Bob Dylan: Slow Train Coming

Slow Train Coming – Wikipedia

Recorded: April 30 – May 11, 1979

Released: August 20, 1979

Here’s the second huge inflection point in Dylan’s career. 1965: Dylan goes electric! 1979: Dylan is born again! But in retrospect — 40+ years on — both of these transformations feel much more of a piece with Dylan’s 60 year (and counting) career.

I remember well when this album came out. Everyone was a Christian where I grew up, so this was a pretty big deal. However, I wasn’t all that interested in it myself, since I was listening to The Clash, Elvis Costello, The Ramones, B-52s, Talking Heads, … 

This is an album I’ve listened to occasionally over the years and always liked pretty well. But now that I’ve listened to it carefully while going through all Dylan’s albums, I enjoy it much more and consider it quite successful on its own terms and in many ways consistent with the core themes of Dylan’s songs both before and since. 

How is it consistent with Dylan’s songs? First, there is a strong strain of protest music here, linking back to his 60s critiques of American culture. We go from “flesh colored Christs that glow in the dark, it’s easy to see without looking too far, that not much is really sacred” to “the enemy I see wears a cloak of decency, all nonbelievers and men stealers talkin’ in the name of religion”.  You’ve got “counterfeit philosophies have polluted all of your thoughts, Karl Marx has got ya by the throat, Henry Kissinger’s got you tied up in knots.” Dylan remains the prophet calling out the sins of the nation.

Second, people just don’t get it: “Something is happening here, but you don’t know what it is, do you Mr. Jones?” And now matter what you do or who you are (“an ambassador to England or France”!), you’re still “gonna have to serve somebody”.

Third, it isn’t just American culture or people in general, it’s Dylan’s own (so-called) friends! “You’ve got a lot of nerve to say you are my friend” (1965) and “My so-called friends have fallen under a spell, They look me squarely in the eye and they say, “All is well””. 

Fourth, there are some oddly specific parallels. Both “All I Really Want to Do” (1964) and “Do Right To Be Baby (Do Unto Others)” list a whole lot of things Dylan doesn’t want to do before coming to the point. But the point has changed from being with you to doing right to you. (OK, that’s a pretty big change.)

Of course, there is a big difference, too. Back in 1964, the mission statement of “Another Side of Bob Dylan” was his renunciation of “lies that life is black and white”, which is how he came to think of his early protest songs. I think Dylan wanted to be relieved of any burden for coming up with an answer, or perhaps more precisely, that there was any easy answer. But now he has found The Answer, and you better believe it, mister. 

You either got faith or unbelief, there ain’t no neutral ground

He who is not with me is against me

You’re gonna have to serve somebody

It may be the devil or it may be the lord

But you’re gonna have to serve somebody

As I said, I really enjoy this album and think it succeeds on its own terms. However, there are two major caveats. First, while I don’t believe the theology on Slow Train Coming, it’s familiar to me, so maybe I’m susceptible to it. Actually, it’s more accurate to say I have nostalgia for it, or even that I wish I could feel the way Dylan felt here. The second caveat is that if Dylan wrote songs like this for the rest of his career, I’m sure I would have quickly lost interest and felt like this was a waste of his genius. But as just one short phase, I think it fits nicely in his career and artistic arc.

Let’s talk about the songs.

“Gotta Serve Somebody”. I have to say that listening carefully to this song, particularly this version, has opened up a new perspective for me; it’s funny. Dylan’s vocal is amazingly expressive, conversational, and sly. And his sly vocal narrates a bunch of more or less implausible things you might be or do, but in the end, it’s all the same: you gotta serve somebody. “So… what if I’m a state trooper, would that do it? Nope. How about… a rock-n-roll addict? Still no. OK, OK, I’ve got it: the heavyweight champion of the world? NO”. While I might prefer some live versions of this song overall, Dylan’s vocal here is just unmatched.

“Precious Angel”. One of several songs about a (the?) woman (women?) that led him to Christ. 

Precious angel, under the sun

How was I to know you’d be the one

To show me I was blinded, to show me I was gone

How weak was the foundation I was standing upon?

That’s a central theme of the song, but, to paraphrase Dr. Strangelove, Dylan is a man of god, but he’s also a man:

You’re the queen of my flesh, girl, you’re my woman, you’re my delight

You’re the lamp of my soul, girl, and you torch up the night

There’s also some powerful Dylan-poetry:

We are covered in blood, girl, you know our forefathers were slaves

Let us hope they’ve found mercy in their bone-filled graves

I assumed this somehow was a literal reference to Dylan’s and the subject’s ancestors. The Wikipedia article about this song suggests that the subject of the song was Black, so this is a joint reference to American slavery and the slavery of Jews in Egypt in biblical times. This interpretation is reinforced by the final lines before the lsat choruses:

But there’s violence in the eyes, girl, so let us not be enticed

On the way out of Egypt, through Ethiopia, to the judgment hall of Christ

And this is a very appealing pop-rock song, with nice guitar from Mark Knopfler.

“I Believe in You”. This once was my favorite song on the album.  For some reason, it doesn’t stand out as much for me anymore, but it still is a (near) masterpiece.

“Slow Train”. This is a great song — perhaps the best on the album — that mostly could have passed for a mid-60s Dylan song. It’s not explicitly Christian or even religious; instead, it’s theme is an indictment of the state of the nation: “Sometimes I feel so low-down and disgusted”. There’s also some xenophobia. But before I get to any of those things, I think it’s worth dwelling on the second verse:

I had a woman down in Alabama

She was a backwoods girl, but she sure was realistic

She said, “Boy, without a doubt

Have to quit your mess and straighten out

You could die down here, be just another accident statistic”

There’s a slow, slow train comin’ up around the bend

I don’t like to biographize Dylan, but it’s clear that he felt a mess in 1978. His ugly divorce was just finalized, he was musically uncertain, and I think deeply burned out. In 1966, after his motorcycle accident he retreated to upstate New York with his family, but now he’d lost (destroyed) his family. If he didn’t find some refuge, (as he wrote on his next album), he thought by this time he’d “be sleeping In a pine box for all eternity”. Not just dead, but in the grave for all eternity. While “Slow Train” doesn’t tell us about the refuge Dylan found, the rest of the album does.

The verse about “foreign oil” and “sheikhs” who are “deciding America’s fate” is unfortunate: pointing the finger at “the other” is a bad place to start and can end even worse, as Dylan should have kept in mind. However, in most of the song the finger is pointing at us, at America. This is one of those songs that laments the state of the nation — America — and while it never says it explicitly, I think the power of these songs comes from Dylan’s acceptance of the old idea that America should be a “city upon a hill”, not that America is, but that it should be. Therefore, when America falls short of that, we essentially are not America

In the home of the brave

Jefferson turnin’ over in his grave

Fools glorifying themselves, trying to manipulate Satan

The enemy I see

Wears a cloak of decency

All nonbelievers and men stealers talkin’ in the name of religion

And perhaps the ultimate condemnation:

People starving and thirsting, grain elevators are bursting

Oh, you know it costs more to store the food than it do to give it

They say lose your inhibitions

Follow your own ambitions

They talk about a life of brotherly love show me someone who knows how to live it

We’re letting people starve while there’s abundant food, and our talk about brotherly love is just empty words. It’s hypocrisy, including specifically religious hypocrisy, just like when the 1965 Dylan sang about “flesh colored Christs that glow in the dark, it’s easy to see without looking too far, that not much is really sacred”. 

And — a common theme here — a beautifully crafted song and all around excellent performance.

“Gonna Change My Way of Thinking”. Hmmm… quite a few writers whom I really enjoy do not much like this one, but I’ve always loved it. This is kinda surprising, since I’m not particularly fond of Dylan’s blues songs (for example, on Blonde on Blonde and Time Out of Mind), but this is an exception. Maybe it’s because I don’t know all the different subtypes of blues? In any case, it’s the music that does it for me, just super driving, love the guitar and horns. The hate for the song came from the harsh, in your face, even accusatory lyrics. Not only has Dylan changed his way of thinking and made himself a different set of rules, he tells you that he’s going to stop being influenced by fools. that there’s only one authority, and that’s the authority on high, that Jesus said “he not with me is against me”. 

Honestly, this is a song where intellectually I don’t agree with the lyrics, but I respect that this is what Dylan was feeling at the time. So to me the question is does the song as a whole — lyrics, music, and performance — succeed at what it’s intending to do. I say: “yes it does”.

“Do Right to Me Baby (Do Unto Others)”. This is a song that I basically never thought about — if you had asked me a couple of months ago to list the songs on the album, I probably couldn’t have remembered this. Now after listening to it a number of times, I really like the acoustic guitar part, and like the whole album, it’s a good performance. As I already wrote, I also find the parallelism to “All I Really Want to Do” amusing. Still, this isn’t one I expect to go back to.

“When You Gonna Wake Up”. Like the previous song, this is another that I never really thought about, but unlike “Do Right To Me…”, listening carefully to this one has really changed my impression of this one. The opening lines now strikes me as a powerful statement of where Dylan was at:

God don’t make no promises that He don’t keep

OK, sure, you can trust in God. But it’s the next line that gets me:

You got some big dreams, baby, but in order to dream you gotta still be asleep

You might have the American dream, dreams for yourself, but man, it’s time to wake up and face reality. You know why? Because:

Counterfeit philosophies have polluted all of your thoughts

Karl Marx has got ya by the throat, Henry Kissinger’s got you tied up in knots

The philosophies — the wisdom — of the world aren’t going to do the job. Not communism — that’s pretty easy for Dylan to dismiss; he never was a leftist. But “Henry Kissinger”? I think he represents secular wisdom or intellectual cleverness. This won’t do it either. You need to wake up

Once again, I think this is a thrilling call to action from where Dylan was at at the time. Others disagree. I really have enjoyed reading the essays at “Untold Dylan”, and the take there on “When You Gonna Wake up” is very negative, it’s just another preacher telling people what to do. I don’t experience the lyrics that way, but YMMV.

“Man Gave Names to All the Animals”. Just keep repeating: “It’s a children’s song, it’s a children’s song, it’s a children’s song…”

“When He Returns”. There’s too much to say about this one, so won’t even try. It’s a masterpiece. Unbelievably powerful and passionate vocals, yet not overwrought. Memorable lyrics: I could quote all of them, but here’s one couplet that has been echoing in my mind for weeks:

How long can you falsify and deny what is real?

How long can you hate yourself for the weakness you conceal?

Untold Dylan” criticizes the album version for showy piano playing, and calls out the April 1980 Toronto live performance as the definitive, perfect version. I agree that the Toronto performance is superior, amazing, and one of Dylan’s greatest ever performances (up there with the 1966 “Like A Rolling Stone” and 1976 “Isis”). However, the album version still is great.

Nine songs on this album. Even if you aren’t a believer, I’d argue that seven of them are complete successes, and four of the songs — “Gotta Serve Somebody”, “Slow Train”, “I Believe In You”, “When He Returns” — are masterpieces or close to it. “For all those who have eyes and all those who have ears” … listen.

Bob Dylan at Budokan

In honor of Bob Dylan’s 80th birthday, I decided to listen to all of his “official” recordings in order. I’ve now reached “Bob Dylan at Budokan”.

Bob Dylan at Budokan

Bob Dylan at Budokan – Wikipedia

Recorded: Feb 28, Mar 1 1978

Released: April 23, 1979

I’m pretty sure I know what I would have made of this when it came out – at best, bizarre, at worst, just plain bad. At this point, my holy trinity was The Ramones, The Clash, and Elvis Costello, and while I already really liked Bob Dylan, “Bob Dylan” was defined by The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan, Bringing It All Back Home, Highway 61 Revisited, and Blood on the Tracks. This live album (mostly) didn’t sound like any of that, with its big pop rock arrangements, saxophone, backing vocals, and even sometimes a flute. (Maybe he is just a song and dance man?)

But I didn’t hear this album until about 20 years later by which time my ears had grown (or at least changed). My recollection is that I thought something like “Eh, not bad”, but I may not have listened to it at all since then, until I reached it during this process. I’ve probably listened to it three or four times now. The first couple times my reaction wasn’t all that different from the first time I listened, maybe “not bad ++”. But the most recent time, something clicked, and now I actually really like a number of the performances. (But the flute? I’d still go full Belushi on it.)

The dramatic arrangements work really well for a number of songs: often they seem to be songs whose original records were either sparse or (in my opinion) not all that successful. I think the performance eof “Blowin’ in the Wind” may be (for now at least) my favorite version of this song; the original folk-strummin’ version is a classic, no doubt, but it just isn’t that interesting. Here we have a stirring dramatic anthem (as in a choir anthem… like a lot of what Dylan was doing here, a foreshadow of the gospel performances on the horizon) that really works. I also am not much of a fan of the basement version of “I Shall Be Released” — Dylan’s vocals seem strained — and this performance almost certainly is my favorite ever of this song. “Simple Twist of Fate” also is very nice. And I think “Just Like A Woman” is quite beautiful. The arrangement and Dylan’s vocal performance are very close to the original: sax and backing vocals aside, it’s very plausible he could have done it just like this in 1966.

I’m ambivalent about some of the performances. “Oh Sister” is a novel and interesting arrangement, but I just don’t like it that much. I like most of this arrangement of “Going, Going, Gone” except the interludes where the sax and backing backing vocals get turned up; this almost ruins the song for me. I feel kind of the same about “One More Cup of Coffee”, although I don’t like the main arrangement as much as “Going, Going, Gone”, and the sax parts aren’t as incongruous (the percussion is a bit hammy, though). The least successful performance is “Love Minus Zero / No Limit” — I just don’t get it.

Then there are the reggae arrangements. “Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right” is the least successful in my opinion; maybe it just doesn’t quite cohere, it “just don’t fit”. I actually enjoy listening to “Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door”, although it completely lacks the somber longing beauty of the original. So: musically attractive, but utterly incongruous with the lyrics. On the other hand, “Shelter From The Storm” is really successful. I would not take this over the Hard Rain version, but it’s completely original and beautiful, and the sax works.

“Is Your Love in Vain?” is good, pretty much faithful to the original. I wish they would have included many more Street Legal songs; obviously, this backing group could do justice to them. (I’m aware that more of the Street Legal songs were performed during the tour and show up on bootlegs. I’ve heard them, but the problem I have is that the sound quality is poor enough that I can’t really enjoy (or even hear) the performances; everything is tinny and muffled. There don’t seem to be any high-quality recordings from the 1978 tour available.)

“All Along The Watchtower” is another dramatic pop rock arrangement that I think works well. While I haven’t listened to the version Bear McCreary version from Battlestar Galactica recently, this performance gives me vibes of that.

Finally, there’s the highlight: “It’s Alright Ma (I’m Only Bleeding”. We again have a big pop rock arrangement. The beginning of each verse and the chorus arerestrained, and then the music and vocals swell. The transformation from the original version reminds me of what Dylan did with “Isis” in 1975 and “Shelter from the Storm” in 1976. The original versions had all the intensity, drama, and emotion coiled up and kept in check; the live versions released them; the wind was howling, the snow was outrageous, and there was darkness at the break of noon.

Once again, I think negative and mixed reactions to this album stemmed from people having a set and narrow conception of what Dylan should sound like. This isn’t my favorite live Dylan, but I think it’s important because it served as the first wholesale reconstruction of his songs, which of course he’s now done many times, so now we’re used to it. And I won’t be waiting another 20 years to listen to this album again.—–More Dylan at https://lorenterveen.com/blog/

Bob Dylan: Street Legal

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Street-Legal_(album)

Recorded: April 25-May 1, 1978

Released: June 15, 1978

The first message I sent to rec.music.dylan, Feb 28 1990:

I recently heard “Where are you tonight” for the first time. I really liked the sound, and not knowing what album it is from, I’m turning to rec.music.dylan for help. What is the overall sound of the album it comes from like? What do people think of this album?

Wondering about this led to to another question. From the early best album poll, it seems clear that there is a consensus that “Blonde on Blonde”, “Bringing it all back home”, “Highway 61 Revisited”, and “Blood on the Tracks” are Dylan’s classic albums. At the time of the poll, and at now and then since, people have mentioned other albums they think are especially good. For example, someone argues for “Street Legal” pretty strongly.

I’d be interested in people responding to the question “What is your favorite Dylan album, excluding the consensus classics?”

I’m interested in this because I only have about 10 Dylan albums and would like guidance in deciding which ones I have to get.

Thanks a lot,

Loren Terveen

Reader, I bought Street Legal. And hearing “Where Are You Tonight?”, posting this message, buying this album, and continuing to participate in rec.music.dylan for the next decade turned me from a music-fan-who-liked-Bob-Dylan to a Dylan fan. Partly — not only partly — because of this, I love this album

Why? First, the sound. I think I once read — but absolutely can’t confirm it now — that Dylan thought this was the closest he’d ever gotten to reproducing the Blonde on Blonde sound. If I didn’t read it, I still believe it. The interplay of guitar, keyboards, backing vocals, and sometimes sax and even trumpet create a rich, full, and beautiful sound. Actually, “rich, full, and beautiful” strikes me as a more accurate (but not as poetic or idiosyncratic) description than “thin wild mercury music.” For example, I hear “Is Your Love in Vain?” as a cousin of “One of Us Must Know (Sooner or Later)”. 

I also think the sound is a bit similar to what the E Street Band was doing at the time, or perhaps even more, like Southside Johnny and The Asbury Jukes. The great “Hearts of Stone” is another cousin of “Is Your Love in Vain?” 

OK, the backing vocals can be too much. When they serve more as support that helps enrich the background, I think they’re pretty great. But sometimes they’re overly up front, more than an echo, almost stepping  on top of Dylan’s vocals. Certainly that’s distinctive, but I could do without it.

Second, the songs. What always first hits me about a song is its overall feel, its melody, arrangement, vocal expressiveness, and eventually the lyrics. Dylan’s singing is fine here — not his greatest, but still very good. I’ve already talked about the arrangements. But I think the melodies are equally great; really, they are some of Dylan’s finest.“True Love Tends to Forget” and “Baby Stop Crying” just pull me in right away from their very first verses. And “Is Your Love In Vain?” is just the best.

It’s probably time to talk about “Is Your Love In Vain?”. It got a reputation as being sexist, even misogynistic.  As this nice essay put it, if this is misogynistic, full genres of music will need to be ruled out of bounds. But I think that’s a complete misreading of the song. Dylan isn’t writing a universal song here. He isn’t trying to please anyone. He’s not being political correct, magnanimous, or generous. He isn’t the mid 20s hipster anymore, he’s a divorced mid 30s father, who’s bitter — “He’s been burned before, he knows the score”. Of course, even though he knows it’s his own damn fault (Jimmy Buffet is one of Dylan’s favorite song writers according to the man himself), he’s hurt, bitter, but still hoping. Is “All right, I’ll take a chance, I will fall in love with you” actually hopeful, or is it resigned (he knows he’s a fool, and fools fall in love)? And the sound is elegant, majestic, with the organ, trumpet, and background oohs. This song is the emotional center of the album.

Every song on this album has something to offer. I’m on the record as not generally a fan of Dylan’s blues songs, but I love “New Pony”. Completely over the top lyrics, whipcord guitars, great vocals, maybe the best on the album, and the background “How much longer?” vocals just work. And of course, you should check out The Dead Weather’s version, which sounds as if Led Zeppelin decided to reform just to cover this song.

While I’ll die on the “Is Your Love in Vain?” is the center of this album hill, there are three more epic, universal songs here, “Changing of The Guards”, “Senor (Tales of Yankee Power)”, and “Where Are You Tonight? (Journey Through Dark Heat)”. Is there a better album opener than “Changing of the Guards”? (Well, OK, yes, there is “Like a Rolling Stone”) Fade in, swirling organ, then “Sixteen years, sixteen banners united over the field”… I can’t wait to hear more. Sax riff leads the way between pairs of verses. What’s going on here? I’m not sure. I know one of the criticisms of this album is that the lyrics are “bad Dylan poetry”, he’s just throwing things together, trying too hard to reproduce what he did unconsciously, through sheer inspiration, in the mid 60s. Here I have to confess that I don’t really know how to judge this type of Dylan lyric. Of course,  there are many types of Dylan lyrics:

  • The poetic masterpieces. Can we just stipulate  that “Mr. Tambourine Man”, “It’s Alright Ma, I’m Only Bleeding”, and “Visions of Johanna” (for example) are amazing poetic achievements? Yes we can.
  • The finger-pointing songs. You know what I’m talking about.
  • The simple, elegant, mysteries. John Wesley Harding is the canonical example.
  • The simplistic songs, which maybe have more meaning than people like me can figure out. I’m looking at you Nashville Skyline and Under The Red Sky.
  • The simple, everyday lyrics that are just a pleasure to listen to. Hey New Morning, nice to see you!
  • The blues excursions. Stock phrases collaged together, getting by on sheer verve. Examples from the 1960s to the 2010s.
  • (Love and) theft. Cut out passages, glued together into ransom notes of meaning, but who’s the hostage?
  • Absurdism. Genghis Khan and his brother Don know what I’m saying, they know what I mean.
  • The skipping reels of rhyme. (“Mr. Tambourine Man” doesn’t count!) Lots and lots of words, images, what do they all mean??? “Gates of Eden” is the canonical example.

“Changing of the Guards” and “No Time to Think” are both skipping reels of rhyme lyrics. I have to confess that I don’t have the judgment to decide that (for example) “Gates of Eden” is an authentic work of genius, and “Changing of the Guards” and “No Time To Think” are fake. All in all, I prefer the Street Legal songs to “Gates of Eden”. As Paul Williams put it, Bob Dylan is a performing artist, and I am more moved by these performances. And I’m also moved by the penultimate verse from “Changing of the Guards”

Gentlemen, he said

I don’t need your organization, I’ve shined your shoes

I’ve moved your mountains and marked your cards

But Eden is burning, either brace yourself for elimination

Or else your hearts must have the courage for the changing of the guards

Is there any doubt that Eden is burning? And that we need the courage for the changing of the guards

“Senor” is a prayer, a plea for understanding in a world gone wrong.

Señor, señor, do you know where we’re headin’?

Lincoln County Road or Armageddon?

Seems like I been down this way before

Is there any truth in that, señor?

This may be Dylan’s best singing on the album, maybe the most interesting arrangement, and one that could have fit nicely on Desire. It definitely ain’t a dream no more, it’s the real thing.

Bringing it all back home to what pulled me in: “Where are You Tonight? (Journey Through Dark Heat)”. Above a shimmery smoky haze, there’s laughter down on Elizabeth Street, a woman bathes in a stream of pure heat. Magical lyrics (the truth was obscure, too profound and too pure), organ and guitar doing great work. Background vocals that echo and push. 

And I can feel the meaning clearly, even if I can’t say it in words:

If you don’t believe there’s a price for this sweet paradise

Remind me to show you the scars

There’s a new day at dawn and I’ve finally arrived

If I’m there in the morning, baby, you’ll know I’ve survived

I can’t believe it, I can’t believe I’m alive

But without you it just doesn’t seem right

Oh, where are you tonight?

He’s been burned before, he knows the score, he’ll take a chance, but is it all in vain? (“Hey, hey, hey!”)

Bob Dylan: Hard Rain

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hard_Rain_(Bob_Dylan_album)

Recorded: May 16 and 23, 1976

Released: September 13, 1976

Maybe Dylan fans have just drunk too much kool aid. Or maybe the critics just don’t understand. But this live album may show the biggest divergence in opinion between (most) critics and (most) fans.

I have a theory why. This was another of Dylan’s albums that didn’t sound like Dylan was supposed to sound. The difference isn’t as obvious as for Nashville Skyline or Self Portrait (and various later albums), but it is crucial.

Dylan is raw here, blunt, unartful, sometimes desperate (and aren’t the guitars sometimes out of tune or just playing the wrong notes?). The performances take one aspect of the songs — the most primitive emotions — and dial it up to 11. A long time ago, I heard someone say that most people are “Dylan + X” fans. Obvious examples are: Dylan + Joan Baez (folkies), Dylan + The Band (roots lovers), Dylan + Hendrix (classic rockers). But Hard Rain appeals to a less obvious group: Dylan + The Clash. That’s me. And I think that helps explain why I’ve always really liked this album. (OK, Hard Rain really doesn’t sound like The Clash; it’s the spirit that’s similar.)

Let’s get one thing out of the way. Much of the negative reaction to this album came from its difference from the earlier concerts in the Rolling Thunder Revue — I previously wrote about the Bootleg Series release that covers the Fall 1975 leg of that tour. Yes, they are very different! I described the earlier performances as loose, rocking, and rollicking. The contrast to Hard Rain is real. But that doesn’t mean raw lizard-brain performances are worse.

I think the track selection here is pretty coherent. While Dylan always brushed away biographical analysis — and who knows what he really had to do with the track selection? — most of the songs continue the story that came into sharp focus on Blood On The Tracks: the fallout from Dylan’s sabotaged marriage. The two outliers are “Maggie’s Farm” and “Stuck Inside of Mobile with the Memphis Blues Again”. I really like this version of “Maggie’s Farm” (I think most live versions improve on the original studio recording, but YMMV). I’m not a big fan of any version of “Stuck Inside of Mobile…”, and this performance is fine, even enjoyable, but doesn’t speak to me in any significant way.

But the rest of the tracks are pretty great — again, think raw. The seductive crooning of the studio version of “Lay Lady Lay” is transformed into a frank demand — not threatening, but unsubtle and direct. The “Idiot Wind” here is the apotheosis of that song — unhinged paranoia and anger, including directed at the narrator.

The Live 1975 Bootleg began with “Tonight I’ll Be Staying Here With You”, but Hard Rain gives us “I Threw It All Away.” Seems to me that this would have been the perfect title for the album, but maybe it would have been too spot on.

Love is all there is, it makes the world go ’round

Love and only love, it can’t be denied

No matter what you think about it

You just won’t be able to do without it

Take a tip from one who’s tried

The way Dylan sings “tried” (how many syllables is that?) pretty much gives the game away.

“One Too Many Mornings”, “Oh, Sister”, and “You’re A Big Girl Now” all continue he theme.

You are right from your side, and I am right from mine

We’re both one too many mornings and a thousand miles behind

Oh, sister, when I come to knock on your door

Don’t turn away, you’ll create sorrow

I’m going out of my mind, oh

With a pain that stops and starts

Like a corkscrew to my heart

Ever since we’ve been apart

And finally, the highlight: this version of “Shelter From The Storm” is just sublime. Even more than the transformation of the studio version of “Isis” on The Live 1975 Bootleg Series, this gives us a whole new song. While thematically it does fit with the rest of the songs included here, I hear the performance as more in the spirit of the Fall 1975 shows. I’ll bring out the adjectives: again rocking and rollicking, but also joyful, even ecstatic. Dylan’s singing is powerful, but also subtly expressive: how many different ways are there to sing the single word “storm”?

Finally, it’s a mark of Dylan’s greatness that while I’ve been praising this album, I wouldn’t put it near the top of his available live performances. But it’s distinctive sound and spirit ensures that it remains special to me.

The Bootleg Series Vol. 5: Bob Dylan Live 1975, The Rolling Thunder Revue

The Bootleg Series Vol. 5: Bob Dylan Live 1975, The Rolling Thunder Revue – Wikipedia

Recorded: November 19-21, December 4 1975

Released: November 26, 2002

A compilation of some great performances from the first part of the famous Rolling Thunder Revue. The Dylan obsessive will know everything about this tour and will have heard many complete (real) bootlegged shows. The casual fan might ask “Rolling what?” I’m much closer to the obsessive, but will try to explain what’s great in a way the casual fan will understand.

First, the performances are fierce. Dylan put together a huge band for the tour, plus quite a few famous musicians were around for at least parts of it, including as featured here Joan Baez (four songs) and Roger McGuinn (one song). The arrangements are loose, rocking, and rollicking, and Dylan’s singing is passionate and powerful.

Second, Dylan’s voice. I tend to think of his classic 60s voice as coming in two main flavors: the astringent cutting tone of “Like A Rolling Stone” or “Subterranean Blues” (and much of their albums), and the stoned/weary drawl of parts of Blonde on Blonde and the incredible live acoustic sets of the 1966 tour, for example as immortalized at the Manchester Free Trade Hall. His voice is different here. It’s powerful, strong, warm, full, maybe husky, sometimes verging on shout-y. However, don’t get the wrong impression: his singing also is expressive and nuanced. It’s a hard combination to explain; I don’t know that I have the right vocabulary. But my guess is that most people will find Dylan’s singing on these performances quite appealing.

Third, the song selection. There’s something for everyone here: greatest hits (“Blowin’ In The Wind”, “It Ain’t Me Babe”, “A Hard Rain’s A Gonna Fall”, “Mr. Tambourine Man”, “Just Like A Woman”, “Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door”, …), a couple from the recent Blood On The Tracks (“Tangled Up In Blue”, “Simple Twist of Fate”), and a generous serving from the at the time unreleased Desire (six tracks). 

To get more specific, I’m going to start with a performance that certainly is known to the Dylan fan base, but may be obscure beyond that: “Isis”. I’m on the record with my love for the studio version, but the live version here — and the version from Montreal available on Biograph are astounding. To appreciate them, you really have to watch the videos — the Boston performance is available on Martin Scorsese’s “Rolling Thunder Revue: A Bob Dylan Story” and the Montreal performance is available here. These performances are unique in Dylan’s career — the theatricality of the face paint, the hat, the gestures, and above all else, the amazing vocals and the explosive band performance take the epic tale embedded in the “Isis” lyrics to a place of pure ecstatic myth. These two performances are two of the three greatest Dylan live performances ever — the other is the 1966 Manchester “Like A Rolling Stone”. That has more historical resonance and extra-musical drama, but I think these two performances of “Isis” are greater artistic achievements.

I’m a rock fan, not particularly a fan of the guitar-strumming-lone-folk-singer style that Dylan inhabited in his early days (don’t get me wrong: he was great at it; it’s just not my favorite style). And more specifically, I feel like once Dylan went electric, he wanted and needed a band to really express his artistic intentions. But oddly enough, I really like a lot of the pure acoustic performances here: “Simple Twist of Fate”, “Love Minus Zero / No Limit”, “Tangled Up in Blue”, and “Just Like A Woman” are particularly fine. And although I’m also not a fan of Joan Baez nor of many of her early 60s duets with Dylan, I also like their duets here: my favorite is the traditional “The Water Is Wide”. (I wish they’d have included a couple of other duets they did at times during the Revue: “Never Let Me Go” and “I Dreamed I Saw St. Augustine”.) 

And also oddly, while I generally like “rocked up versions of acoustic songs”, I do not think when he did that on some of the tracks here it was totally successful. I just don’t like “It Ain’t Me Babe” all that much (maybe there’s something about the guitar that’s kind of annoying), I don’t care for the arrangement of “Hattie Carroll”, and while I like the rocking version “A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall” in principle — and maybe as its own thing — I just don’t think it captures the meaning of the song the way the “Freewheeling” original did.

I also really like the live versions of the Desire songs. I think “Hurricane” and “Romance in Durango” — while in identical arrangements as the studio album — work better here. The intensity of “Hurricane” and (IMO) corniness of “Romance in Durango” are better suited for the excitement of the stage. And “Oh Sister” and “One More Cup of Coffee” are just good in about any setting.

And I’ll give a final nod to the compiler: “Tonight I’ll Be Staying Here With You” absolutely is a great opener, and “Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door” a great finale.

Bob Dylan: Desire

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Desire_(Bob_Dylan_album)

Recorded: July, August, October 1975

Released: January 5, 1976

I think if I’d heard this album as soon as it came out, I might have been a little disappointed (coming so soon after Blood On The Tracks) and also a bit unsure what to make of it. I’m not disappointed anymore — why would I be? It’s another Dylan album with some great songs — but I am still a bit unsure what to make of it.

Purely arbitrarily, I’ve found that the songs on this album settle into three sets of three … for me. The first set is “songs that I like unreservedly”. The second set is “songs about real people which you can tell because they’re named after real people”. The third set is “songs that I like, but am particularly unsure what to make of”.

First set: “Isis”, “Oh Sister”, and “One More Cup of Coffee”. “Isis” is an absolute Dylan masterpiece, epic lyrics, perfect arrangement (Dylan’s piano driving the beat, drums and bass reinforcing it, eerie violin fills, joined eventually by harmonica), incredible vocal performance. There are great, crazed, pulling-out-all-the-stops  live versions of this (more on these when I discuss the next few albums), but they don’t overshadow the studio version. This version seems to be disciplined, even restrained, as it tells a story of an epic quest… all proceeding from and leading back to… Isis.

“Oh Sister” is just a beautiful love plea. “Oh Sister, am I not a brother to you? And one deserving of affection.”  I also love how he brings God into into it: 

Oh, sister, when I come to lie in your arms

You should not treat me like a stranger

Our Father would not like the way that you act

And you must realize the danger

Again, a beautifully simple arrangement: the violin plays a perfect counterpoint to Dylan and Emmylou Harris’s emotional duet.

“One More Cup of Coffee”. Allen Ginsberg wrote liner notes for Desire, and he wrote something that has always stuck in my mind and captures this song for me: “voice lifts in Hebraic cantillation never heard before in U.S. song. ancient blood singing”. Yet another incredible vocal performance supported by violin, with Emmylou Harris joining in on the chorus…. to the valley below.

Second set: “Hurricane”, “Joey”, and “Sara”. I’m never quite sure how to take “Hurricane”. I know some people think it’s among Dylan’s best, but not for me, for reasons that I’m not quite sure of. I believe Dylan really meant this song, and you can hear the performance as “I’m just bursting to get this story out, and there’s no time for concerns like good rhymes, lyrics and music fitting together well”, and if you do, that’s great. But I miss those things. Also, unlike the songs I’ve already talked about, I’m not a big fan of the violin on this one.

On the other hand, I really like “Joey”. It just sounds great, a beautiful performance all around. The opening verse grabs your attention:

Born in Red Hook Brooklyn in the year of who knows when

Opened up his eyes to the tune of an accordion

Always on the outside whatever side there was

When they asked him why it had to be that way “Well” he answered “just because”.

Perfect rich and intense vocals, once again the violin offers perfect color, then the accordion adds more character, and finally, the background vocals on the chorus offers just the right support. Another classic Dylan noble outlaw song. 

Of course, it’s too bad that Joey Gallo was a Mafia enforcer. Not unreasonably, a lot of people hated the song. This article does a great job acknowledging that, but ends up where I am: loving the song.

Someone once said (I thought it was Philip Roth, but I can’t track it down) “To write a great Jewish novel, write a great novel and give the characters Jewish names”. (I remember reading this in a review of Hillary Mantel’s “Wolf Hall”, which painted a fairly fact-challenged portrait of Thomas Cromwell; she wrote a great novel, then named the protagonist “Thomas Cromwell”.) That’s how I interpret “Joey”: “to write a great song about a noble outlaw named Joey Gallo, write a great song about a noble outlaw, then call the outlaw “Joey”. In other words, from my remove, I don’t care about the real life Joey Gallo, I just am taken in by the artistry of this song.

I really like “Sara”, too, but with caveats. It feels a little too personal to me, and after Dylan had wrecked (and was still in the process of wrecking) his marriage, I’m not quite sure how much to believe this song. Does he really mean it? Is he really trying to mean it? Or doth he protest too much?

Third set: “Mozambique”, “Romance in Durango”, “Black Diamond Bay”. These are all quite enjoyable in different ways, but also in my opinion inessential. These all seem more like exercises than things Dylan really is passionate about. “Mozambique” is the slightest of the three, but perhaps the most fun to listen to with its light, breezy, and catchy music. “Romance in Durango” is a south-of-the-border adventure. “Black Diamond Bay” is the cleverest and most ambitious, with the first six verses spinning a short story about assorted sordid, mundane, or tragic goings on at Black Diamond Bay, culminating in (spoilers!) a volcanic eruption that sinks the island. The seventh verse is the kicker, where we take the perspective of a jaded observer hearing about — and dismissing — the tragedy:

I was sittin’ home alone one night in L.A.

Watchin’ old Cronkite on the seven o’clock news

It seems there was an earthquake that

Left nothin’ but a Panama hat

And a pair of old Greek shoes

Didn’t seem like much was happenin’,

So I turned it off and went to grab another beer

Seems like every time you turn around

There’s another hard-luck story that you’re gonna hear

And there’s really nothin’ anyone can say

And I never did plan to go anyway

To Black Diamond Bay

I’m reminded of Neil Postman’s “Amusing Ourselves to Death.” He wrote that instant mass media means that we all are constantly subjected to information that is irrelevant to the concerns of our own daily lives and which we can’t do anything about. How do we react? Losing track of what actually matters to ourselves? Confused about how to make sense of what we hear? Or just … apathetic… letting the tragedies wash over us without leaving an impression… because we never did plan to go anyway to Black Diamond Bay.

So: a really good album, with some classic songs, no clunkers, and even my least favorite songs are really enjoyable. Somehow, though, it just isn’t coherent… does that matter?

Bob Dylan: Blood On The Tracks

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Blood_on_the_Tracks

Recorded: September 16-19, December 27-30 1974

Released: January 20, 1975

As I have been listening to Dylan’s albums in order, I sometimes cheat by skipping ahead and often crosscheck my impressions by going back and re-listening to previous ones. I’ve also just gone down the rabbithole of listening to the really nice Bob Dylan: Album by Album podcast. Here’s something I’ve learned: among Dylan’s greatest albums, which ones you prefer says more about you than it does about differences in the quality of the albums.

The consensus on the greatest Dylan albums is clear: Highway 61 Revisited, Blonde on Blonde, and Blood On The Tracks. (Here’s a blog post that proves it scientifically!) Me, I’ve always considered Blood On The Tracks his greatest.  Going through this exercise has both shaken my confidence in that judgement a bit, but more importantly, has helped me understand why I feel that way.

Blood On The Tracks does not have the spectacular, astounding peaks of Blonde on Blonde and Highway 61 Revisited. As great as the songs here are, they are outshone by “Like A Rolling Stone”, “Desolation Row”, “Visions of Johanna”, and “Just Like A Woman” (not to mention “Mr. Tambourine Man” from Bringing It All Back Home or “A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall” from The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan). 

So why the love for Blood On The Tracks? I think it’s something that sounds trivial and even unartistic: the songs are straightforward and form a coherent whole. I have been listening to the Bob Dylan: Album by Album podcast take on Dylan’s older albums to avoid biasing my own (re-)impression of each album as I listen to it. Ben Burrrel (spent) well over an hour on both Blonde on Blonde and Highway 61 Revisited, and these episodes were fascinating. For Blonde, he spends a lot of time on the sound (that “thin wild mercury music”) and for both, he spends a lot of time on the lyrics, pointing out interesting rhyme schemes, comparing them to surrealistic painting, and coming up with pretty ingenious interpretations. This was great stuff that much enhanced my appreciation of these albums (which I’ve probably listened to dozens, if not hundreds of times)!

But the thing about Blood On The Tracks is that you don’t need this level of analysis and interpretation to get it. The music is direct and appealing, and the lyrics are transparent, yet often powerfully poetic. I found an article about Dylan that had the most perfect capsule summary of the album:

With 15 years of fame behind him and the failure of a decade-long marriage in front of him, it is true that Dylan on this album looks at the world through blood-spattered glasses. The losses he is singing about seem fatal; his anger on songs like “Idiot Wind” is Lear-like. “Blood on the Tracks” is his only flawless album and his best produced; the songs, each of them, are constructed in disciplined fashion, written and rewritten, formed in a way his songs almost never are. It is his kindest album and most dismayed, and seems in hindsight to have achieved a sublime balance between the logorrhea-plagued excesses of his mid-’60s output and the self-consciously simple compositions of his post-accident years. 

“Discipline” is a key — a term that certainly doesn’t apply to Dylan’s mid-60s excursions. And yes, the “balance” between those brilliant excesses and the overly simple (simplistic) Nashville Skyline to Planet Waves period. 

The album begins with Dylan’s greatest story song, “Tangled Up in Blue”. Jangly folk-rock drives us forward, and the singing (as on the whole album) is just fantastic. Listen to “She turned around to look at me / As I was walking away” or “I seen a lot of women / But she never escaped my mind”. And then there’s the thrilling passage: 

Then she opened up a book of poems

And handed it to me

Written by an Italian poet

From the thirteenth century

And every one of them words rang true

And glowed like burning coal

Pouring off of every page

Like it was written in my soul from me to you

Every one of the words in this song — this album — glow like burning coal… And finally: “

But me, I’m still on the road

Heading for another joint

We always did feel the same

We just saw it from a different point of view

Tangled up in blue

Am I going to go through all the songs like this? Well, like Captain America said: “I can do this all day”… “Simple Twist of Fate” features incredible vocals, “You’re A Big Girl Now” starts sad, but resigned, before ending “With a pain that stops and starts, Like a corkscrew to my heart”, “Meet Me In The Morning” is a raw blues (the cleaned up version of the crazed “Call Letter Blues”, which is stark, more raw, and better, but too stark, raw, and personal), and the warmly appealing folk blues of “Buckets of Rain” is the perfect summing up of the album:

Life is sad, life is a bust

All you can do is do what you must

You do what you must do and you do it well,

I’d do it for you, honey baby,

Can’t you tell?

But before we get to that conclusion, we get another handful of amazing songs. “Idiot Wind” swings wildly  at everything in sight: There’s the press (which the narrator responds to with the funniest justification in Dylan’s work)

Someone’s got it in for me, they’re planting stories in the press

Whoever it is I wish they’d cut it out but when they will I can only guess

They say I shot a man named Gray and took his wife to Italy

She inherited a million bucks and when she died it came to me

I can’t help it if I’m lucky.

There’s the ex:

Idiot wind, blowing every time you move your teeth

You’re an idiot, babe

It’s a wonder that you still know how to breathe

But finally, the narrator might be facing up to his own role:

You’ll never know the hurt I suffered nor the pain I rise above

And I’ll never know the same about you, your holiness or your kind of love

And it makes me feel so sorry

Idiot wind, blowing through the buttons of our coats

Blowing through the letters that we wrote

Idiot wind, blowing through the dust upon our shelves

We’re idiots, babe

It’s a wonder we can even feed ourselves

“You’re Gonna Make Me Lonesome When You Go” features the happiest music on the album, and there’s lots of happiness in the lyrics, too, but they also look forward to the inevitable conclusion:

Flowers on the hillside, bloomin’ crazy

Crickets talkin’ back and forth in rhyme

Blue river runnin’ slow and lazy

I could stay with you forever and never realize the time

Situations have ended sad

Relationships have all been bad

Mine’ve been like Verlaine’s and Rimbaud

But there’s no way I can compare

All those scenes to this affair

Yer gonna make me lonesome when you go

(While going through this exercise, I also learned something new: this song is obviously about a woman Dylan was having an affair with… I guess I wouldn’t have minded not knowing that.)

“Lily, Rosemary, and The Jack of Hearts”. This is a seemingly straightforward old-west narrative about … what really? A heist? Love affairs? The Law? A murder… yes, a murder. 

No one knew the circumstance but they say that it happened pretty quick

The door to the dressing room burst open and a cold revolver clicked

And Big Jim was standin’ there, ya couldn’t say surprised

Rosemary right beside him, steady in her eyes

She was with Big Jim but she was leanin’ to the Jack of Hearts

The next day was hangin’ day, the sky was overcast and black

Big Jim lay covered up, killed by a penknife in the back

And Rosemary on the gallows, she didn’t even blink

The hangin’ judge was sober, he hadn’t had a drink

The only person on the scene missin’ was the Jack of Hearts

This is a song I’ve always liked, but while I’ve been listening to the album now, I just can’t get enough of it. It’s almost nine minutes long, but when it’s done, I just want to listen to it again.

“If You See Her, Say Hello” is another masterpiece. Amazing vocals, and lyrics that gradually tell us not just what the narrator wants “her” to hear, but what he really feels:

Say for me that I’m all right

Though things get kind of slow

She might think that I’ve forgotten her

Don’t tell her it isn’t so

I see a lot of people

As I make the rounds

And I hear her name here and there

As I go from town to town

And I’ve never gotten used to it

I’ve just learned to turn it off

Either I’m too sensitive

Or else I’m gettin’ soft

If she’s passin’ back this way

I’m not that hard to find

Tell her she can look me up

If she’s got the time

“Shelter From The Storm” Dylan needed it, he knew he needed it, and he knew he’d lost it… but still needed it. (Dylan’s “this album isn’t autobiographical” shtick is fine, but c’mon, even if every lyric isn’t describing an event in his life, it’s clearly about his experience and where he was at at the time.)  I love pretty much everything about this song, and pretty much every version he’s ever done of it (including the very different live versions coming up over the next few years). This includes the biblical imagery:

In a little hilltop village, they gambled for my clothes

I bargained for salvation an’ they gave me a lethal dose

I offered up my innocence and got repaid with scorn

“Come in,” she said, “I’ll give you shelter from the storm”

And there’s “Up To Me”, which Dylan left off the album. It’s great, it’s a masterpiece, some people have called it among Dylan’s best. Speculation is Dylan left it off the album because musically it was too similar to “Tangled Up In Blue” and “Shelter From The Storm”. At this point in the history of the world, this doesn’t matter — it’s available, so you can always include this in your own personal version of the album. 

Let’s let “Up To Me” have the last words:

And if we never meet again, baby, remember me

How my lone guitar played sweet for you that old-time melody

And the harmonica around my neck, I blew it for you, free

No one else could play that tune, you know it was up to me

Bob Dylan and The Band: Before the Flood

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Before_the_Flood_(album)

Recorded: January 30, February 13-14 1974

Released: June 20, 1974

Bob Dylan as Rock Star. A rollicking and muscular performance. I think it’s strongest — and it’s very strong — on the rocking tracks. IMO, best ever performances of “Most Likely Your Way (And I’ll Go Mine)”, “Lay Lady Lay”, “Highway 61 Revisited”. “Like A Rolling Stone” also is great, not quite as good as the 1966 version, but a close second. I love the rocked-up version of “It Ain’t Me Babe” with The Band (Levon, maybe?) coming in on the “No, No, No” of the chorus.  “Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door” also is good — not elegant and understated like the studio version, but that’s not what Dylan is going after here.

Speaking of not elegant and understated, while I really like the acoustic performances, I think the golden age of Dylan + guitar + harmonica ended a decade earlier. By this time, I don’t think this was the mode that he really cared about. So “It’s Alright Ma (I’m Only Bleeding)” is more of a shout than the chilling deadpan delivery from Bringing It All Back Home. Still a great song — how could you ruin it? — but I just don’t think it brings across the message of the song as well.

In contrast, I’m totally into the rock version of “Blowin’ In the Wind” with the Band joining in on the chorus, screaming guitar solos, etc. Maybe this is sacrilegious, but the original studio recording of “Blowin’ in the Wind” is kinda boring compared to this. 

Apparently, Dylan became dissatisfied with how this tour went. As I understand it, he doesn’t like being put into a box, here the box of Arena Rock Star, even if it is a box of his own making. Even so, I think this is a great live album, and I totally recommend it. The Band performances are good, too.

Bob Dylan: Planet Waves

Planet Waves – Wikipedia

Recorded: November 1973

Released: January 1974

People were excited! The 1966 tour and the Basement Tapes hadn’t been officially released, but were legendary, and here you got an entire album of new songs of Dylan backed up by The Band.

But me, I expected it… never mind. This is an album that I find pleasant overall, no clunkers, but I never really want to listen to.  This is almost the opposite of how I feel about New Morning in that I really enjoy listening to it, despite the fact that there are a few clunkers, and I do sometimes want to listen to.

I think part of the problem is that I really am not a big fan of The Band. After I listened to the Live 1966 album and The Basement Tapes, I thought: “I should listen to The Band’s Music From Big Pink. While I’m familiar with quite a few of the songs on it, I don’t think I’d ever listened to the whole album, and wow… aside from the stone classics, “The Weight” and “Long Black Veil”, I found a number of the tracks nearly unlistenable, and it was all I could do to keep myself from skipping through them. Also… I cannot stand Richard Manuel’s strangled semi-falsetto on “I Shall Be Released” and “Tears of Rage”. So… I’m not going to jump up and down about The Band’s role on Planet Waves. (The Band’s second album is much better!)

I do enjoy almost all the songs. If I had to pick my favorites I’d go for “On A Night Like This”, “Something There is About You”, “Dirge”, and “Wedding Song”.

Of course, it’s also got “Forever Young” … times two. However, I’m not a fan of either of the versions here (“out out damned Band”). For me, the best version always has been Dylan’s demo that’s included on Biographbut I think he surpassed that with the version on Shadow Kingdom.

So there you have it. A perfectly fine Dylan album, but one that I may never choose to listen to.

Bob Dylan: New Morning

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/New_Morning

Recorded: June-August 1970

Released: October 21, 1970

This isn’t one of Dylan’s masterpieces — in fact, it might not even sneak into his top 20 best albums. So it says a lot about his abilities (or maybe my having drunk aaaaaaaaaaaaaall the Dylan kool-aid) that I find this a completely delightful listen. There’s the early 70s pop-rock of “If Not For You” and “New Morning” (imagine if Stevie Nicks and Lindsey Buckingham had joined Fleetwood Mac a few years earlier, when they and the McVies still were happy couples… these songs would have been naturals for them), the academia paranoia of “Day of the Locusts” (maybe I’m a sucker for this because I’m an academic… and he takes off for the “Black Hills of Dakota” at the end), the Elvis fantasy of “Went To See the Gypsy” (ending with him watching the sun rise “from that little Minnesota town”), the goof of “Winterlude” (if this had been on “The Basement Tapes”, people would love it), the simple joy of “The Man in Me” (which took on new life and meaning after “The Big Lebowski”).

And then there’s “Sign On The WIndow”, which I think is a near masterpiece. Beautiful vocal performance, beautiful music, Dylan’s idiosyncratic piano playing.  Lyrics that begin with a bleak first verse (“Sign on the window says ‘lonely’…), go through a mysterious second verse (“Brighton girls are like the moon”), jump over a rainy bridge, and end with that perfect final verse:

Build me a cabin in Utah / Marry me a wife, catch rainbow trout / Have a bunch of kids who call me “pa” / That must be what it’s all about, / That must be what it’s all about.
I also recommend checking out alternative versions of the New Morning  songs on Another Self Portrait. They’re all also delightful. I might prefer the version of “New Morning” with horns, one of the other versions of “Went To See The Gypsy”, and think the slow piano and violin version of “If Not For You” is something really special.

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