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My #BD969 project -- every Bob Dylan song in chronological order -- now enters the 1970s, which means it's time for a new thread so we don't get tangled up in... tweets. (The thread is going to better than that)
And here's the unrolled #BD969 Part 2: 1965-1969 threadreaderapp.com/thread/1101132…
On to 1970. I was going to make a joke about how Bob recorded Self Portrait because Nashville Skyline failed to turn off enough people. But that's kind of... true. (from: All the Songs) #BD969
My personal memory of this album is at first not liking it all and then after I went full Bobhead declaring it a work of misunderstood genius. I'm now about halfway through my re-listen and I'm somewhere in between. There are some very bad song & some quite good ones. #BD969
The real problem is it's completely incoherent. Even if you removed the bad songs you have great American roots music bumping up against pretty good vocal pop. In fact I'll bet I could make 2 separate playlists that would each be satisfying in a way the album isn't. #BD969
But even that doesn't solve the problem because Self Portrait is often incoherent even within songs. Take Copper Kettle, an interesting folk song with Bob's voice in fine form, but it's produced like vocal pop, with lush strings and harmonies. It's kind of a mess. #BD969
The album starts with a song I absolutely love even though I suspect it's one of the ones Bob hoped people wouldn't. I've always thought of All the Tired Horses as a perfect lullaby, and that George Martin-esque orchestral arrangement kills me. #BD969
I don't know if I've ever thought about what's the worst Dylan song, but Woogie Boogie and Wigwam are both strong contenders. But how bad is most of the stuff that's considered bad? I think some of the negative response comes from the context of 1970. #BD969
When this album came out, nothing was more offensive to hip young Boomers than vocal pop music- the ultimate in cheesy conformism. Even Frank Sinatra was hopelessly square. And here comes Bob crooning like a Vegas lounge singer. No wonder they hated it. #BD969
But by the time I encountered Self Portrait, I had no context for the songs he was singing. Then lounge music became kind of retro cool for my generation and we rediscovered Sinatra, so I'm not predisposed to dislike what he's attempting here. I actually want to like it. #BD969
Currently, of course, Bob has reinvented himself as a serious interpreter of the American Songbook. Self Portrait's vocal pop songs aren't great but they foreshadow greatness in a way his audience couldn't see at the time. #BD969 play.google.com/music/m/Tcjltn…
It should be said that Self Portrait was a hit. It went gold and reached #4 on the charts. I suspect a lot of that was momentum from the incredible streak he was just coming off, but no doubt a lot of people must have liked this album at the time, even if critics didn't. #BD969
One of the weirder experiments is Bob duetting with himself on Paul Simon's The Boxer. Clearly he could have gotten someone else to sing with. Anyone, really. Simon himself. So he did this on purpose. And then just half-assed it. Why? #BD969
As a great fan of the Everly Brothers I really want to like the 2 covers Bob does of their hits (Let It Be Me & Take a Message To Mary), but he really doesn't do justice to them. They're not unlistenable. Just... again, why is he bothering if he's not going to bother?#BD969
Having listened to the whole album now I have to say that other than All The Tired Horses the only song I'd call really good is Days of 49. But up next is the Another Self Portrait bootleg which I've never heard and I'm expecting some revivification #BD969 play.google.com/music/m/T3pffp…
#BD969 nerd note: the Another Self Portrait bootleg includes outtakes from 3 albums. On my chronological playlist I've divided it up so that each song comes after the original album it was recorded for.
ASP starts with a fine but forgettable song from the original called Little Sadie, now stripped of overdubs. All of a sudden it's 10x better. Look, fashion changes. When those Johnny Cash American recordings came out in the 90s I had to remember that they weren't "unproduced"...
...they were just produced in a more contemporary style than Cash (and the public) favored the 50s/60s/70s. But even going into ASP that gimlet eyed, it's hard not to say that these unadorned takes aren't just, like, objectively better than Self Portrait. #BD969
It's not only the more spare production. On some unreleased tracks Bob sings with real emotion, like he's actually trying! On a lot of Self Portrait you wonder if he even likes the songs he chose. That doesn't happen with performances like this: #BD969 vimeo.com/108719527
Here's another song that should have been included on the original album, this time sung in full sweet voice. #BD969
So far the only song hurt by stripping away the excess is Tired Horses, which loses its essential dreaminess. On the other hand, I take back calling Wigwam one of his worst ever. I still don't love it, but I get it. Without all the gunk, it's a nice campfire song. #BD969
Final thoughts on the Self Portrait raw tracks. Days of 49, possibly the best song on the original album, is one of the few helped by the overdubs. But most are much better stripped down. And nothing demonstrates that better than Copper Kettle. #BD969
The next #BD969 album is New Morning, which once again I haven't heard in a while. I think of this as an album I like, yet when I look at the titles of the 12 songs there are only 6 that I would say i really know-- and one of those I know because I don't like it.
OK this may be obvious but the songs "I really know"-they're catchy. Not the first word that comes to mind w/ Dylan but If Not for You and Time Passes Slowly stick in my head. Went to See the Gypsy is very good when I hear it but 5 minutes later I couldn't sing it for you. #BD969
Cold take: New Morning is a very domestic album. #BD969
Backtracking a bit: It is odd that Dylan, who says his concerts, not the studio albums, are the best representation of his music, chose the random meh cuts that are on Self Portrait as the first live songs he'd officially release #BD969
If Dogs Run Free is a notoriously Bad Song so for the first 40 seconds I think maybe it had gotten a bad rap. The piano trills & jazz guitar are pretty nice! Then Bob starts his beatnik poetry and that's not so great. And when the scatting starts, forget it, I'm out. #BD969
I'd forgotten how lovely Bob's piano is on Sign on the Window-- and also on Father of Night, which is a song I'd forgotten completely. In the years since I've heard it, I've become more familiar with the Jewish prayer book, and that's very much what he's going for here. #BD969
I also didn't remember Three Angels, which is certainly a lesser song on the album but I like it. It reminds me of one of those old Porter Wagoner story songs. #BD969
I guess this is my New Morning wrap up in short:
#BD969 outtakes time! More amazing stuff. While the Self Portrait outtakes improved by stripping the overdubs I really love Sign on the Window with full orchestra & New Morning with horns--very Sgt Pepper. Obvs they wouldn't fit the vibe of the album but great on their own!
In between albums Bob casually released four perfect songs as singles etc: Watching the River Flow, When I Paint My Masterpiece, Down in the Flood and I Shall Be Released. He also released George Jackson. #BD969
We've reached an exciting moment on #BD969: The Pat Garrett & Billy the Kid Soundtrack! My memory of it is: Pleasant background music plus Knockin' on Heavens Door.
#BD969 confession time: I have never seen Pat Garrett & Billy the Kid. Should I?
This is one of the verses that Bob wrote, but opted not to actually sing, for Billy 1. I'm gonna say: good call. #BD969
Turns out there's not much to say about the Pat Garrett & Billy the Kid Soundtrack. It's pleasant background music plus Knockin' on Heavens Door. #BD969
Now #BD969 really gets exciting: we're coming up on what many people call Dylan's worst album ever (or at least until 2009). Is it really that bad or is it just the only one Bobheads are allowed to say is bad because it was released without his approval? We'll find out!
"Dylan" is comically bad. Columbia slapped it together out of Self Portrait outtakes after he left the label & it's almost like they weren't trying to milk their last dollar so much as destroy his career. #BD969
As far as I can tell the overdubs were done the same time as the rest of Self Portrait but they're somehow even worse, so I'm not sure. That said there are only a couple of songs that might be OK without them (Lily & Mary Ann) but nothing could save most of this. #BD969
Given that Bob recorded many much better songs that were left off SP I have to think the label was just looking for the most familiar songs, regardless of their quality. And I'd love to hear Bob in full form doing Can't Help Falling or even Bojangles but this ain't it. #BD969
Bob even changes the lyrics to Big Yellow Taxi in a way that suggests he doesn't even know what the song is about. Joni's shift from ecological to personal in the last verse is the whole point and Bob's like, No, actually this song really is about fucken trees n shit. #BD969
#BD969 is coming up on what might be my pick for Bob's most underrated album: Planet Waves. I think it's overlooked partly because of the awkward, ill-fitting title (a working title was the much better Wedding Song) and ugly cover art. Related:
Planet Waves may not be Dylan's best album but it is The Band's. For once the music is more special than the words. The musicianship is impeccable. Expansive without being indulgent, nearly every song is crisp & tight, crackling with caged energy-- the ballads especially. #BD969
Another, also much better, working title. And slightly better cover art.
As for the lyrics, they're a mixed bag. Obviously Forever Young is a timeless classic and a few other songs are nearly as good. But quite a bit is weirdly lazy. There are at least two lyrics about not being able to come up with words. You're Bob Dylan! Come up with words! #BD969
I can see why Bob wanted to include both versions of Forever Young. The fast one definitely rocks. But the slow take suits the beautiful lyrics so much better. And if you have kids, this is a nice book for them. #BD969 amazon.com/Forever-Young-…
Guys I'm almost certain there was an Apple ad featuring the demo version of Forever Young but I can't find it anywhere! Is this my own personal Mandela Effect? There was a boomlet of acoustic demo releases in the 80s &90s and FY, on Biograph, was one of the best of them. #BD969
If there's one obscure Dylan song I'd urge any more casual Dylan fan to check out, it's Dirge. It's a classic ball of Bob: Vicious and vulnerable, swinging from self-regard to self-pity, a perfect cataloging of post-breakup emotion. And again, the music is a coiled spring. #BD969
Addendum: the actual line as sung is "I've paid the price of solitude, but at least I'm out of debt." Which is much better. Man, I comforted myself a lot with that line as a younger person. #BD969
Planet Waves' other lyrical masterwork is Wedding Song, which I hope nobody ever plays at an actual wedding. I'm a sucker for anything that sounds like a love song but is really a catalog of desperate obsession. It's a cookie full of arsenic. #BD969
I realize that makes Wedding Song sound like Every Breath You Take, but it's much more subtle than that. Because it does evoke emotions of genuine love. "When I was deep in poverty, you taught me how to give" is a profound (and deeply Christian) sentiment. But then you get:
And the overwhelming effect of the song, especially with the monotonous rhythm, is a smothering intensity. I mean, at first glance this seems amazing, but what is someone supposed to say in response? "Uh, I love you too, Bob?" #BD969
I'm sorry, I just reread "I love you more than money and more than the stars above." What a perfect, high wire lyric. #BD969
#BD969 outtake time! Earlier I said I wish I'm Not There had been properly recorded. Nothing 'Cept You is perfect bc of its flaws. The band stumbles around b4 locking into a groove on verse 2 then Bob's voice rises to the challenge. The process is the joy. vimeo.com/235139289
Next for #BD969: Dylan's first non-bootleg live album Before the Flood. I've seen Bob live more than a dozen times in the past 30 years. Many of those shows were terrible. Enough were great, or at least good enough to keep me coming back. One was once-in-a-lifetime transcendent.
I'm not one of those people who says I'll never see Dylan live again. I *understand* those people but a Dylan ticket is always like playing the lottery and even though it's getting harder to win, it's still possible. He was amazing doing the Sinatra songs live in 2017. #BD969
So I like Dylan live but I don't really like live albums. That's a preference not a judgment. They feel like a souvenir more than anything (and someone else's if you weren't there). The 1966 & 75 bootlegs are definitely exceptions though, so I'll try Flood with fresh ears. #BD969
Before the Flood is Dylan songs you know and love only louder and faster. Not really better, though. I mean, it's neat hearing The Band's take on them but with a couple of exceptions (I'm thinking Hwy 61 and Watchtower) not really transformative. #BD969 play.google.com/music/m/Tpgjey…
Also Bob delivers almost every song the same:
By raising his VOICE
At the end of every LINE.
Once you NOTICE IT
It starts to get SILLY.
People who hate the way Dylan sings... this is what you're thinking of. #BD969
I bet these were great shows to be at and I don't want to say the album is bad, cuz it's not. It's just... #BD969
A music writer once told me that when people who see Bob live complain it wasn't what they expected he says, "Is that what you want from Bob Dylan? To live up to expectations?" Before the Flood is Dylan (& The Band) living up to expectations. High expectations, but still. #BD969
Back when I was listening to Dylan regularly there were live albums that are objectively worse than Before the Flood that I would nonetheless listen to more because they open up the songs in interesting ways. Do those albums hold up better? #BD969 will find out soon!
While the rest of #BD969 has been about rediscovering Dylan music I haven't heard in a while, I never stopped listening to Blood on the Tracks. There's no need to hash out what I think about it. It's the single best album ever recorded. Actually, the two best. We'll get to that.
One thing that inspired me to start #BD969 was this 4-part @consequence podcast about Blood on the Tracks. If you want to hear people who know much more about music than I do talk the album and why it's so special, you really should listen! consequenceofsound.net/2018/11/the-op…
ICYMI: Bob recorded BOTT in NYC before rerecording most of it in Minneapolis. The NY album was a prized bootleg, one of the few I acquired as an early Dylan fan. Last November he released a 6-CD set with every take as part of the Bootleg Series. #BD969 pitchfork.com/reviews/albums…
Although I was crazy enough to buy the 87-track version, I'm not going to subject you to it (although even casual fans should try the 10-track distillation). For #BD969 I recreated the NY pressing and will listen to that followed by the official release. newyorker.com/culture/cultur…
But first, a diversion! As some of you know, I'm also a big fan of teen pop and I'm wondering if there are enough songs to make a Dylan-inspired teen pop playlist. So far I have Kygo & Selena's It Ain't Me and this Skye Sweetnam obscurity. Any more? #BD969
Now That's What I Call #BD969!
Which versions of BOTT is better? Both astound in different ways. NY is bracingly raw and immediate, but the polish and remove of the final enhances the storytelling, which is one of the things I love. BOTT conveys hours, days and lifetimes in the briefest sketch of words. #BD969
These 3 verses are a short film, with not just the narrative of the relationship & its end plus some mystical symbolism but soundtrack, cinematography, crosscut edits. And it does what a film can't, introducing a 1st person narrator who is also the 3rd person protagonist. #BD969
I'm glad Bob kept working on this verse of If You See Her. The final version (rt) is miles better. Blaming fate is a boring cop out. In the end he takes responsibility-- in an implicit rebuke to the younger Bob of If You Gotta Go, Go Now (or else you gotta stay all night) #BD969
I'd love to see someone apply the @newsdiffs approach to Dylan songs--tracking how the lyrics change in different versions. I'm shocked it doesn't exist. This is the 2nd time I've wondered if the Dylanology community has aged out of technology that would serve it well. #BD969
I used to drive my kids crazy by always selecting Tangled Up In Blue in Rock Band 2. Unfortunately there's no sound on this video because YouTube comes down hard on copyright violations even though they can't somehow manage to ban fucking nazis. #BD969
I haven't noticed this rhetorical trick on other albums but on BOTT Bob frequently tells his stories by leaving out information. The main events of Lily Rosemary takes place in between the vignettes we actually hear. Or even this line from Tangled says so much indirectly. #BD969
Oh right, keeping your cards hidden. I get it now. #jackofhearts #BD969
Now a quick dip into Shelter From The Storm, significant as Dylan's first true Christian song & also the greatest Christian rock song ever. Many people wouldn't categorize it as such b/c Xian rock is often defined by a certain type of song--unsubtle & didactic--but it is. #BD969
Digression time: Christian rock can be roughly fit into 3 slots. The type most people think of--and what Bob would embrace in his "Christian phase"--is separational. Shelter is transformational. For more, I highly recommend this book that I wrote. #BD969 amazon.com/Rapture-Ready-…
To be sure, Dylan has used biblical imagery from the start of his career & has expounded on Christian ideas, including elsewhere on Blood on the Tracks, as in this line from Idiot Wind (certainly a clever paraphrase of salvation through suffering and sacrifice). #BD969
But SFTS is the 1st song built around the expression of a Christian idea: sinful man separated from God & yearning for salvation through Christ. And obviously it's a love song too. Great art has layers of meaning. But in essence it's a Christian gloss on the Book of Isaiah #BD969
SFTS traverses from creation to crucifixion, with the narrator simultaneously sufferer, prophet and savior. For the first time, Dylan's Bible references are not mere literary window dressing, they are theological touchstones. Thank you for coming to my Ted Talk. #BD969
I take back what I said about Dirge. If there's really one obscure Dylan song I'd urge any more casual fan to check out, it's Up To Me. This outtake from Blood On The Tracks is as great as almost any song on the album, and that's saying a lot. #BD969
#BD969 has reached The Basement Tapes, which I've slotted into 1975 when they were buffed up and released, having already listened to The Basement Tapes Raw Bootleg Series back in 67. So far, I like the Raw tracks a lot more. This sounds much more like a Band album.
Turns out that's all I have to say about The Basement Tapes. Sure, Nothing Was Delivered is pretty great and You Ain't Goin Nowhere (though I miss the verse about feeding the cats) but clearly I don't see what other people do in this album, so let's move on to Desire. #BD969
Would Desire be a good album w/out Emmylou Harris and Scarlet Rivera on violin? I know it's a dumb question because it has them, so what difference does it make, but it occurs to me that some of these songs are getting a free ride (Oh Sister, more like oh brother amirite!) #BD969
This can't be true right? Not to mention, asking a woman carrying a violin case if she can really play violin is definitely the musician equivalent of "I bet you don't really play video games." She should've told him to fuck off. But thank god she didn't, because Desire. #BD969
Isis is a hell of a song. Some Weird West Jonah Hex shit. The lyrics are great all the way through, but it's this dialogue at the end that captures the classic laconic masculinity of the Westerns. My favorite song on the album. #BD969
One thing I'll say about Hurricane is that it's a well-told story, somehow smarter and more subtle than the film version, although Denzels is very good. The verse about the criminals in their coats and ties is a nice throwback to Woody Guthrie. #BD969
Joey is not a good song. I don't have a big problem with whitewashing and romanticizing killers for the sake of art. Nobody complained when he did it with John Wesley Hardin(g). But when you get to something like this, sorry, I'm out. #BD969
Once again, listening to Dylan now that I'm more familiar with Frank Sinatra and how much Bob liked him, i'd guess that Mozambique is really no more than Bob trying his hand at one of those exotic travel songs Sinatra loved so much, and quite successfully. #BD969
On the other hand, Desire is really where Dylan's indulgence in exoticism really gets the best of him. The romanticization of the untamed other is an unfortunate part of his artistic vision throughout his career, but it really comes to the fore on this album. #BD969
After Isis the Desire song I love most is Black Diamond Bay, a toe-tapping To Have and Have not fantasia that weaves an elaborate multi-character tragicomic farce before ending with one of my favorite Dylan punchlines: #BD969
Finally, I'm of two minds about Sara. It's overly sentimental and he lays on the glamorous nymph crap pretty thick, but it's kind of touching despite that, and "so easy to look at, so hard to define," is an amazing insight about how it feels to be in love with someone. #BD969
There are a handful of Desire outtakes but only one that matters. Dylan has this thing of leaving great work off his albums. We saw it with Up To Me and now here's what would've been the best song on Desire save Isis and maybe Black Diamond Bay. #BD969
Two things I want legal Twitter to weigh in on: Is it true that Hurricane Carter wouldn't have been able to appeal his sentence had the 1996 Effective Death Penalty Act been in effect and 2) Is sentencing based on time of day common in mafia cases? #BD969
#BD969 update: There actually is a site that lets you see changes to lyrics: @diffchecker. I have a Mac so I can't download the desktop version that would show 2 texts in a unified file but even the basic features makes something clear...
If you look compare the original Tonight I'll Be Staying Here With You to the version that kicks off the 1975 Live Bootleg you can see Bob basically took entire fantastic song and then wrote an almost completely different fantastic song on top of it. #BD969 #diffchecker
There are a handful of changes registered above that are really just differences in punctuation but my point is someone with the diff utility and a few days to spare could easily make Bobchecker with every song pre-loaded for browsing. #ItAintMeBabe #BD969
#BD969 hits 2 live albums, the recently released 1975 bootleg & the 1976 Hard Rain album. The former is so much better it really makes you wonder why they didn't just release that at the time. Check out Hard Rain's A-Gonna Fall as a blistering blues song. open.spotify.com/album/5CaLbGDG…
Hard Rain is mostly meh. Bob adopts this annoying sing-songy approach that undermines otherwise great songs. I remember why I never listened to it much. BUT toward the end there is an extraordinary & transformative version of You're A Big Girl Now! #BD969 open.spotify.com/track/1bffmRfV…
In between these two albums is a minor but worth hearing Dylan song that he performed as a duet with Eric Clapton called Sign Language. It includes the immortal line, "It was there at the bakery / surrounded by fakery." #BD969
The thing is when I started #BD969 I knew in the back of my mind that I was going to reach 1978 eventually. I remember Street Legal as the first Dylan album I taped from my dad’s LPs as a teen after I already had all the essential ones and decided I was going to really dig in.
Is there a word for the tendency of Dylan fans to claim that his obviously bad albums are secretly great? Because that was me w Street Legal. I used to think the whole album was good and 2 songs stellar. I haven't gotten to those 2 yet, but the other ones are pretty bad. #BD969
To quote a phrase coined by Dylan, I can't even with this saxophone. And half the lyrics sound like Bob is just throwing darts at a rhyming dictionary. #BD969
ICYMI (an initialism Bob probably also coined) here is Bob coining "I can't even" in 1966 #BD969
Bob's voice is peak whiny on Street Legal which really drives home the awfulness of Is Your Love In Vain. Mid-60s Bob is a dick to the women in his songs but he pulls it off bc he's funny & charming too. Here's it's just demanding, snotty & manipulative. #BD969
The 2nd half of SL exceeds the low bar of the 1st. The not good songs are at least not actively terrible and of the songs I thought were stellar, Señor is decent & Where Are You Tonight is almost stellar. I love how the quickening tempo compliments the bracing lyrics. #BD969
One neat thing about doing #BD969 complete & chronological is the patterns you start to see. With Señor I realize just how many cowboy/Western stories Bob has written (as distinct from country western songs, though there's overlap). That would make a pretty good playlist.
Dylan's set on The Last Waltz is pure 🔥🔥🔥. Better than his own live album with the Band, or any other live stuff he officially released around this time. #BD969
I tend to think about the meaning of Dylan songs in terms of their overall gestalt while some people like to really get lost in the weeds, but either approach is informative. It's purely a matter of taste. #BD969
Desire: Dylan discovers violin
Street Legal: Dylan discovers saxophone
Budokan: Dylan discovers flute
Slow Train: Dylan discovers Jesus
I know! I was worried it was gonna be accordion!
#BD969 #DadHumor
There's some interesting failures on Bob Dylan At Budokan: Don't Think Twice as ska? All I Really Want To Do by way of Simon & Garfunkel? But the best tracks are the swampy take on Oh Sister and a mesmerizingly eerie I Want You. #BD969 open.spotify.com/track/1xBU3EUv…
But on the whole At Budokan is Bob Dylan with the edges sanded off. This would be very much at home on late 70s AOR radio, which is not a compliment. #BD969
This seems like a good place to end Part Three of #BD969. The journey through dark heat continues here:
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