Autumn In Los Angeles: Unreleased Studio Recordings, 1980-1985
Mystery Train - Rehearsal - 1980
Caribbean Wind - Outtake - Shot of Love
Magic - Outtake - Shot of Love
Heart Of Mine - Outtake - Shot of Love
Shot Of Love - Outtake - Shot of Love
Let’s Keep It Between Us - Rehearsal - 1980
Trouble - Outtake - Shot of Love
Don’t Fly Unless It’s Safe - Outtake - Infidels
Jokerman - Unreleased - David Letterman Show, 1984
Treat Her Right - Rehearsal - David Letterman Show, 1984
Dirty Lie - Rehearsal - 1984
Almost Done - Rehearsal - 1984
Don’t Start Me Talkin’ - Unreleased - David Letterman Show, 1984
Dark Groove - Outtake - Infidels
Come Together - Rehearsal - 1985
Nothing Here Worth Dying For - Rehearsal - 1985
Go ‘Way Little Boy - Unreleased - 1984 Studio Session
Freedom For The Stallion - Unreleased - 1985 Studio Session
Shake - Rehearsal - 1985
Something’s Burning Baby - Outtake - Empire Burlesque
Fans are lucky to have access to a larger-than-average number of Bob Dylan studio recording sessions spanning 1980 to 1985, including tour rehearsals and outtakes from Shot of Love, Infidels, and Empire Burlesque. Following the publication of Columbia’s Bootleg Series 13: Trouble No More and Bootleg Series 16: Springtime in New York, a handful of these tracks remain officially unreleased. I’ve compiled the best of these into a 20-track collection structured to reveal the evolution of Bob Dylan as a recording artist over this tumultuous five-year period when he returned to secular music after two years working primarily on religious material.
The first section comprises rehearsals Fall 1980 Musical Retrospective Tour from Fall 1980 and the Shot of Love sessions in late 1980 and early 1981. The former provides us with a great cover - Junior Parker’ “Mystery Train” - and a variant of original composition “Let’s Keep It Between Us” that are distinct from the versions released on Springtime in New York; of them, I prefer the unreleased recording of “Mystery Train” even if it feels a bit less rehearsed than the officially-released take. It’s hard to love the sleepy studio takes of “Let’s Keep It Between Us” once you’ve heard the incendiary live performances from Fall 1980, but I find them to still be an engaging exercise in hearing how a song can grow from studio to stage.
The Shot of Love outtakes are more interesting, not least because they all escaped inclusion on the two Bootleg Series volumes dedicated to this period. You’ve got excellent alternate interpretations of “Caribbean Wind,” “Shot of Love,” and “Heart of Mine,” an early experiment that would later produce “Trouble,” and the otherwise-undocumented original composition “Magic.” The latter two are still in a gestational stage somewhere between rough sketches like “Wind Blowing On The Water” and completed lyrics like those that would appear on the final album.
The vast majority of completed songs from Bob Dylan’s Infidels sessions are present on Springtime in New York, but I wanted to make sure that a few lingering gems didn’t escape the notice of dedicated fans. Specifically, the instrumental tracks “Don’t Fly Unless It’s Safe” and “Dark Groove” are used to bookend other tracks recorded from 1983 to 1984. Besides these outtakes, I’ve highlighted the singer’s legendary 1984 appearance on the David Letterman show backed by The Plugz with two performed songs (Infidels’ “Jokerman” and Sonny Boy Williamson’s “Don’t Start Me Talkin’”) and a brilliant rehearsal of Roy Head’s “Treat Her Right.” For more insight on this event, I strongly recommend reading Ray Padgett’s interview with Plugz bassist Tony Marsico over at Flaggin’ Down The Double E’s. The Infidels era is rounded out with two tour rehearsals from early 1984: the respectively beautiful and eerie “Almost Done” and “Dirty Lie.” While neither would ever be performed by their writer, “Dirty Lie” was finally completed and published by The Secret Sisters at Bob Dylan’s suggestion in 2014.
Autumn In Los Angeles’ final group of songs is anchored by their association with the Empire Burlesque era. Among these, “Come Together,” “Shake,” and “Nothing Here Worth Dying For” are believed to come from rehearsals conducted as the prelude to an abandoned 1985 tour with Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers that never happened (Dylan and Petty would reunite for tours in 1986 and 1987, as documented on the Thousand Highways Collection’s A Voice Without Restraint and Determined To Stand). “Come Together” is just a bit of fun riffing on The Beatles’ seminal Chuck Berry pastiche, original composition “Shake” sounds like an evolution on the aforementioned “Treat Her Right” and would later feature in Bob Dylan’s 1986 Farm Aid performance, and “Nothing Here Worth Dying For” is a lovely chorus in search of verses; much like “Almost Done” and “Dirty Lie,” it’s a shame that “Shake” and “Nothing Here Worth Dying For” were never properly finished. I’m sure that listeners will also enjoy a pitch-corrected version of Allen Toussaint’s “Freedom for the Stallion,” which has circulated for years as a helium-voiced sped-up version, and the Lone Justice outtake of “Go ‘Way Little Boy” featuring Bob Dylan singing a song he’d written for them. The set ends with an alternate version of Empire Burlesque’s “Something’s Burning Baby” that includes some additional lyrics.
Until next time, keep yourself healthy and listen to some good tunes!