“Man in the long black” coat stands out in the Bob Dylan songbook as a dramatic song that makes an immediate and lasting impression. It was recorded in 1989 by Canadian musician and record producer Daniel Lanois and was included in Oh Mercy which was released the same year.
Bob Dylan has always been an enigmatic and secretive artist, but he nevertheless provided a fascinating insight into the creative process that underpinned the complete recording of Oh Mercy in the first part of his memoir Chronicles Volume I:
We recorded “Man in the long black coat” and a peculiar change crept over the appearance of things. I had a feeling about it and so did he. The chord progression, the dominant chords and key changes give it the hypnotic effect right away – signal what the lyrics are about to do. The dread intro gives you the impression of a chronic rush. The production sounds deserted, like the intervals of the city have disappeared. […] We didn’t even rehearse the song, we began working it with visual cues. Before the lyrics even came in, you knew that the fight was on. […] Any other instrument on the track would have destroyed the magnetism. After we had completed a few takes of the song, Danny looked over to me as if to say, This is it. It was. Bob Dylan – Chronicles Volume I – pp. 215-216
This particular “it” definitely echoes that same moment of musical beatitude Jack Kerouac described in “On the Road” and which I quoted in the introduction to this blog:
All of a sudden in the middle of the chorus he gets it – everybody looks up and knows […]