Wednesday, October 6, 2021

DIY Playlist: Infidels Revisited


The Bootleg Series Volume 16: Springtime in New York has finally shed a brighter light on the Infidels and Empire Burlesque sessions. While The Bootleg Series Volume 1-3 gave us a taste of this content back in 1991, it's nice to have a fuller picture. It's also a joy to finally have some of the previously circulating outtakes in significantly higher quality.

This seemed to be an ideal opportunity to produce my own DIY playlist presenting an idealized version of Bob Dylan's flawed mid-'80s releases. The first of these, Infidels Revisited, strips out a song or two from the original 1983 album but replaces them with a host of more engaging, less produced tracks.

  1. Jokerman - Springtime in New York
  2. Sweetheart Like You - Springtime in New York
  3. Someone's Got a Hold of My Heart - Springtime in New York
  4. Julius and Ethel - Springtime in New York
  5. Lord Protect My Child - Springtime in New York
  6. Foot of Pride - The Bootleg Series Volume 1-3
  7. I & I - Infidels
  8. Union Sundown - Springtime in New York
  9. License to Kill - Infidels
  10. Man of Peace - Infidels
  11. Blind Willie McTell - Springtime in New York
  12. Don't Fall Apart on Me Tonight (Version 2) - Springtime in New York

I was excited to finally have the alternate versions of "Jokerman," "Don't Fall Apart on Me Tonight," and "Union Sundown" in particular, as each features a much stronger vocal delivery than the ones selected for Infidels. The latter is also noteworthy for a more scathing verse concerning the political dimensions of unfettered capitalism. I almost included the slow take of "Don't Fall Apart on Me Tonight" featured on Springtime in New York, but ended up preferring the up-tempo version as a nice wind-down from the intensity of "Blind Willie McTell."

I went back and forth on the inclusion of "Sweetheart Like You" here since it contains some of the singer's most notoriously sexist lyrics. The rest of the song is too good to lose, though, so it made it in. The same issue appears in "Foot of Pride," which opens on a disappointingly regressive couplet before going on to offer one of Dylan's best studio performances of the era. "Too Late," the song's earlier incarnation, is interesting but lacks the lyrical and vocal precision that would appear as the sessions progressed.

"Julius and Ethel" is briefer and more fun than "Neighborhood Bully," so it replaced it in my preferred Infidels tracklist. "Tell Me" is likewise absent since it feels a bit strained in both of the released outtakes. Sequencing actually proved to be a bit of a challenge here since some of the best songs are musically similar - see the introductions to "Lord Protect My Child" and "License to Kill" or the overall tone of "Someone's Got a Hold of My Heart" and "Don't Fall Apart on Me Tonight - but I think spacing them out allowed their unique charms to shine. 

"Blind Willie McTell" serves as the natural climax of the set. This isn't surprising, since it's among Bob Dylan's best compositions, but choosing a version was pretty difficult. The solo piano version is plainly superior, in my estimation, but the band version works better amid the rest of the Infidels material. It was also tricky to determine where it fell in the sequencing, but I found that offering it as a spookier counterpoint to "Man of Peace" and then resolving the tension with "Don't Fall Apart on Me Tonight" made for a lovely three-song cycle.

I hope you enjoy this playlist! You can purchase the songs individually online or compile them using the Infidels, The Bootleg Series Volume 1-3, and Springtime in New York. I recommend buying the full collections since you might prefer different takes and can easily substitute them in for my choices. Be sure to let me know what you think in the comments below. Next week we'll be covering a revised version of Empire Burlesque. 

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


P.S. If you haven't heard it, please buy Daniel Romano's Outfit Do (What Could Have Been) Infidels By Bob Dylan & the Plugz. It's an extraordinary interpretation of the official Infidels tracklist in the style of Dylan's appearance on Letterman with The Plugz by a talented indie artist. For my money, it's better than the actual album!


  1. Good to hear from you CS. Hope all is well. I would love your thoughts on Rough And Rowdy Ways and Shadow Kingdom. For me I find RARW boring and SK I have no idea where it came from, he's in great voice if it's real, anyway I'm enjoying it. Stay safe.

    1. I enjoyed Rough and Rowdy Ways tremendously - "Murder Most Foul" might be the best song the guy's ever done. Shadow Kingdom was similarly great; my wife and I watched it with my father and mother, and even the latter (who dislikes Bob Dylan's music) loved it. Hope all is well for you too!

    2. Hi CWS, nice playlist! I've not been able to enjoy RARW to the extent that others have either, although it's clearly very good. Over a lifetime of listening to Dylan, I've arrived at Shot of Love as my favourite Dylan album (with Caribbean Winds as my favourite BL ;). I got a copy of the new Springtime in NY album (2 disc version) and there are some great tracks but have found it a bit underwhelming -perhaps my expectations were too high. I'll give RARW some more time, maybe the penny will drop like it did with Modern Times. I have also discovered Daniel Romano and while I prefer the original, his take on Infidels is excellent. I can't recommend that guy enough. Keep well & thanks again for rekindling my interest in Bob Dylan through your excellent blog :)

  2. Sorry, but I don't get all the acclaim over Blind Willie McTell. Don't mistake this as negative criticism, but the tune doesn't seem to suit the more contemporary sound or mood of Infidels or even that entire musical period for Dylan. Rather, I would have placed it in his 60s folkie era or possibly in the mid-70s with Hattie Caroll and Hurricane. It's not surprising to me that he left it off the album. Nonetheless, you're in good company with book authors Clinton Heylin and Sean Wilentz. Heylin said McTell was the best song that Dylan ever left off an album and Wilentz dedicated an entire chapter in his book, Bob Dylan In America, to McTell.

    Infidels, for me, contains Dylan's most enigmatic and intriguing set of lyrics in Jokerman, backed up by the Sly and Robbie rhythm section, no less. That tough act is followed up by the pumping guitar-driven Neighborhood Bully, whose musical intensity is matched by Dylan's relentless wordplay and biting sarcasm. I could go on about the rest of Infidels, but it's easily his best album of the 80s and rivals any of his output.

  3. I think it's near impossible to identify any song as the "greatest". Like all great art, it's how it speaks to you. I like the band version of BWM though. Agree that the edgier songs like Neighbourhood Bully & Sundown are brilliant. I & I is one song that has to be on my essential playlist. As CWS suggests, Daniel Romano's take on Infidels might be worth your time :)