In honor of Bob Dylan’s 80th birthday, which was on May 24, I have been sharing a song from each of his albums — one song per day in chronological order — on Facebook, as I’ve done before for Elvis Costello, Lou Reed and Stevie Wonder. And I will collect them here, adding them after posting to Facebook.
I am including tracks from some (but not all) of Dylan’s compilations, live albums, soundtracks, side projects and so on.
Since Dylan’s output has been so prodigious, I am doing different blog posts for every decade, and linking them to each other.
2010’s The Bootleg Series Vol. 9: The Witmark Demos: 1962-1964 includes early-career demos made for his publishing company, and featured 15 songs not previously released by him in any form. Needless to say, it’s a great opportunity to take a deep dive into early Dylan; among the unearthed gems is “Long Ago, Far Away,” a passionate (albeit heavy-handed) protest song that Odetta recorded on her 1965 album, Odetta Sings Dylan.
The seven-song In Concert: Brandeis University, 1963, was offered as a bonus disc on two 2010 releases — The Bootleg Series Vol. 9: The Witmark Demos: 1962-1964 and The Original Mono Recordings boxed set — before becoming available on its own, in 2011. It showcases Dylan’s lighter side, with three humorous talking blues plus the playful “Honey, Just Allow Me One More Chance,” but its “Masters of War” — performed about two weeks after it was recorded for The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan, and about two and a half weeks before that album was released — is an intense stunner.
Dylan reunited with Grateful Dead lyricist Robert Hunter for just one song on 2012’s Tempest, but it was a winner: “Duquesne Whistle,” a musically jaunty train song with some surprisingly jagged lyrics. “Can’t you hear that Duquesne whistle blowin’/Blowin’ like the sky’s gonna blow apart/You’re the only thing alive that keeps me goin’/You’re like a time bomb in my heart,” Dylan sings at one point. The song was accompanied by a memorable video, too.
2013’s The Bootleg Series Vol. 10: Another Self Portrait (1969–1971) features mostly outtakes and alternate takes from the Self Portrait and New Morning sessions, along with some songs from other sessions and live tracks. There are two alternate versions of “Time Passes Slowly,” labeled “Time Passes Slowly #1” and “Time Passes Slowly #2”; the latter, intriguingly, adds some rock-gospel fervor, with more animated vocals than on New Morning and an intro that sounds like it was borrowed from Joe Cocker’s cover of The Beatles’ “With a Little Help From My Friends.”
2014’s The Bootleg Series Vol. 11: The Basement Tapes Complete was a dream come true for fans of Dylan’s The Basement Tapes album: 138 tracks recorded with members of The Band (before they were known as The Band, in 1967); 117 of them previously unreleased. Most are alternate versions of songs that made the initial Basement Tapes album, or casual covers of folk, country, blues and gospel songs. These were never intended for release. Dylan & Co., temporarily not touring or recording as Dylan recovered from a motorcycle accident, were making demos for other artists to hear (in hopes that they would cover the songs) or just entertaining themselves. Still, many of the tracks are magical, anyway, including this cover of Johnny Cash’s “Big River.”
In February 2015, you might have assumed that Dylan, then 73, had lost his ability to shock. But then he released Shadows in the Night, a mostly melancholy collection of songs recorded by Frank Sinatra in the ’50s and ’60s. No, I don’t understand why, either. But I do like his tender, sensitively phrased version of Cy Coleman and Joseph McCarthy’s “Why Try to Change Me Now.”
2015’s The Bootleg Series Vol. 12: The Cutting Edge 1965–1966 emptied the vaults of all existing artifacts of Dylan’s studio work in those incredibly fertile years. The two-CD version will satisfy most fans, but those willing to pay for the 6-CD or 18-CD (!) editions can listen to 20 different versions of “Like a Rolling Stone” alone. Mostly, throughout the set, you’ll be listening for subtle differences from track to track, but there are some revelations, including a version of “Pledging My Time” that turns the mellow Blonde on Blonde track into an upbeat romp.
Dylan followed his 2015 collection of vintage pop songs, Shadows in the Night, with another one, Fallen Angels, in 2016. Like its predecessor, this album is not, I believe, a particularly notable addition to Dylan’s vast catalog. But his singing is mostly pretty solid, and there is something to be said for resurrecting a forgotten gem such as “Melancholy Mood.”
Dylan’s 2017 Triplicate is a triple album, which is a little misleading. Its 30 songs easily could have fit on two CDs; cut five or six of them and it could have fit on one. Like his two previous studio albums, Shadows in the Night and Fallen Angels, it’s devoted to vintage pop songs that already have been sung more effectively, many times, by other people. Even with 30 songs, it’s a mere footnote to his career. Here’s “When the World Was Young.”
2017’s The Bootleg Series, Vol. 13: Trouble No More, 1979-1981 focused on Dylan’s born-again Christian period, and was available as a two-CD set (featuring live recordings from the era) or a eight-CD, 1-DVD package, adding more live recordings plus studio outtakes and rehearsal and soundcheck performances. For those who weren’t all that crazy about this phase of Dylan’s career when it was happening, it was a good opportunity to re-evaluate it and discover, maybe, that the songwriting was better than remembered, and the concerts among Dylan’s most passionate. Here’s “Gonna Change My Way of Thinking,” from the Slow Train Coming album, performed at a 1980 concert.
2018’s The Bootleg Series, Vol. 14: More Blood, More Tracks was the first (and to date, only) installment in the Bootleg series to feature songs recorded at sessions for a single album (Blood on the Tracks). The closest Dylan had previously come was Vol. 11, which included “Basement Tapes” songs, though Dylan and members of The Band didn’t think they were making an album at the time. More Blood, More Tracks is available as a single CD or a six-CD set, and it’s hard to imagine any Blood on the Tracks fan (basically meaning, any Dylan fan) not delighting in the opportunity to hear its outtakes and alternate takes. Among the latter is this intriguingly slow and dreamy take on “You’re Gonna Make Me Lonesome When You Go.”
The 2019 quasi-documentary “Rolling Thunder Revue: A Bob Dylan Story by Martin Scorsese” was accompanied by a 14-CD boxed set, Bob Dylan – The Rolling Thunder Revue: The 1975 Live Recordings, featuring live and rehearsal recordings, mostly previously unreleased. Among the notable rehearsal tracks is a loose, soulful version of “Tonight I’ll Be Staying Here With You” (from Nashville Skyline), with some possibly improvised lyrical changes, some of which (e.g., “I was feeling a little bit scattered/But your love was all that mattered”) work better than others (e.g., “If there’s a cowboy on the plain/Then let him have my train”).
The 2019 addition to the “Bootleg” series, The Bootleg Series Vol. 15: Travelin’ Thru, 1967-1969, collects outtakes from the John Wesley Harding, Nashville Skyline and Self Portrait sessions, as well as collaborations with Johnny Cash and Earl Scruggs from that time period. It’s not, honestly, as revelatory as most of the other “Bootleg” releases. The alternate takes tend to offer only subtle differences, and many of the tracks featuring Cash are awkward — despite their mutual admiration, the two don’t really click as a musical duo. One of the biggest finds here is this roadhouse-rock version of “Ring of Fire,” one of Cash’s signature songs (though he isn’t on this take, recorded during the Self Portrait sessions).
After the three underwhelming standards album, Dylan made a stunning return to original songs with 2020’s Rough and Rowdy Ways, which found him still capable of taking artistic chances and pulling them off (as on the sprawling epic, “Murder Most Foul” and the head-spinning “I Contain Multitudes”) and producing one of his loveliest love songs, “I’ve Made Up My Mind to Give Myself to You.”
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