Jul 132011

People seem to love Bob Dylan’s Blood on the Tracks. I bet you do! I like it. It’s a very good album, but I never feel the love for it that seemingly all Dylan fans and critics do. In part, perhaps, this may be because the album seems a little slick by Dylan standards. The drum parts on “Tangled Up in Blue,” for instance, include uncharacteristic hi-hat flourishes that wouldn’t sound out of place on an album one of those LA Soft-Rock Mafia members, involving Russ Kunkel, or a painstaking overdub on a Fleetwood Mac album. The acoustic guitars sound really tight, too, maybe a little too tight. Not Ovation Roundback tight, but close. I shouldn’t hold a little professionalism against Dylan at this point in his career, at this point in recording history, but I do.

Part of the reason it bugs me is because so many people love this album, they talk about how great it sounds on their hi-fi, how great it sounds through their super-duper noise-canceling headphones. I don’t deny that Blood on the Tracks goes down easy, and that’s also part of my problem. This is one Dylan album where even non-fans resist saying stuff like, “I like some of his songs, but I don’t like the way he sings!” Dylan pulls off a true powerhouse performance on songs like “Simple Twist of Fate” and “Idiot Wind.” I get chills just thinking about some of his vocal performances on that album, but I can’t help but feeling ashamed for Dylan whenever I consider the critical acclaim and public adoration of this album.

Blood on the Tracks is the reference point of any one of Dylan’s “best since…” albums, his Exile on Main Street, the demarcation line between “great” Dylan, whose 6- or 7-year run of questionable albums leading up to Blood is conveniently overlooked in many definitions of his peak years, and the Dylan over whose subsequent worth rock lovers will forever quarrel. Perhaps all long-running artists are doomed to live the last two thirds of their lives shooting for nothing more than their “best since…” album, but I find it especially sad in Dylan’s case. He was above the “best since…” construction, the way Marlon Brando was above accepting an Academy Award directly.

I really dislike “Lily, Rosemary, and the Jack of Hearts,” not necessarily because it’s a horrible, tuneless song but because it reminds me of Don McLean’s “American Pie.” I hate “American Pie,” and not necessarily because that song is a horrible, tuneless song but rather because it reeks of ass kissing. “American Pie” is a remarkable achievement in many ways, it’s like McLean’s Rocky moment, his one chance to grab the championship belt. He gives the song everything he’s got to give, summarizing a cultural history of America in the rock ‘n roll age over the course of 48 stanzas and one of the greatest sing-along choruses in the history of rock. I give the man credit, but that song annoys me. This is a contributing factor toward why I don’t love Blood on the Tracks and it gets closer to why I feel ashamed for Dylan whenever I hear people talk about how much they love the album.

This takes us to a chapter Dylan left out of Chronicles, Vol. 1. Or maybe I’m jumping the gun on Vol. 2. What makes me feel ashamed for Dylan is my sense that he finally caved into the pressure to get back in the saddle and live up to the responsibility of being Dylan. In fact, that should have been the album’s title, Being Dylan. I don’t doubt that the man was motivated by a jolt of inspiration, but it sounds like he entered the studio after first having gotten himself in shape. I picture Dylan in a gray sweatsuit, working his way through a series of rock chestnuts with a pick-up band in a barn in Woodstock. Manager Albert Grossman is heard shouting admonitions, like “Coke constricts vocal chords!” and “Pull yourself the hell out of that low register!” and “Draw out the end of your dismissive couplets!” At the peak of his musical workout montage he’s hitting the high notes in the chorus of Del Shannon‘s “Runaway.” 

“They wanna know where you’ve been, Bob,” cajoles Grossman in one scene. “They wanna know about what’s going down with Sara. They want to see you bleed, Bobby.” Dylan quietly takes in his manager’s advice. “I’ll give them blood,” the singer finally says, as he gets up and grabs his guitar, “but I’m gonna give that woman a piece of my mind.”

As a joyous, paternal tear forms in Grossman’s eye a relatively buff, polka-dotted shirt and shades–wearing Bobby D enters the studio, where he just as abruptly abandons his initial attempts at Being Dylan, disappointed that his backing musicians, with visions of Al Kooper, Mike Bloomfield, and Robbie Robertson dancing in their heads, see this as an opportunity to carve out their own legacies. He hires some Minneapolis studio cats who are fully committed to helping Dylan sound the way he was meant to sound, and a “best since…” reference point is established. Fans and critics alike celebrate the return of their Dylan. They can’t get enough of the vicarious thrills of hearing their hero bemoan another busted relationship.

“I haven’t felt this righteously pissed at my ‘ex-‘ since Blonde on Blonde,” says a fan in San Bernadino.

“This album makes me wish I had an ‘ex-‘,” his friend adds. 

“This album’s almost too painful to listen to,” says another on Long Island, “but it sounds amazing on my Bang & Olufson!”

“He means it, man,” a snot-nosed English kid tells a reporter.

Listeners can make out every word. Bob’s letting us in like he’s never let us in before. Sure he’ll spend the rest of his days denying that he writes “confessional songs,” but we know better. He’s confessing to all the things we wish we had it in us to confess.

“These new songs are so direct, so piercing” a critic writes, “that he could perform them in clown’s greasepaint and not obscure their meaning.”

Marlon, Bob Dylan dreams one night, shortly after the album’s release, why don’t you come up and accept your award? Leave Pochohantas on the reservation this time.


  79 Responses to “Critical Acclaim Over Blood on the Tracks Makes Me Feel Ashamed for Dylan”

  1. pudman13

    I’m not sure if this is an apt commentary on your post, but I think clarity in music is a good thing. I like records that are well-produced. What I don’t like is certain kinds of production sounds, some of which tend to be those that are indicative of modern high-quality recording techniques (i.e. gated drums.) But to me Blood On The Tracks sounds great, a step forward production-wise without in the least sounding like it’s being trendy or in any way unnatural to the artist.

  2. Blood on the Tracks was engineered by Phil Ramone, as you may know, so, yes, I guess it does sound a little more polished than Dylan usually had been, up till that point. Still, had he left Ramone’s credit off the back cover, would anyone really have noticed?

    I don’t think this album is that slick, though. Those hi-hat fills are way clumsier than anything Russ Kunkel would’ve thought up. The organ on “Idiot Wind” is really monotonous; the same part for eight minutes. A slicker player would’ve come up with all sorts of variations and fancy chords. Also, you can hear the snaps on Dylan’s jean jacket clanging on his guitar on some songs.

    Sure, the “songs about Sara” angle probably meant something to me when I first heard it in college. But, without getting too mired in pince nez stuff, I eventually learned that there’s way more going on in these songs, and I found it really rewarding to go back to this album with new insight. He tried new things and pulled it off.

  3. misterioso

    Mod, I am not much of a fan of “Lily, Rosemary, and the Jack of Hearts” either–but your main issue is that this song reminds you of “American Pie”? That’s a little weird and random. I think it (Lily) is a good enough song but I don’t care much for the recording. Dylan sings it well but this is the one song where the limitations of the band come through to me. The annoyingly repetitive bass, for instance–Agh! But there is an outtake version done in the stripped-down style of “Simple Twist of Fate” that isn’t better, really. Certainly he would have been better served putting on “Up To Me” instead, which only came out on Biograph. It is one of his greatest songs.

    I don’t agree with you at all about “Tangled Up in Blue” but, again, thanks to modern science you can now make your own alternate Blood on the Tracks because the original “New York” versions of “Tangled,” “You’re a Big Girl Now,” “Idiot Wind,” and “If You See Her Say Hello” are legally available and the aforementioned “Lily” is readily findable. (He re-recorded these songs, and in some cases, revised or rewrote them, in Minnesota with a different band than the spare “New York” versions. Some prefer the spare versions.)

    BTW, in case anyone thought otherwise, “Sara” is not on Blood on the Tracks but rather is on Desire.

  4. I might need to make a “New York” BOTT and compare to the released versions.

    I plan on listening to this album today and will form a full on response later.


  5. misterioso

    You can readily find a compilation called “Blood on the Tapes” that collects all the circulating “New York” recordings that did not make the lp.

  6. Hey Moderator,

    I don’t think so.

    Remember all those great songs you wrote in Hungary, when you were miserable as hell? When you finally let out alll that pain, because it needed to come out or you were going to lose your marbles? “Blood on the Tracks” is chockful of those kinds of songs.

    Remember when you came home from Hungary? And you were in a better mood? And you decided to record a bunch of those songs about a year or so after they were written? Remember how bad they came out? Because you couldn’t get back to that feeling of wanting to down about twenty bottles of baby aspirin and call it quits?

    Dylan didn’t do what you did. He remained in pain whilst writing and recording the songs. I don’t hear confidence, tightness, or sonic oooomph. I hear a beaten man, with a local band that’s good enough to have a private press release played on a local station but nothing more than that, looking for redemption, and a thumbs up from anyone, hoping he still has something worthwhile to say. You get like that when your wife decides to take a walk.

    Let’s just leave it at that.

    E. Pluribus

  7. I think BOTT was the perfect storm of the “album Dylan wanted to make”, the “album Dylan fans wanted to hear” and the “overall type of singer songwriter, mellow music” that was popular at the time beyond the realm of typical Dylan fans.

    I dont think the dice have rolled that way before or since (maybe one or two but never all three)

    I like this album very much. It sounds good in the background, with other singer songwriters of the time (CSNY, James Taylor) the acoustics and tone is stellar, if a little too safe, then so be it.

    I know many Dylan purists are not fans of Tangled Up In Blue (my brother claims that this is his least favorite Dylan song)

    It also feels like the record that his fans wished he had made in 68-69 to cement his reputation as the leader of the revolution, and a record that his fans could actually get behind (something that had been tough to do from 70-74)

  8. BigSteve

    I really don’t recall Blood on the Tracks having a rep as an audiophile album. Really?

  9. For years, the copy I owned of “Blood on the Tracks” was a beat to shit ex-library LP, so sound quality has nothing to do with my love of that album; it’s the songs, period (except maybe “Lily, Rosemary, and the Jack of Hearts”, which always felt out of place on that album, and kind of by the numbers as a Dylan song). I’ve got a huge soft spot for failed relationship songs, probably due to my own expertise in that area, and my general melancholy, (clinically) depressive nature. The album’s songs always hit me at a gut level, as did Bob’s vocals…I honestly never really stepped back to assess the production and the instrumental style of the players (which is rare for me, especially with an album that’s been a longtime fave) – I just never got intellectual with it, so all your conjecture in those areas is kind of an alien idea to me. I’ve got the CD now, and various other takes of songs from the album, so I guess I’ll have to take it on a couple of dispassionate/analytical spins to know if I can see what you’re talking about. In general, though, it just moves me.

  10. Maybe that’s only been the case since the digitally remastered version that came out a few years ago was released. I picked up that version to see if I’d ever love the album, and many of the reviews at the time focused on issues of “clarity,” “tone,” and the like.

  11. misterioso

    I’m a little worried about your brother, jungleland. That makes no sense.

  12. I have some agreement and disagreement with this post.

    Some level of agreement: while I wouldn’t call the production quite “slick,” the tone of the record does have something in common with the slightly smoother sound of 70s country rock/pop (I add pop here because it’s a little closer to Loggins and Messina than to Gram Parsons’ grittier sound, though on the whole it splits the difference). I also think the musicianship is not first rate compared to other Dylan records; I like the loose sloppiness to some extent, but it lacks energetic zing and precise personality; it’s just too generic on some level.

    All told, in terms of sound alone, BOTT is Dylan’s main entry in the Psychic Oblivion category.

    An idea which, to some extent, the lyrics reinforce, except that the songs are ultimately too heartfelt, too tough, too determined to get over fading away and return to the fray. So I don’t agree that the songwriting is too phony or slick, and in fact it’s the songwriting that really makes the record as good as it is. I think some of the songs really are THAT good. Dylan’s just too good at what he does to write pure Psychic Oblivion tunes or fall back entirely into Psycho Oblivion easy tones.

    I don’t put BOTT on the same level of any of his great electric 60s work, although I think it ranks well in comparison to his early acoustic work–not as good as the best of those, but in the running.

    It would be interesting to see an argument comparing BOOT to all Dylan albums that came later. Is it really the best album he did post 1970? I’d have to think more about those later Dylan albums I haven’t listened to much in at least a decade before I would try to answer that one.

  13. I’m with you for the most part on this one, Bobby.

  14. BigSteve

    The album came out during my last semester in college, so it has that baccalaureate aura about it. I remember reviewing it for the student paper. Planet Waves (a very under-rated album) had come out the previous year, and just as I was graduating Basement Tapes came along and blew everybody’s mind. So there was a real sense of Dylan being back in the flow.

    According to wikipedia, Columbia wanted to stick with the planned 1/17/75 release date, even after Dylan decided to re-record some of the tracks. The last of these redone versions were recorded on December 30th, and the LP still came out two and a half weeks later. Pretty amazing.

  15. Oh, and I’ll add this: these are some of his first relationship songs that aren’t, on some level, just attacks.

  16. Your ability to romanticize another man’s pain may be unparalelled in the Halls of Rock, EPG, and it’s a sign of just how good an egg you really are under that rough exterior. (This is to take nothing away from the good egg-ness of tonyola or anyone else, BigSteve.) I won’t bother trying to correct the historical inaccuracies over the making of my band’s album, and I do not mean to convince anybody with this post that BOTT is “merely” a “very good” album; that is for you to decide. We all have our own Bridges of Madison County to cross.

  17. Oh, boo hoo, me and my big, giant intellect!!! Seriously, Bobby, why dismiss my opinion because some thought went into this piece? EPG can attest to my capability for experiencing deep human emotions, including sad ones. For anyone who feels threatened, remember: I consider this a VERY GOOD album. For anyone who thinks I’m nuts for making the assumptions I’ve made, stay tuned for Chronicles, Vol. 2 and then tell me if I’m whack. (Not really, on that last point!)

  18. misterioso

    I think I know what you mean, mwall, but there are plenty of non-attack relationship songs in the pre-BOTT era. Planet Waves, the album immediately preceding Blood, has a number of them; likewise New Morning and Nashville Skyline.

    I agree completely with BigSteve that Planet Waves’ unpretentious charms are substantial but largely overlooked by the “but this isn’t Blonde on Blonde” contingent of Dylan fans.

  19. Your clarity is refreshing!

  20. I need to pull out Planet Waves one of these days. I haven’t heard it in 25 years. My expectations were so high when I bought it in high school. Although it has some songs I love, it had a DOA feel (not the hardcore band) about it whenever I used to give it a spin.

  21. Yeah, I’m overreaching in that comment, but if I say “most substantial non-attack songs,” I think I’m getting closer.

  22. misterioso

    Mod, I think I overlooked your central “insight”: “What makes me feel ashamed for Dylan is my sense that he finally caved into the pressure to get back in the saddle and live up to the responsibility of being Dylan.”

    I have to say, yes and no.

    If this observation were in reference to his single “George Jackson” from 1971, which, while not without some merit, sounds precisely like an attempt to curry favor with the “Dylan’s sold out, man!” crowd by writing a ballad about a wrongly-imprisoned black man, or even if you made the case about the ’74 tour with The Band, then I would slap you on the back and say you’d nailed it.

    But I think you are right to a certain extent. It looks like around ’74-’75 Dylan simply got motivated to start making music again. I do not think for a minute that Blood on the Tracks was calculated to give The People The Dylan They Want. ‘Cause I think that Blood on the Tracks is quite different from the Dylan of ’65-’66. Unless all one means by The Dylan the People Want is a Dylan making vital, brilliant music again.

    Planet Waves in some ways is that “getting back into shape” record you (sort of) were kidding about. A very good, not great effort after several years of light lifting. Almost everything is clicking on Blood on the Tracks. But it is not, nor do I think it was ever meant by its creator to be, “Blonde on Blonde Revisited.”

  23. Okay, so I just gave this one a fresh listen.

    I suppose to put this in perspective, this record came out at the height of that light singer-songwriter stuff of the early 70s with the likes of Carole King, James Taylor, Neil Young’s Harvest, and the like. I can see how audiences who loved those records could put this one in that realm and even casual Dylan fans can stomach it. There’s no extremely surreal imagery, no wild singing, and economic playing.

    The songs are pretty raw in content. Maybe the fact that they are wrapped in crisp production it makes it an easier pill to swallow. However, there is a bitterness underneath.

    I dontt think Dylan was trying to please any audience. Like someone stated earlier (and what I am trying to allude to), the timing of this album probably adds to its mystique. Bob hadn’t really gone anywhere. Planet Waves is an underrated record. New Morning is fantastic. Bob was in a Peckipah film. I guess the fact that this came on the heels of gigantic tour with The Band and the fact that it is overall most consistent, this record marked a return to form of sorts for Bob. Anytime an artists sets that bar, it’s always ineveitable that they will get compared to that achievement, whether it’s art or commercial numbers. My point is that Bob never went anywhere.

    The songs themselves seemed to be a little more unified, I suppose, which probably puts it in the realm of a Blonde On Blonde. But I must ask, are they any more unified than the songs on New Morning?

    Maybe it’s just a theme that most adults can relate to therefore making it easier for it hit all the marks. Let’s face it: Dylan has never been for everybody. Blood on the Tracks may be consumate Dylan in that there’s something for everybody in there. You can hate Dylan and like Blood on the Tracks.

    Having said that, it is a GREAT album and deserves its place in the upper half of Dylan albums. There are albums that I like better by him. I don’t think it is his greatest and it’s certainly not fair to compare everything that came after it.

    I think it must have all come down to Dylan putting out a strong, consistent album during a time when audiences were receptive of that type of thing.


  24. tonyola

    I don’t like Blood on the Tracks, but then I don’t like Dylan so that makes me an automatic infidel. I’ll refrain from elaborating further out of respect for the blood pressure levels of fellow Townspeople. Excuse me while I put on some Mr. Bungle.

  25. Whoa there, big fellah! No need to be so defensive, pal. I wasn’t attempting AT ALL to dismiss your opinion or say that you’re an emotionless robot or something, Mod (because I know that isn’t true, fer cryin’ out loud!), I was just stating the truth about how I have approached this album. What I wrote at the tail end of my comment I meant sincerely (about listening to it from a different perspective), not as some kind of snide swipe at you. Jeez, your reaction here has really taken me aback – I honestly wasn’t knocking your opinion, just saying I hadn’t thought about the album in those terms. No offense or dismissal was meant.

  26. I’m sorry for my (over)reaction – just a sign of my imperfect humanity, I guess:) No joke, Bobby, any day you post stuff is a good day as far as I’m concerned. And movie musings are accepted. Do you have Back Office privileges? I’d love to see you launching your own topics when the spirit moves you.

  27. misterioso

    Good one! tonyola, did you listen the the National Lampoon progrock parody I posted yesterday? I’d like to know if a fan of the genre thinks it is as funny as I do.

  28. Screw their blood pressure levels, especially considering the fact that you’re more likely than most to give my thoughts on this matter some support, either directly or indirectly!

  29. BigSteve

    Maybe hardcore Dylan fans undervalue BOTT a bit because it the one that everybody (except tonyola) likes. I know it’s been years since I’ve listened to it all the way through.

  30. misterioso

    Pretty much agree with everything here, but I would say that I do understand the idea that 1969-74 is a bit of a black hole by the standards of what came before AND after. Nashville is delightful but slight; Self Portrait is perverse if not as horrific as many thought at the time; New Morning is “unified” as you say but really only half the record is better than average; Pat Garret is fine but there’s not much there. Throw in a couple of non-lp singles, and that’s 5 years of output.

  31. No prob, man, especially considering some of the full on tantrums I’ve been guilty of at times here and elsewhere in the internet world. Just a simple misreading of intent – one of the most common problems with this mode of communication.

    No, I don’t think I do have Back Office privileges…That would be cool. Thanks.

  32. tonyola

    Yes I did, and it was funny. Anyone who can’t laugh at even their favorite genres is no fun in my book.

  33. I guess I “buried the lead,” but yes, that gets to the main “insight” of my (admittedly) questionable perceptions. To be clear, unlike previous posts I’ve crafted on The Charlie Watts Hoax or ZZ Top’s Purported Livestock Tour, I don’t in any way mean to suggest that my Rocky/comeback-movie montage view is in any way “reality.” Rather, this post attempts to explain how I feel about the album and, especially, the reaction to it. I also feel like Dylan would have been better served if he could have more artfully moved forward on his own, strange path.

    Obviously I have no idea of what makes the man tick, but the conceptual air really let out of the tire after Nashville Skyline, whether you like it or not (I think it’s “OK.”). After that it seems he wasn’t able to follow through on a strong vision. BOTT (and Desire, to some extent) are nice because he’s filling in the dots of “The Dylan Sound,” to some extent. Slow Train Coming is interesting because he’s invigorated with a strange, new vision for the first time in years. His recent albums may be a little better than he’d been in years because he seems to have caught a vision of death, but I think Dylan, post-’60s, to compare him to his contemporaries, actually has more in common with the usually vision-free Paul McCartney than the sometimes blinded-by-visions John Lennon. For all his turds, did Lennon ever make an album that didn’t take a strong stance? I feel like that’s what Dylan “promised” through each of his ’60s albums but then failed to maintain for decades thereafter.

  34. I love Infidels — the first Dylan album I ever bought!

  35. I guess that’s the problem. I’m sold on Dylan, so I’d probably find value in anything the man puts out. I even like Self Portrait, which many will find an excercise in masochism.

    I still think that it’s impossible to hold up to the standards Dylan set in the 60s.

    I suppose the coverted undersell BOTT.


  36. It’s not that I expected him to live up to the quality standards of his ’60s records, but the “vision” behind them. I honestly find it disappointing that in all his years of recording that he doesn’t have many bad concept albums. Maybe I should appreciate one of those Daniel Lanois albums for its conceptual badness the way I do his Live at Budokan album. Among his 928 studio albums, where’s his Trans, where’s his disco album, where’s his “new wave” album? I’m not saying any one of these albums would have been listenable, but they may have been more interesting that his long run of pointless sleeveless albums.

  37. tonyola

    Bob’s never made a bad concept album? You’ve never heard Saved?

  38. Not the first one I bought but I love it too, especially the first three songs.

  39. tonyola

    OK a few observations…

    1. Bob seems like he genuinely cares again after tossing off a bunch of half-baked efforts. He’s really trying this time. Having said that…

    2. I wish the musical backing wasn’t so faceless. Dylan tried using established pros but they had problems working together – seems Bob’s casual recording methods were rubbing the musicians wrong. So Bob ditched the electric groups and essentially recorded the album with some pickup musicians. It’s tight and competent, but nothing more. Long songs like “Idiot Wind” and “Lily, Rosemary” just go on and on.

    3. I wish Bob would learn to play the harmonica – or else leave it off altogether or get someone who could truly play. Where was Magic Dick when Bob needed him? Ye gods, Mick Jagger is a better harp player than Dylan.

  40. misterioso

    Excellent. You’ll like this, then, too. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Oa-50ZYvHPw

  41. misterioso

    “Insight” wasn’t meant to be in “scare quotes.” I am really “sorry,” Mod.

  42. misterioso

    Uh, I dunno. What strong stance do Mind Games, Walls and Bridges, or Double Fantasy/Milk and Honey take? I guess I am not sure what you mean.

  43. misterioso

    tonyola, don’t take this the wrong way ’cause I love the fact that you said it: the idea that Magic Dick’s playing harp would raise up Blood on the Tracks. Quite possible if he’d brought in Ray Cooper for percussion it would be even better!

  44. How much more of a strong stance could Double Fantasy have been, whether you cared about it or not? John was releasing a joint album with Yoko, with the songs intertwining like the lovebirds they were?

    The “Mind Games” single is a tone-setting song for a collection of songs openly about John’s split with Yoko and the need to get her back. Look at the album cover. Lennon didn’t spend years claiming his songs weren’t confessional, that the album was based on a collection of Chekov short stories.

    Walls and Bridges is too bad for me to listen to, but it’s about building bridges, not walls, right?

    What I’m trying to say is, Lennon consciously churned out albums – good, bad, and in-between – that had a deliberate focus. He even helped design the album covers. Dylan kept his mouth shut, or so it seems, and let Columbia and whoever else shape his output through most of the ’70s and ’80s. Infidels is a rare Dylan album from that period that has a defined “tone’ to it, that doesn’t just sound like a collection of songs run through mush. Knopfler should have been asked to do more records with him. To this day – and I don’t think either of them are “amazing” – but why can’t Dylan let his old buddy T-Bone Burnett produce an album or go to Rick Rubin’s place and at least attempt crafting a vision?

    Through Nashville Skyline, without the wonders of studio gimmickry, I believe that’s how he approached his records. He seems to have a little more interest in crafting a vision the last 10 years. I’m not expecting miracles.

  45. OK, I’ll wipe the lone teardrop now. Thanks.

  46. I humbly offer Empire Burlesque. Some of the fans call it “disco Dylan.” Of course, it’s not disco, but it’s definitely mired in many of the recording tricks of the mid 80s. Maybe not as shocking as Trans, but aside from the voice, no one could guess it’s Dylan.


  47. I deserve this, don’t I? 🙂

  48. Planet Waves and Self-Portrait were the only Dylan albums I ever saw widely available in the cutouts. My teen-age self thought the covers were too ugly to buy.

  49. See, I do think Blood on the Tracks has a concept, and it’s not about his divorce. This is the pince nezzing I wanted to avoid, but he did talk about the art teacher he had around this time, and how he tried to integrate things he learned from him into his songwriting. Specifically the idea that songs like “Tangled Up in Blue,” “Idiot Wind,” and “Shelter from the Storm” are supposed to feel like they’re happening in the past and the present at the same time. I can hear most of you nodding off right now, but I really appreciated learning about this from Dylan bios, and it really deepened my appreciation and understanding of the album. If I can, I’ll try to tie this appreciation to Don McLean, pooping and Don McLean pooping.

  50. No need to apologize from bringing some new light to the subject! The only thing that’s making me nod off right now is the third straight outline I’m in the process of editing. I was just about to take a stretch. This is welcome.

  51. misterioso

    I guess I didn’t understand what you meant. But then I see no less “stance” in Street Legal, Slow Train Coming, Saved, Infidels, Oh Mercy, the solo acoustic records…and so on down the line. Quite possibly I’m still missing your point. But I think saying “Dylan kept his mouth shut, or so it seems, and let Columbia and whoever else shape his output through most of the ’70s and ’80s” could hardly be more incorrect. Unless I am misunderstanding that, too.

    (I think Walls and Bridges is not so bad, by the way.)

  52. misterioso

    Norman Raeben. Very interesting stuff. Even if I don’t quite always hear what Dylan says he was trying to do (except maybe in Tangled Up in Blue). Of course, the record would be no less great if we were totally unaware of this “concept,” as many people are, obviously; and I cannot say knowing about it makes the record better to me. But it is interesting nonetheless.

  53. misterioso

    Your teenage self wasn’t wrong, they are lousy covers.

  54. A bit more to say about this: the more I think about it, the more BOTT seems like Dylan’s entry in the singer-songwriter confessional mode so popular at the time. Never mind Oat’s pince-nez–how much does it really matter if the song comes directly from one’s experience, since any song is always a shaping of experience and etc etc?

    Still, in seeming to reveal the heart of the singer, it’s different than most and probably all Dylan before it, since closely detailed examination of the singer’s psyche and intimate romantic pain hadn’t really been his approach before. Here’s a guy who has done political and apocalyptic folk, a hard-edged, biting rock and roll, and a pioneer of country rock. None of those modes are as confessional as he is here.

    So, here’s my thought, maybe to take up at another time, or now. Is there a better album anywhere in the whole canon of 70s singer songwriters than BOTT? JT, JB, Cat Stevens, Croce, the whole lot? Who did a better confessional album?

    That said, that’s a genre I don’t like much, although I can enjoy its low key tunefulness occasionally, as long as I can laugh too, and I won’t revisit my theory now that they should have been called the INSENSITIVE singer songwriters. So one some level, what I’m saying is faint praise. But seriously: what’s the competition? Tea for the Tillerman? Late For The Sky? Really?

  55. I missed this singer songwriter comment before I posted my own further down, but I agree with what you’re saying about the context here.

  56. saturnismine

    “In part, perhaps, this may be because the album seems a little slick by Dylan standards.”

    I’m shaking my head in disbelief at this.

  57. This one, again by Christopher Guest, is pretty funny, too…and he uses both the “Lay Lady Lay” and the original recipe Dylan vocal styles in the same song: http://youtu.be/wS83HGHU934

  58. Honestly, misterioso, what do I know at this point? I thought I was going to be cool for once, just make my point and not make any follow-up comments. I’m not cool at all, and now I have found myself making arguments that may run counter to my initial points, which seemed so solid this morning.

  59. Good point, mwall. You’re aware that this question is begging for dr john or geo to emerge with a nomination of some Randy Newman album! The way you frame it, however, BOTT has to be a contender, although I may put the extremely challenging (for my ears) but highly original Joni Mitchell’s Blue into consideration.

  60. misterioso

    If that is a riddle, I give up, what do you do? Let me know when you find out. How’s that for taking a stance?

  61. My favorite singer-songwriter album of the 70s is Rickie Lee Jones. Has she been hashed out in the Hall?

  62. Your head can’t be shaking any more than mine is, saturnismine!

  63. As I too often am these days, I’m playing catch up here at RTH. As the biggest Bobcat in this here town hall – I’ll take any of you on! – I’m quite enjoying these two recent threads (above & beyond the head shaking). What follows I drafted for the Hershey thread but it makes as much sense here.

    I’m not about to argue that Dylan’s post-1979 output comes anywhere near his pre-1979 output, let alone his 1962-1966 output. Having said that, I can put together 3 CDs of A+ material from 1979 onwards that no other ‘60s hero can come close to.

    Here’s the thing about Dylan versus the Stones, Macca, etc. He’s been putting out what he wants when he wants and he doesn’t care. He’s not the Stones putting out a new album to fit the marketing campaign for their latest tour. He’s not McCartney trying to prove he was better than Lennon. He put out gospel because he believed (and I happen to love those gospel albums but they pale compared to the show I saw in 1980). When he had writer’s block he put out Good As I Been To You and Blood In My Eyes both of which had some great performances on them. When he wanted to do a Christmas album – which, if he thought about it at all (but he likely didn’t), he knew would be pilloried – he did (and I happen to think it’s fabulous but I’ll save the reasons for some other time). For whatever reason, he decided he’d allow the release of a ton of unreleased stuff. None of the variety of what he does strikes me as dabbling in the way Costello or McCartney or Joel does.

    Same thing live. He’s always just “heading for another joint”. He’s not mounting tours with big press parties promoting it. He doesn’t make a special appearance on Jimmy Kimmel at the start of the tour. He doesn’t have 12 tractor trailers with 200 tons of stage equipment (aka he’s not jerking himself off). In a sense, he doesn’t do tours. He just tours.

    In a way that you can’t say about Jagger or McCartney or any of them, he’s “just” a musician making music. I’m sure he doesn’t need the money any more than the others do. I think for him it’s really tautological: “I’m a musician therefore I perform music.” On some days, I’m sure he phones it in. But I don’t think it’s just a job for him, I think it’s a calling. All the names mentioned here I’d guess had music as a calling – but Dylan’s kept it that way for 50 years.

    So that really was for the last thread but I think it works here as well. I don’t think Bob was trying to be a singer-songwriter. The peace, the sanity he thought he had found circa Nashville Skyline was falling apart and this album is the result. And it’s brilliant; it’s the only post-1966 album that can stand with the earlier ones. It’s still not BIABH or Highway 61 or Blonde On Blonde but that doesn’t mean it’s not brilliant. Name any solo Beatle album or any Stones album after their classics that comes as close to those classics as BOTT does; go ahead, I’ll wait…

    Mr. Mod, I suspect we reach more than it might seem. It’s not the Big Three; that doesn’t mean it’s not a spectacular album but I recognize some truth in some of your criticisms. I don’t know from high-hats but Lily, Rosemary, & the Jack Of Hearts isn’t up to the standards of many of the other songs. But if Dylan – or anyone else – put out an album this good today it would be the best album of the last 20 years.

  64. “Name any solo Beatle album or any Stones album after their classics that comes as close to those classics as BOTT does; go ahead, I’ll wait…”

    You won’t have to wait long. John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band

  65. al wrote:

    But if Dylan – or anyone else – put out an album this good today it would be the best album of the last 20 years.

    Agreed – and your thoughts on these related matters are excellent. One thing I don’t want to get lost here is that I think BOTT is a VERY GOOD album. I wish I could love it and thought you guys might help me find my way. Now I’m afraid I’ll just be thinking about all the cool stuff you folks have written on the subject rather than get distracted by hi-hats and acoustic guitar tones. Maybe that will help me after all.

    As I said to misterioso, I really got myself twisted up on this one. I found myself arguing against myself. Your perspective, al, helps explain why I was doomed to head that way. Thanks.

  66. Thanks for beating me to that punch, tonyola, and I’ll add Band on the Run to that short list.

  67. saturnismine

    but he said “after their classics,” right? Wouldn’t Plastic Ono and Band on the Run be a part of each’s classics phase?

    I think his point is that once the initial momentum had run out on the Beatles and Stones, they never reached the heights again. But in late 74, after Dylan had lost most, if not all, of his initial momentum, he still came up with this album that stands right there with the rest of his ‘murderer’s row’ era output. Plastic Ono and Band on the Run come at times when their makers are still running on that first tank of gas.

  68. As Bob says, “It’s all good…” I have really LOVED these recent Dylan threads. And Al, your points are all on the mark.


  69. misterioso

    al, I am with except for two things. In the pince-nez dept., Dylan’s 2nd acoustic solo record in the early 90s was World Gone Wrong. But more substantially, I have stopped believing that Dylan’s “been putting out what he wants when he wants and he doesn’t care.” To some extent, maybe. But it seems to me that with Time Out of Mind he BADLY wanted to put out a record that people would like and respond to and he seemed enormously gratified when both fans and critics liked it. My theory, which of course I cannot prove, is that it really bothered Dylan on some level for a long time that he had come to be perceived solely as an oldies act, but on the other hand throughout stretches of the 80s and 90s he knew he wasn’t coming up with A material. Since Time Out of Mind he has been able to regain credibility as a viable creative artist in the present tense, and I think that made a lot of difference to him, and also allowed him finally to “look back” via Chronicles, the Scorsese documentary, etc., without feeling like he existed solely in the past tense.

    I envy your seeing Dylan in ’80, that must have been remarkable. The recordings I have from that tour, esp. the Toronto show that was recorded and videotaped, are powerful and it is staggering how poor Saved is in contrast to how good those songs were live.

  70. Thanks for the correction on World Gone Wrong, misterioso. The title track is my second favorite tune on that album after Blood In My Eyes and so I must have been thinking of that.

    I didn’t necessarily mean he doesn’t care if people like it or not. On some level, he’d have too. I meant he will put out what he wants to and if it’s well received, so much the better. Surely he didn’t put together an album of songs about old age and encroaching death expecting that was a good marketing ploy?

    Maybe our diverging view on this rests on your saying TOOM is A material; I don’t agree that it is, not by Dylan standards anyway.

    I’ve seen some great Dylan shows – the first in ’74 will always be special just for that reason, the 4 hour extravaganza at Toad’s Place was unbelievable even as I was standing there listening – but 1980 was the tops. Sincerity Fallacy or not, he believed and he was testifying and evangelizing and it was something to witness.

  71. The comment on “looking back” and revisiting the past is an interesting angle. I took a dip into the Basement Tapes recently. Those recordings are held in such high regard by most, but they miss the mark for me. I guess I feel about them the way Mod feels about BOTT. I like them, I just don’t LOVE them. I certainly understand their significance to the Dylan myth.

    I was reading about how The Band’s contributions were basically newly recorded “demos” and how they (Robbie) sabataged that record when it left off some good Dylan material (“I’m Not There”, “I Shall Be Released”…).

    Anyway, the timing was interesting and ties in with this whole discussion. It came out right after BOTT. Dylan was okay releasing those recordings at that point because he set the bar again with his recent album.

    So, maybe the warm reception of Time Out Of Mind and Love and Theft allowed him to look back and open up a little? Hence Chronicles, the Scorsese doc, etc.? Also the recent slate of Bootleg Series since TOOM? Live ’66, Live ’75, outtakes?


  72. Al, you were at the Toad’s Place show? That’s really cool!

  73. misterioso

    I give TOOM a strong A- and extra credit for the Tell-Tale Signs material. But no, you’re quite right–I would never say that album (any more than Blood on the Tracks) was a calculated play to the fan base. Just that I think he believed in the strength of the material in a way that I simply do not believe he believed in, say, Knocked Out Loaded.

    And yet, somehow, he still saw fit to put “Make You Feel My Love” instead of “Red River Shore” and to water down “Marching to the City” into the much lesser “Till I Fell in Love with You.” Tough to figure him out.

  74. misterioso

    Yes, I think so, very much. But I am a hopeless devotee of the Basement Tapes, broadly defined. (I.e., everything that is out there, not just the released record.)

  75. misterioso

    so, al, was it you who requested “Dancing in the Dark”? The truth must out.

  76. Toad’s Place was – duh! – a once in a lifetime experience. It was clear beforehand that it was basically a rehearsal but certainly no one expected the four hours we got.

    I was living about 40 minutes from New Haven at the time and had been to Toad’s Place often enough. Tickets went on sale through the local radio station but were gone before I could get through. I went down on the night of the show straight from work so I was probably the only person there in a suit. Paid someone outside $100 for a ticket – a record for me at the time. That show represents the only time I got nailed taking in my Walkman recorder. Of course, at it turned out I didn’t have four hours worth of blank tapes with me anyway. Fortunately for posterity someone else took care of recording it.

    As Bob finished his first hour set and said he’d be back we (the crowd) were all surprised. The general feeling was that we’d gotten to see a one hour rehearsal in a small club and that was cool enough. After the second set and he said the same thing everyone was totally stunned. And then it happened again!

    It was ragged but it was certainly fun!

    Toad’s had a video projector that showed the show as it was happening. Since that day, it’s been a dream for me that somewhere a video recording of this show exists…

    It wasn’t me that requested Dancing In The Dark but as a Bruce fan it was fun to hear.

  77. From the first time I heard it I never liked Make You Feel My Love but that’s the exception that proves the rule, in this case the rule being “Nobody sings Dylan like Dylan” because I think Adele does a great job with it.

    It’s funny, with all the songs Dylan has written, I bet he’s made more money from that song than from any other one, what with hit covers by Billy Joel, Garth Brooks, and Adele.

  78. misterioso

    Exactly, Al, he should have let others cover it and used the slot on the album for Red River Shore, which, I repeat, is flat-out brilliant.

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