The All-Time Top 10 ‘Next Dylans’

The All-Time Top 10 ‘Next Dylans’: Monkee, Punkers, Bubblegum King: They Wished That For Just One Time They Could Stand Inside His Shoes
by Gene Sculatti

A funny thing about revolutions: Once they’re won, it’s hard to find anyone who opposed them.  Paris, 1789: "Mais oui!  My servants will tell you: for me, it was always liberté, egalité, fraternité!" Seattle, 1991: "I always dug flannel.  That spandex belongs to my sister.”  Few cultural traditions are more time-honored than bandwagon-jumping, as P.  Edwin Letcher’s piece on faux Beatles (Scram 12) proved.  Thirty-five summers ago, perhaps the most cataclysmic "arrival" in pop—Bob Dylan’s, as reshaper of American song, world’s unlikeliest rock ‘n’ roll star and irresistible force—set off a wondrous flood of fakery and imitation.  Over the years, few musicians have remained untouched by his influence: Lennon, Prince, Jagger-Richards, Motown, Springsteen, V.U. Lou, Sheryl Crow imitating Stealer’s Wheel imitating Dylan, etc.  But the real fun was the gate-storming party-crash that occurred when they first opened up that new stretch of Highway 61.  Once he roared past, it seemed like everybody wanted to be Bob Dylan, especially the 10 heroic aspirants revved up here on Simulation Row.

As the early-‘60s headquarters of TV-pop (Shelley Fabares, Paul Petersen, James Darren), it’s perhaps not surprising that Colpix Records was the future Monkee’s first label-stop.  The surprise is his 1965 single, "What Seems To Be The Trouble, Officer," an outright sendup of Dylan’s version of "Baby Let Me Follow You Down.”  It’s all there: thick-strummed 12-string, rudimentary harmonica and MN talk-singing his way through a series of non sequitirs in a voice somewhere between early Dyl and very late Walter Brennan.  The song climaxes with the hippie equivalent of a standup’s rim-shot: "First hard time I ever had was a po-liceman stopped me," drawls Nesmith.  "He asked me if he could see some papers.  I said, ‘What you want, man, Bambu or Zigzag?’"

On the single "The Out Of Towner," the lead singer of the Ohio Express/Kasenetz-Katz Singing Orchestral Circus wraps his eternally adenoidal cords around an early-Dylan-style "protest" number.  A jagged guitar riff plays tag with the vocal as J.V. inveighs against a hypocritical suburbanite who seeks sinful pleasures in the big city; "skyscrapers" and "tranquilizers" figure prominently in this gem of an outlaw blues from ‘65.  (4 Seasons arranger Charlie Calello produced; hear that group’s superb Dyl-crib, "Everybody Knows My Name," on their Working My Way Back To You album.)

Thank heaven the Surfin’ Birdmen never bowed to sacred cows.  Otherwise, they might not have given us "(Why Do You Give Me) The Same Lines," a ‘66 rocker that mocks their famous fellow Minnesotan to a "D.”  Talk about colliding visions of youth culture!  The T-men cop the vocal kinks of the Poet Of The ‘60s to tell what’s basically a ‘50s teen tale: the singer’s upset with a girl who won’t hang with him at the malt shop.  Only advanced voice-print technology could prove that the singer of the Love Society’s "You Know How I Feel" isn’t his Bobness; an amazing resemblance, courtesy of this Wisconsin band’s one-off RCA single from ‘68.

The gifted Austin songwriter and founder (with Jimmie Dale Gilmore and Joe Ely) of early alt-folkers the Flatlanders went delirious from the Dyl heat in ‘77, offering the fevered solo set The Wind’s Dominion.  The sprawling double-album resembles a hot-wired “Blood on the Tracks”: endless verses breathlessly sung, vacuum-packed with shadow figures (Cockroach Man, the Shrimpboat Captain, "the queen’s daughter’s lover," etc.).  A solid hoot, even, it seems, for its creator.

From the same Nugget-y ranks as the Trashmen, Ronnie "Mouse" Weiss and his East Texas Traps are easily the hardest-rockin’ exponents of faux Dylanism.  The near-hit "A Public Execution" and the scorching "Maid of Sugar, Maid of Spice" burn Highway 61 rubber, while "Nobody Cares" brandishes Blonde roots.  

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Newsweek anointed Donovan "Dylan’s work-shirted, cloth-capped English counterpart,” but the early period’s most profound pretender was the Son-king.   Adapting the Tambourine Man’s vocal mannerisms to his own restricted range, he begat a pop-protest style of great power and stupidity in 1965’s "(I’m Not) The Revolution Kind.”  Its predecessor, "Laugh At Me," poignantly dramatized the plight of an oppressed minority (the bellbottomed, bobcat-vested ex-promotion man—Sonny—who’d been hooted out of an industry watering-hole by promo men in suits); it also set in motion the bizarre double-helix that found Ian Hunter borrowing Sonny’s Dylan adaptation to forge Mott the Hoople’s even more Dylanesque style five years later.

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 "‘Eve Of Destruction’ author P.F. Sloan, 19, allows that his inspiration comes from being ‘bugged most of the time,’" Time reported in 1965.  Something made the composer of Jan & Dean’s "Theme From The T.A.M.I Show" and "One-Piece Topless Bathing Suit" swap his baggies for a Hans Brinker cap and life as a sim-Zim.  Not so much a sound-alike as a write-alike, P.F. aped every Dylan song-style, from apocalyptic anthems ("Upon A Painted Ocean" = "When The Ship Comes In") and declarations of independence (“Let Me Be” = “It Ain’t Me, Babe”) to Burroughsian cut-and-paste ("Patterns, Seg. 4" = "Subterranean Homesick Blues").  His second LP, 12 More Times, contains the great "Halloween Mary," whose witchy, wig-hatted protagonist is "riding on a sports-broom, actin’ like nothin’ is real.”  Sloan penned much of Barry McGuire’s Eve Of Destruction and This Precious Time LPs—most notably the Dylan dreamscape “Mr. Man On The Street– Act One” and the probing “Don’t You Ever Wonder Where It’s At.”

Despite a limited output (four Philips singles), former Brill Bldg. scribes Steve Duboff and Artie Kornfeld ("Deadman’s Curve," tunes for the Turtles and Lesley Gore) snag the "show" spot by virtue of the sheer crassness of their work.  The duo’s late-’65 "Pied Piper" (Crispian St. Peters’ cover version went top five) is deliriously Dyl-derivative: an overcooked stew of deliberately flat vocals, clattering drums and reedy harp intrusions.  True "babe magnets," Steve and Artie repeat Dylan’s stock gal-phrase some 18 times over the course of "Piper" and its flip, "Thank You, Babe.”  Self-plagiaristic follow-ups like "Aladdin" and the fuzzed-out, prom-queen putdown "How Is The Air Up There" almost best the team’s debut.  "It didn’t come from the Dylan song," the boys assured Song Hits magazine.  "We chose ‘Changin’ Times’ because it seemed to signify the present atmosphere of society.”  Whew!

The heavyweights start here.  One of Dylan’s early Greenwich Village cronies, Blue was among the first to express his devotion on a full-length album.  Looking on the cover of David Blue (Elektra, 1966) like Mickey Rourke playing some Dickensian scalawag in an off-Broadway Oliver!, on disc he slurs his way across a littered imagistic landscape, taffy-pulling syllables to the accompaniment of Dylan sidemen.  “If Your Monkey Can’t Get It” is “From A Buick 6” sideways, with sawing Velvets guitars, eagles in the hallway and Superman at the window.  “Arcade Love Machine” tilts vertiginously, loaded as it is with dreaming streetlights, bleeding automats and the “hot-dog underground.”  On the fade, Blue gives one of those trademark Dylan cries of anguish: “Whoooahhh!!” Catch the late DB in the opening scenes of BD’s marathon movie Renaldo & Clara, nattering nervously as he plays (what else) a pinball machine.

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More bugged than Sloan, with better diction than Blue, this intense Chicagoan produced the sole masterpiece of the fake-Dylan field, Dick Campbell Sings Where It’s At (Mercury, 1966).  Modest talent and immodest ambitions provide the fuel for Dick to build a fire on Main Street and shoot it full of holes; Dylan readymades (word choice, chord changes) form the DNA of the entire album, which, Dick’s liner notes explain, is heavily informed by his volatile relationship with his girlfriend, Sandi.  Cases in point: the cringe-worthy “Blues Peddlers” (“I won’t be capitulating/ You’re going to lose a few points in your ratings”) and the “Rolling Stone”-washed “Approximately Four Minutes Of Feeling Sorry For D.C.”  (world-class line cramming, plus appearances by Judas, blind men and the farmer’s daughter).   The whole LP, from “Despair’s Cafeteria" to “Girls Named Misery,” glints like cubic zirconium.*  But the high point—the veritable Apex of Appropriation to which all below Dick aspire in vain—is “The People Planners (proudly waving their propaganda banners).”  Mike Bloomfield, Paul Butterfield and support staff kick up an electrical storm as DC spits fire at the enemies of us all:
        Hey there, don’t you scream
        ‘Cause I didn’t eat up all my ice cream
        Or turn off the light when I came downstairs
        Forgot to burn the rubbish or comb my hair
        Just shut up!

Out of print?  Yes.  Hard to find?  Natch.  Likely to be reissued on CD?  Never.  But Sings Where It’s At is worth any effort it takes to find. Never has thievery sounded so sweet.  
*  It might also, thanks to the crisp vocals and unrelenting tunefulness, invite comparisons to Harvey Sid Fisher’s work.

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Available on CD:
Joey Vine: Immediate Records: The Singles Collection (Sequel box set)
Trashmen: Bird Call: The Twin City Stomp Of The Trashmen (Sundazed)
Butch Hancock: The Wind’s Dominion

Mouse & The Traps: The Fraternity Years (Big Beat)
Sonny Bono: The Beat Goes On: The Best Of Sonny & Cher (Atlantic Remasters)
P.F. Sloan: Anthology (One Way) (out of print)
Barry McGuire: Anthology (One Way) (out of print)

Special thanks to Ken Barnes, Chris Morris and Alec Palao