The Wallflowers: 6th Avenue Heartache

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The Wallflowers hit it in a huge way in the mid 90’s with their sophomore album, Bringing Down the Horse. The main story surrounding the success of the band wasn’t so much the music, however… at the time, the fact that the singer/songwriter of the band was Bob Dylan’s son, Jakob. Jakob looked and sounded like his dad, but he held his own in his songwriting and firmly established himself as a natural talent through the success of the record. As the album grew in stature, the comparisons between father and son stopped and people focused on the music. It IS a cool story, though!

“6th Avenue Heartache” was the first single off of Bringing Down the Horse. The song peaked at #33 and was blown completely out of the water by the next single, “One Headlight.” Some people probably didn’t even realize “6th Ave” WAS a single because well, “One Headlight” is really the most popular song off the album. Just goes to show you how huge a hit “Headlight” was.

But anyhow, “6th Avenue Heartache” did the job in getting The Wallflowers noticed by the powers that be of radio. Hitting #33 is no simple feat.

From what I could gather on the web, Jakob Dylan wrote the song when he was just eighteen. I always wonder if he showed his dad the song:

Jakob: Dad? Let me play you this new song I just wrote! (plays song)

Bob: It’s no “Blowin’ in the Wind,” but it’ll do in a pinch.

Jakob: Aw, come on, dad! GEEEZ!

I’ve always dug this tune, but I have to admit that I could not stand Adam Duritz’s backup vocals on the album cut because of his “Uh-uh-uh” thingy that he does after the choruses… especially after the second chorus. Adam, dude… I know that The Counting Crows were doing well, but SHUT UP! You’re singing over the much cooler guitar part!!!!!

Or that annoying “La la la la la” singing during the third verse… GAH! SHUT UP!

But I guess I shouldn’t blame Duritz for that… I should blame the people who decided to keep it in.

Anyway, the main guitar part was played by Mike Campbell of The Heartbreakers (Tom Petty’s band). According to Songfacts.com (great site!):

Producer T-Bone Burnett is the one who wanted Campbell to play on this. Campbell didn’t have time to come to the studio, so Burnett sent him the tape, which had some open tracks along with the basic rhythm track. Mike has a studio in his house, and one afternoon when he had a few hours to spare, he plugged in his guitar, came up with a few parts, doubled a couple of things, and got a sound he liked. He sent the tape back to Burnett, and the next thing he knew, Burnett called to tell him it came out really good, and the song was on the radio with his tracks. He never even met the guys in The Wallflowers.

Mike Campbell goes on to explain in an interview for Songfacts.com:

“I really like the one guitar line in there, it was very George Harrison sounding and I was real proud of it when I got the sound in the studio, so I was glad they used it. The funny thing is, later, I ran into George. He had a real whimsical, cynical kind of thing – he looked at me and goes, ‘You know, I heard that record on the radio – you’re doing me now?’ He said it with a little chuckle.”

Very cool interview.

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The song’s meaning has been discussed at length over the years… some people think it’s a message from Jakob to his dad about how he (Jakob) has to follow his passion and go the musician route… some people think it’s a song paying tribute to WWII vets… some people think it’s a love song… and some people think it’s a song about how Jakob related to a homeless person who used to live under/near his place of residence.

I think it’s a blending of the first and third reasons: Jakob’s telling a story about a homeless person, relating it to his need to play and follow his heart… but it’s also a message telling his father/mother/whoever that he has no choice but to play music because “the same black line that was drawn on you, was drawn on me / And now it’s drawn me in.”

The lyrics are really quite compelling. At the end of the story, Dylan finds the homeless man gone, leaving behind all his possessions. Jakob can only hope that the man has just moved on and did not pass away during the night.

So for this installment of Acousticalifragilisticexpialidocious, I’ve posted the original and an acoustic version of the song. The acoustic performance is gorgeous – the B3 organ is replaced by an accordion, and that cool-ass guitar line by Mike Campbell is still wonderfully intact. And there is NO Adam Duritz! Sweeeeeet.

(I actually really dig on Duritz and crew… so please don’t give me hell about it!)

If you haven’t heard or picked up Bringing Down the Horse, you’re missing out on one of the best albums to come out of the 90’s. There really isn’t a clunker on the album.

Except for Duritz’ singing. Ok… NOW I’m done with it.

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Download: 6th Avenue Heartache (original version)
Download: 6th Avenue Heartache (in-studio acoustic performance)

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13 thoughts on “The Wallflowers: 6th Avenue Heartache

  1. Acousticalifragilisticexpialidocious is an awesome word, btw.

    Thanks for the tunes, I actually like both versions.

    Have you heard any of Jakob’s new album? It’s pretty good.

  2. The acoustic version has made me like this song again. The voices are front and center. Very simple and very nice. Great read and thanks for the tunes 🙂

  3. Agreed….Bringing Down The Horse is one of my absolute fave albums. Wore out a couple of cassettes of it, before finally getting a CD player in my car.

    Nice to read some background on 6th Avenue..good stuff!!

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