"Shot of Love"
Original Dylan version found on Shot of Love (1981)
The purpose of music is to elevate and inspire the spirit. To those who care where Bob Dylan is at, they should listen to "Shot of Love". It's my most perfect song. It defines where I am spiritually, musically, romantically and whatever else. It shows where my sympathies lie. It's all there in that one song. --- Bob Dylan, 1983 interview with NME
Polly Jean Harvey was born in 1969 and grew up on the family farm in the southwest part of England. From an early age, her parents exposed her to a wide array of music, feeding their daughter a steady diet of blues, Captain Beefheart and Bob Dylan. Young Polly Jean took up the saxophone and found her way into bands as a teen.
Moving to London at the age of 22, Harvey was intent on earning a degree in sculpture. However, her primary interest soon turned to music. In 1991, Polly Jean, drummer Rob Ellis and bassist Stephen Vaughn form the core of the band PJ Harvey. A couple of singles are generated and receive acute attention from famed BBC DJ John Peel. By 1992, debut album Dry lands on many critics' year-end best-of lists, Harvey graces the cover of NME and Rolling Stone hails her as songwriter of the year.
Three more proper full-length albums follow along with a string of acting gigs in indie films. By the end of the decade, Polly Jean Harvey has been nominated for BRIT and Grammy awards, and also becomes the only artist to receive three nominations for the Mercury Music Prize.
It is against this historical backdrop that we come to this week's Dylan cover. Harvey becomes involved with the UK's Channel 4 "Music of the Millennium" project. Interviewed for the show, she cites Bob Dylan's Desire as one of her albums of the millennium and then gives a live performance - captured on audio above - of Dylan's "Shot of Love".
The title song from the third album of the so-called "Born Again" phase, "Shot of Love" is a raging, hell-fire sermon which chastises those who forsake the power of love for personal gain or abuse. Of all the tunes that Harvey could have chosen, this is certainly an interesting selection, not only for its lyrical content but also the continuing controversy the album as a whole garnered from the time of its original release in 1981. Although the disdain of critics - and even Dylanophiles - seems to have mellowed over the years, Shot of Love will never make even a Top 25 of Dylan's works among most listeners.
Harvey's take is aggressive, similar to Dylan's. But the driving, direct musical treatment by the power trio PJ Harvey draws out the startling dichotomy contained in Dylan's words: which path do you choose to take? And if the path is really that clear, are the sacrifices involved really that easy to make?
No matter your take on the lyrical content, it is bravura rock and roll.
Original Listening: Bob Dylan, "Shot of Love"