BOB DYLAN: I can't help it if I'm lucky...


Sometimes I think everything in life would be better with bonus material, like on DVDs. Wouldn't it be great to be able to put commentary over a photo album? Or to be able to see all the snippets your memory has cut out over the years? Maybe you'd finally be able to get some perspective on that night you blacked out in college after a bad Jagermeister binge.

If your name is Bob Dylan, tonight I'm posting some of the bonus material from your life.

If forced to decide on my favorite Dylan album, it would be a toss up between "THE FREEWHEELIN' BOB DYLAN" (the first Dylan album I ever owned) and "BLOOD ON THE TRACKS" (the searing ode to his crumbling marriage to Sarah Lowndes). Where the former is built around the hope and power of the whole folk movement, the latter is a shambling, hopeless journey through one man's heartache. It's like Jekyll and Hyde born over a decade apart.

I bought FREEWHEELIN' when I was in high school, and it was a far cry from the punk, grunge and hip-hop I was cranking in my dad's car whenever I could borrow it. The closest reference point I had for it in my record collection was maybe R.E.M.. I'd heard some Bob before and liked a few songs, but I had never heard him so honest, or so young. After the first time I laid ears on "Girl From the North Country," I was sold.

It wasn't until a few years ago that a trade through someone on the internet netted me the outtakes for the FREEWHEELIN' sessions. It's an astounding document of Dylan recording in the spring of 1962, with a ton of unreleased tracks and covers of songs from Arthur Crudup, Robert Johnson and Hank Fuckin' Williams' "Lonesome Whistle". There's even a crushing alternate take of one of my favorite Dylan songs, "Corrina, Corrina." I love how defeated he sounds, both on the album version and here, when he sings "I've got a bird that whistles / I've got a bird that sings / If I ain't got Corrina / Life don't mean a thing."

Good stuff, but nothing compared to the revalatory nature of the bootleg version of Dylan's classic BLOOD ON THE TRACKS. I've seen this bootleg titled "BLOOD ON THE TAPES", which I think is a terrible title. Bootleggers are always doing shit like that... trying to be clever when all that's really called for is something like "BLOOD ON THE TRACKS: THE NEW YORK SESSIONS."

The story goes that Dylan recorded a version of BLOOD in New York City in September of 1974. The instrumentation was sparse and Dylan's vocals/lyrics took center stage. The album was set for release, when suddenly Dylan had a change of heart after listening to the record. He turned to his brother David, who helped him put together a group of virtually unknown musicians in Minnesota to rerecord some of the songs.

The crazy thing is that some of those original New York versions, most of which remain unreleased by Columbia records, are in retrospect just as good... if not better than... the original versions. Take "Lily, Rosemary and the Jack of Hearts." While the actual album version is a bouncy little toe-tapper, this NY version is almost a minute longer and tells a real story instead of rushing through it haphazardly.

Dylan fans may have heard the alternate take of "Tangled Up in Blue" on the BOOTLEG SERIES 1-3 box set. Maybe it's just my impartial preference for Dylan's rawer sounding records (want to talk underrated? check out "WORLD GONE WRONG" some time), but I'd put this one up against the final album version as well. And hell, I'll do the same with this version of "Idiot Wind", which features a more humbled, less accusatory Dylan and all kinds of different verses that never made the Minnesota version.

The final version of "BLOOD ON THE TRACKS" featured songs from both sessions and trimmed away a couple of tracks from the original pressing Bob had planned to release before his change of heart. Aside from that "BOOTLEG SERIES" track, the only other song to have seen the light of day beyond bootlegs was "Shelter from the Storm" (which appeared on the soundtrack to JERRY MAGUIRE). It would be nice to hear the masters (the tracks I'm posting tonight are from a digitized vinyl copy of the bootleg). But Bob's a pretty unsentimental guy... I guess these will have to do for now.


- Check this awesome Uncut article which compares the tracks from both sessions
- Some nutjob cross-ref's all the Freewheelin' tracks
- FREEWHEELIN' and BLOOD at BobDylan.com



Anonymous said...

Another fine fine post...thanks.

Ry said...

An expert post.

mkudlacz said...

The New York Times calls Dylan Gaughan's musical samplings "an embarassment of riches."

We always talked about a blog's potential to capture the spirit of an old cassette mix, and I'm always thrilled to see your next incarnation of said aesthetic. Your palette could entertain a million posts, and I look forward to reading them all.

I still remember hearing "Girl From the North Country" in your bedroom for the first time – and the subsequent mindblowing mix that you made for Ches. I think we still have that tape – a time capsule from the first few months of our relationship.

Thanks for that.


countrygrrl said...

informative, concise and a superlative post....you have done it again...thanks for the new info and it only reinforces how interesting the other 'dylan'is too!!!