Comparison: Telegraph Road and Dry County

I have talked about getting my first album as a present, more-or-less together with my first Walkman. The opening to the album was like nothing I’d ever heard before. Guitars making engine sounds, swirling from one side to the other and back, fading or turning into something different. Kind of a story hinting at the story to come in an instrumental track that I would discover later in the album. Then the piano hits, beautiful but intricate, those fingers might be flying faster than my car. The guitars continue their thing, and it’s still a while before it all calms down and the vocals start.

Meat Loaf’s “Anything For Love”, the first track on Bat Out Of Hell II, was my proper introduction to long songs. I think the Walkman, and that album as it was the only one I had at the time, might not have been my first exposure to listening closely to songs, but it might be close enough, picking out the threads the instruments weaved, examination of background vocals as well as the main ones. And perhaps most of all, my first really close look at song as story.

This post is not about that song. But it kind of sets the background for two songs that I like, that are both pretty long, and both tell stories.

Telegraph Road by Dire Straits clocks in at over 14 minutes. The song starts simply, with just a long, fairly high-pitched sound. Then the music starts, a simple melody that gets more complicated, and played-around, as the song goes on.

The narrative starts simply as well, a guy walking down a lonely path, finding a place to set up a home, then civilisation being built up around him. The independent spirit only lasts a short time: “Then came the churches, then came the schools, then came the lawyers, then came the rules”. As it builds up to present-day, making your own way becomes nigh impossible, the place seems kind of dead-end. A similar sentiment to this quote from another song that I won’t otherwise mention: “The boundaries of this town are closing in just like a noose, the future’s gonna rust if we don’t put it to some use”. Then that wonderful solo, all the way to the end of the track.

Dry County by Bon Jovi is “only” nearly ten minutes long. It starts remarkably similarly, with a chord instead of the one note, and then the tune comes in. The opening lyrics play with associations of hope and despair. Then, “I came here like so many did, to find a better life”. He’d come down the Telegraph Road to the same place, but arrived after the lawyers and rules. All the promise had already drained away from the place.

While Telegraph Road had that throwaway line talking about the churches, Dry County makes more of the religious imagery and wordage: water into wine, a reference to the Eucharist, talk about praying, and about sins. This would fit with the album that Dry County is on: Keep The Faith.

Thematically, structurally, the songs could be twins. Musically, there may be elements in Telegraph Road to place it in its home of 1982. Perhaps something in that distinctive guitar sound. I think Dry County is more easily placed in 1992, from the instrumentation. So perhaps brothers, rather than twins. So it’s fitting that when I listen to one, I usually listen to the other one right next to it.

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