Saturday, 2 November 2013
Dylan On LP
It is all too easy to overlook the genius of Bob Dylan. Sometimes, you will think, “oh, he did all those acoustic records, they all sound the same”, and then you’ll listen to one of them and realise just how vibrant the music is and how clever the words are. Or you’ll pick up an electric album from the 60s and go “well, I can remember ‘Like A Rolling Stone’, what does the rest of it sound like again?”, and then you’ll listen to it and the sheer force of somebody in the middle of reinventing an entire genre will knock you sideways.
I sometimes, when thinking of my favourite singers, tend to forget about Dylan. And then, you will play “Blonde On Blonde” or a career spanning hits set, and you will be left in sheer wonderment about what you have just heard. 2012’s “Tempest” wasn’t just one of his best albums, it was one of the best albums of the year, and 2013’s “Another Self Portrait”, the latest in his “Bootleg Series” of ’specialist’ albums, has kept him in the public eye.
Dylan’s back catalogue can be easy to get confused by - albums that weren’t proper albums, dalliances with labels other than CBS or Columbia, live albums appearing without warning...I thought it would be interesting to detail exactly what Dylan has released in the UK on the long playing format, if only to make it clearer for myself.
(Before we continue, a note: the catalogue numbers listed against each album relate to (usually) the original CD pressing, be it the 1980s era reissue of something originally from the days of vinyl, or the original (and sometimes limited edition) pressing where the album was debuting on CD on day 1 of it‘s release. Before you start quibbling about why some catalogue numbers differ “design wise” from LP to LP, the list is based on what was in the shops in 1991, so for some in the 4xxxxx series, earlier (but long deleted) editions may exist. Basically, the list of albums from 1962 to 1986 is taken from the “mid price” catalogue that was included in Dylan CD reissues during 91, for later albums, it is the original release based on what is shown on the Discogs site, or what we actually have in the Shergold houses. Where details of a second edition are required, such as a notable original release, this is listed as well).
1963’s followup, “The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan” (Columbia CD 32390), was much better received, and is generally regarded as something of a folk classic - aside from it’s iconic cover, it features songs that more or less became standards, protest songs so famous that they took on almost hymn like qualities, such as “Blowin’ In The Wind” and “A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall”. Dylan also took to using his name in several song titles, such as “Bob Dylan’s Blues”, and would repeat this trick a few more times on subsequent LP’s. It is worth noting that the original Columbia CD pressing looks awful, the CBS logo as featured on the UK original simply “blacked out” (technically, they were different record companies in the UK at one point), as opposed to either leaving it in situ or simply redesigning the artwork. Subsequent pressings, such as that in the 2003 15-CD boxset “Bob Dylan Revisited” (US only, Columbia H 90615-S1), show the Columbia logo quite proudly.
The folk records continued with 1964’s “The Times They Are A-Changin’” (Columbia CD 32021) and “Another Side Of Bob Dylan” (Columbia CD 32034), both big hits in the UK and the US (bigger in the former), with Dylan starting to hit his stride. But the future was spelled out the following year on “Bringing It All Back Home” (Columbia CD 32344), with half the record devoted to electric music, and all the better for it. My favourite Dylan stuff has always been the more raucous rock and roll material, and this LP really nails it - the vibrant stream of consciousness that is the famous opener “Subterranean Homesick Blues” (some copies of the album were released using this as it’s title), the snarling “Maggie’s Farm”, the genteel “Love Minus Zero”...and when Dylan does return to his roots, he does so brilliantly - the jangling “Mr Tambourine Man” and the beautiful “It’s All Over Now Baby Blue”. Before the years end, another stone cold (electric) classic was out in the stores in the form of “Highway 61 Revisited” (Columbia 460953 2), home to arguably Dylan’s most cherished composition, “Like A Rolling Stone”.
My favourite one is probably 1966’s double “Blonde On Blonde” (Columbia CD 463369 2), with several numbers taking the basic ’verse chorus verse’ structure, but expanding the concept over a much lengthier timeframe, creating some quite epic performances. “Stuck Inside Of Mobile With The Memphis Blues Again”, driven along by some distinctive Al Kooper organ work, trundles on for seven minutes whilst the closing “Sad Eyed Lady Of The Lowlands”, a tearful, stunning, and quite remarkable piece of music, fills up the entire final side of the record, weighing in at 11 minutes in length.
And then, things started to go wrong. Following the famous “Judas” incident at a Manchester gig on the “Blonde On Blonde” tour, Dylan was later involved in a (slightly mysterious) motorcycle crash, and effectively withdrew from public view. His backing band on the tour, later to become in their own right, The Band, recorded some demos with him, that were to be offered to other artists to record - the material was later issued as 1975’s “The Basement Tapes” (Columbia 466137 2). Dylan then recorded his next “proper” LP, 1967’s “John Wesley Harding” (Columbia 463359 2), regarded by many as a classic, but to me, an underwhelming record, one that faced with having to follow up “Blonde And Blonde”, was always doomed to failure. You only need to hear the minimalist shuffle of “All Along The Watchtower”, then listen to Hendrix’s mighty reinterpretation, to realise that maybe, just maybe, Dylan was much better when he was in full blown electric mode.
Better was 1969’s country influenced “Nashville Skyline” (Columbia CD 63601), complete with a duet with Johnny Cash, and a glorious piece of slide guitar driven beauty in the form of hit single “Lay Lady Lay”, topped off brilliantly with Dylan’s stylised vocal approach. Dylan himself, remained relatively distant, having more or less stopped touring - just as the 60s started to close in on themselves with Vietnam and Altamont, the “voice of a generation” seemed as though he didn’t want anything to do with any of it. Instead of playing the famous Woodstock festival, he and The Band travelled to the UK to play The Isle Of Wight one instead (although he did play the follow up event in 94).
Depending on who you ask, 1970’s “Self Portrait” (Columbia 460112 2) was either a preview of the full blown Americana scene that would sweep the US, or was the sound of a man deliberately trying to destroy his own image - even the shabby cover image looks bizarre. Several tracks from the IOW gig were included to pad out the running time of an album overflowing with covers. Follow up “New Morning” (Columbia CD 32267) was regarded as a superior record, with his treatment of George Harrison’s “If Not For You” a charming little opening number.
Dylan decided to leave Columbia for pastures new, signing to Asylum in the USA and Island in the UK. Columbia decided to mark his departure with the cash in “Dylan” release (Columbia CD 32286), an album of previously unheard outtakes seemingly compiled without Dylan’s say-so. Reunited with The Band, 1974’s “Planet Waves” (Columbia CD 32154) was seen as a return to form, the highpoint being the anthemic “Forever Young”, split into two halves and placed at the end of side 1 and the start of side 2 respectively. As you can see from the CD catalogue number above, the album was later bought back by Columbia for subsequent reissues.
Dylan and The Band toured in 1974, the results being compiled on a live album called “Before The Flood” (more about that later as well). However, Dylan was unimpressed with the sales of “Planet Waves”, blamed the record company and decided to head back to Columbia just in time for 1975’s stunning “Blood On The Tracks” (Columbia 467842 2), pretty much an entire album detailing the break up of his marriage. Equally thrilling was 1976’s “Desire” (Columbia CD 32570), Dylan’s sound now having been expanded via the use of accordion players and violinists, and with several songs again using the epic song writing style found on “Blonde On Blonde” - “Joey” is over eleven minutes long, whilst the opening “Hurricane” is a storming eight and a half minute lament about boxer Rubin Carter, falsely imprisoned on a triple murder conviction. Despite it’s length, and sometimes controversial lyrics (“and to the black folks, he was just a crazy nigger, no one doubted that he pulled the trigger”), it was issued as a single, with the first half of the song appearing on side A, and the remainder on the flip.
Following up “Desire” was never going to be easy, but 1978’s “Street Legal” (Columbia CD 32389) was a decent attempt, a sort of “pop” record, which included a sterling sax driven opener in the form of “Changing Of The Guards”. However, it has become more famous in recent years for it’s “poor” sound quality, and the album was reissued in remixed form in 1999 (Columbia 494788 2). All subsequent reissues have used the 1999 mix.
Dylan then really went off track - discovering God, becoming a practising Christian, and releasing a series of “religious” themed albums that confused and upset many followers - 1979’s “Slow Train Coming” (Columbia CD 32524), 1980’s “Saved” (Columbia CD 32742) and 1981’s “Shot Of Love” (Columbia CD 467839 2). There are some decent songs scattered amongst them, and you don’t have to be a church goer to appreciate the music, but the overall view from the critics was that Dylan was losing his way.
Simply by moving away from non-secular music, 1983’s “Infidels” (Columbia 460727 2) is thus seen as (another) return to form, and the music at times is quite impressive, many numbers weighing in at six minutes in length, and although the 1980s production threatens to kill the record stone dead, there is enough brilliance in “Jokerman”, “Sweetheart Like You” and “Don’t Fall Apart On Me Tonight” to rescue the album. 1985’s “Empire Burlesque” (Columbia CD 467840 2) more or less carried on where “Infidels” left off, “When The Night Comes Falling” is a particularly impressive piece of work, but some critics bemoaned the production style.
1989’s “Oh Mercy” (CBS 456800 2) was seen as (yet another) return to form, the Daniel Lanois produced effort dragging Dylan out of his 80s slump, with the opening “Political World” a chugging, twanging piece of hobo-rockabilly, giving Dylan a minor UK hit single. However, 1990’s “Under The Red Sky” (CBS 467188 2) saw his comeback stumble slightly, critics confused by the sometimes “childish” material.
For whatever reason, Dylan stopped writing his own material at this point. Subsequent albums such as 1992’s “Good As I Been To You” (Columbia 472710 2) and 1993’s “World Gone Wrong” (Columbia 474857 2), consisted entirely of covers. But 1997’s monumental “Time Out Of Mind” (Columbia 486936 2) was Dylan’s greatest album since “Desire”, overflowing with astonishing material. The rumble of “Cold Irons Bound”, the simplicity of “To Make You Feel My Love” (slap anybody who mentions the Adele version, especially those who actually thought she wrote it - I know of at least one celebrity who said this in an interview), whilst the staggering “Not Dark Yet” seems to reference Dylan’s own near brush with death earlier in the year (“it’s not dark yet, but it’s getting there”). The album was laden with praise, and Dylan got an invite to the Grammy Awards the following year, where he performed a now famous version of album opener “Love Sick”, complete with stage invader - Dylan remained so nonplussed at his appearance, I am still not sure if he actually planned it himself. I then saw Dylan (opening) on a co-headline tour with Van Morrison that summer, and despite playing what I considered a short set, it was nothing short of breathtaking - one of the finest gigs I have ever seen in my life.
Ever since, Dylan’s stock has remained sky high. 2001’s “Love And Theft” was the subject of excitable reviews, even if it seemed - on the face of it - to be a more light hearted and joyous affair than the previous LP (the opening song is called “Tweedle Dum and Tweedle Dee”). Initial copies came with a free bonus CD including a couple of early 60s outtakes (one of which was an alternate take of “The Times They Are A-Changin’”) (Columbia 504364 9). 2006’s “Modern Times” was also issued in limited edition form, with copies including a free 4-track DVD of live performance and promo clips (Columbia 82876 88306 2). 2009’s “Together Through Life” (Columbia 88697 43893 2) debuted in the UK charts at number 1, and even though the news that Dylan was then planning a Christmas album was met with incredulity by BBC Radio 5 (they played a clip of the album, and wondered if it was a “Self Portrait” style joke), “Christmas In The Heart” (Columbia 88697 57323 2) was actually seen by critics as a heart warming and quite charming affair.
Dylan’s most recent studio effort is 2012’s staggeringly glorious “Tempest” (Columbia 88725 45760 2), another return to the epic song writing style of “Desire”, with just 10 songs in 70 odd minutes. Initial copies came with a free notebook, which included archive images of magazine covers that Dylan had graced in the past - it’s engrossing, as some of the magazines he appeared on were not quite what you might have expected - “Rock And Folk”, yes, but “Valentine”, which “brings you love stories in pictures”? Absolute genius.
First up was the previously mentioned “Before The Flood” (Columbia CD 22137), another Asylum/Island release now back on Columbia. Credited to ‘Dylan And The Band‘, it thus features a number of Band numbers on which Dylan is absent, at least, vocal-wise. If you love both acts, you’re quids in, if not, well, I guess that’s what the “skip” button on the CD player is for. I have always quite liked 1976’s “Hard Rain” (Columbia CD 32308), lifted in part from a TV filmed gig in May of that year. Sourcing material from his two then most recent (classic) albums, plus a few old hits, to these ears, is solid gold, but the critics decided it was “average”.
Similarly, I quite enjoyed 1978’s “At Budokan” (Columbia 467850 2) last time I heard it, a double LP originally released only in Japan (the album was issued worldwide in 1979 to stop expensive imports flooding the market), where Dylan revamps the stuff from his folky past with a never ending raft of big hitters. Apparently, it is “slick and sterile”. 1984’s “Real Live” (Columbia 467841 2) didn’t seem to do anything other than operate as a document of the latest tour, as the likes of “Maggie’s Farm” were appearing on their third live album out of a possible three.
1989’s “Dylan And The Dead” (Columbia 463381 2), from a 1987 tour where The Grateful Dead operated as Bob’s backing band, was savaged upon release, even though the choice of material is quite nifty IMO (“I Want You”, “Gotta Serve Somebody”, “Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door”, etc) - again, last time I listened to it, I don’t recall recoiling in horror. I also quite like the “garish” but retro front cover.
1995’s “MTV Unplugged” (Columbia 478374 2) should have been, in theory, the greatest album from the whole Unplugged phenomenon given Dylan's folk background, but Bob was forced into a semi greatest hits/oldies set, and whilst some love it, others are unsure. I can’t quite remember what it sounds like, but when I look at the track listing, I can’t actually remember what half those songs sound like, so that doesn’t help. I think it’s actually quite good from what I remember, but not a towering achievement. I’m more fascinated by the Japanese only “Live 1961-2000” from 2001 (SME Records SRCS 2438), which does what it says on the tin, and by featuring no less than 16 songs, probably does a better job of trying to document Dylan on stage than some of the earlier, shorter, LP’s. Although Wikipedia dismisses it with the statement “all of the tracks are available on other releases”, I’m not quite sure they are, or at least, are not available that easily. “Somebody Touched Me” taped down in Portsmouth in 2000 - where else did that appear? It includes an incendiary take on “I Don’t Believe You” from the “Judas” gig in 66, which makes it worth the price of admission alone.
Since then, Dylan’s live “non Bootleg Series” releases have been purely of the retro variety. 2005’s “Live At The Gaslight 1962” (US only, Columbia A 96016) was notoriously only available through Starbucks coffeehouses at first, although a number of copies turned up in the UK and were sold through mail order collectors outlets. 2006’s “Live At Carnegie Hall 1963” (Columbia SAMPCM 15009 2) may be referred to as an EP by some, but with a running time of 32 minutes, is longer than some 1960s albums. In the UK, it was a Virgin Megastores freebie, given away to anybody who bought two Dylan CD’s in the store at the same time. 2011 saw the official release of a ‘sort of already available’ album called “In Concert Brandeis University 1963” (Columbia 88697 84742 2), but with a running time of less than 40 minutes, of which even the opening number is “incomplete”, it all sounds a bit “bootleg-esque”, and probably explains why it was originally issued as a bonus album with another Dylan release.
The first such release was 1967’s “Greatest Hits” (Columbia 463088 2), notable for being issued in the UK and US in different covers, and with different track listings. The US edition featured an image of Dylan on stage, bathed in blue light, and featured Dylan’s greatest ever recording, the stand alone hit “Positively 4th Street”, generally seen as a snarling attack on the folk community who were horrified at his betrayal of his roots by going electric. The UK version of the album, criminally, ignored it, and consisted entirely of singles that were all already available across the studio albums still in the shops.
In the UK, there was a curious follow up almost immediately, “Greatest Hits Vol 2” (Columbia 471243 2). This was something of a hotchpotch release, featuring some of the songs from the first volume, and a mish mash of album tracks. The “official” follow up was 1971’s “Bob Dylan’s Greatest Hits Vol II”, a sprawling double album affair, including the aforementioned six new songs taped that year (one at the start of side 1, the rest at the end of side 4), and housed in another “Dylan on stage bathed in blue light” front cover photo, albeit from a completely different gig. The use of brand new material on this meant that a UK release was a no-brainer, but because there had already been a “Volume 2” release, the UK edition appeared under the messily titled “More Bob Dylan Greatest Hits” banner instead (Columbia 467851 2).
“Volume 3” (Columbia 477805 2) eventually turned up in 1994, covering the period from 1971 onwards. The album’s big selling point was the inclusion of a new song called “Dignity”, actually an outtake from the “No Mercy” album sessions, and also released as a single. In 2002, the North American versions of Volumes 1-3 were issued in a US/Canadian boxset titled “3 Classic Albums” (Columbia CSK 86024), which included a free bonus live EP called “Live And Rare”. I think all of the four songs which appear on here have also appeared on other albums or singles, but often in “not easy to find form”, but if you can still find a copy of the box, it’s a nice starting point. It will probably set you back a few quid though - I think I paid about £35 for mine when it was first out, and it seemed to get superseded by a “Greatest Hits Volumes 1-3” boxset in the US a year later, so good luck in finding one.
In the UK, the success of “Time Out Of Mind” in 1997 put Dylan firmly back in the public eye, and to celebrate, a new hits set called “The Best Of Bob Dylan” (Columbia SONYTV 28CD) was released in 1998. Effectively an attempt to cram the best bits of all the earlier hits albums into one CD, it’s a decent attempt, and to reel the punters in, an alternate version of “Shelter From The Storm” was used to close the record, previously only available on the 1996 soundtrack album to the “Jerry Maguire” movie. In 2000, a more sprawling follow up, “The Best Of Bob Dylan Vol 2” (Columbia 498361 9) appeared, notable for including the ‘stand alone’ 45’s “Things Have Changed”, “Dignity” and “Positively 4th Street“, alongside more hits and non hits from the 60’s up to the present day. Initial copies included a bonus live CD EP, with previously unissued recordings of “Highlands” and “Blowin’ In The Wind”.
In 2007, another hits set called simply “Dylan” surfaced - available as either a single disc release, double disc release, or a “deluxe” 3-CD boxset (Columbia 88697 10954 2), none of these versions include anything you couldn’t already get on other albums. There have since been several budget collections such as “The Collection”, “The Real Bob Dylan” and “Beyond Here Lies Nothin’”, all slightly random trawls through the back catalogue. And if that wasn’t enough, this month sees the release of “The Very Best Of Bob Dylan”, a single or double disc trundle through the hits once again. Often overlooked is 2010’s “The Best Of The Original Mono Recordings” (Columbia 8869 79167 2) - issued to coincide with a boxset of mono repressings of Dylan’s early period albums, this does exactly what it says - a selection of tracks from the box, plus “Positively 4th Street”.
Aside from the aforementioned “3 Classic Albums”, a number of boxsets also exist. Absolutely essential is 1985’s “Biograph” (CBS CDCBS 66509), a triple disc run through of album tracks, singles, rarities (such as the non album 45 “Can You Please Crawl Out Your Window” from the late 60’s) and a smattering of previously unavailable live and studio stuff. It is not in chronological order, but this matters not, as the track listing is superb, and the choice of material inspired.
If you can’t afford the wallet emptying “Complete Album Collection Vol 1” 47-CD set also being released this month, you could cut a few corners by getting some of the 2-in-1 and 3-in-1 CD boxsets that have surfaced over the years, although some of the ones from the 1990’s are probably now very hard to track down. The 1991 catalogue insert refers to several of these, which I think are near impossible to find now, but you often find the same set of albums get compiled into later sets. I think it was in the early noughties that I hunted down two 3-in-1 boxsets which between them, included the six albums from the 60’s that more or less defined Dylan’s entire career - the first one includes the three best folkie albums “Freewheelin’”, “The Times” and “Another Side” (Columbia 488673 2), issued in 1996, whilst a 1999 one coupled the three “electric” albums “Bringing It All Back Home”, “Highway 61” and “Blonde On Blonde” (Columbia 496368 2). What is notable about this one, is that the CD’s included (in mine at least) seem to be repressings from different dates, as the catalogue number “format” on each is completely different!
As for the 2-in-1 sets, any you find will either be two albums, in their original packaging, inside a specially designed box (the debut album was available in one of these at one time), or as a special double disc album, with a suitably altered front cover. I have one of these which couples “Highway 61” and “John Wesley Harding” (Columbia 466831 2) - each disc has the same catalogue number, so “61” is ‘disc 1’ and “JWH” is thus ‘disc 2’ and the booklets from an earlier CD pressing of each are then included in the packaging. There are a few more of these in existence, but again, they seem to date from circa 1992 and so are hard to track down.
If you fancy getting some of Bob’s “less celebrated” 80’s or 90’s albums, and don’t want to pay through the nose, there are a pair of “Original Album Classics” triple disc releases, each featuring the relevant album in it’s own card sleeve inside - one couples “Empire Burlesque”, “Down In the Groove” and “Under The Red Sky” (Columbia 88697 742502), another has “MTV”, “World Gone Wrong” and “Good As I Been To You” (Columbia 88691 901502).
The Bootleg Series
The releases thereafter began to appear with slightly more regularity, although there seemed to be an air of randomness as to what appeared, and the order in which it appeared. Next up was “Live 1966 The ‘Royal Albert Hall’ Concert” (Columbia 491485 2), a document of the famous “Dylan Goes Electric” show in Manchester that year. The ’Royal Albert Hall’ section of the title comes from the fact that it existed in bootleg form for years, with the bootleggers incorrectly suggesting it had been taped at the London venue.
2002 saw the release of Volume 5, “Live 1975 The Rolling Thunder Revue”, initially released as a triple disc document of the tour of the same name (Columbia 510410 3). The initial releases included a free three track DVD housed inside it’s own sleeve, later pressings omitted the freebie. The general attitude towards the album was one of apathy, it was pieced together using material from multiple shows (there is even fading in and out between some numbers), and fans claimed it failed to properly document a typical show from the tour.
Volume 6 was 2004’s “Live 1964 Concert At Philharmonic Hall” (Columbia 512358 2), whilst Volume 7 was another career spanning rarities set (well, from 1959 to 1966 anyway), “No Direction Home” (Columbia 520358 2), released to tie in with the Martin Scorsese movie of the same name.
Dylan made his venture into the super deluxe boxset work in 2008, when Volume 8 “Tell Tale Signs: Rare And Unreleased 1989-2006” was issued. It appeared as both a single disc highlights set for about £10, in a different coloured sleeve to all other editions (Columbia 88697 34747 2), a 2-CD release (Columbia 88697 35795 2) for about £20, and an American 3-CD boxset import for about...£100. Yes, a ton. Dylan came in for some stick over this, asking people to pay £80 for a CD’s worth of outtakes and a book, but it was merely the first of many such releases by “heritage” acts that started to emerge, and it now looks like a release that is simply par for the course.
Volume 9, from 2010, was “The Witmark Demos” (Columbia 88697 76179 2), a series of recordings made between 1962 and 1964, potentially for official recording and release by other artists. Some more of this material had appeared on earlier “Bootleg Series” releases. And this year saw the release of the aforementioned “Another Self Portait”, issued as another deluxe boxset and also a more affordable 2-CD set (Columbia 88883 734872). This one cobbles together material from the “Self Portrait”/”New Morning” period of the late 60s/early 70s, along with more material from the Isle Of Wight gig. The boxset adds the original “Self Portait” album and a CD devoted entirely to the Isle Of Wight show.
I would hope to do an article on Dylan’s UK 45’s at some point, but am missing quite a few, so don’t feel too confident yet in trying to write about something I don’t know enough about. Still, that’s more than enough to be getting on with for now. Thanks, Sir Bobness.