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Thursday, March 24, 2016

DIY Playlist Corner: Studio Essentials, 1969 - 1972



Bob Dylan
Studio Essentials: 1969 - 1972

Volume One

To Be Alone With You - Nashville Skyline
Sign On The Window - Another Self-Portrait
Take A Message To Mary - Self-Portrait
Tell Me That It Isn't True - Nashville Skyline
Alberta #3 - Another Self-Portrait
Little Sadie - Another Self-Portrait
Time Passes Slowly #1 - Another Self-Portrait
Down In The Flood - Greatest Hits, Volume 2
If Not For You - New Morning
Pretty Saro - Another Self-Portrait
Lay Lady Lay - Nashville Skyline
This Evening So Soon - Another Self-Portrait
Copper Kettle - Another Self-Portrait
Railroad Bill - Another Self-Portrait
One More Night - Nashville Skyline
Wallflower - Another Self-Portrait
The Man In Me - New Morning
You Ain't Goin' Nowhere - Greatest Hits, Volume 2
Days of 49 - Another Self-Portrait
Father Of Night - New Morning
Gotta Travel On - Self-Portrait

Volume Two

If Not For You - Another Self-Portrait
Living The Blues - Self-Portrait
Belle Isle - Another Self-Portrait
Big Yellow Taxi - Dylan
Let It Be Me - Self-Portrait
Watching The River Flow - Greatest Hits, Volume 2
I Threw It All Away - Another Self-Portrait
New Morning - Another Self-Portrait
Spanish Is The Loving Tongue - Pure Dylan / Masterpieces
Day Of The Locusts - New Morning
Only A Hobo - Another Self-Portrait
Tattle O'Day - Another Self-Portrait
Bring Me A Little Water - Another Self-Portrait
A Fool Such As I - Dylan
Thirsty Boots - Another Self-Portrait
Went To See The Gypsy - New Morning
Country Pie - Nashville Skyline
I Shall Be Released - Greatest Hits, Volume 2
Time Passes Slowly #2 - Another Self-Portrait
When I Paint My Masterpiece - Another Self-Portrait

Alright folks, you should be used to the DIY Playlist drill by now. If not, check out Studio Essentials: The Cutting Edge, 1965 - 1966 and Studio Essentials: 1979 - 1988. The basic concept is taking officially released Bob Dylan recordings and compiling them into a pretty solid playlist to sit alongside your Thousand Highways field recording releases; necessarily, there are no files to download. I will provide the playlist, some cool notes, and links to the recordings necessary to complete the playlist.

Do yourself a favor and gather these jewels - 1969 to 1972 was an especially strong one for Dylan's studio output, in my estimation. After the exciting envelope-pushing of the surrealist mid-1960s, the singer had moved into rootsier material with The Basement Tapes and John Wesley Harding; the former of these will be the subject of a later DIY Playlist, while the latter stands alone as one of the more singular albums of the man's career.

From 1969 to the early 1970s, though, he would go on to perform in a very different style. Listeners would receive not the folksy Bob Dylan of the early 1960s, nor the rocker of the mid-1960s. Instead, they would receive a rather surprising country crooner version of their favorite singer. While this had a detrimental effect on his writing, it would dramatically improve Dylan's vocal performances; many former critics would find themselves nodding along happily with the pleasant tones of "Lay Lady Lay." While later releases in this time frame, including Self-Portrait and New Morning, would not be as well-received as 1969's Nashville Skyline, all contained some classic recordings. This would be made abundantly clear with the release in 2013 of The Bootleg Series Volume 10: 1969 - 1971.

Taking those incredible outtakes and alternate versions, along with the performances on the original releases, you can compile one heck of a two-volume set. While these 42 songs do not push the limits of what can fit on a single CD - Bob Dylan was recording fairly short songs in this era - they provide a delightful listening experience from beginning to end. Grab your cup of coffee, prop your feet up, and put on the stereo!

Volume One

To Be Alone With You - Nashville Skyline

This groovy recording from Nashville Skyline is an exciting way to kick off the set. Dylan spoken intro, a question to his producer, Bob Johnston, sets the tone for a rather laid back experience. Johnston would produce Nashville Skyline and Self-Portrait, but would part ways with Dylan mid-way through the recording of New Morning, being replaced with the keyboardist Al Kooper. It's unclear what came between the producer and the singer, but Dylan's lack of strong artistic direction in this period seems to be the culprit. Johnston was significantly different from Dylan's earlier producer, Tom Wilson, in that he was looking for something of an artistic collaboration. Like many, he saw Dylan's work from 1969 to 1971 as being somewhat commercial, or lacking in artistry. I'd beg to differ, but can understand where he was coming from. Whatever the case, Nashville Skyline is a beautifully recorded record, and we're lucky for the collaboration of the two Bobs, Dylan and Johnston, from 1965 to 1970.

Sign On The Window - Another Self-Portrait

The version of "Sign On The Window" released on New Morning is a perfectly lovely song, and perhaps the strongest on that record, but the strings added by Al Kooper in post-production manage to enhance it even further. This version was finally released on Another Self-Portrait in 2013, though it had circulated among collectors in the intervening years. The lyrics provide something of a motto for Dylan's music in these years; his original compositions tended to espouse a domestic tone, lauding the virtues of a life spent with one's family in a rural setting. This would change dramatically with 1974's Blood On The Tracks, but the consistency of theme makes for a pretty nice throughline to this compilation.

Take A Message To Mary - Self-Portrait

Backing vocals providing a spoken introduction to this song probably exemplify what fans objected to in Dylan's bizarre 1970 album, Self-Portrait. Luckily, this Everly Brothers cover manages to overcome the production hurdles that one would anticipate in a commercial 1970 recording. Unlike his earlier and later recordings, Dylan doesn't strike an especially authentic sound as the murderous narrator, but the tone of the song is quite pretty.

Tell Me That It Isn't True - Nashville Skyline

We're back to 1969 with this excellent country song, recorded with a stable of session musicians in Nashville. We are lucky that Dylan saw the song's charms in later years, and resurrected it on the Never-Ending Tour in the 2000s. The chord progression, along with the song's timeless theme of suspected infidelity, should make for an instant classic. Of particular interest is the slick ending, rather uncharacteristic of the singer's more typically casual approach to the recording process.

Alberta #3 - Another Self-Portrait

All three of the renditions of this traditional song are quite well-done. The third has the benefit of being the rawest in presentation, though, and that's what secures it a spot on this compilation. There's not much to be said about "Alberta," except that you can't help tapping your foot while listening.

Little Sadie - Another Self-Portrait

"Little Sadie" is one of the songs that benefits the most from being freed of overdubs on Another Self-Portrait. It might as well be a different song from the one on the original 1970 album! The song itself is a classic traditional recording most often associated with Leadbelly. Johnny Cash played it to great acclaim on his Live At Folsom Prison record, and that's how I became familiar with it. Dylan doesn't do it quite as well as Cash, but it's still a great recording. The related oddity from these sessions, "In Search Of Little Sadie," doesn't appear on this collection, but it's a fun addition nonetheless.

Time Passes Slowly #1 - Another Self-Portrait

This song would end up being played more strongly in the sessions that led to New Morning, but this whimsical recording featuring George Harrison is too charming not to be included. In particular, Harrison and Dylan singing their "la la las" is a match made in heaven. The two players had been in communication for years, but 1969 represented their earliest artistic collaboration. You can find more of these recordings on the Thousand Highways compilation Pastures of Plenty: 1969 - 1971.

Down In The Flood - Greatest Hits, Volume 2

"Down In The Flood" was originally part of The Basement Tape sessions with The Band in rural New York, but the song was first officially released on Bob Dylan's Greatest Hits, Volume 2. It was evidently selected as a response to the popularity of Basement Tape bootleg recordings, since those were deemed to be unreleasable due to their rough aesthetic and recording quality. I may be in the minority opinion, but I find the versions recorded for Greatest Hits, Volume 2 to be even more effective than their earlier iterations; I only wish Dylan and Happy Traum had recorded more songs!

If Not For You - New Morning

Described by Bob Dylan as an attempt at a Tex-Mex style, the results seem not to have been rated too highly by the singer. A couple other version circulate, including one recorded with George Harrison and one with a piano and violin, but the one chosen to lead 1970's New Morning is exemplary. The mix isn't ideal, as the song suffers a bit from sounding a bit flat, but the joyful tone is truly infectious. This track would go without a live performance until 1992, though it was rehearsed ahead of 1971's Concert For Bangladesh - a recording of this rehearsal performance is available on the Thousand Highways compilation Enough Is Enough: The Best of the Rehearsal Tapes, 1971 - 1989.

Pretty Saro - Another Self-Portrait

Here is one of the best songs on Another Self-Portrait, and one of the strongest rebukes against the old argument that Bob Dylan can't sing. While the vocals are enhanced a bit with some reverb, this guy's clearly got talent. The song itself is quite old, originating with an eighteenth century English song but being preserved in America's Appalachian performance traditions. A rather intriguing music video was produced to accompany the release of this version, in which old Farm Security Administration images from the early twentieth century were set alongside the recording - it's worth seeking out, as it's strangely moving.

Lay Lady Lay - Nashville Skyline

"Lay Lady Lay" was Bob Dylan's most successful song, commercially speaking, from the period covered by this compilation; indeed, it may remain the most commercially successful song from his entire career. Of note is the uncharacteristic bongo accompaniment. While a more generic rhythm track may have been serviceable for the recording, it's nice that the studio musicians opted for this more unique arrangement. The song rapidly became part of the singer's live repertoie, being played in concert in 1969, then regularly on the 1974 and 1976 tours; the 1976 arrangement is notable for being fairly aggressive, and quite distinct from its original studio incarnation. After that, it experienced something of a hibernation from 1978 to 1988, before appearing frequently on the Never-Ending Tour.

This Evening So Soon - Another Self-Portrait

While the song is traditional, the title is actually derived from a story by American author and essayist James Baldwin. It is also commonly known as "Tell Old Bill," from which Dylan would later derive the title for an unrelated recording for the North Country soundtrack. The song itself is quite pleasant, particularly the last bit. At the beginning, he references Bob Gibson, who recorded a version in 1958.

Copper Kettle - Another Self-Portrait

"Copper Kettle" has truly mysterious origins, as it has been dated to various times and places in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Happily, it stands as one of the great successes of the album Self-Portrait, overcoming the poppy string arrangement added to the recording. Like "Belle Isle," you could really take your pick between the more heavily produced version on the original album, or the one on Another Self-Portrait, since both contain the same excellent basic track. The "whiskey tax" referred to in the the song is a reference back to an oft-forgotten historical moment, the Whiskey Rebellion, which was the first true test of federal power against local revolt in the relatively new United States.
 
Railroad Bill - Another Self-Portrait

This is a song in the same vein as "Stagger Lee," "Pretty Boy Floyd" or "Duncan and Brady," in which the narrator describes a run-in between a charismatic criminal and the corrupt society. In this case, the song was commonly associated with Leadbelly, who'd himself been in prison at one time. Interestingly, it bears no similarity to the song "Railroad Boy," which Bob Dylan performed in 1961 and 1976.

One More Night - Nashville Skyline

Here is one of my favorite songs from Nashville Skyline, a pretty straightforward country song. You can find a fairly rare outtake of it on the Thousand Highways title Pastures of Plenty. The song has only been played live twice, once with vocals by Ronnie Hawkins!

Wallflower - Another Self-Portrait

I'm surprised that multiple takes of this song have been released, as it's a rather odd footnote to Dylan's catalog. He recorded it with Doug Sahm in 1972, and it's a reasonably simple country waltz. The version on Another Self-Portrait is narrowly superior to the one on The Bootleg Series, Volumes 1-3, as the vocals are improved and the harmonica is less piercing.

The Man In Me - New Morning

"The Man In Me" is one of the gems of New Morning, though it received comparatively little popularity until it appeared on the soundtrack to the Coen brothers' film, The Big Lebowski. One wishes a horn arrangement was extant for this song, a la "New Morning", but no such take is known to exist. It went on to have a noteworthy re-written version performed on tour in 1978, and you can find that here.

You Ain't Goin' Nowhere - Greatest Hits, Volume 2

While my personal favorite version of "You Ain't Goin' Nowhere" is the truly bizarre lyrical variant played at in 1967 and finally released on The Bootleg Series 11: The Basement Tapes RAW, this one is probably the strongest performance of the song. It originates from the same Happy Traum session that produced other Basement Tapes re-recordings on Greatest Hits, Volume 2.

Days Of 49 - Another Self-Portrait

Here is a rather peculiar track that is more complex than it seems at first glance. One could be mistaken for believing it to be a nineteenth century traditional song, as the singer has often recorded songs of that vintage. In fact, while its roots are in traditional songs collected by John Lomax, the specific words as sung here were written by John Lomax, Alan Lomax and Frank Warner as an adaptation of disparate songs concerning California's gold rush. As for this recording, it's outstanding - benefiting from the absence of overdubs on its Bootleg Series release, Dylan's off-mike remarks are a delight and the guitar accompaniment is solid.

Father Of Night - New Morning

New Morning is noteworthy for being the first album on which Bob Dylan played a significant amount of piano, and this song is the most emblematic of that musical aspect. It is almost unaccompanied, except by some backing vocalists, and stands out as a stark conclusion to an otherwise light record. After John Wesley Harding, it is also one of the singer's earliest songs explicitly pertaining to matters of faith. This would end up being the primary focus of a few later records, including Slow Train Coming and Saved, but those would be less ambiguous than this fleeting piece from 1970.

Gotta Travel On - Self-Portrait

"Gotta Travel On" is not a song that's received much praise, but I would like to offer that here. This is a fantastic, light recording that concludes Volume One with the same feeling of hope that characterizes much of Dylan's output from 1969 to 1971. It was eventually played on stage with the Rolling Thunder Revue in 1976, though no especially compelling recordings of that arrangement circulate. Luckily, we are blessed with this performance from the sessions for Self-Portrait.

Volume Two

If Not For You - Another Self-Portrait

This version of the opening track from Dylan's New Morning LP is a mellow way to start a mellow collection. The unknown violist lays the groundwork for a poetic rendition, as the singer pines away to his muse. The only blemish is an overly hot moment on the vocal track, which evidently could not be scrubbed away when the outtake was compiled on The Bootleg Series Volume 10: Another Self-Portrait. A version of "Went To See The Gypsy," possibly from this session, was released alongside this song on Another Self-Portrait, but it did not make it onto this collection due to similar issues with the recording.

Living The Blues - Self-Portrait

This groovy little song was one of Dylan's only original compositions between Nashville Skyline and New Morning, when he was primarily recording covers. Luckily, it's outstanding, as the backing vocals and band accompaniment provide a distinctly Elvis-esque soundscape. Surprisingly, the melody is based on Thelonius Monk's 1957 recording "Blue Monk." "Living The Blues" would go on to be performed live exactly one time, on Johnny Cash's television show. You can find a recording of this performance on The Thousand Highways Collection.

Belle Isle - Another Self-Portrait

Opting for the version of this on Another Self-Portrait or the original 1970 Self-Portrait LP is something of an arbitrary decision. Both releases are great, though the Bootleg Series version allows David Bromberg's guitar work to shine a bit brighter. This is a very, very old song - this lyrical was collected from Canada in the early twentieth century, but the template is actually a much older traditional Irish ballad.

Big Yellow Taxi - Dylan

In stark contrast to the preceding song, this was written and released in 1970 by Dylan's contemporary, Joni Mitchell. While the version on Dylan was not released until 1973 (as something of a retaliation by Columbia to Bob Dylan switching recording labels), it was recorded only a couple of months after Mitchell had released her original performance. This rendition is not revelatory, but it's a lot of fun.

Let It Be Me - Self-Portrait

This English-language performance of a French original is a pet favorite of mine. Surprisingly, the song would be performed live twice in 1981, eleven years after this version was released! On the first of those occasions, the song was played in its native France, while Canada received the second airing.

Watching The River Flow - Greatest Hits, Volume 2

Unlike Greatest Hits, released in the midst of Bob Dylan's 1960s popularity, Greatest Hits, Volume 2 was actually compiled by the singer himself. As a result, the final side of the record contained a number of formerly unreleased recordings from sessions in the early 1970s. One of these was "Watching The River Flow," backed by Leon Russell. It's a rough, bluesy number that had more in common with the years to come than it did with Nashville Skyline, Self-Portrait, or New Morning.

I Threw It All Away - Another Self-Portrait

This song sounds great in its original release, on 1969's Nashville Skyline, but I find the one on Another Self-Portrait slightly prettier. In either case, it's a beautiful, succinct confession of lost love. While it never entered the live setlist for that long, it was played on tour in 1976, 1978, and several times throughout the 1990s and 2000s. Despite the strength of the original composition, the song's lyrics tend to be altered to varying degrees in concert; you can find one such example on the 1976 live release, Hard Rain.

New Morning - Another Self Portrait

The title track of New Morning is great on that 1970 album, but Al Kooper's horn overdubs add a lot to the recording. It ended up being one of the standout tracks on the second disc of Another Self-Portrait even though its basic recording, sans horns, had already been released decades before! This is one of the songs that is said to have been written for an Archibald Macleish play.

Spanish Is The Loving Tongue - Pure Dylan / Masterpieces

Bob Dylan played this song several times between 1967 and 1976. My favorite rendition, aside from the solo piano performance released on the 1978 Japanese compilation Masterpieces, is the one played at San Antonio in 1976. As for that solo piano rendition, a remastered recording appears on the same obscure German CD, Pure Dylan, that includes a remastered recording of "Trouble In Mind." As I said when that album came up on an earlier DIY Playlist, you really ought to add this compilation to your collection. Other than Masterpieces and Pure Dylan, alternative versions of "Spanish Is The Loving Tongue" were recorded and released on The Bootleg Series Volume 10: Another Self-PortraitThe Bootleg Series Volume 11: The Basement Tapes Complete, and Dylan. A stray comment in the liner notes of either Another Self-Portrait or The Basement Tapes Complete suggests that an outtake exists from the Blood On The Tracks session too, and fans of the song like me are eagerly awaiting that release, as it does not circulate. If you can't secure the version on Pure Dylan or Masterpieces, I suggest substituting the very similar version from Another Self-Portrait.

Day Of The Locusts - New Morning

"Day Of The Locusts" chronicles a trip by Bob Dylan, his wife, and David Crosby to a ceremony at Princeton awarding Dylan an honorary degree. This is the song that first made me a fan of New Morning, as it's a fairly uncharacteristic gospel-esque track. It may, in fact, be the singer's first public flirtation with the genre, though he would go on to play that style quite effectively from 1979 to 1981. Additionally, it contains one of (but not the only) sample of insect noises in Dylan's catalog; "Man In The Long Black Coat," from 1989, would return to this rather odd technique.

One More Weekend - New Morning

Though New Morning was not characterized by a blues sound, as earlier and later Bob Dylan albums would be, at least one blues track managed to work its way in. "One More Weekend" is a paean to domestic bliss, as the narrator looks forward to spending some time alone with his sweetheart after having left all the children home. It's nice stuff, and is actually fairly rare in its portrayal of this situation within the blues genre.

Only A Hobo - Another Self-Portrait

"Only A Hobo" is one of four songs recorded by Bob Dylan and Happy Traum in anticipation of Greatest Hits, Volume 2. Unlike the three others, this one is a unique banjo arrangement of one of the singer's earliest recordings. The harmonica is a bit piercing, but it's otherwise a beautiful recording of a moving piece.

A Fool Such As I - Dylan

This is a surprisingly funky take on the venerable country song popularized by Hank Snow. Like "Spanish is The Loving Tongue," it was first recorded by Bob Dylan at the Basement Tape sessions in rural New York. Unlike that other song, though, the version released on 1973's Dylan LP is a joy to listen to.

Thirsty Boots - Another Self-Portrait

Similar to "Big Yellow Taxi," "Thirsty Boots" is one of the singer's performances of his contemporaries' original compositions. In this case, the original song was released by Eric Andersen on a 1966 album. It is perhaps the earliest resurgence of Bob Dylan's interest in songs concerning civil rights after he had largely abandoned that subject from 1964 to 1969. He would go on to record and release "George Jackson" and "Hurricane" about the same subject in the 1970s.

Went To See The Gypsy - New Morning

We are lucky to have three different recordings of this song to choose from! This version, released in 1970 on New Morning, was one of the highlights of that record. Though it is said to relate a story of the singer visiting Elvis Presley, Bob Dylan has explicitly denied this interpretation. If only fictional, the story in the song is a compelling tale of the narrator briefly meeting some mystical musical figure before being left to watch the sun rise over a little Minnesota town. Beautiful tale, to be sure.

Country Pie - Nashville Skyline

This song is reminiscent of "Father of Night" in its brevity, though in content they couldn't be further apart. A fragmentary outtake was released on Another Self-Portrait, but the final take couldn't really be bettered. As a fun fact, Dylan's mother apparently once stated that this was her favorite song that he had recorded!

I Shall Be Released - Greatest Hits, Volume 2
Along with "Only A Hobo," "You Ain't Goin' Nowhere" and "Down In The Flood," Dylan recorded this Basement Tapes song with Happy Traum for his Greatest Hits, Volume 2 LP.

Time Passes Slowly #2 - Another Self-Portrait

"Time Passes Slowly" was first recorded with George Harrison in 1970, and it went on to be recorded at the studio sessions for New Morning. This is the most electrified rendition. Relatively laid-back in the other performances, it was appreciably louder in one of the arrangements; that's the one I find most effective, and is indeed the one I picked for this compilation. If you don't feel the same way, I suggest including the pleasant one played with George Harrison, also released on Another Self-Portrait.

When I Paint My Masterpiece - Another Self-Portrait

This classic song was originally released on Greatest Hits, Volume 2, but the definitive studio version is actually the solo demo released on Another Self-Portrait. It lacks some of the nice lyrics that it picked up before the final take was recorded, but they are replaced by some whimsical words about an old victrola, and that good old rock and roll-a. The song would go on to be featured somewhat frequently in Dylan's live shows after its first appearance at The Band's New Year's Eve show in 1972 - this was released as Rock of Ages.

You can buy these albums using the links below, or seek them out wherever you purchase your music. I would especially recommend Amazon's The Complete Album Collection MP3 versions, as they tend to sound quite nice alongside each other - little volume adjustment is necessary. You may need to bring down the volume on the tracks from Another Self-Portrait, but not by much.

Nashville Skyline
Self-Portrait
New Morning
Greatest Hits, Volume 2
Dylan
Masterpieces
Pure Dylan
The Bootleg Series, Volume 10: Another Self-Portrait
The Complete Album Collection - The 60's
The Complete Album Collection - The 70's

I hope you all enjoy the sets! They don't quite fill up the CDs, but I think they offer a very listenable, pleasant overview of Bob Dylan's recording career from 1969 to 1972. This wasn't one of the singer's most popular periods, but quite a bit of treasured recordings were produced; at this point, it is one of the more well-documented portions of his career.

Check back in on April 1, as we will be reviewing Bob Dylan's 2001 tour, which introduced Love & Theft to the setlist. until then, keep yourself healthy and listen to some good tunes.

Thanks,
CS

3 comments:

  1. These playlists make for a nice read. I have to admit though, 1969-1972 is one of my favorite eras, so I'd say that you just have to listen to every single recording to be feel accomplished !

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  2. Not one of my favourite eras (I prefer my Dylan with a somewhat harder edge) but this looks a nice selection. Many thanks - as usual!

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  3. I compiled this and have played it through a couple of times now -- have re-discovered a lot of great music. Forgot how much I liked Another Self Portrait, for one thing. Have dusted that off and put it in rotation, now. Your playlists are terrific -- hope you have a few more up your sleeves!

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