Monday, April 2, 2018

Rise Again: Unreleased Live Recordings, Fall 1980

Rise Again
Live: Fall 1980

Blowin' In The Wind - Live - San Francisco - November 13, 1980
A Couple More Years - Live - Portland - December 3, 1980
What Can I Do For You? - Live - Portland - December 3, 1980
Precious Angel - Live - San Francisco - November 12, 1980
Slow Train - Live - Seattle - November 29, 1980
We Just Disagree - Live - Portland - December 4, 1980
Fever - Live - Seattle - November 30, 1980
To Ramona - Live - San Francisco - November 16, 1980
Senor - Live - San Francisco - November 11, 1980
Mary From The Wild Moor - Live - San Francisco - November 15, 1980
Let's Keep It Between Us - Live - Portland - December 3, 1980
Monologue: The Same Man - Live - San Francisco - November 12
Rise Again - Live - Seattle - November 29
The Groom's Still Waiting At The Altar - Live - San Francisco - November 16, 1980
Ain't Gonna Go To Hell For Anybody - Live - Seattle - November 29
In The Garden - Live - San Francisco - November 11, 1980
City Of Gold - Live - San Francisco - November 13, 1980

Intro & False Start to Slow Train - Live - San Francisco - November 11, 1980
Intro to Fever - Live - San Francisco - November 22

After touring with an all-gospel revue in 1979 and early 1980, Bob Dylan made the surprising decision to reintegrate some of his classic songs with his newer bible-influenced repertoire while touring the US West Coast. At the same time, he pulled in a number of cover songs ranging from traditional Scottish ballads ("Mary From The Wild Moor") to recent radio hits (Dave Mason's "We Just Disagree") and contemporary Christian songs (Dallas Holm's "Rise Again").

It is not clear what moved Dylan to alter his earlier goal of playing explicitly religious material to fans night after night, regardless of the reception. As he and his band rehearsed in Los Angeles' Rundown Studio during September 1980, the change was apparent. The earliest focus from the rehearsal sessions was on newly written content, including "Caribbean Wind," "Every Grain of Sand" and "Yonder Comes Sin." Then after tossing off a handful of attempts at songs played on previous tours, Dylan then led his crew into numerous country and pop covers. Several of these would work their way into the following shows, but most remain unheard. One rare gem unearthed from these sessions by 2017's excellent Bootleg Series Volume 13: Trouble No More is an acoustic rendition of "Rise Again"; it's fascinating to hear just how much the song had changed between the studio and the stage in November.

For an extended residency at San Francisco's Warfield Theater from November 9 to November 22, Bob Dylan would pull out all the stops on his setlist. It varied little from night to night, but the breadth of material performed was enormous. Most shows opened with the same two songs that had introduced his concerts since the preceding year - "Gotta Serve Somebody" and "I Believe In You" (neither present on Rise Again) - before he launched into an electrified gospel arrangement of "Like A Rolling Stone." The latter is omitted from this set since it would be dramatically enhanced the following year.

With these introductory songs played, along with a nightly one-song performance by Regina McCrary, the setlist then began to open up to an intriguing combination of old and new material. "To Ramona" and "Girl From The North Country" appeared often, the former in a toned-down version of its 1978 arrangement and the latter in an all-new elegant semi-acoustic guise; Jerry Garcia, only one of numerous guests throughout the tour, plays guitar on the November 16 performance of "To Ramona" included on Rise Again. Though some of his recent gospel songs had lost a bit of their luster during the summer touring hiatus, tracks like "Slow Train" and "In The Garden" seemed to have somehow gained even more strength.

One of the most impressive elements of the Fall 1980 shows, though, was the emphasis on new compositions which, in many cases, failed to make it onto any albums. We know now that these were being worked up during the September 1980 studio sessions, perhaps in anticipation of a forthcoming album, but at the time they must have been quite surprising to audiences. "Let's Keep It Between Us," "Caribbean Wind," "The Groom's Still Waiting At The Altar," "City Of Gold" and a newly re-written "Ain't Gonna Go To Hell For Anybody" are extraordinary compositions, and we are lucky to have so many of them performed and recorded in marvelous condition at these shows. Only "The Groom's Still Waiting At The Altar" would make it onto 1981's Heart of Mine single as a b-side, and even that song had been heavily re-written between its November 1980 live appearance and the recording studio. Some of the others were recorded in the studio to less success, like "Let's Keep It Between Us" and "Caribbean Wind," or seem not to have ever been attempted in a studio session, like "City Of Gold." Whatever the case, they are excellent concert performance pieces and I'm sure you'll enjoy them here.

While "Caribbean Wind" has been omitted from Rise Again due to an official release on The Bootleg Series Volume 13, I felt compelled to include its introduction. No direct mention is made of the song, and a problem with the soundboard recording kept it from being published on said official release. It's an illuminating meditation on Dylan's own philosophy regarding his mercurial performance philosophy, as he muses about Leadbelly recording prison songs, then children's songs, all while remaining the same man; Leadbelly's audiences, of course, had been polarized about which version of him they preferred. This discomfort with audience expectations would go on to be explored more bitterly during the following year's European tour, as Dylan would openly speculate from the stage that audiences should enjoy the new songs now since, if he came back, he'd eventually just be playing the old hits that everyone wanted to hear.

I've also included a lengthy introduction to Eddie Cooley and Otis Blackwell's "Fever," which had been a hit in the '50s when recorded by Little Willie John and then Peggy Lee. Though the timeline doesn't quite sync up, Bob Dylan recalls his first time coming face to face with R&B in a Detroit bingo parlor as a young man. Having formerly listened primarily to country music, this seems to have been a formative experience in pushing the young Minnesotan out of his element and into a relationship with other musical genres. This is one of my favorite on-stage speeches by the singer, so I'm happy to include it alongside the great songs on Rise Again.

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


Saturday, March 31, 2018

Slight Delay: Rise Again - Live, Fall 1980

Happy Easter/Passover/April Fool's Day, folks!

The blog post today will be going up a day late. It's more or less done, but I need to touch up the art and notes. You'll have it on April 2, 2018. Enjoy your weekend, friends :)

Thursday, March 1, 2018

The Things That Remain: Unreleased Live Recordings, Early 1980

The Things That Remain
Live: Early 1980

Gotta Serve Somebody - Live - Los Angeles - February 27, 1980
Covenant Woman - Live - Seattle - January 15, 1980
When You Gonna Wake Up - Live - Knoxville - February 5, 1980
Monologue: Ronnie Hawkins As Bob Dylan - Live - Toronto - April 20, 1980
Ain't Gonna Go To Hell For Anybody - Live - Toronto - April 20, 1980
Cover Down, Pray Through - Live - Toronto - April 20, 1980
Saving Grace - Live - Seattle - January 15, 1980
Do Right To Me Baby (Do Unto Others) - Live - Knoxville - February 5, 1980
Monologue: The End Times - Live - Toronto - April 20, 1980
Solid Rock - Live - Portland - January 16, 1980 *
What Can I Do For You - Live - Portland - January 16, 1980
Saved - Live - Toronto - April 20, 1980
Pressing On - Live - Seattle - January 15, 1980
Are You Ready? - Live - Toronto - April 20, 1980
I Will Sing - Live - Akron - May 18, 1980

* Introduction from April 20, 1980

Link: Mediafire

After the shock of 1979's radical reinvention, Bob Dylan fans could be forgiven for imagining he'd return to a more typical setlist when playing concerts in 1980. Unfortunately for the folks who hoped he'd get back to secular material ASAP, he continued to play the same gospel songs, more or less, that he'd taken on the road the preceding Autumn.

There were some changes. Personnel in the band shifted, as he added Regina Peeples to his backing vocal roster, then brought in Gwen Evans and Mary Elizabeth Bridges. The setlist for January to February remained similar to the year before, but the April and May shows included "Are You Ready?" from Saved, along with a few songs never played in a studio - "Ain't Gonna Go To Hell For Anybody," "Cover Down, Pray Through," and "I Will Sing." The last was a song by Max Dyer, who had developed the song in a largely improvisational live setting and was surprised to hear (twenty years later) that Bob Dylan had covered it at an Ohio show in 1980; "I Will Sing" is also notable for having been the only song played at a concert between 1979 and May 1980 that was not included on The Bootleg Series Volume 13: Trouble No More.

With regard to the nuances of the performances themselves, Dylan's on-stage style in 1980 differed little from 1979. In my personal experience of the recordings, particularly in the Winter months, the bass and drums stand out more prominently than the keyboards. Spooner Oldham and Terry Young remain important players, but Tim Drummond and Jim Keltner are more clearly felt than they had been at the 1979 concerts. Certain songs here highlight that more than others - "Do Right To Me Baby," "Solid Rock" and "Are You Ready" are fantastic vehicles for Bob Dylan's rhythm section.

I find myself in a rare disagreement with noted author Paul Williams, in that I'm not convinced Dylan's early 1980 shows are in any way inferior to his 1979 concerts. Williams claims that there's a falling off of energy, but if that's true, the singer more than makes up for it in the genuinely experimental spirit with which he wove his vocal lines. Check out "Covenant Woman," "What Can I Do For You," or especially "Saving Grace" to discover what happens when Dylan wants to play around with a song without altering its arrangement. I do wish he'd continued playing more of these songs, as he discarded quite a few after the early 1980 shows - "Covenant Woman," "Are You Ready," "Pressing On," and "Cover Down, Pray Through" would never again resurface after May 1980; "Do Right To Me Baby" would be played once on that year's Musical Retrospective Tour, "When He Returns" would appear once in a surprising and unsuccessful full-band arrangement in 1981, and "Saving Grace" wouldn't appear again until the new millennium. Happily, "Gotta Serve Somebody," "Solid Rock," "When You Gonna Wake Up" and "What Can I Do For You" still had some developing to do throughout 1980 and 1981.

The concerts themselves were extraordinary, as was Bob Dylan's appearance at the 1980 Grammy Awards. He played "Gotta Serve Somebody," and even managed to add some new lyrics and a smoky harmonica solo. His raps continued in 1980, though they were comparatively limited according to the extant tapes. We are lucky to have a record of his comments at a Toronto concert in April 1980, and these makes up the bulk of his prose commentary here. This, surprisingly, includes something of a reflection on his notoriously poor reception by a college crowd in Arizona during the preceding year's tour. Dylan weaves that experience together with his expectation of a forthcoming apocalypse, but manages to make the entire story compelling through his uniquely engaging stage voice. Additionally, he ruminates humorously upon Ronnie Hawkins role as Bob Dylan in the poorly received film Renaldo & Clara; it really makes you wish he spoke a bit more often, eh?

There's not much else to say - early 1980 presented something of an expansion and refinement of Bob Dylan's 1979 shows. Audiences were treated to new songs, though no radical reinventions of his gospel tracks. A cover managed to work its way into the set, briefly, but was then dropped again. It seems that this particular style of performance had run its course; by Fall 1980, the singer would be incorporating secular covers and older compositions with his post-1978 catalog in concert.

I hope you enjoy this set! Until next time, keep yourself healthy and listen to some good tunes.


Thursday, February 1, 2018

Pressing On: Unreleased Live Recordings, 1979

Pressing On
Live 1979

Gotta Serve Somebody - Live - Santa Monica - November 18, 1979
I Believe In You - Live - San Francisco - November 7, 1979
When You Gonna Wake Up - Live - Santa Monica - November 18, 1979 *
When He Returns - Live - San Francisco - November 16, 1979
Slow Train - Live - San Francisco - November 7, 1979 **
Covenant Woman - Live - Santa Monica - November 19, 1979
Sermon: End Times - Live - Albuquerque - December 5, 1979
Solid Rock - Live - San Francisco - November 16, 1979
Saving Grace - Live - San Francisco - November 16, 1979
Precious Angel - Live - Santa Monica - November 18, 1979
Sermon: Every Knee Shall Bow - Live - Tempe - November 26, 1979
Gonna Change My Way Of Thinking - Live - San Francisco - November 16, 1979
What Can I Do For You - Live - Santa Monica - November 18, 1979
Blessed Is The Name - Live - San Francisco - November 16, 1979
Pressing On - Live - San Francisco - November 4, 1979

* Introduction: Santa Monica - November 19, 1979
** Introduction: San Francisco - November 16, 1979

In November 2017, Sony finally published a significant portion of Bob Dylan's unreleased live and studio performances spanning 1979 to 1981 as The Bootleg Series Volume 13: Trouble No More. This period had gone almost entirely untouched by Dylan's record company outside of the contemporary studio albums (Slow Train Coming, Saved, and Shot of Love) and a handful of live tracks recorded at 1981's noteworthy New Orleans concert - "Heart of Mine" on 1985's Biograph and "Dead Man, Dead Man" on 1989's "Everything Is Broken" single. 

While the new Bootleg Series addition is a welcome addition to any collection (and perhaps my favorite Bootleg Series entry so far), there is always another side to the story. In the case of 1979, the other side is perhaps less important than usual; Dylan didn't significantly alter arrangements or setlists on his first Gospel Tour, so the average fan would likely be perfectly happy listening to the excellent versions chosen and presented in exquisite sound quality for the official compilation. The more enthusiastic fan of Bob Dylan's gospel period, though, might be interested in hearing alternate versions of songs.

More importantly, the official CD set entirely omitted the between-song commentary offered by the singer at these concerts. 1979 and 1980 were genuine rarities in Dylan's career, as the typically reserved performer opened his heart up to audiences. He spoke at times in clearly rehearsed phrases and at other times spontaneously. He had recently converted to Christianity and felt a sense of responsibility to preach the gospel using the two methods most readily available to him - his albums and his concerts. Given the outsized role of Dylan's preaching at shows and its absence from the official Bootleg Series entry, I emphasized it on Pressing On: Live 1979.

Two songs here have extended introductions, while two more lengthy sermons have been isolated as discrete tracks. Many, myself included, find the omission of between-song prose on Trouble No More to be a bit more conducive to repeat listens, so I wanted listeners to have the same option on this unofficial compilation. The first of the two sermons, which I've arbitrarily titled "End Times," is a lengthier explication of the apocalyptic biblical reading that informs songs like "Slow Train Coming" and "Are You Ready?" The second sermon represents the most confrontational moment in the singer's career since feuding with his audience on-stage in Britain on the 1966 tour; he is heckled relentlessly while telling a story about 'false deceivers' and has the lights turned on in the hall, telling his hecklers to go see a KISS concert and 'rock and roll down to the pit' if they don't care for his message.

With regard to the music, there will be few surprises here for those who own Trouble No More. The arrangements and performances are more or less the same, though the sound quality is appreciably worse on these recordings. That said, a handful of tracks benefit from the reduced instrument separation: "Gotta Serve Somebody" is more full here than on Disc One of Trouble No More, "Covenant Woman" is more compressed so the song's first verse isn't unreasonably quiet, the blown bass of "Slow Train" hammers home the sense of smoke and brimstone, and the organ on "Precious Angel" offers a warmth that can be lacking on crisper recordings of the song's 1979 arrangement.

All of this being said, the most significant musical inclusion on this compilation is "Pressing On." When played on November 4, 1979, the song featured an additional third verse that was rapidly dropped and (seemingly) never even made it to the studio when the song was recorded at Muscle Shoals in 1980. The rare verse doubles down on the second verse's references to an internal battle with Satan, so perhaps it was dropped for de-emphasizing the song's broader, more inspirational message. It's hard to say, but I'm glad that the song was recorded in a reasonably clear manner before the verse disappeared permanently.

The next installment in The Thousand Highways Collection will document Bob Dylan's tours of early 1980, including unreleased tracks from the much-beloved Toronto residency. Until next time, keep yourself healthy and listen to some good tunes.

- CS

Monday, January 1, 2018

Once Upon A Time: Unreleased Live Recordings, 2017

Once Upon A Time: Live 2017
Volume One

Things Have Changed - Live - Washington, DC - November 14, 2017
It Ain't Me BabeLive - Washington, DC - November 14, 2017
Highway 61 RevisitedLive - Syracuse - June 25, 2017
Why Try To Change Me NowLive - New York - November 24, 2017
Summer DaysLive - New York - November 24, 2017
Melancholy MoodLive - Washington, DC - November 14, 2017
Honest With MeLive - Uniondale - November 8, 2017
Tryin' To Get To HeavenLive - Uniondale - November 8, 2017
Once Upon A TimeLive - Washington, DC - November 14, 2017
Pay In BloodLive - Washington, DC - November 14, 2017
Tangled Up In BlueLive - Washington, DC - November 14, 2017
Soon After MidnightLive - New York - November 24, 2017
Early Roman KingsLive - Saskatoon - July 14, 2017
Desolation RowLive - Winnipeg - July 12, 2017
Thunder On The MountainLive - Washington, DC - November 14, 2017
Autumn LeavesLive - Upper Darby - November 12, 2017

Once Upon A Time: Live 2017
Volume Two

Things Have Changed - Live - Syracuse - June 25, 2017
Don't Think Twice, It's All Right - Live - 
Esch-sur-Alzette - April 22, 2017
Beyond Here Lies Nothing - Live - 
Esch-sur-Alzette - April 22, 2017
Standing In The Doorway - Live - 
Stockholm - April 1, 2017
Lonesome Day Blues - Live - 
Dover - June 17, 2017
Make You Feel My Love - Live - 
Saskatoon - July 14, 2017
Blind Willie McTell - Live - 
Dover - June 17, 2017
Full Moon & Empty Arms - Live - 
New York - November 22, 2017
It's All Over Now Baby Blue - Live - 
Dover - June 17, 2017
Tangled Up In Blue - Live - 
Bournemouth - May 4, 2017
Stormy Weather - Live - 
Calgary - July 16, 2017
Scarlet Town - Live - 
Buffalo - November 18, 2017
Early Roman Kings - Live - 
Upper Darby - November 12, 2017
Love Sick - Live - 
Bournemouth - May 4, 2017
Learning To Fly - Live - 
Broomfield - October 21, 2017

2017 was a good year for Bob Dylan's live performances. He managed to play intimate club shows and fun festival sets throughout the year in North America and Europe, developing his setlist significantly from the more static days of the last few years. There were some negative consequences, as the performances are perhaps not quite so tight as they were in 2014 or 2015, but the change overall was one that made a more exciting experience for fans in person and following along at home.

Happily, the tapers also came through in much more challenging conditions than have been faced in recent memory. Terrorism at concert venues has become a sadly common headline, and security has been tightened accordingly; smuggling in recording gear is harder than it used to be, of course. A number of dedicated individuals persevered, though, and we've been graced with extraordinary recordings from Spot, Soomlos, Mike Beerley, John Johnson, JF, Big Daddy Buffalo, EBR, Imperfect Gravy, and Alex Leary.

I have compiled the most consistently strong tracks onto Volume One. This tracklist is less exciting than Volume Two, perhaps, but is the more compelling listening experience. Alex Leary's Washington, DC tape is my favorite combination of performance and recording quality, and is well-represented here. Listeners will notice that the bulk of content on this first volume comes from the Fall Tour of North America - this is because Bob Dylan played and sang in a more adventurous fashion on the final tour of the year, altering a number of arrangements quite significantly.

In particular, the arrangements for "Things Have Changed," "Summer Days," "Honest With Me," Tryin' To Get To Heaven," "Tangled Up In Blue," and "Thunder On The Mountain" have been dramatically altered. The changes to "Things Have Changed" and "Summer Days" occurred earlier in the year, but the others were largely altered by the Autumn concerts. "Honest With Me" and "Thunder On The Mountain" were the most significant of the alterations, as both unexpectedly became infused with a kind of surf rock aesthetic; "Summer Days" was only marginally less altered, becoming a violin-oriented up-tempo folk song more akin to "You Ain't Goin' Nowhere" than its former swing sound.

One major change to Bob Dylan's own on-stage work in 2017 was his move to piano for virtually all non-cover performances. While he had been singing many songs center-stage without accompanying himself instrumentally for much of 2013 to 2016, he had moved back to playing piano on "Things Have Changed," "Pay In Blood," "Love Sick," and others. The cover songs were still performed almost exclusively without piano accompaniment.

With regard to Volume Two, the recordings vary much more in quality and ambiance. Crystal Cat turned in a few of the year's more interesting tapes, but their work on delivering clarity came at the consequence of a warmer room sound. Interesting rare performances like "Standing in The Doorway" and "It's All Over Now Baby Blue" are unfortunately a bit thin. The performances are still excellent, though, and I can't imagine its anything that couldn't be overlooked by dedicated fans.

Three of the songs on Volume Two also appear on Volume One, but this is no error or the result of a lack of song diversity. In fact, the three songs are curiosities that should not be missed. "Things Have Changed" is played with a much more intense, dark country flair here. "Tangled Up In Blue" is an intriguing arrangement that exists halfway between the way it had been played from 2013 to 2016 and the new, more easygoing treatment it would receive at 2017's Fall shows. "Early Roman Kings," finally, is representative of the way that the song was played throughout the Autumn Tour - softer in tone than the pounding electric blues of early 2017 but with brief, jazzy instrumental interludes between verses; it also features some new lyrics.

Some other interesting rearrangements are present on Volume Two as well. "Love Sick" is performed in a soft, moody style that recalls its sound on 1997's Time Out of Mind. "Scarlet Town," one of my favorite songs from 2012's Tempest, has been rearranged to a slightly more dramatic, mid-tempo ballad; it happily retains its minor-key menace. "It's All Over Now Baby Blue" is perhaps not a major alteration, but it does sound strangely like the composer combined its lyrics with the more rollicking music of "Just Like Tom Thumb's Blues." "Blind Willie McTell" is quite similar to the way it was played at the 2012 Critics Choice Awards, though the piano's prominence lends it a sound even more reminiscent of New Orleans in the early Twentieth Century.

Finally, the second volume ends on a bittersweet note. Bob Dylan's old touring partner and friend, Tom Petty, died on October 2, 2017, and received an on-stage musical tribute at the end of Dylan's show in Broomfield, Colorado. This song had not ever been publicly played by Bob Dylan before, but his delivery and the band's performance is as tight as if they'd been playing it nightly. The only capture of this performance circulating as of December 31, 2017 was a lossy recording from a cell phone. Listeners ought not criticize the sound quality, though, as without the work of this taper we'd not have any document of the night at all; I'm making an exception to my typical lossless-sourced rule to present the moving performance, and I suspect listeners will agree with the decision.

With that, I hope you all enjoyed the year's Bob Dylan performances as much as I did. These are challenging times, and we are lucky to have a musician as talented as this to help us muddle through; similarly, we are eternally blessed that the tapers spend their time and hard-earned money getting these recordings out to the wider world. Until we meet again, keep yourself healthy and listen to some good tunes.

- CS

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.