In honor of Bob Dylan’s 80th birthday, which will be 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 will include tracks from some (but probably not all) of Dylan’s compilations, live albums, soundtracks, side projects and so on, so I will probably have close to 100 entries (and it will certainly be well past May 24) when I am done.
Since Dylan’s output has been so prodigious, I am doing different blog posts for every decade, and linking them to each other.
(Update: Here are the posts for the ’60s, ’80s, ’90s, ’00s and ’10s (and beyond). And here is an index for all 77 songs in the series.)
Dylan’s first album of the ’70s was Self Portrait, which, despite its title, was his least personal release to date, a double-album hodgepodge of covers, original songs, instrumentals and live tracks. It did, however, contain a great, loose-and-rowdy cover of “The Mighty Quinn (Quinn the Eskimo),” recorded with The Band at the 1969 Isle of Wight Festival.
New Morning came out just four months after Self Portrait in 1970, was more ambitious and more cohesive, with a stripped-down sound and Dylan singing of love, rebirth and, as on the album-closing “Father of Night,” faith.
Dylan’s 1971 double album Greatest Hits, Vol. II included recent singles (including “Lay, Lady, Lay”), songs that didn’t quite make the cut of Vol. I (including “It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue”), a previously unreleased live track (“Tomorrow Is a Long Time,” from 1963) and four previously unreleased studio tracks, including the poetic but also playful “When I Paint My Masterpiece,” featuring Leon Russell on piano (and producing), Jesse Ed Davis on guitar, Carl Radle on bass and Jim Keltner on drums.
The Concert for Bangladesh triple album, recorded at Madison Square Garden in August 1971 and released in December of that year, included a full side of Dylan songs, including a version of “Just Like a Woman,” featuring backing vocals by George Harrison and Leon Russell, that I like better than the more fussily arranged original.
In 1968, Bob Dylan and The Band (known, at the time, as The Crackers), appeared together at a Woody Guthrie tribute concert, and three of the songs they did were included on the 1972 live album, A Tribute to Woody Guthrie. “I Ain’t Got No Home” in particular is a great but little heard example of the Dylan/Band onstage chemistry, at its peak.
Dylan’s 1973 soundtrack for the movie “Pat Garrett & Billy the Kid” (in which he also co-starred) was mostly instrumental and mostly forgettable, but did yield one classic, the haunting (and frequently covered, since then) “Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door.”
Dylan, from 1973, is often considered Dylan’s worst album: An all-covers collection of outtakes recorded during sessions for Self Portrait and New Morning, released by Columbia Records after Dylan had signed with another label (Asylum). The best of these tracks may be “Sarah Jane,” a traditional tune that Dylan made into a rollicking rocker, with the album’s most passionate vocals.
In January 1974, the same month that he embarked on a tour with The Band, Dylan released Planet Waves, his first full-length studio album with the group. (The Basement Tapes was recorded in the ’60s but didn’t come out until 1975.) “Forever Young” is its best known song, but I’ll go with the rapturous “Never Say Goodbye,” a frequently overlooked gem.
Dylan’s 1974 tour with The Band was relatively brief — 40 shows in 21 cities from early January to mid-February, 1974 — but very well received, and immortalized via the live double-album Before the Flood, whose highlights include a hard-charging take on the Blonde on Blonde song “Most Likely You Go Your Way and I’ll Go Mine.”
1975’s Blood on the Tracks is unquestionably one of the high points of his career, poetic and deeply emotional, musically hypnotic, easily accessible but also somewhat mysterious. “Tangled Up in Blue” offers intriguing glimpses at what I presume to be a series of thorny relationships. Where does one chapter stop and the next start? It’s hard to say. “Me, I’m still on the road/Heading for another joint/We always did feel the same/We just saw it from a different point of view/Tangled up in blue,” Dylan concludes.
Dylan and The Band’s 1975 double album The Basement Tapes — recorded mostly in 1967, though the eight Band-only tracks came from later sessions — is not only my favorite Dylan album, but my favorite album by anyone, ever. The songwriting brilliance, the warm, casual ambience, the general air of mystery … 45 years later, I’m still not tired of it. The album also boasts, on “Tears of Rage,” a vocal performance that easily ranks among Dylan’s best and is further enhanced by Richard Manuel’s stunning falsetto backing vocals.
Dylan’s 1976 album Desire did not live up to the sustained brilliance of Blood on the Tracks, but is quite strong, with a fresh sound created largely by Scarlet Rivera’s violin and backing vocals on most tracks by Emmylou Harris or Ronee Blakley. The sound is unique among Dylan’s studio albums, as is the songwriting approach of the brilliant “Isis” (co-written with Jacques Levy), a song about marriage — as Dylan has said — that takes the form of a mythological tale.
The 1976 live album Hard Rain, recorded during the fabled Rolling Thunder Revue tour, adds a heavy-handed rock element to Dylan’s songs, with mixed results. “You’re a Big Girl Now” is one of the songs that comes off best. Dylan sounded introspective and wounded on this song, on Blood on the Tracks; here’s he’s howling in pain.
Most of Dylan’s mini-set with The Band at their 1976 “Last Waltz” farewell concert was included on the 1978 triple album documenting that show, including an aggressive rock version of “Baby Let Me Follow You Down,” the folk song that had received far gentler treatment on Dylan’s 1962 debut album.
Street Legal (1978) is not, honestly, one of my favorite Dylan albums. But I do think “Where Are You Tonight? (Journey Through Dark Heat)” is very strong — a cousin to “Like a Rolling Stone,” though it’s tamer in tone, and Dylan asks “Where are you tonight?” instead of “How does it feel?”
The double album Bob Dylan at Budokan (1979) was his third live album in five years (or fourth, if you count The Last Waltz, where he is given nearly a full album side). And it’s the least essential of them all — surprisingly slick, with new versions of songs that, for the most part, don’t come close to improving on the originals. But at least he brings some new nuances to his material, whether that’s in the form of alternate lyrics (as on “Simple Twist of Twist”) or a totally new arrangement (as on the slow, aching “I Want You”).
Slow Train Coming (1979) took Dylan fans by surprise, perhaps, more than any of his other albums, with its unwavering emphasis on religion. Mark Knopfler, who had recently become a star himself via the Dire Straits hit “Sultans of Swing,” was drafted as the album’s lead guitarist and helps give it its distinctive sound; other contributors include Dire Straits drummer Pick Withers, Muscle Shoals legend Barry Beckett (on keyboards and co-production) and the Muscle Shoals Horns. “Gotta Serve Somebody” was the hit; among the other highlights was the earnest, intense ballad “I Believe in You.”
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