"Leopard-Skin Pill-Box Hat
" is a song by Bob Dylan
, from his 1966 album Blonde on Blonde
. Like many other Dylan songs of the 1965-1966 period, the song features a surreal, playful lyric set to an electric blues
Dylan's lyrics affectionately ridicule a female "fashion
victim" who wears a leopard
skin pillbox hat
. The pillbox hat was a popular, highly fashionable ladies' hat in the United States
in the early-to-mid 1960s, and was most famously worn by Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis
. Dylan satirically crosses this accessory's high-fashion image with leopard-skin material, perceived as considerably more downmarket and vulgar. (Of course, genuine leopard skin was very upmarket,
since it came from an endangered species
.It was not yet illegal to trade in such wares, but they were rare and scarce.) The song was also written and released long after pillbox hats had been at the height of fashion, something that was very apparent to listeners at the time.
The song has been widely speculated to be inspired by Edie Sedgwick, an actress/model known for her association with Andy Warhol. Sedgwick is also often suspected as being an inspiration for other Dylan songs of the time, particularly "Like a Rolling Stone" from Highway 61 Revisited.
The song melodically and lyrically resembles Lightnin' Hopkins
'Automobile Blues', with Dylan's opening line of "Well, I see you got your brand new leopard-skin pill-box hat," echoing Hopkins' "I saw you riding 'round in your brand new automobile," and the repeated line of "...brand new leopard-skin pill-box hat," melodically descending in the same manner of the Hopkins refrain "...in your brand new automobile". The Dylan reference to "the garage door" in the final verse of "Leopard-Skin Pill-Box Hat" may also be an allusion to the automobile of Hopkins' song.
Bob Dylan began to include "Leopard-Skin Pill-Box Hat" in his live concerts with The Hawks in late 1965, and the song was one of the first compositions attempted by Dylan & the Hawks when in January 1966 they went into Columbia recording studios
in New York City
to record material for the Blonde On Blonde
album. The song was attempted on both January 25 (2 takes) and January 27 (6 takes), but no recording was deemed satisfactory (one of the takes from January 25 was released in 2005 on The Bootleg Series Vol. 7: No Direction Home: The Soundtrack
Frustrated with the lack of progress made with the Hawks in the New York sessions (only one song, "One of Us Must Know (Sooner or Later)", had been successfully realized), Dylan relocated to Nashville, Tennessee in February 1966, where the evening of the first day of recording (February 14) was devoted to "Leopard-Skin Pill-Box Hat". Present at the session were Charlie McCoy (guitar/bass), Kenny Buttrey (drums), Wayne Moss (guitar), Joseph A. Souter Jr. (guitar/bass), Al Kooper (organ), Hargus Robbins (piano) and Jerry Kennedy (guitar). Although earlier in the day Dylan and the band had achieved satisfactory, album-destined takes of "Fourth Time Around" and "Visions of Johanna", none of the 13 takes of "Leopard-Skin Pill-Box Hat" recorded on February 14 were to Dylan's satisfaction. Dylan soon left Nashville to play some concerts with the Hawks, though he returned in March for a second set of sessions. A satisfactory take of "Leopard-Skin Pill-Box Hat" was finally achieved in the early hours of March 10, 1966 by Dylan along with Kenny Buttrey, Henry Strzelecki on bass, and the Hawks' Robbie Robertson on lead guitar (though Dylan himself plays lead guitar on the song's opening 12 bars).
"Leopard-Skin Pill-Box Hat" was a regular fixture in the setlists on Dylan's extensive post-Blonde On Blonde
1966 tour with The Hawks, though it was rarely played in later tours before Dylan's "Never Ending Tour
" began in the late 1980s (which would see him playing over 100 concerts a year for the entirety of the 1990s and 2000s), in which it became a frequent occurrence.
Dylan chose to open his concerts with the song in late April and early May of 1998, shortly after a Sotheby's auction of Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis memorabilia had dominated the United States media (in 1996, Dylan had pulled a similar stunt by opening with "Drifter's Escape" at the height of interest in the O.J. Simpson trial).
One of the chapters in Douglas Adams
's book Last Chance to See
is called "Leopard-Skin Pill-Box Hat".