us how times were tough and about how she was thinkin’ of
    bummin’ a ride back to from where she started
    But ya know, she changed the subject every time money came up
    She said, “Welcome to the land of the living dead”
    You could tell she was so broken hearted…”

    On this reading the character Jeannie Porter would have to be the main (fictional) inspiration for the Brownsville Girl herself, and yes she does have curls in her hair too!

  7. this is truly one of my favorite songs….does anyone know anything about the shared writing process between these two?

  8. Could you please post the lyrics to “New Dansville Girl”? They are even more remarkable than the “Brownsville Girl” lyrics, especially toward the end of the song where – it seems to me, admittedly based on only one listening – Dylan seems to be referring to some Platonic or neo-Platonic vision.

  9. I agree with you – Brownsville Girl is fun-loving and a great story. I like Girl from the Red River Shore, another gem performed infrequently.

Comments are closed.