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.