In Concert – Brandeis University 1963

In Concert – Brandeis University 1963 – Wikipedia

Recorded: May 10, 1963

Released: April 12, 2011

This is an oddity. A concert from just before the release of “The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan”. Several songs from that album are included, and even one that wouldn’t come out until “The Times They Are A-Changin’”. There are only 7 songs, which is odd, but I guess it makes sense because it was part of a folk festival. The release also is an oddity, as rather than being officially part of The Bootleg Series, it was released as a bonus disk before becoming available as a standalone. It’s also an oddity, because while I listened to it before “The Freewheelin’…”, when I got around to writing, I forgot about it (that’s probably significant)

OK, my job is to try to imagine what it would have been like to have heard this concert, but wow, is that ever tough. It was part of a festival, it was before “The Freewheelin’…” was released and Dylan’s first album wasn’t a big deal, so was the audience really there for Dylan? Probably not. Were they familiar with his first album? Were they surprised that he didn’t do any songs from that album? Were they suitably amazed by “Masters of War”? It does seem like they enjoyed all the talking blues, and they are suitably funny… and in at least two cases, suitably political, 

But from my perspective, the performances are just fine; they don’t improve on the studio versions, and other live performances also are much better. 

Pitchfork isn’t the best source for Dylan opinion, but their take on this release seems about right to me.

The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan (1963)

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Freewheelin%27_Bob_Dylan

Recorded: April 1962-April 1963

Released: May 27, 1963

Like I said, I can’t recreate what it was like to listen to Dylan’s progression in real time, but honestly, this is shocking. People talk endlessly about all his radical transformations — going electric! being born again! — but I think the artistic progression he made from his debut to this album may be his greatest transformation. His first album, honestly, was pretty forgettable. But “The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan” — written and recorded before he was 22 years old — is where he became BOB DYLAN. 

The album contains at least five absolute classics: “Blowin’ In The Wind”, “Girl From The North Country”, “Masters of War”, “A Hard Rain’s a-Gonna Fall”, “Don’t Think Twice It’s Alright”. This right here is a career! How many artists have written five songs like this??? How many cover versions of these songs have there been? Certainly thousands… I really don’t think I have to say anything about these songs that hasn’t already been said.

And many of the lesser songs are pretty great, too. “Oxford Town” is, I think, Dylan’s first topical song. It’s short, to the point, and — for such a dark subject — a warm, appealing listen. “Talkin’ World War III Blues” is darkly funny, and I love his delivery on so many lines:  “Good car to drive, after a war”. “I’ll let you be in my dreams, if I can be in yours. I said that”. And I’ve always had a soft spot for “I Shall Be Free” – pretty much pure silliness, despite references to “sitting in the back of the tub” and Martin Luther King.


A word about “topical” — I don’t consider “Blown’ in the Wind”, “Masters of War”, or “A Hard Rain” to be topical songs. Maybe they’re “protest” songs, but I think the better framing is to call them visionary or prophetic. The topical songs come in full force next album.

“Bob Dylan” (1962)

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

Recorded: November 1961

Released: March 19, 1962

As I understand it, this was what early 1960s Greenwich Village folkies were up to. They recorded “traditional” “folk” songs, more specifically gospel, blues, Appalachian/English/Scottish/Irish, maybe country. This album draws on pretty much all of these. 

I find the non-originals on here enjoyable. Dylan really wails on ‘em. Totally non-original observations: he’s trying to take on the persona of someone who’s done some “hard travelin’”… but he’s 20 years old! So, as I said, while I enjoy these songs, I think he comes across like trying to fill shoes that are a bit too big for him. My favorite songs are Gospel Plow, See That My Grave is Kept Clean, and Man of Constant Sorrow.

The originals Song To Woody and Talkin’ New York are an almost-teenagers’ sincere tribute to Woody Guthrie and a pretty good talking blues. 

Listening to All bob dylan albums in order

In honor of Bob Dylan’s 80th birthday, I decided to listen to all of his “official” recordings in order. This is a bit trickier than it sounds, because: (a) I want to order them by recording date(s), rather than release date, and (b) I want to include all the Bootleg Series releases. So, for example, I’m treating the Basement Tapes as coming between Blonde on Blonde and John Wesley Harding and using the Bootleg Series version. I’m doing the obvious thing with concert recordings (including in the Bootleg Series), slotting them in by the date of performance. The tricky part is compilation albums, like Biograph and The Bootleg Series Volumes 1-3, which collect recordings from a range of time. My plan is to not commit to any particular strategy for these, but to listen to individual songs in their proper order. For example, I’ll listen to Blind Willie McTell with Infidels, Series of Dreams with Oh Mercy, etc.

There’s obviously no way for me to capture what it was like to listen to these albums as they came out. (By the way, I guess I started listening to Dylan about 1975, and I think the first album I got was Blood On The Tracks… I’m pretty sure I still have that LP. Probably Highway 61 Revisited, Bringing It All Back Home, and The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan came next, maybe in that order.) But I want to try to simulate this to whatever extent I can.

I don’t know how fast I’ll get through the albums, but let’s get started!

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