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The #BD969 thread is now being born again right here. In case you missed it, I am listening to all 969(ish) officially released Bob Dylan songs in chronological(ish) order. If you're just joining us, here is an unrolled version of Part One: 1961-1964: threadreaderapp.com/thread/1097693…
For whatever reason this thread seems to break @threadreaderapp so Part Two: 1965-1969 is itself in two parts. Here's #BD969 Part 2a: threadreaderapp.com/thread/1101132…
And finally (for now) here is #BD969 Part Three: 1970-1978 threadreaderapp.com/thread/1104216…
The next stretch of #BD969 is gonna be fun. Dylan's Christian trilogy is his most underrated period. To be clear, when I said Planet Waves was underrated I meant people think of it as only OK but it's great. Now I mean people hate the Christian period... but it's pretty good!
Remember kids, I wrote a pretty cool book about Christian pop culture so I have Thoughts about Contemporary Christian Music (CCM). This excerpt is important context for what Bob's about to do as #BD969 hits 1979:
Slow Train Coming is by intention Separational CCM. Basic principles: keep me set apart & don't wanna confuse nobody. S-CCM demands (see tweet above) straightforward propositional claims. No irony, as one fan told me. This is, to say the least, not a natural fit for Bob. #BD969
This is why the lyrics on the STC album aren't Bob's best (though certain songs work). He seems to be fighting the genre constraints. But musically STC is nearly unimpeachable. Mark Knopfler! Muscle Shoals Horns! And Bob sings w strength, passion & sometimes even a tune! #BD969
For Gotta Serve Somebody Bob rewrites a 1972 song by ur-Christian rocker Larry Norman, who was himself heavily influenced by Dylan. He probably does it for the usual reasons--Love & Theft--but the Christian community took it as a signal of membership. I prefer LN's lyrics. #BD969
This is exactly right. For the first time in ages Bob sings like he means every word. I love it most on I Believe In You where tbh he's bleating like a strangled goat but with such passion and intensity that it draws you in completely. #BD969
The genius of I Believe In You is to recast the familiar God is my girlfriend trope as a defiant anthem of forbidden love. It's theologically correct for evangelicalism but rare in CCM, which tends to lean to heartwarming for this kind of song. #BD969 open.spotify.com/track/6SsoX9VS…
This fire & brimstone is a real balancing act. When he pulls it off--for me the title track is the best song on Slow Train--Bob is an angry prophet whose words convict your heart. When he doesn't--Change My Way of Thinking--he's just a bitter scold. #BD969 open.spotify.com/track/02Dkg9Ki…
Bob really just takes a spiritual shotgun to everyone on Slow Train. The capitalists, the hippies, the pious. I can see why people hated it at the time, but it's pretty glorious. #BD969
Of course evangelical pop culture can't be separated from evangelical politics, and Bob's born again phase also marks a shift from left-wing populism to quasi right-wing nationalism. #BD969
Some of the best moments on Slow Train Coming are when Bob examines his own soul. The third great song on the album is When He Returns, which can be read as a response to Blowin' In The Wind. How many times must the cannonballs fly? Glad you asked, pipsqueak... #BD969
Bob almost didn't include Man Gave Names To All The Animals on STC but then he found out that children liked it. It's had success as a kids song ever since and has been adapted as a picture book. The ending is mildly interesting but otherwise... #BD969
Supposedly the original Saved album cover was scrapped post-release by chickenshit label execs and replaced with the inferior less-religious one, but I find it hard to believe Bob didn't have the clout to stop that. #BD969
Anyway the original would have landed about four rows higher on my list. #BD969
Saved suffers from the departure of Knopfler, and other than incredible harmonica on What Can I Do For You not much stands out musically. Again though the real weak link is the lyrics. Instead of Bob's singular vision we get warmed over Hal Lindsey. #BD969 play.google.com/music/m/Tn2yus…
That said, Saved is much more listenable than I remember. Now let’s see about Shot of Love. #BD969
Shot of Love has one of Dylan's all-time masterpieces, his best song of the decade, but overall it's a mess. Weird mishmash of styles, muddy production, and wild swings in musical and lyrical quality. It's also possible I've never listened to it straight through before. #BD969
Property of Jesus, a song I definitely didn't know before, is hilariously bitchy. It's basically a Christian Positively 4th Street. #BD969
People call Shot of Love a "partly Christian" album. Because they're thinking in separational terms 👇. I think it was T-Bone Burnett who said of Christian music: You can sing about the Light or you can sing about what the Light allows you to see. #BD969

With SoL Bob is changing as an artist (shocker) but it's all Christian rock, informed by his new worldview rather than trying to sell his new worldview. But crucially I think is Christian worldview is also changing. And I think that's what Lenny Bruce is doing here. #BD969
Stick with me. I have A Theory. The overarching theme of SoL is Bob growing as Christian, becoming comfortable with doubt. See, even if you wanted to write a tribute to Lenny Bruce why do it as a defense? Who's out there saying he cut babies' heads off? But trust me... #BD969
If Lenny's name came up in Bob's new circles, someone, using Gotta Serve Somebody logic, would likely point out that he was in hell. And it wouldn't shock me if that's what made Bob, who had accepted that his family & friends were going to burn, think, That can't be right. #BD969
Because if Lenny is in hell, Woody is in hell, so maybe there's more to this. "Lenny Bruce" is Bob wrestling with the idea that maybe Good and Bad can't be defined quite clear somehow, and what that means for his belief. He's looking at what the Light actually shows him. #BD969
Who is Bob talking to when he says Lenny Bruce was "more of an outlaw than you ever were"? Maybe someone who conceives of followers of Jesus as the true outlaws. Keep in mind that Bob came to Christian rock through Larry Norman. #BD969
The key to unlocking Shot of Love is the gorgeous In the Summertime. Evangelicals often speak of how when they first accept Jesus the relationship is immediate & intense, but as time goes on those qualities recede. They wonder, can I recapture that? And if not, what next? #BD969
That's the animating idea of Summertime, echoing the CCM classic Take Me Back. Andrae Crouch is no longer in God's presence but "I still I hear you calling me," just Bob's summer with God has ended but he's "still carrying the gift you gave." #BD969
So what does Bob still believe about God after all this? Well, it's simple, and complicated, and one of the finest songs of his career. #BD969 open.spotify.com/track/6MfOFYmw…
Next on #BD969: the live Bootleg Series from this period. It's always struck me as crazy that people went out and accused Dylan of betraying them with this Christian bullshit not 15 years after he made the people who accused him of betrayal for going electric look like idiots.
BTW I love the Todd Haynes movie I'm Not There but this is the one period it gets badly wrong. Bob didn't retreat into church basements. He tried hard to bring the Word to the masses at stadium shows. They just didn't want to hear it. #BD969
Somewhere (maybe some #BD969 follower knows where) Bob said it was ironic that the people who used to beg him relentlessly to be a leader and tell them the answers rejected him completely when he finally tried. Of course he should've realized he was right not to do it all along.
I've heard this expressed & so far I'm not sure why? The live versions are quite good--but so are the studio ones! I wonder if the Bootleg simply gave people a chance to listen again with fresh ears. #BD969
Here's a song I've never heard: Ain't Gonna Go To Hell For Anybody. It's not on any album, and it certainly is good enough to have been. The lyrics strike me a more self-aware, ethical twist on All I Really Wanna Do. #BD969
The thing about Bob is he'll always surprise you and never count him out. Infidels may not be top tier Dylan, but it's very near the top of the second tier. Musically at least as good as Slow Train & lyrically his best since at least Desire. #BD969
Of course it's nice to have Mark Knopfler back but don't sleep on Sly & Robbie. An inspired choice. Hilariously, the official music video for Jokerman looks like something a fan threw together for YouTube. #BD969
My favorite song here is Sweetheart Like You. The surface sexism of certain lines bother me less than some of the more heartfelt misogyny I've called out on earlier songs. This feels to me more like he's intentionally playing with tropes about relationships. #BD969
All the love songs on Infidels are just about perfect-- and also more than just love songs. There's a recurring motif of selfishness that feels honest to me (although of course when anything Bob says feels honest that's probably a red flag). #BD969
BTW, who the hell is Jackie P? Until literally just now I thought this lyric was "where your blue jacket pleased mine." And yeah, I know that doesn't make any sense, but I thought it mean like, we looked good together. At least it wasn't a mystery. #BD969
On the other hand there are the somewhat less compelling protest songs. And I guess we have to start with the big question: What does Bob have against the moon landing? (3rd item is Bob's concert intro to License to Kill in 86 following the Challenger disaster) #BD969
Given the timing, Bob's concerns about growing plants on the moon was almost certainly related to the first successful cultivation of plants on a space station a year earlier, although these first space plants were not eaten, raw or otherwise. astrobotany.com/plants-grown-i…
In general infidels' protest songs are somehow less sophisticated than ones Bob wrote in his 20s. Despite decent musical hooks and occasionally interesting imagery 👇 Union Sundown, Man of Peace & License to Kill are a hodgepodge of paleocon and anti-humanist paranoia. #BD969
The exception is the caustic and clever sonic blast of Neighborhood Bully, a fantastic song despite the fact that the entire premise and all of its conclusions are complete bullshit. It has aged as poorly politically as it has well musically. #BD969 open.spotify.com/track/5N1M5lue…
Dylan's habit of abandoning great songs finds its ultimate expression with Blind Willie McTell, an outtake that stands head and shoulders above anything on Infidels--and may be second only to Every Grain of Sand as his finest song of the decade. #BD969 vimeo.com/206532559
The Blind Willie McTell decision is so mystifying that it almost obscures the merely confusing decision to shelve the very fine Someone's Got A Hold Of My Heart until he could rewrite it to make it less good as Tight Connection To My Heart. #BD969 open.spotify.com/track/3IQzkYEv…
Bob follows Infidels with Real Live which asks the question What if Dylan was generic 80s arena rock? Simultaneously bombastic & boring Real Live is as much a showcase for Mick Taylor's cornball guitar solos as anything else. Only one song justifies the price of admission. #BD969
For a taste of Real Live at its most successful in its main mission, check out Masters of War. It's kinda cool that he transforms it--but does it have to be such a blatant redo of All Along the Watchtower? (a song much more worthy of this approach) #BD969 open.spotify.com/track/2Fpzemiw…
But here's where Real Live justifies its existence: Tangled Up In Blue. Though the (fine, if scratchy) acoustic performance can't hold a candle to the studio versions, the lyrics have evolved and deepened, taking an already profound tale to yet another level of greatness. #BD969
I think @nickgillespie has thoughts on this.
As #BD969 hits 1985 two very important things happen: 1) I turn 16 and become a Dylan fan in earnest, pledging to love and consume everything he ever does, and 2) Dylan begins the absolute worst 10-year stretch of his career. Buckle up!
One thing you can say about Empire Burlesque: it's entirely fair to judge it by the cover. I genuinely love the Big 80s pop sound, but Dylan is not well served by it. I think there are some decent songs in here, buried under the goop, but they're damn hard to find. #BD969
"Fashion police! You're under arrest!"

The entire Tight Connection To My Heart Video is unbelievable. #BD969
I think I broke the #BD969 thread by trying to post screenshots from a Geocities page?
The hyper-contemporary musical arrangements/production of Empire is especially bizarre given that the primary lyrical reference is postwar film noir. Even if you don't know the quotes, the feeling of incoherence comes through. #BD969
Again I could make a songwriting case for Emotionally Yours, I'll Remember You, Night Comes Falling From The Sky... I'll bet there are some really good covers of Empire Burlesque songs out there --post 'em if you got 'em-- but good luck listening to the album as it is. #BD969
And there's some interesting stuff too if you're looking for it. Like, with era-appropriate arrangement and production, Never Gonna Be The Same Again could be something off Their Satanic Majesties Request, a style Bob never indulged in at the time. #BD969 open.spotify.com/track/5kPxzJwc…
If you want one song to get Empire's hilarious misfire vibe try When The Night Comes Falling From The Sky, a full-on, wildly inappropriate pastiche of Duran Duran. Be sure it's the album version; the Bootleg is a less confusing Springsteen pastiche. #BD969 open.spotify.com/track/5PgS5mnE…
Ready for the twist ending? At the very end of Empire Burlesque is Dark Eyes--completely out of place by being completely marvelous. Bob's extra nasal crooning isn't for everyone to be sure, but it's a sweet, unadorned acoustic ballad with lyrics that deserve attention. #BD969
Before #BD969 gets to the next album here's Bob at Live Aid making a good case for why he usually avoids this sort of thing. An absolute mess and he looks miserable. But I give him credit for not taking the easy way out of resorting to a singalong.
#BD969 speeds ahead to Knocked Out Loaded, and Empire Burlesque sure looks good in the rearview mirror, doesn't it?
Trying to imagine Bob listening to Kris Kristofferson's They Killed Him, basically a bargain bin Abraham Martin & John (which is saying something), and thinking "I'll never write a song as good as this. I'll just do a cover. But with a children's choir to improve it." #BD969
Oh man I actually got my hopes up when that Blue Monday beat kicked in on Driftin' Too Far From Shore. If Bob had actually tried to record a new wave song, instead of just doing a shitty Dylan song with new wave trappings, it might have been interesting. #BD969
The weirdest thing about this garbage album is it inexplicably contains one of Dylan's best songs of the 80s & some would say his career. I took some heat for overlooking Brownsville Girl in my Epic Songs tourney. Who knows how far it would've gone? #BD969
Truth is I didn't really know Brownsville Girl well. I did remember it was the only good song on the album but I hadn't actually listened to it in ages. Part of me thought it probably gets extra credit just for being 11 minutes. But guys it's great. vimeo.com/183524348 #BD969
Brownsville Girl comes by its epic length honestly. It needs the time to weave together 3 narrative strands: the plot of a movie, the relationship that movie reminds the narrator of, and the narrator's current relationship. Naturally it's not always clear which is which. #BD969
And it still finds time for some pretty sharp observations about human nature. #BD969
Hell, Brownsville Girl even has jokes! #BD969
Maybe the only thing I don't love about BG is the music, which is fine but maybe not enough to keep you hooked for half the length of a TV show. Fortunately the arrangement isn't as terrible as some on the album but I wish the backup singers had been mixed lower. Or off. #BD969
Sorry can I just go back for a second. "It blows right through me like a ball and chain." That is very much not a thing, and yet somehow you know exactly what he means. #BD969
#BD969 speeds ahead to Down in the Groove, and Knocked Out Loaded sure looks good in the rearview mirror, doesn't it?
There's many ways a legendary artist can do an album paying tribute to their influences. For instance John Lennon's Rock N Roll works because it has a coherent theme, respects the originals but adds his own flavor, and he's clearly having fun. #BD969 open.spotify.com/album/4D5tTcz7…
Groove does none of that. The good news is Bob has mostly given up trying to capture that 80s new wave sound and the album is more sonically coherent than the last few, but emotionally it swings without reason from flat simulations of joy to flat simulations of pain. #BD969
To be fair, the rock numbers are very professional. If you went to a bar and the band was doing this version of Let's Stick Together you'd probably say, "These guys are great. I bet if they ditched their singer they could get a recording contract!" open.spotify.com/track/150WBpUg…
Of the original songs, Ugliest Girl in the World holds up better than I remembered. It's not good, but as a throwback to songs like I Shall Be Free/ No. 10 you can at least hear authentic Dylan in it. #BD969 play.google.com/music/m/T6iwgq…
On Silvio the Grateful Dead, hot off Touch of Grey, try to bring that "let's reinterpret our sound as generic radio pop" magic to a collab w/Bob. Cool. I vastly prefer generic radio pop to the Dead's usual noodly bullshit. But while Grey works, Silvio is a bland flop. #BD969
In later years, Bob actually managed to rescue Silvio, and completely reworked version became a staple of his Neverending Tour. #BD969
In general I'm not reading other people's takes/analysis as I do #BD969 but I've been using the book All The Songs for general context. It's pretty good except when it's very bad. Imagine thinking 90 Miles an Hour (Down a Dead End Street) is actually about a motorcycle ride!
At this point in #BD969 history, Dylan fans were adrift in an ocean of terribleness looking for any sign of land. Bob's very fine cover of Woody Guthrie's Pretty Boy Floyd (the inspiration for John Wesley Harding) was proof he hadn't completely lost it.
Pretty Boy Floyd is from a Woody/Lead Belly tribute album with a whole bunch of great songs on it, most notably John Mellencamp's Do Re Me, Springsteen's I Ain't Got No Home & Emmylou's Hobo's Lullaby. #BD969 open.spotify.com/album/2JY01FAJ…
After Pretty Boy Floyd more evidence that Bob might yet make a comeback came in a surprising form: The Traveling Wilburys, a bright, fun pop rock supergroup Dylan formed with fellow old-timers George Harrison, Tom Petty, Roy Orbison & Jeff Lynne. #BD969
If you haven't listened to the first Wilburys album in 30 years (or ever) you'll be pleasantly surprised. It all holds up great, even with Lynne's aggressively shiny production. For #BD969 purposes the 3 songs that matter are the ones spotlighting (& presumably written by) Dylan.
Bob's first song, Dirty World, is pretty much a lark. I think the joke is that it sounds like it should be a classic cars 'n' sex filthy blues song but the double entendres never actually work. Bob is singing well and having fun, what's not to like? #BD969
To me Congratulations reveals what a mistake it was for Bob to lean on gospel singers for backup all these years. Where they tended to make his voice sound harsher in comparison, he's perfectly served by the smooth pop harmonies of the Wilburys. #BD969
The truly essential song is Tweeter & The Monkey Man. To me it's almost too spot-on, as if Bob is trying to do a pastiche of a Dylan story-song, down to the last verse which evokes the conclusion of both Black Diamond Bay and Lily, Rosemary. #BD969 vimeo.com/29770291
Tweeter is also a game of spot-the-Springsteen references but I don't think it's about Bruce in any real way. Bob's just having fun as he spins his crime story. One line enters the pantheon of quotable Dylan: "In Jersey anything's legal, as long as you don't get caught."#BD969
There is one Lucky Wilbury outtake from this album that was eventually released for a 2007 special edition. It's interesting as a footnote to that era. You can hear Bob's original track and the final mix here. #BD969 bob-dylan.org.uk/archives/4278

A SOPHOMORE is listening to TRAVELING WILBURYS VOL 1. with some friends.

SOPHOMORE: I'm telling you guys, Dylan is back for good! He's never gonna release another terrible album again!

#BD969 speeds ahead to Dylan & The Dead, and Down in the Groove sure looks good in the rearview mirror, doesn't it?
Having not heard a single note of Dylan & The Dead since I listened to it for a 2nd time, just to be sure, 30 years ago, I was actually wondering if maybe the years have been kind to it. Could it really be as bad as I remember? Friends, it is comically, hilariously bad. #BD969
On paper it should've worked. I'm not a Deadhead but live shows were their thing and they had a creditable history of Dylan covers. Plus Bob often comes to life when paired with a band that has a unique sound. I remember looking forward to this album when I heard about it. #BD969
Almost any track on the album reveals the same thing: The Dead have no idea what they're doing and Dylan's singing is beyond terrible. Every now and then you can understand the words just enough to hear that he doesn't remember them. #BD969 open.spotify.com/track/7BBg6Zpw…
Sorry, the most I'll concede is that a couple of songs--Queen Jane, Heaven's Door--hint at what this album could have been. As in, it could have been another forgettably mediocre live album instead of this 43 minute joke. Cover's kinda cool though. #BD969
This being the Dead, the entire tour was of course recorded, so I'm open to the possibility that the label just chose the exact wrong setlist and the album could have worked. If anyone wants to post a link to D&D performances they think are really good I'd listen. #BD969
I didn't see any of the Dylan & the Dead tour but every fan has been to plenty of baffling shows where he "sings" this same way. But as I've said before, buying a Dylan ticket is like buying a lottery ticket. Usually you lose, but when you win it changes your life. #BD969
#BD969 hits Sep 1989, 6 long years from Infidels. So it's impossible for me to evaluate Oh Mercy objectively. Every note triggers a sense memory of the deep relief from when I first put it on & realized that Bob had finally made another great album. Or at least solidly 2nd tier.
Even at the time Daniel Lanois' portentous, echoey production was a bit of a cliché but it suits Bob perfectly. And the decision, unusual for a 1980s Dylan album, to let you hear the instruments and singing was also a good call! Oh Mercy is more than the sum of its parts. #BD969
The first three songs are fine. Political World & Everything is Broken strike me as passable 80s riffs on Subterranean Homesick Blues. But the stretch from Ring Them Bells through Shooting Star is another thing altogether: Bob's best 7-song run since Blood on the Tracks. #BD969
Oh Mercy is an album about sin, but not as Bob once saw it, as the path to hell. The focus now isn't on the wages of sin but on sin as necessary condition for forgiveness. A world where everything is broken requires mercy, and on the flip side, mercy requires brokenness. #BD969
Ring Them Bells is the most overtly religious song. Though it treads the same theological ground as When You Gonna Wake Up, the spirit couldn't be more different. Rather than a chastisement, it's a sympathetic plea for a good world running backward, away from God. #BD969
Man in the Long Black Coat, probably my favorite track, personifies sin as a seductive, mysterious stranger. In a series of vignettes (well captured by this animation) he preys on a world made softened by moral relativism and emotional rootlessness. #BD969 vimeo.com/80491883
Most of the Time is a real heartbreaker. In the vein of I Get Along Without You Very Well it insists everything is going fine when it's not. The magic is that other than the 4 words of the title every lyric is a declaration of strength & fortitude. Then come those 4 words. #BD969
What Good Am I is about sins of omission. It's entirely straightforward compared to other songs on Oh Mercy. There are no layers of hidden meaning here. But the plain meaning is pretty bracing, and the inward direction renders it sorrowful as well as accusatory. #BD969
I hear What Was It You Wanted as Bob's vicious response to the leeches anyone in his position attracts. The wheedling Judas-like friends who always want favors. Sure, says Bob, but I won't make it easy. And just know that I See You. Brutal. #BD969 open.spotify.com/track/6j77oqpK…
Shooting Star is a beautiful finish to Oh Mercy. This song does have layers. I hear reminiscing & regret about an old love, a meditation on aging as Bob approaches 50, and a prayer for a relationship with God he knows he'll never recapture. #BD969 open.spotify.com/track/7IuEjrhT…
This idea of sin as the overarching theme of Oh Mercy was not something I've had in my pocket for a while. It occurred to me as I listened closely for the first time in years. By the time I got to Shooting Star I couldn't not notice it. #BD969
#BD969 program note: to maintain rough chronological order I'll be wrapping up the 1980s thread with the first third of the Tell Tale Signs Bootleg Series before moving on to the next album.
The most well-known Oh Mercy outtake is Series of Dreams. I slightly prefer the crisper Tell Tell Signs version to the one from the original Bootleg Series album but neither really does the song justice, which is unfortunate since it's a good song. #BD969
The real treat is a completely different take on Most of the Time. It definitely doesn't suit the melancholy lyric as well as the album version but it's excellent in its own right.
There's a mildly diverting pop song called God Knows, which is interesting mostly because it sounds like Bob doing George Harrison on top of the rhythm track of Fleetwood Mac's Don't Stop. open.spotify.com/track/5FKQEJ11… #BD969
The real treat is Born In Time. I'm listening to it thinking, this is really good, but also really familiar. So I google and apparently there's a version on Under The Red Sky? Which I've always remembered as entirely worthless? So maybe it's not? #BD969
Born In Time is also pretty Beatlesque for a Dylan song. It would have been great for the Wilburys honestly. #BD969
And with that #BD969 says farewell to the ups and downs of the 80s... and hello to the ups and downs of the 90s!
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