“As I Went Out One Morning” is a Bob Dylan song. It is the second song on John Wesley Harding, Dylan’s eighth album.
Written and recorded in the Fall of 1967, the John Wesley Harding LP followed Dylan’s Blonde On Blonde, a double album released in May, 1966. In a broader historical context, John Wesley Harding was created five months after the release of Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band and two months after the death of Woody Guthrie.
According to Brian Hinton’s 2006 book, Bob Dylan Complete Discography, Dylan intended John Wesley Harding to be “an album of songs.” Hinton quotes from a 1968 interview that Dylan gave to Jann Wenner, then of Rolling Stone magazine. Dylan described the approach to songwriting that he started taking with the songs on John Wesley Harding: “What I’m trying to do now is not use too many words. There’s no line that you can stick your finger through. There’s no blank filler. Each line has something.”
Blonde On Blonde contains 14 songs – 9 of which are over 4 minutes long – and has a total running time of 73 minutes. John Wesley Harding contains 12 songs – only two are over 4 minutes long – and has a total running time of just under 39 minutes.
Clinton Heylin, writing in his 1995 book Bob Dylan: The Recording Sessions [1960-1994], claims that John Wesley Harding is “Dylan’s most perfectly executed album.”
Of the twelve songs on John Wesley Harding, Brian Hinton puts “As I Went Out One Morning” among the ten which Dylan once described as having been “written out on paper, and I found the tunes for them later,” then adding, in reference to this method: “I didn’t do it before, and I haven’t done it since.”
Lyrically, “As I Went Out One Morning” is a ballad. Its three, eight-line verses present a first-person account of the events of an initially innocent morning stroll.
(Let me see if I can do this Harry Smith/Anthology of American Folk Music-style: “Man taking a walk encounters beautiful-but-desperate young woman with questionable intentions. Man is quickly and aggressively rescued by apologetic land owner.”)
Musically, Dylan sets the lyrics to a 4/4-time melody in the key of F#m, harmonized by a 23-measure, four chord progression. There are four phrases to the complete melodic line – which repeats with each verse – and the melodic curve soars to its penultimate note in the third phrase, brilliantly highlighting the lyric each time it comes around. (Verse 3, for instance: “As she was letting go her grip…, up Tom Paine did run.”)
“As I Went Out One Morning” was recorded in Nashville, Tennessee at Columbia Records’ Music Row Studios on November 6, 1967. Bob Johnson was the producer. This was the second of the three recording sessions that were needed to complete John Wesley Harding.
Bob Dylan sings and plays acoustic guitar and harmonica on the track. He is accompanied by bassist Charlie McCoy and drummer Kenneth Buttrey.
Specifically, on the recording of “As I Went Out One Morning,” Dylan plays his acoustic guitar capoed at the fourth fret, allowing him to finger the chords in the key of D-minor. (The chords he uses are thus: Dm, C, F and Am. I have always liked the sound of playing it with my guitar capoed at the second fret and fingering Em, D, G and Bm.)
Even in a collection that includes “All Along The Watchtower,” “I Dreamed I Saw St. Augustine” and “I’ll Be Your Baby Tonight,” “As I Went Out One Morning” stands tall; a shinning, perfectly polished gem of a song. It amazes me that, according to one source, Dylan has rarely performed the song in concert.
If Bob Dylan’s original recording was available, I’d have an embedded link right here for you to click on and listen to. There are several cover versions of “As I Went Out One Morning” by a variety of artists posted on YouTube, but after careful listening, I decided that not even one of them could hold a candle to Dylan’s presentation of this truly remarkable song.
So, you’ll just have to buy it – buy the whole album! – to find out for yourself.
P.S.: Yesterday, May 24, 2014, was Bob Dylan’s 73rd birthday.