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 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 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.
Saved (1980) doubled down on the religious focus of 1979’s Slow Train Coming, with arrangements that were often more indebted to gospel than straightforward rock and a startling intensity on tracks such as “Solid Rock” and the hymn-like “In the Garden.”
Shot of Love (1981) was the third and, I believe, best of Dylan’s trilogy of Christian albums, highlighted by the profound and poetic statement of faith, “Every Grain of Sand.” “In the fury of the moment I can see the Master’s hand/In every leaf that trembles, in every grain of sand,” Dylan sings.
Infidels (1983) finds Dylan still interested in religion but not as obsessed with it as on his previous three albums, with his thoughts often turning to politics and other subjects. “Jokerman” feels like classic Dylan, with a string of rich, mysterious images, striking passion in the vocals and tasteful instrumental support by guitarists Mark Knopfler and Mick Taylor, among others.
Dylan’s 1984 live album Real Live was surprisingly backward-looking, with just two songs from the current decade (“I and I” and “License to Kill”), one from the ’70s and a whopping seven from the ’60s. His band notably includes Ian McLagan on keyboards and Mick Taylor on lead guitar: Check out Taylor’s stellar work here, on Infidels‘ “I and I.”
“Tight Connection to My Heart (Has Anybody Seen My Love)” was a highlight of Empire Burlesque (1985) and a minor hit — a well crafted bit of ’80s rock with a sanitized, radio- and MTV-ready sound, though lacking the spark of Dylan’s best work.
The five-album boxed set Biograph (1985) was more than a career-spanning anthology. Yes, it covered virtually all of the expected music-biography bases via 35 previously released songs. But sprinkled among them were 18 tracks that were officially surfacing for the first time, and some were stunningly good, including “Abandoned Love,” which mystifyingly didn’t make the final cut of Desire.
Knocked out Loaded (1986) has more than its share of throwaway tracks, but also contains the remarkable “Brownsville Girl,” a sometimes mysterious, sometimes wryly funny 11-minute epic co-written with playwright Sam Shepard.
Dylan starred in the 1987 movie “Hearts of Fire” and contributed three songs to the soundtrack, including a impressively animated version of John Hiatt’s “The Usual,” presumably chosen because its lyrics fit Dylan’s character, a jaded rock star.
Simple and profound, “Death Is Not the End” was a highlight of Down in the Groove (1988). Despite Dylan’s diffident vocal delivery, it provided this disappointing album’s best argument that he still had something essential to say, nearly 30 years into career.
I wrote about “Tweeter and the Monkey Man,” from 1988’s The Traveling Wilburys, Vol. 1, in 2014, for NJArts.net‘s 350 Jersey Songs series. Check out that article here:
The 1989 album Dylan and the Dead — featuring songs sung by Dylan with backing from the Grateful Dead during their 1987 tour together — lacked the kind of inventive reinterpretations one would hope for in such a project. “Slow Train” was a pretty solid version, though, of a song that ranks among the best that Dylan had released on the previous 10 years.
Dylan’s output was very uneven in the ’80s, but his last album of that decade, 1989’s Oh Mercy, put a nice cap on it, with a cohesive, atmospheric sound (largely thanks to producer Daniel Lanois, who also plays various instruments on nine out of the 10 songs) and a strong batch of new songs. Here’s “Everything Is Broken.”
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