Saturday, November 25, 2017

DIY Playlist: Shot of Love - Expanded Edition

Hello folks,

With the release of Trouble No More: The Bootleg Series Volume 13, 1979-1981, I've been working steadily to replace the Thousand Highways compilations that cover this time period. While you await those collections, I thought it might be nice to use the new Bootleg Series release to explore an album that could have been produced from the Shot of Love sessions.

These sessions ranged from Fall 1980 to Spring 1981, and resulted in the album that was eventually published: 1981's Shot of Love. Dozens of songs were recorded, though, and takes of individual songs differed radically depending on the personnel and whims of the artist. Recording the album over such a long period, and in so many different studios, permitted the development of songs lyrically and musically in a way that was unique for Bob Dylan albums, at least up until 1981.

By integrating unreleased songs and outtakes with some of the songs that made the final cut for the record, I think I've worked up a much more satisfying album than the one that was actually published on August 10, 1981. As an additional bonus, thanks to the incredible breadth of Trouble No More, I've created a second CD comprised of live songs written and performed during the same time period. These are at least as good as the studio takes, so I'm sure you'll enjoy them as well.

As ever, there is no download link here - you will need to purchase the songs individually (some are not included on Trouble No More, but can be bought elsewhere) and assemble yourself. If you would like to maintain a sense of cohesion, I encourage you to download Audacity audio editor to edit the songs, fading in and out on live tracks and normalizing the volume levels. That said, I listened to it without doing any editing and it still works as a great playlist!

Here you go:

Shot of Love: Expanded Edition

Disc One - Studio Recordings
Shot of Love (Shot of Love)
Heart of Mine (Shot of Love)
Property of Jesus (Shot of Love)
Making a Liar Out of Me (The Bootleg Series Volume 13: Trouble No More)
Yonder Comes Sin (The Bootleg Series Volume 13: Trouble No More)
Lenny Bruce (Shot of Love)
You Changed My Life (The Bootleg Series Volumes 1-3)
Watered-Down Love (Shot of Love)
Angelina (The Bootleg Series Volumes 1-3)
The Groom's Still Waiting at the Altar (Shot of Love)
Caribbean Wind (The Bootleg Series Volume 13: Trouble No More)
Dead Man, Dead Man (The Bootleg Series Volume 13: Trouble No More)
In The Summertime (Shot of Love)
Trouble (Shot of Love)
Every Grain of Sand (Shot of Love)

Disc Two - Live Recordings
Shot of Love (July 25, 1981 - Trouble No More)
Heart of Mine (November 10, 1981 - Side Tracks)
Thief on the Cross (November 10, 1981 - Trouble No More)
Lenny Bruce (June 27, 1981 - Trouble No More)
Watered Down Love (June 12, 1981 - Trouble No More)
The Groom's Still Waiting at the Altar (November 13, 1980 - Trouble No More)
Ain't Gonna Go To Hell For Anybody (December 2, 1980 - Trouble No More)
Dead Man, Dead Man (June 21, 1981 - Trouble No More)
In The Summertime (October 21, 1981 - Trouble No More)
Caribbean Wind (November 12, 1980 - Trouble No More)
Every Grain of Sand (November 21, 1981 - Trouble No More)
City of Gold (November 22, 1980 - Trouble No More)


Disc One

Shot of Love (Shot of Love)
The lead track on Bob Dylan's 1981 LP remains one of the songwriter's strongest opening tracks, so I didn't want to alter that for this playlist. Dylan described the song later in the '80s as his "most perfect song," describing where he was at "spiritually, musically, romantically, and whatever else." While other takes were recorded for the album, and are circulating either on bootlegs or the recent Trouble No More, the album cut remains the most perfect rendition as that lightning in a bottle was captured on tape by legendary producer Bumps Blackwell. It's something of a shame that he didn't get to produce the rest of the album, but one wonders how different it would have turned out.

Heart of Mine (Shot of Love)
"Heart of Mine" is described by Clinton Heylin in his recent book Trouble In Mind as filler, and I'm not sure I entirely disagree. It's a charming song, but has little lyrical content and struggles to work in any setting aside from Bob Dylan's Fall 1981 tour. Happily, the version published on "Shot of Love" is a pretty good song that works as a lighter second track after the heavy, dense opener. It also happens to feature Ringo Starr on percussion! Surprisingly, an even better version circulates on bootlegs but no outtakes were featured on Trouble No More; I suspect its largely secular preoccupations were not in keeping with the collection's theme.

Property of Jesus (Shot of Love)
This song is notable for being the only one from Shot of Love never performed at a concert (though it would take until 1989 for "Trouble" to be debuted). It's the most openly religious on the final album, and would likely have been something of a shock to listeners who thought that Dylan might have moved past the concerns which guided his previous two records. It's also a fierce, propulsive song and a great way to get amped up following the lighter "Heart of Mine." Interestingly, "Property of Jesus" was originally logged in the studio as "Heart of Stone," so if its title had remain unchanged, the album sequence would have proceeded from one "Heart" to another.

Making a Liar Out of Me (The Bootleg Series Volume 13: Trouble No More)
"Making a Liar Out of Me" was never bootlegged prior to its appearance on Trouble No More, and I doubt it ever would have made it onto the album sequence. In fact, it was part of a batch of songs written and recorded in 1980, long before the bulk of Shot of Love was recorded in Spring 1981. Still, its lyrical content bridges the gap between Saved and Shot of Love, and is quite reminiscent of the issues addressed in contemporary Dylan songs like "Caribbean Wind" and "The Groom's Still Waiting at the Altar." One wonders who the song might have been addressed to, as its takedown of the target reminds this listener of 'Positively 4th Street" and "Idiot Wind."

Yonder Comes Sin (The Bootleg Series Volume 13: Trouble No More)
Another song from 1980, recorded only once at a rehearsal session ahead of Bob Dylan's Fall 1980 Musical Retrospective Tour, "Yonder Comes Sin" is another aggressive attack on some unknown individual. There were said to be more verses in the written song draft, but no tape of these remains extant; similarly, the choruses original had some alternative lyrics, but those are not preserved in the sole circulating recording. Note the backing track's similarity to the Rolling Stones' "Jumping Jack Flash!"

Lenny Bruce (Shot of Love)
This song is the least popular from the released album, but I didn't have the heart to remove it for the playlist. It's clearly an affectionate portrait, though I've always wondered where exactly it came from - Dylan hadn't previously expressed any public interest in comedians more generally or this comedian in particular; perhaps it was simply a sense of shared persecution by critics. The melody is also quite pretty, though the singer claimed to have written the song in just a few minutes.

You Changed My Life (The Bootleg Series Volumes 1-3)
The cascading drums of this song make it one of my favorites from the Shot of Love sessions, even if it perhaps doesn't measure up to the album's best tracks. The chorus is also very strong, though I wish that Errol Flynn hadn't made an appearance at the song's end! A new outtake appeared on Trouble No More, and it lacked both the propulsion of the version from Dylan's earlier Bootleg Series and the conciseness of the other version's chorus; on this alternative take, the title line was sung twice with a slightly unpleasant melodic diversion in the penultimate recitation. Heylin's Still On The Road suggests that many lyrical variants exist, but that none aside from the final published lyric was ever recorded.

Watered-Down Love (Shot of Love)
"Watered-Down Love" is a pleasant R&B track, quite different from the style of music that Bob Dylan had been recording for much of the 1970s. Its final verse was pruned in the course of managing Shot of Love's run time, and the song is slightly less compelling for its absence, but the only officially published outtake doesn't quite measure up to the song's performance on its album version. When played live, the song consistently retained this additional verse, so it must have been an unhappy decision to cut it for the final record.

Angelina (The Bootleg Series Volumes 1-3)
This is a heartbreakingly beautiful song, and one of the two great tragedies of the record - it was cut, along with "Caribbean Wind," just prior to the final sequencing. Unlike "Caribbean Wind," though, "Angelina" was effectively captured on tape. It was evidently recorded in several arrangements, both a quiet version and more bombastic rendition, but only the gentler arrangement has so far been published. One wonders how it might have matured on-stage, but Bob Dylan evidently wrote it, recorded it, and never looked back.

The Groom's Still Waiting at the Altar (Shot of Love)
"The Groom's Still Waiting at the Altar" has been a part of the official album sequence since 1985, but it did not originally appear on the record's sequence. It's hard to imagine a version of Shot of Love that lacks this song, as it really holds together the album along with heavy-hitters "Shot of Love" and "Every Grain of Sand," but it has quite a bit more in common with cut tracks "Angelina" and "Caribbean Wind" than with the final album's opener and closer. Like the two songs surrounding it on this playlist, it depicts a world gone wrong both in the broad strokes - "killing nuns and soldiers" like "pieces of men marching, trying to take heaven by force - and in the narrator's personal relationships. The album ends up a significantly more spiritually preoccupied, apocalyptic document when these tracks are included. An outtake of "The Groom's Still Waiting at the Altar" was included on Trouble No More, but it's not quite as tight and electric as the one selected for publication as the B-side of "Heart of Mine" in 1981; unfortunately, the single version lacks the odd shift to an alternative time signature and repetition of the phrase "West of the Jordan," but one wonders if it might still exist past the fadeout.

Caribbean Wind (The Bootleg Series Volume 13: Trouble No More)
After "Every Grain of Sand," "Caribbean Wind" is my favorite track from the Shot of Love sessions. It has so much content in each of its lyrical variations, but all come down to a combination of the breakdown in established social order dovetailing with the narrator's ambivalence towards a potential romantic affair. It builds on the complexity of interpersonal relationships from earlier compositions like "Tangled Up In Blue" and "Simple Twist of Fate," while also intertwining this subject with larger-scale social and spiritual concerns. Unfortunately, Dylan never quite seems to have succeeded in capturing the breadth of the song in the studio; two radically different takes have been published - a 1981 rendition on Biograph and a 1980 rendition on Trouble No More - but neither manages to approach the majesty of the circulating live performance or, indeed, what the singer must have had in mind. His comments on the song in the liner notes of Biograph suggest that the song came to him in a dream while sailing in the Caribbean, but that once he was done recording it, he no longer remembered what it was supposed to be about. This ambiguity likely accounts for the dramatic variations in lyrics, both in the verses and chorus, but that mystery only seems to contribute to the song's stature as one of Bob Dylan's greatest compositions.

Dead Man, Dead Man (The Bootleg Series Volume 13: Trouble No More)
As released on Shot of Love, "Dead Man, Dead Man" feels like something of a trifling thing. It's too short and lacks the reggae punch that the song would receive in concerts. The version published on Trouble No More in 2017, however, is a towering song. The additional lyrics, which take on even more menace when one remembers that the singer claims to have composed the song while looking in a mirror, serve to underline the apparent moral bankruptcy of the song's subject. It also features one of Dylan's most haunting harmonica solos as the instrument seems to have been recorded through some kind of thick distortion. The song is much longer in this guise, but worth every moment.

In The Summertime (Shot of Love)
"In The Summertime" is a brief song, but no less significant for its brevity. It depicts a lost love with one of the best phrases the singer had written to describe this common state of affairs - "I was in your presence for an hour or so/or was it a day? I truly don't know." He went on to play around with meter throughout the track, and accentuated it with a middling harmonica performance. Still, the hasty fade and apparent unrehearsed quality of the harmonica solo can't dim what is, at its core, a deeply affectionate ballad.

Trouble (Shot of Love)
Like "in The Summertime," "Trouble" feels like a song that fades just a bit too quickly - unlike "In The Summertime," though, one does not get the impression that the song had enough thematic heft to carry it any further. What remains is a compelling, bluesy riff played under images that expound upon the more harrowing depictions of world affairs offered in "Shot of Love," "Angelina," "Caribbean Wind," and "The Groom's Still Waiting at the Altar." This song lacks their preoccupation with more personal concerns, so its inherently less effective, but it does serve to sum up one of the album's key themes ahead of the final track. It was extensively rehearsed for the 1981 tour, and later a 1986 tour, but would not actually appear in concert until 1989.

Every Grain of Sand (Shot of Love)
This is Bob Dylan's best song from the Shot of Love period, and indeed one of the strongest compositions in his 50+ year career. While many of his spiritual writings emphasize the debauchery of human society, or the narrator's appreciation for having been lifted from a morally flawed state, "Every Grain of Sand" confronts the daily lived experience of being aware of the immorality in which one can partake, recalling earlier experiences of one's own human weakness, but bearing that all with dignity and moving towards a more fulfilling existence. The song was written in 1980 and two studio recordings from Fall 1980 have been published - the guitar-oriented rehearsal on Trouble No More and the piano-based duet on The Bootleg Series Volumes 1-3 - but neither succeed in achieving the careful balancing act of tension and elegance that are presented on the album recording. Shockingly, the song was almost not recorded for Shot of Love in 1981, and only appeared because of a band member's reminder to Dylan of the song's existence; without this lucky coincidence, "Every Grain of Sand" may well have disappeared along with other 1980 compositions like "Making a Liar Out of Me" and "Yonder Comes Sin."

Disc Two

Shot of Love (July 25, 1981 - Trouble No More)
Though it's very slightly marred by some recording issues, the Avignon performance of "Shot of Love" remains the song's definitive on-stage reading. Its delightful introduction is sadly a casualty of tightening up the run-time on Trouble No More. Still, nothing can detract from this fiery rendition that gets our live playlist off on the right foot. "Shot of Love" was one of the longest-played songs from this record in Bob Dylan's live setlists, making appearances on tours in 1981, 1986, 1987, and 1989.

Heart of Mine (November 10, 1981 - Side Tracks)
"Heart of Mine" was more effectively captured in the studio than it would tend to be played live - I suspect due to its rather unique time signature and piano/guitar interplay - but the versions from Fall 1981 were universally excellent. Sony/Columbia seems to have thought the same, as it was the first performance from Bob Dylan's 1981 tour released on an official recording (Biograph in 1985). No other version has been published so far, but a remastered version of that New Orleans recording was re-released on Side Tracks in the 2010s.

Thief on the Cross (November 10, 1981 - Trouble No More)
Since "Property of Jesus" has never been performed live, I have filled in the gap here with a song never recorded in the studio - "Thief of the Cross." This comes from the same show as the preceding "Heart of Mine," but sounds radically different. Dylan makes great use of the two drummers he had playing at concerts that Autumn, and spits out a spirited if not entirely clear vocal performance. It seems that the song is about either Jesus or one of the two criminals crucified alongside him, though there are oblique references to Iran and Mexico as well. It's a shame this track never made it into the recording studio, though I'm grateful that such an excellent live recording was captured for posterity.

Lenny Bruce (June 27, 1981 - Trouble No More)
Paul Williams did not care for this song's arrangement on the 1981 tours, but I think it works at least as well as its studio incarnation. The backing vocals add a charming, wistful vibe to the performance, and carry it to a satisfying conclusion.

Watered Down Love (June 12, 1981 - Trouble No More)
I'm not convinced that either of the recordings of this song included on Trouble No More are as effective as other circulating live versions - particularly the one recorded at New Orleans on November 10 - but both are themselves fairly interesting. The one on Disc Two of the collection captures the song at one of its earliest appearances, and the singer is still playing around with melodic variations. It also preserves the lost verse, which is absent from the truncated studio take released on Shot of Love.

The Groom's Still Waiting at the Altar (November 13, 1980 - Trouble No More)
While the excellent version of this song with Michael Bloomfield on guitar was released on From His Head to His Heart to His Hands a few years ago, I think the vocals and audio mix are actually a bit superior on the performance from November 13, 1980. If you disagree with that assessment, I'd encourage you to download the Bloomfield version and replace my choice on this playlist! Both are great, so it wouldn't be any serious loss. In any case, this is one of the more interesting variations from a studio incarnation, as about 50% of the lyrics - including the chorus - are entirely different from the song that Bob Dylan would record the following Spring. The tempo is also slower, which has an effect on the overall theme of the song; the studio version is more concerned with overarching social ills, reflected in the apocalyptic alteration to its chorus, and its urgent tempo complements that evolution.

Ain't Gonna Go To Hell For Anybody (December 2, 1980 - Trouble No More)
The original arrangement and lyrics for "Ain't Gonna Go To Hell For Anybody" predate other songs that made it onto Shot of Love, but it was rewritten and rearranged for the same sessions that resulted in "Caribbean Wind," "Every Grain of Sand" and "The Groom's Still Waiting at the Altar." Its new lyrics, inasmuch as they can be discerned, seem to be of a piece with those other songs as well - like them, it appears to blend spiritual concerns with the application of religious principles in the physical, temporal world, especially with regard to romantic relationships.

Dead Man, Dead Man (June 21, 1981 - Trouble No More)
Three live performances of "Dead Man, Dead Man" have been published by Sony/Columbia at this point, though only two are easily accessible on CD. The one recorded on November 10, 1981 was originally published as a B-side to "Everything is Broken" in 1989, and has since been re-released most notably on Live 1961-2000 - Thirty-nine years of great concert performances, an album published to promote Bob Dylan's 2001 Tour of Japan, and RARE TRACKS FROM THE VAULTS, an iTunes-only playlist from the 2000s. Happily, the more accessible versions on Trouble No More are both great, though I give the edge to the strange drum-heavy arrangement from Disc Two. If you prefer the New Orleans performance, and have managed to track down a copy, it wouldn't be a bad idea to throw it on this DIY Playlist rather than the one I've selected.

In The Summertime (October 21, 1981 - Trouble No More)
"In The Summertime" is a beautiful song, but it flourished more completely on-stage than on Shot of Love. It's great luck, then, that a performance from the Fall 1981 tour made it onto Trouble No More. A harmonica solo was abandoned when the song appeared on the road, but it was replaced with a lovely guitar interlude by Fred Tackett. The vocals on Trouble No More are powerful and rich, yet somehow still tender. The recording features some minor distortion, but nothing that can't be ignored in favor of appreciating this magical performance.

Caribbean Wind (November 12, 1980 - Trouble No More)
While it never quite came together in the studio, Bob Dylan's only live performance of "Caribbean Wind" managed to reveal the song at the height of its power. Some lyrics seem a touch garbled, but the band gamely plays an apparently unrehearsed song perfectly. The chorus is significantly more geographically ambitious than any of the published or bootlegged studio takes; the singer refers to "Tokyo," "the British Isles," "Mexico," and his own backyard, among others (not all are perfectly audible). Most importantly, the arrangement is sweeping and the singer matches it was a vocal intensity befitting the subject matter. Thank goodness it's finally been officially released in a beautifully recorded version on Trouble No More, though we'll sadly have to be content with a version missing the surprisingly moving spoken introduction. Dylan described a twelve string guitar, using that as a jumping-off point to discuss Leadbelly and that singer's own struggles with artistic evolution; - tellingly, he refers to some people telling Leadbelly to play his old songs and criticizing him for having changed, but Leadbelly was "still the same man." As one last striking detail about this song, we would never have had a live rendition at all if not for author Paul Williams, who greeted Dylan backstage at an earlier show in Fall 1980 and looked over his newly written compositions; Williams immediately noticed the quality of "Caribbean Wind" and requested that it be played at a future show. It's incredible how close we came to never even being aware of this musical masterpiece!

Every Grain of Sand (November 21, 1981 - Trouble No More)
Bob Dylan only played "Every Grain of Sand" once on stage before 1984, when it received a dramatic rearrangement as a heavy rock ballad, and that occurred on the final stop of his 1981 American Tour. The circulating recording was fairly muffled, and suggested that this rendition was somewhat uninspired. The newly released recording on Trouble No More, however, suggests that this assessment was premature - while the song is not quite as dramatic as it was on Shot of Love, this more subdued version is equally successful in its own right.

City of Gold (November 22, 1980 - Trouble No More)
Finally, we close the playlist with a third song that seems never to have been attempted in a studio setting. "City of Gold" is as perfect a closer as one could imagine, and it played that role at a number of shows in Fall 1980. Though it is more explicitly concerned with spiritual matters than some contemporary compositions, it fits in well as a reminder of what the singer believed his goal to be in 1980 and 1981 - revealing to his audiences the spiritual awakening that he had gone through in 1979, and trying to make that message relevant through its intersection with the physical world.

There are admittedly a few arguments that folks could make against my selections here - most notably, I skipped over the two circulating outtakes of "Every Grain of Sand" in favor of the final studio cut. I'm not convinced that Dylan had quite succeeded in finding the right key for the song in 1980, and I find the outtakes fairly shrill and distracting from the song's peaceful message. I also omitted "Need A Woman" and "Don't Ever Take Yourself Away," both published Shot of Love studio outtakes, because I don't think they are very good songs. With regard to the live disc, "Jesus Is The One" is absent from this collection, but that's primarily because I couldn't find a place for it on the live playlist and thought it fairly trifling anyway; it's a great performance piece to liven up a concert, but nothing with the heft of other songs written and recorded by the singer during this period. "Cover Down, Pray Through" is also absent, as I thought that it matched Saved in terms of its lyrical content and arrangement - it was also never played after the Spring 1980 shows, so it doesn't really match the chronological era documented by this playlist.

Here are the links to all relevant albums to buy on Amazon (of course you could also assemble it from CDs purchased at your preferred small business):

The Bootleg Series Volumes 1-3
The Bootleg Series Volume 13: Trouble No More
Shot of Love (The Complete Album Collection - 1980s)
Side Tracks

I hope you like the playlist, and keep looking forward to the revised versions of my gospel-era Thousand Highways compilations, which should be published before the end of the year! Until then, keep yourself healthy and listen to some good tunes.

- CS

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

DIY Playlist: Studio Essentials, 1973 - 1978

DIY Playlist
Studio Essentials: 1973 - 1978

Volume One

Tangled Up In Blue - Blood On The Tracks - 1975
Isis - Desire - 1976
Lily, Rosemary and the Jack of Hearts - Blood On The Tracks - 1975
Shelter From The Storm - Blood On The Tracks - 1975
Something There Is About You - Planet Waves - 1974
Tough Mama - Planet Waves - 1974
Senor (Tales of Yankee Power) - Street-Legal - 1978
On A Night Like This - Planet Waves - 1974
Idiot Wind - Blood On The Tracks - 1975
Meet Me In The Morning - Blood On The Tracks - 1975
You Angel You - Planet Waves - 1974
Black Diamond Bay - Desire - 1976
Never Say Goodbye - Planet Waves - 1974
Buckets of Rain - Blood On The Tracks - 1975
Forever Young (Fast Version) - Planet Waves - 1974

Volume Two

Tangled Up In Blue - The Bootleg Series Volumes 1-3 - 1974
Abandoned Love - The Bootleg Series Volumes 1-3 - 1975
Oh Sister - Desire - 1976
Up To Me - Biograph - 1974
Simple Twist of Fate - Blood On The Tracks - 1975
We Better Talk This Over - Street-Legal - 1978
Idiot Wind - The Bootleg Series Volumes 1-3 - 1974
Call Letter Blues - The Bootleg Series Volumes 1-3 - 1974
You're A Big Girl Now - Biograph - 1974
Changing of the Guards - Street-Legal - 1978
If You See Her, Say Hello - The Bootleg Series Volumes 1-3 - 1974
Dirge - Planet Waves - 1974
One More Cup of Coffee (The Valley Below) - Desire - 1976
Where Are You Tonight? (Journey Through Dark Heat) - Street-Legal - 1978
Forever Young (Demo Version) - Biograph - 1973

Hello friends,

Welcome to a new installment of The Thousand Highways DIY Playlist Feature. This time we'll be taking a look at thirty of the best songs Bob Dylan recorded between 1973 and 1978. For the immediately preceding set of material, you can visit this link; to discover what Dylan did after this set, you can check out this link. With The Bootleg Series Volume 13: Trouble No More on the horizon, of course, the latter of those two DIY playlists may be getting updated in the near future - we'll have to wait and see how the new outtakes sound.

In any case, I thought it might be nice to explore how Bob Dylan had approached his art for the half-decade or so prior to his conversion to Christianity and the release of Slow Train Coming. The late 1960s and the early 1970s brought listeners a singer who was much more interested in producing low-key songs highly influenced by America's country music palette. Beginning with 1973's Planet Waves, however, Dylan began reintroducing a harder edge to his music and fusing that country palette more fully with his earlier rock background. Drums and bass took on a larger role, as we'll see as we work our way through the songs.

The lyrical landscape darkened significantly as well. It can't ever be known how much an artist's personal life is reflected in their art, and we won't dwell on this here, but Bob Dylan's lifestyle changed dramatically in the early 1970s as he returned to touring after a lengthy hiatus (1967 - 1973); the first album represented by this collection, Planet Waves, was actually recorded in support of the upcoming tour, symbolizing perhaps most potently the end to Dylan's domestic period. Pastoral and domestic themes that had permeated his recorded output from 1968 to 1972 would be replaced by concerns over serious interpersonal issues and, eventually, more complex mysticism and drama. The artist himself has repeatedly drawn attention to a painting class that he took with Norman Raeben - it is likely that Raeben's instruction, along with the simplicity of Dylan's recent approach to songwriting, was a major influence on Blood on the Tracks, as the songs approach complex subjects with less overtly poetic language than Dylan was using in the 1960s. Additionally, the influence of painting seems to have had a more intriguing influence on Dylan's writing from this point forward, as he would often seek not to depict a series of events in a strictly linear fashion, but would rather depict them more impressionistically, with time jumbled and the themes foregrounded more carefully than sequence.

One more structural matter, I've organized the set neither chronologically nor purely with an ear to the flow of the songs from one track to the next. Instead, I opted to structure it more thematically, with the first volume containing the more uptempo, loving, or dramatic material. The second volume contains the darker, more somber or introspective song selection. You'll find that "Tangled Up In Blue," "Idiot Wind," and "Forever Young" appear on both volumes in radically different versions; this fact, in particular, reveals the singer's willingness to push his craft into ever more fascinating places during his second decade in the public eye; similarly, it reveals what difference performance makes when reading (largely but not entirely) similar words from a page.

Keeping these details in mind, let's move on to the songs themselves.

Volume One

Tangled Up In Blue - Blood On The Tracks - 1975

This is perhaps Bob Dylan's greatest masterpiece from the 1970s, and certainly among the finest songs in his career. It is also said to the be the song most informed by the singer's time in Raeben's painting classes, which were discussed above. It features a narrative structure, even opening with the phrase "early one morning"; even so, the actual flow of events is not clear. Similarly, the place and time in which the narrative is set are entirely opaque - Dylan refers to "truck drivers," "dealing with slaves," "Montague Street," and "a poet from the Thirteenth Century." This has the effect, as much of his surrealist imagery in the '60s did, of rendering the story more allegorical or symbolic than strict narrative. At the same time, it is not populated by the looming, grotesque caricatures of Dylan's earlier material - instead, it focuses on the fairly down to Earth story of a love triangle. In the end, of course, nobody in that triangle is satisfied and the story continues. Before we continue, it's worth noting the clear bass that emerges from the backing track again and again. This song was one of several that was re-recorded after an initial draft of Blood on the Tracks was already complete. The original album was going to consist almost entirely of acoustic songs featuring only Dylan on guitar, a bass, and occasional organ fills. After input from his brother in late 1974, the singer re-recorded some of the songs with a more extensive backing band and placed those versions on the final release. Happily, many of the outtakes have circulated either in collectors' circles or on later releases, so now the listener is in the lucky position of deciding which versions he or she prefers.

Isis - Desire - 1976

Desire is one of Bob Dylan's most fascinating records, as it is both a radical departure from the immediately preceding album and is also one of only a couple composed with a co-writer. In this case, Jacques Levy contributed quite a bit to the lyrical content of the album; exactly how much is unclear, but it's often said that he did the lion's share of writing on "Isis," "Romance in Durango" and "Black Diamond Bay." This had the surprising effect of grounding Dylan's more abstract songwriting style in a more crisp storytelling style that reflect's Levy's background as a playwright. While aspect of "Isis" remain somewhat unclear - the narrator's marriage to Isis and why he needed to leave on a journey before returning to her is shrouded in mystery - the journey itself is depicted with clarity. Evocative images like pyramids embedded in ice, chopping through forests, and reuniting with Isis under a bright sun take the listener into the heart of the action. Intriguingly, "Isis" was originally performed as a spoken piece by Bob Dylan as he reunited with old and new artist friends in New York during 1975; no tape of this spoken version exists, but the song would go on to become one of Dylan's most effective performance pieces on the 1975 and 1976 Rolling Thunder Revue tours. One key difference between the studio version and live renditions is that the song was played with a greater tempo and no piano backing on tour, while it features a slow, meditative piano core on the album.

Lily, Rosemary and the Jack of Hearts - Blood on the Tracks - 1975

Surprisingly, this song features no collaboration from Jacques Levy in spite of its highly theatrical nature. It's a straightforward Western story featuring safe cracking, showdowns, and even a hanging at the conclusion. The quality of the tale is in the telling, though, and Dylan's expressive vocals make you hang on every word of the long song. Apparently, given the session players' familiarity with briefer material, the backing band was told to just keep playing even after it seemed the song had reached its conclusion! This worked out well, as the propulsive bass and brushed drums result in a far richer listening experience than the alternative solo recording of the piece. "Lily, Rosemary and the Jack of Hearts" is also noteworthy (though not unique) among the singer's songs in having been played exactly once - at the final concert on the 1976 tour - and never having had a recording of that performance circulate among listeners; it's said that the performance occurred as a duet with Joan Baez, and even more credibility was lent to the rumor when a recent clip of Baez rehearsing the song with Dylan made the rounds on the internet. Fans remain hopeful that a tape of the 1976 show exists, and that it might one day be released by Sony/Columbia.

Shelter From The Storm - Blood On The Tracks - 1975

Two songs were recorded at the Blood on the Tracks sessions with very similar backing tracks - this one and "Up To Me," which appears on the second volume of my compilation. "Shelter From The Storm," though, was the one eventually selected for inclusion on the final album. It features some uncomfortable allusions to the narrator as a Christ-like figure, but is otherwise quite an emotionally resonant song of love lost. Strangely, it has never been played live in a manner similar to the song recorded at these album sessions - beginning with 1976, when it was rearranged as an uptempo version based around a slide-guitar riff and continuing well into the 2010s when it was being played as a mid-Twentieth Century ballad, it's been revealed to be a highly versatile set of lyrics. One other minor note: the song originally included an additional verse, and a recorded solo performance with the lost verse intact was released on 1996's Jerry Maguire soundtrack.

Something There Is About You - Planet Waves - 1974

Stepping back from love lost into a period of love found, we find ourselves with one of the warmer tracks from 1974's Plant Waves. This album is the only full studio collaboration between Bob Dylan and The Band, with whom he'd played a tour in 1966 and one-off live shows in 1968, 1969, and 1972. Of course, their most notable off-stage collaboration was The Basement Tapes, bootlegged since 1969 and finally released in full on The Bootleg Series Volume 11 in 2014. Still, Planet Waves is a fantastic, relaxed record featuring a mixture of pleasant songs like "Something There Is About You," which echoes New Morning, and far darker songs that will be discussed later in these notes. As for this recording, it's a mid-tempo ballad reminiscing about good times spent on the Great Lakes while hinting at some of the more opaque interpersonal drama that will turn up on the following year's Blood on the Tracks. The singer, after all, refuses to "say... in one sweet easy prayer" that he will be faithful, as it would be "cruelty" to his lover and "death" to himself. Troubling stuff. In any case, the song has only been occasionally played in concerts - a handful of times in 1974 and again in a rearranged version early in 1978.

Tough Mama - Planet Waves - 1974

"Tough Mama" is one of the more straightforward, raunchy love songs from Planet Waves. There's not a lot of deep lyrical content here (it features perhaps Dylan's worst turn of phrase, "hotter than a crotch"), but the bouncy arrangement and playful harmonica make it worthy of inclusion. It has actually been played live more often than almost any other song from the album - "Forever Young" excepted - and made its debut on tour with The Band in 1974. It was also a central feature of the singer's intent to explore a more rhythmic, rougher style of performance in 1997 when it returned to the live set with the introduction of David Kemper as Dylan's drummer. The resulting performances of "Tough Mama" were perhaps less successful than one would hope, but it did represent an overall shift in sound that would pay off handsomely from 1997 to 2005 or so.

Senor (Tales of Yankee Power) - Street-Legal - 1978

His earlier recordings had tended towards relatively unvarnished performances of songs he'd written, but Dylan began bringing more atmospheric elements to his albums beginning largely with 1978's Street-Legal (though admittedly, New Morning does include a chorus of locusts humming as an introduction to "Day of the Locusts"). Nowhere would this be more prominent, at least until 1989's Oh Mercy, than the moody opening and conclusion to "Senor." A lone guitar, and then a saxophone, pick out a melody that seems to herald a train oncoming and then departing through darkness. The song's lyrics are equally unnerving and reminiscent of the singer's earlier surrealist recordings. This track, which is said to have been inspired by a train ride through Mexico, would go on to have a lengthy performance history - it was played in 1978 on Bob Dylan's World Tour and then regularly from 1980 up to 2011; it has the distinction of being the only song from Street-Legal to be played live after 1978, aside from a one-off rendition of "We Better Talk This Over" from 2000.

On A Night Like This - Planet Waves - 1974

Like much of Planet Waves, "On A Night Like This" presents first as a love song and then as something perhaps a bit more troubling. The lovely accordion flourishes and jaunty rhythm, along with lyrics imploring the song's target to "put your body next to mine" suggest simple joys, but the reminders that the narrator and she have "much to reminisce" and thoughts that they've done this once before imply that there's not necessarily a more lasting, meaningful connection here. The song functions well as one of Dylan's best album openers, and was published as a single, though it would never be played live. The singer seems to have rated it fairly low in his oeuvre, describing it as sounding "like a drunk man who is temporarily sober."

Idiot Wind - Blood On The Tracks - 1975

I was actually tempted not to include this song on the compilation, since it is a rather poor fit with the otherwise more positive songs on Volume One and is so effectively made obsolete by the versions from 1976's Rolling Thunder Revue tour (similar in arrangement, but played and sung with much more vigor). Still, it represents one of the album's most significant songs and is a great recording in its own right. It also proves a striking contrast with the quiet, stripped down version that appears on Volume Two. Much has been made of the song's apparently autobiographical origins, particularly with regard to Bob Dylan's marital strife in the mid-'70s, but the singer has repeatedly disagreed with this interpretation. Towards whomever it's directed, the song is undoubtedly a fiery invective. The album version, unfortunately, features a strange overdub around 5:39, but that still doesn't manage to tarnish an otherwise staggeringly pointed vocal delivery. This song would be very rarely played live, first appearing as the showstopping centerpiece of the 1976 Rolling Thunder Revue and then again in 1992.

Meet Me In The Morning - Blood on the Tracks - 1975

I couldn't help including the song transition from "Idiot Wind" to "Meet Me In The Morning" that originally occurs in the sequence for Blood on the Tracks. After the soaring roller coaster of the former song, "Meet Me In The Morning" offers the opportunity to breathe, even though the song itself reflects the rather sad theme of a narrator who's relationship has fallen apart. The slide guitar on this performance is an interesting contrast to the distorted electric guitar that appears on an aurally similar outtake from the same sessions, "Call Letter Blues." You can find that on Volume Two. Surprisingly, many of the song drafts included in a notebook written prior to the recording of Blood on the Tracks were fairly standard blues like this one, though we know of only two that actually made it to the studio. One wonders whether the rest of them, including "Bell Tower Blues," "Don't Want No Married Woman," "There Ain't Gonna Be A Next Time," "Where Do You Turn," and "It's Breakin' Me Up," were ever recorded. In a rather amusing twist, "Meet Me In The Morning" was not written in the draft notebook and seems to have been assembled at the recording session itself. An early acoustic outtake was released as the b-side to 2012's "Duquesne Whistle" single, presumably intended to promote a forthcoming album of other Blood on the Tracks outtakes, but this remains the only hint of that rumored Bootleg Series entry as of 2017.

You Angel You - Planet Waves - 1974

"You Angel You" is not one of the singer's most popular songs, or even the most popular songs from the album on which it appears, but it remains a personal favorite of mine. In spite of Dylan's conclusion in a 1985 interview that the song was made up of "dummy lyrics," I find that the performance is actually very moving - it captures a simple sense of love that few songs manage to convey so succinctly. It was only played live on a handful of occasions in 1990, and none of those feature a particularly coherent set of lyrics, though something of the song's pleasant spirit still manages to come through.

Black Diamond Bay - Desire - 1976

This song functions as something of a companion to "Lily, Rosemary, and the Jack of Hearts" in more ways than one - both are theatrical, clearly linear narratives and both are rumored to have been performed for their only on-stage airing at an apparently unrecorded 1976 concert. With that said, their content is quite different - while the older song is a Western, featuring clear heroes and villains, "Black Diamond Bay" is a significantly more nihilistic song in spite of its fairly jaunty presentation. A cast of characters is presented, almost all in some way hopelessly self-directed, and all meet a rather arresting conclusion at the end of the song. After that moment, though, listeners are treated to a characteristically potent reflection on the tale as seen by a narrator flipping through the news, hearing about the tragedy, and turning it off since he "never did plan to go anyway to Black Diamond Bay." It's hard not to see a little of yourself in that, isn't it?

Never Say Goodbye - Planet Waves - 1974

This is about as slight a song as Dylan would ever write, and it almost comes across as a poem more than lyrics to be set to melody. No chorus is included, and the backing track is lilting, carrying on before and after the few words make their appearance. With that bit of structural curiosity noted, I have to confess that I grow more fond of this song every time I hear it. It's a nice repetition of the themes present in "You Angel You," but expounded upon with more poetic language; like "On A Night Like This," too, it features lyrics that depict a clear setting in place and time. It also echoes a much earlier song, 1965's "It's All Over Now, Baby Blue," in typically mysterious fashion. Unsurprisingly, the song would never be played in concert.

Buckets of Rain - Blood on the Tracks - 1975

"Buckets of Rain" is a delightful, soft album closer that is desperately needed after wandering through the sorrow of Blood on the Tracks. It's a pleasant song in its own right, but is all the more palatable as the light, reflective conclusion to that record. Strangely, it appears to have had its genesis in a specific line - "Little red wagon, little red bike/I ain't no monkey but I know what I like" - that originally appeared in the album's notebook drafts alongside "Idiot Wind," a very thematically different song. No more of the song is written in that notebook, but the line would go on to appear in "Buckets of Rain," implying its origin as an idea either inspired by or inspired alongside "Idiot Wind." It then went on to have an intriguing journey through the years: Bette Midler recorded a re-written version as a duet with Dylan on her Songs for the New Depression album (the recording session circulates) and Dylan himself would go on to play the song live only once, at a concert in 1990.

Forever Young (Fast Version) - Planet Waves - 1974

"Forever Young" was recorded first as a demo in June 1973, a cut that appears on Volume Two of this compilation, then in several arrangements at the Planet Waves sessions later that year. By the singer's own admission, the song was inspired by his role as a father in the early 1970s. Though he struggled with its inclusion after being teased about the song's sentimentality by a recording session guest, Dylan decided to present two versions on the final album release. I am much more fond of the uptempo version, lovely as the slow version is; while the emphasis is entirely on the lyrics during the slow version, I find myself more interested in the marriage of lyrics and instruments on this take. Humorously, while the LP format preserved an inventive way of sequencing these songs - Side A concludes with one version of "Forever Young" and Side B opens with the alternative version - CD releases necessarily have the two songs immediately adjacent, reducing their impact. It's a shame, but technology marches forward.

Volume Two

Tangled Up In Blue - The Bootleg Series Volumes 1-3 - 1974

Unlike the version that opens this collection's first volume, the "Tangled Up In Blue" on Volume Two is an almost solitary performance. Consequently, it lacks much of the urgency that the song has in the album's full-band arrangement, or indeed when played in a solo slot on 1975's Rolling Thunder Revue. This gives the narrative more room to breathe, however, and offers a different set of lyrics. In this version, the song's protagonist drift down to an airplane plant in Los Angeles, a fate altogether more evocative of the singer's relocation to the West Coast in the 1970s. This tendency to include alternative lyrics in "Tangled Up In Blue" would become something of an ongoing preoccupation for Dylan - he would go on to come up with new lyrics when performing the song live in 1975, 1978, 1984, and on a handful of occasions throughout the Never-Ending Tour.

Abandoned Love - Biograph - 1975

In 1975, Bob Dylan played a short set with Ramblin' Jack Elliott at a New York club called The Other End. Two of the songs played were duets (including "Pretty Boy Floyd," which Dylan would go on to record in 1988), but the third song was an extraordinary new composition called "Abandoned Love." Sadly, this was the only time the song would be played live, but we are immeasurably lucky to have a rough recording made by someone in the audience. By the time that it was recorded in the Desire sessions, it lost some of its edge but gained a slick violin-oriented arrangement. That version was eventually published on 1985's Biograph and then again on Side Tracks in 2013. The song is reminiscent of other Desire songs, heavy on imagery associated with the American Southwest and perhaps influenced by "Spanish Is The Loving Tongue," a song that Dylan had been playing for years by this point. It is, altogether, a significantly more bitter set of lyrics than anything else recorded for Desire, and one suspects this may have been the reason that it didn't make the cut.

Oh Sister - Desire - 1976

"Oh Sister" is much more representative of the open, ambivalent emotions of Desire than  "Abandoned Love." It's not fully cheerful, as earlier love songs on Planet Waves were, but it's also not as bitter as many of the songs from Blood on the Tracks or Street-Legal. Instead, it paints a picture of a lustful narrator and a very strange relationship with a woman described in the song as his sister (one assumes this to be the typical American slang usage of sister rather than a familial relationship). There are also references to being born again, an allusion that would become more intriguing in hindsight after the singer's conversion in 1979. Still, if I might editorialize, I don't think the lyrics are particularly compelling. The performance, though, here and virtually every time it was played live from 1975 to 1976, is utterly spellbinding. Much as Dylan would later do with a mediocre set of words in "Disease of Conceit," he turned a fairly poor written piece into an extraordinary performance piece; unlike that later example, though, he was able to produce an excellent studio recording. The version here features Emmylou Harris on backing vocals, and is one of Dylan's more effective duets.

Up To Me - Biograph - 1974

This song was recorded for Blood on the Tracks, but failed to make the final cut. Presumably it was shelved for sounding too similar to "Shelter From The Storm." I'm not sure which of the two songs I like more - "Shelter From The Storm" is perhaps a more versatile track, at least as suggested by its numerous rearrangements over the decades, and is a touch more universal in its lyrical content; "Up To Me," on the other hand, is a bit more expansive and could well have been equally versatile if it had made the album sequence and featured in Dylan's concerts. We'll never know. In any case, I'm quite happy it got released on Biograph and again on Side Tracks as, comparisons aside, it's a terrific song.

Simple Twist of Fate - Blood on the Tracks - 1975

Like "Tangled Up In Blue," this song has been repeatedly rewritten and rearranged over the decades, but the original studio version still stands up to scrutiny. It's actually noteworthy for being the first song from Blood on the Tracks played live, as Dylan sang the song at a John Hammond tribute concert in September 1975, just months ahead of the Rolling Thunder Revue. Surprisingly, it received a band arrangement in that setting before being performed exclusively in solo slots on Dylan's 1975 and 1976 tours. The song's content has often been attributed to the singer's relationship with Suze Rotolo, likely due to his inclusion of the phrase "reminds him of Suze and the way she talked" when performing the track on tour in 1981. I'm not sure if there's any truth in this rumor, or if the song is strictly an interesting window into an imagined affair. Either way, the song has remained one of Bob Dylan's most reliable performance pieces since 1975.

We Better Talk This Over - Street-Legal - 1978

Bringing the tempo up a notch on our compilation, this electric guitar-centered song is a pretty unpleasant look back at a failed relationship. The singer implores the song's subject not to "think of me and fantasize on what we never had." Like "Idiot Wind," though, it lays the failure at the feet of both participants rather than blaming only one person. A demo or rehearsal version exists from 1978, though it's sadly fragmentary; some alternate lyrics are present. It made a shocking reappearance at a show in 2000, more than 20 years after having last been played, but the performance was not particularly exciting and it disappeared again afterwards. Unfortunately, neither the demo version nor the 2000 performance appear to have made it onto my website - this is a bit of a shame, but the studio version and live performances from 1978 represent the song at the peak of its power.

Idiot Wind - The Bootleg Series Volumes 1-3 - 1974

The version of "Idiot Wind" released on 1991's inaugural Bootleg Series CD set is a striking contrast to the one that appeared on 1975's Blood on the Tracks. It lacks the seething anger or bombast of the one which was chosen for the released album, and it's intriguing to speculate about a song that only seemed to pick up more venom as it moved from draft to studio, to second studio and then on to the stage. By 1976, the song was an extraordinarily harsh criticism of the participants in a toxic partnership, but in its first appearance at a studio in 1974 it seemed more mournful. It also includes a reference to the I Ching, suggesting Dylan's further immersion in mysticism beyond that of historically Western origins - by the time he recorded the full band arrangement that was included in Blood on the Tracks, this reference would be stripped out and replaced by a fortune teller.

Call Letter Blues - The Bootleg Series Volumes 1-3 - 1974

This song would feel like something of a mirror to "Meet Me In The Morning," but is quite a bit harsher, less optimistic, and personally critical of its target, suggesting that the singer's children are inquiring about their mother after she has stepped out on her family and friends; if "Call Letter Blues" was eventually rewritten as "Meet Me in the Morning," rather than being two similar songs derived from a similar template, it might represent the start of trend in which Dylan moved from harsh, personal lyrics towards broader, more universal ones - the transition from "Caribbean Wind" on stage in 1980 to the one recorded in studio and released on Biograph is one of the better examples of this process. "Call Letter Blues" also features a buzzy guitar, which closes out the song in a more rocking fashion than the more subdued song selected for Blood on the Tracks.

You're A Big Girl Now - Biograph - 1985

While the album version of "You're A Big Girl Now" is good, the earlier take from New York that was included on Biograph has some more heartbreaking element missing from its later arrangement. Both are very similar, but the vocalized cries between lines are a bit less theatrical and more heartfelt in its earlier rendition. This song would go on to be performed frequently in concerts during 1976 and 1978, but would then appear only intermittently. It's rarely been better than it was in the '70s, but a particular standout would be the quiet, meditative version from 1999.

Changing of the Guards - Street-Legal - 1978

One of the unqualified masterpieces from Bob Dylan's controversial 1978 record, this song has sadly been unplayed since that year's tour. Admittedly, its sound is tied almost inextricably to the big band sound and the background singers, so perhaps it would only have worked later in a dramatic rearrangement (and may have lost much of its power in the transition). This song is often interpreted, because of its opening reference to "sixteen years," as the singer's reflection back on his public career - if this is true, that reflection is cloaked in seemingly endless layers of mystical imagery. To me, it's a surrealistic portrait more effective than much of his work in that subgenre during the '60s, simply because it uses jarring associated for disturbing purposes rather than emphasizing absurdity. Additionally, it may be the most pointed example of Street-Legal's use of tarot imagery; tarot cards had appeared on the packaging for Desire, but astronomy and tarot was much more significant in the lyrics of Street-Legal.

If You See Her, Say Hello - The Bootleg Series Volume 1-3 - 1974

In spite of its seemingly unvarnished personal content, this song's final arrangement was actually criticized by reviewers in 1975. Happily, an earlier take was eventually released on Biograph. I think both have their merits, but the quieter performance lets Dylan's subdued harmonica highlight the themes of sorrow and regret over the narrator's shoddy treatment of his partner. This song has been heavily rewritten over the years, though never more pointedly than the extremely powerful, harsh version debuted during the Rolling Thunder Revue in 1976. An inventive, if significantly less moving, arrangement was worked up in rehearsals for the 1978 tour, but was only played live a handful of times. Since 1978, it has appeared occasionally, but typically in uptempo arrangements; a particularly effective rendition was played at Helsinki in 2003.

Dirge - Planet Waves - 1974

"Dirge" is an exceedingly raw, angry song. Opening with the phrase "I hate myself for loving you," it is effectively a simmering screed against some unknowing (and deeply disliked) target. The poetry is unquestionably among the best that Dylan wrote in the early 1970s, even if the performance is sure to leave the listener uncomfortable. This song was apparently captured through serendipity, as it was intended to be a rehearsal. The take was never bettered, though, and the song has never appeared on-stage. It seems that Bob Dylan - at piano - and Robbie Robertson - on guitar - caught lightning in a bottle at this session and never saw fit to attempt it again.

One More Cup of Coffee (The Valley Below) - Desire - 1976

According to an introduction to the song on-stage in 1978, this song was inspired by Bob Dylan's visit to a gypsy community in the South of France. Through the magic of imaginative writing, though, it became a darkly tinged exploration of a seemingly anachronistic world. it's also something of a vocal workout, which poet Allan Ginsberg reflected upon when discussing Dylan's mid-'70s music. While it is one of the rare songs from Desire that has appeared a handful of times on tour since 1978 after being performed frequently during that year and the preceding ones, listeners should seek out a peculiar guitar and violin duet version played live, only once, in 1976.

Where Are You Tonight (Journey Through Dark Heat) - Street-Legal - 1978

The subtitle of this song is especially illuminating, as it reflects the mysteriously oppressive quality that the listener experiences while listening to the concluding track of Street-Legal. It's unclear exactly who the figures described in the song are supposed to be, or what their significance is to the broader disorder present in the song, but it all comes together to suggest (if not outright state) that the narrator's world is on the cusp of catastrophe, either personal or writ large. It's hard not to read back into this song with the hindsight offered by Bob Dylan's conversion to Christianity a year later, along with his preaching about a world rapidly approaching Armageddon. Even without that context, though, it stands on its own as one of the singer's most effective portraits of a world gone wrong.

Forever Young (Demo) - Biograph - 1973

I thought it would be nice to conclude the set on a quiet reflective piece that represents how far the singer came during this short period: he'd gone from the comparative peace of 1973, with concerns about how his children would treat and be treated by the world they were growing up in, to an outright confrontation of that world, cloaked with dark imagery and symbolism, prior to his spiritual crash at the end of 1978. It's a fascinating journey, and one that we're lucky enough to have documented through his music.

A brief note about the elephant in the room that didn't appear - I don't think the studio rendition of "Hurricane" is especially effective, and the listener would do well to seek out live performances from the 1975 tour. I feel the same about the studio version of Romance in Durango, which was played well on both the 1975 and 1976 tours. Similarly, I'm not especially convinced by the merits of "Going Going Gone" as it appeared on Planet Waves, and instead suggest the outtake or 1976's live arrangement.

With regard to sound levels, sensitive listeners should raise the volume of anything pulled from Biograph and reduce the volume of anything pulled from Street-Legal's remastered edition (which is a significant sonic improvement on the original release). Otherwise, I found tracks to be largely produced at the same volume.

I hope you liked this compilation, and the accompanying notes. Whatever the next DIY Playlist is, it should not take so long to put together. Until next time, keep yourself healthy and listen to some good tunes.


Monday, September 25, 2017

Update: Bootleg Series 13 - Trouble No More

Exciting news, everybody:

As you've no doubt heard (assuming you're a Bob Dylan fan dedicated enough to have found this site!), Sony/Columbia is releasing The Bootleg Series 13: Trouble No More, 1979-1981 on November 3, 2017. This is very thrilling news for folks like me who are particularly interested in the musician's 'Gospel Period' during those years.

Unfortunately for fans of this site, more than a couple compilations are going to need to be removed from the Thousand Highways Collection in the coming month. In particular, at least the following will be impacted:

- Serve Somebody: Live, 1979 - 1980
- Still The Same Man (Volume 1): Live, Fall 1980
- Still The Same Man (Volume 2): Live, 1981
- Testament: Live, 1979 - 1981
- Every Grain of Sand: Live & Studio Performances, 1980 - 1981

I will need to double-check the tracklisting, but my One More Night and Another Night career retrospectives may also be affected. Never fear, because I have no doubt that the engineers at the record company will deliver significantly improved sound quality. In particular, I can't tell you how excited I am about finally getting to hear one of my favorite performances, 1980's "Caribbean Wind," in high quality.

So you have until October 31 to download these recordings. I don't think there will be much to fret about, since I'd imagine all of you will be picking up the new set. I'll even link it below for convenience.

I will also be working up new versions of the compilations, featuring live performances that remain unreleased - it was actually a startlingly kind gesture by Sony/Columbia to emphasize recordings that either do not circulate or circulate in poor quality. Shockingly, Avignon '81, New Orleans '81 and Houston '81 are almost entirely unrepresented on the upcoming release; some bemoaned this fact, but I appreciate that they've allowed the best-sounding bootlegs to remain effectively free in the public space while opening up a whole host of songs that we've never heard before in high quality recordings.

A quick bonus note: I haven't forgotten about the DIY playlists I mentioned earlier in the year, and you'll be getting those eventually. Time's gotten away from me, between increased civic engagement, work on a book, and significantly increased career responsibilities. It's been an exhausting year, but I'm not going to leave you great folks high and dry.

So Winter 2017/2018 and Spring 2018 has gotten much more interesting for A Thousand Highways, and I hope it'll be getting more interesting for you. Until next we meet, keep yourself healthy and listen to some good tunes.

- CS

UPDATE - November 5, 2017: Links have been removed for Serve Somebody, Testament, Every Grain of Sand, and Still The Same Man, Volumes 1 & 2. Once I get done listening to the amazing Bootleg Series 13, I'll publish a revised set of albums covering unreleased studio and live recordings from 1979 to 1981; these compilations will feature content from those discontinued Thousand Highways entries and a few new additions.

Link to The Bootleg Series Volume 13: Trouble No More, 1979 - 1981

Saturday, April 1, 2017

DIY Playlist: The Complete 1966 Live Recordings

Welcome to the first post of 2017, everybody!

While I have completed my coverage of Bob Dylan's unreleased catalog, as it existed in 2016, I thought it might be nice to continue my DIY Playlist series. This seeks to compile the best of Bob Dylan's released work into compelling playlists, separating the wheat from the chaff. When I'm done, I'd like to think that a collection combining my Thousand Highways compilations and my DIY Playlists would represent an ideal cross-section of the artist's work.

With that in mind, let's get into 1966.

That year represented Bob Dylan's largest tour up to that point, geographically speaking. He traveled from the United States to Australia, by way of Hawaii, then on to Scandinavia and the rest of Europe. Happily, his entourage and record company taped a fair number of the concerts for posterity. Leaked versions of these tapes formed the backbone of the earliest rock bootlegs, and led to a 1996 release of the tour's most famous performance at Manchester, England as The Bootleg Series Volume 4: The "Royal Albert Hall Concert."

The 1966 World Tour also represented some of the singer's most ambitious work, artistically speaking. There are dozens of books that could tell you more, but in short, Bob Dylan had evolved rapidly from a singer known for his protest anthems to a poet known for his introspective acoustic songs and then on into a rock musician; this occurred over a span of only three years, leaving many fans either unable or unwilling to keep up. Consequently, while the increasingly experimental acoustic portions of his 1966 shows were met with a reasonably positive reception, the electric portions had coalesced into a truly aggressive, powerful sound and were received accordingly. This dynamic developed further throughout the tour, to the point that Dylan was actively harassing his rowdier audiences by the end of May. The art did not suffer, though, and both his acoustic and electric performances from the year remain some of the most compelling artistic expression that 20th Century popular music would produce.

Bearing that context in mind, I would like to offer my favorite tracks from the recently released complete 1966 Live Recordings. This massive set contains 36 discs of music, and a fair amount of it, while artistically ambitious, presents some sonic issues. The acoustics were not ideal, as rock music in large spaces remained in its infancy, and adding the layer of recording these shows provides a second source of problems. Consequently, only a handful of the concerts present pleasant listening experiences, and fewer still offer a true complete rendering of the night's proceedings - "Desolation Row" and "Visions of Johanna" are frequently incomplete, and "One Too Many Mornings" is often missing its opening moments. I have combed through the collection for the best-sounding, most complete, and most passionate song renditions, and I would like to offer them to you here:

Volume One

She Belongs To Me - Live - Belfast - May 6, 1966
Fourth Time Around - Live - Belfast - May 6, 1966
Visions Of Johanna - Live - Edinburgh - May 20, 1966
It's All Over Now, Baby Blue - Live - Newcastle - May 21, 1966
Desolation Row - Live - Belfast - May 6, 1966
Just Like A Woman - Live - Edinburgh - May 20, 1966
Mr. Tambourine Man - Live - Sheffield - May 16, 1966

Volume Two

Tell Me Momma - Live - Bristol - May 10, 1966
I Don't Believe You - Live - Belfast - May 6, 1966
Baby Let Me Follow You Down - Live - Cardiff - May 11, 1966
Just Like Tom Thumb's Blues - Live - Bristol - May 10, 1966
Leopard-Skin Pill-Box Hat - Live - Bristol - May 10, 1966
One Too Many Mornings - Live - Cardiff - May 11, 1966
Ballad Of A Thin Man - Live - Cardiff - May 11, 1966
Like A Rolling Stone - Live - Belfast - May 6, 1966

As you can see, a few concerts stand out: Belfast, Bristol, and Cardiff. A handful of others exist around the margins: Newcastle, Edinburgh and Sheffield. I had disqualified Manchester and the first night of London, simply because those have received their own unique releases and you can listen to them in their entirety.

With regard to Belfast, this is the earliest night on the tour that shows up on my compilation. It is one of Dylan's most receptive audiences of the tour, and I think that informs his more nuanced, less shouted performances. "She Belongs To Me" does not stand out at any of the concerts, but it is particularly lilting here. "Fourth Time Around," on the other hand, is excellent on most nights, but this one offers some peculiar timing and an emphasis on the song's consonants. "Desolation Row" is more relaxed than usual, with a pleasantly reserved delivery. This version of "I Don't Believe You" received an earlier release on Biograph, and it's easy to understand why - on most nights, the harmonica is too harsh or the vocals are unfocused, but it came together perfectly in Belfast. As for "Like A Rolling Stone," this may be the best version of the song I've heard, aside perhaps from the shattered performance by the singer fifteen years later in Avignon; unlike some nights, he doesn't just hurl this one at the audience, but instead teases it out and plays with the vocal rhythm in a unique way.

Bristol is probably my favorite single night of the tour for the electric set. Much of that is actually down to the recording, as it manages to be raw without being distorted and emphasizes both the guitar and drums better than other nights. The heavier, guitar-oriented songs receive their definitive readings here, including "Tell Me Momma," "Just Like Tom Thumb's Blues," and "Leopard-Skin Pill-Box Hat." In particular, the second of those is one of my favorite performances of the song in its fifty year history and easily the highlight of the eight electric tracks here. "Leopard-Skin Pill-Box Hat" sounds almost like it could have been cut at Otis Redding's Whiskey-A-Go-Go live record, it's so electric.

Cardiff was one of the more surprising entries on my list, as the initial pass hadn't left me with any special affection toward the show; indeed, Leicester and Liverpool seemed better alternatives. When picking the final tracks, though, Cardiff presented a more attractive set of songs that blended well with other nights. The recording had a richer low-end, with the bass more emphasized and the vocals less distorted. Luckily, it also features one of the only versions of "One Too Many Mornings" in which the opening is not missing from the recording. Others have asserted that the Dublin performance of "One Too Many Mornings," with its prominent organ fills, is the best one from the tour, but I believe Cardiff narrowly outdoes it. As for "Ballad Of A Thin Man," something about the recording or acoustic conditions manages to make this song a bit harsh at every stop on the tour - Cardiff was the least objectionable, and so it appears here; my guess is that the unique performing conditions, with Dylan moving to a piano, prevented the established soundboard settings from adequately presenting the song.

Newcastle's tape is a bit harsh, but the rendition of "It's All Over Now, Baby Blue" is significantly more intimate than other nights, with most of the forcefulness gone from Dylan's delivery. While Edinburgh's electric portion is largely distorted beyond pleasant listening, the acoustic portion is lovely - "Visions Of Johanna" benefits from some atmospheric foot-tapping defining its complex rhythm and "Just Like A Woman" is impossibly wistful and delicate, resolving in an uncharacteristically bitter final verse; it cuts to the raw heart of the song in a way few later performances could. Finally, Sheffield represents one of the stranger aspects of the set - for years, the bootlegged version of this concert was the best available capture of the tour's acoustic songs. Here, though, the tape ends up a bit distorted. "Mr. Tambourine Man," though, is among the greatest versions ever performed by the singer, and so it could not be excepted from my compilation; that harmonica solo at the end manages, somehow, to utterly transcend time itself.

As for a handful of things that didn't quite make the cut, the best are "Visions Of Johanna" from Leicester, where it includes very warm, pleasant vocals, "Desolation Row" from Bristol, where it is played faster than usual, "Just Like A Woman" from Birmingham, where it resembles one of the year's magical Hotel Tapes, "I Don't Believe You" from Dublin, where it features a unique slow arrangement, "Leopard-Skin Pill-Box Hat" from Leicester, where the audience chatter at the beginning informs a very aggressive version of the song, "Ballad Of A Thin Man" from Copenhagen, where it is presented as a slick jazz track, and "Positively 4th Street" from Sydney, one of the only deviations from the year's standard setlist captured on a soundboard recording. In general, the Paris concert is rather intriguing as well, as much for the particularly aggressive audience and band response as anything else - sadly, its distortion renders it a less engaging experience than it might have been.

I hope you enjoy this collection - it took a long time to compile, but I think it was worth it in the end. 36 CDs is a lot of music, and having a guide to it is a nice way to experience the breadth of Bob Dylan's artistic achievement in 1966. When you combine this playlist with the two complete shows from Manchester and London, I think you end up with a great cross-section of the year's performances.

Let me know what you think in the comments below, and feel free to offer your alternative suggestions. I'm sure listeners would like to hear opinions on how different nights' performances stack up, especially given how static the setlist remained.

Until next time, keep yourself healthy and listen to some good tunes.


Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Upcoming Posts: DIY Playlists, 2017 Edition

Good news, folks: I have plans for a number of DIY playlists in 2017.

In particular, I know a few of you have been looking forward to me crafting a "Best of 1966" set, and I can tell you that it's currently in progress. I finally got myself a copy of that mammoth collection, and it's as good as I hoped! Unfortunately, this means that compiling it will take some time. I'm hoping for a release date of March 1, 2017, but you never know.

Additionally, I'm working on the following collections:

Studio Essentials, 1973 - 1978
Studio Essentials, 1989 - 2000
Studio Essentials, 2001 - 2012
Live Essentials, 1971 - 1981
Live Essentials, 1992 - 2002
Best of the Basement Tapes

Hopefully none of these take me too long! In any case, I thought it might be nice to have something pleasant to look forward to.