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.
Dylan got off to a slow start in the ’90s, with 1990’s Under the Red Sky, which sometimes saw the most profound songwriter of his generation resorting to simple, childlike rhymes. But I am fond of the majestic and mysterious love song, “Born in Time.”
Roy Orbison died less than two months after the release of the first Traveling Wilburys album in 1988, and Dylan, George Harrison, Tom Petty and Jeff Lynne reconvened without him to record the disappointing 1990 sequel, Traveling Wilburys, Vol. 3. Dylan’s best moment came on the musically jaunty, lyrically snarky “If You Belonged to Me.”
In 1991, Dylan launched his “Bootleg” series of from-the-vault collections with the three-CD boxed set, The Bootleg Series Volumes 1–3 (Rare & Unreleased) 1961–1991. Unlike future installments in the series, this one covered a broad expanse of time: Dylan’s entire career up to that point. And there were many gems among its outtakes, demos, alternate takes and live recordings, including the haunting “Blind Willie McTell,” which somehow got left off Infidels.
Dylan reconnected with his folk/blues roots on his 1992 solo acoustic album Good As I Been to You, a solid but not exactly essential addition to his catalog. Here’s “You’re Gonna Quit Me,” an adaptation of Blind Blake’s “You Gonna Quit Me Blues.”
The star-studded “Bobfest” tribute concert, which took place in 1992 at Madison Square Garden and was released in DVD and VHS form in 1993, marked the 30th anniversary of Dylan’s first album. One of the most remarkable highlights was “My Back Pages,” featuring Dylan along with George Harrison, Eric Clapton, Neil Young, Tom Petty and Roger McGuinn, plus quite a backing band: Steve Cropper and G.E. Smith on guitars, Donald “Duck” Dunn on bass, Al Kooper on organ, Jim Keltner and Anton Fig on drums, and Stan Lynch on percussion.
Like Good As I Been to You, 1993’s World Gone Wrong was a solo acoustic folk/blues album, full of traditional material. I think it’s a little stronger, overall, and I particularly like “Blood in My Eyes,” a slow, sad reworking of the 1930s Mississippi Sheiks song (which they had delivered much more jauntily). The striking video for it features Dylan wandering around the streets, signing autographs for fans, walking a dog and even juggling — all while seeming to be lost in his own thoughts.
A nice surprise on the soundtrack of the 1994 movie “Natural Born Killers” was Dylan’s warmly sung cover of the classic romantic ballad “You Belong to Me,” which had been a hit in the ’50s for Jo Stafford, and in the ’60s for The Duprees.
Bob Dylan’s Greatest Hits, Vol. 3 (1994) had a lot of ground to cover. Vol. 2. came out all the way back in 1971, after all. It was a questionable choice to make it just one CD. And it was another questionable choice to not include more than one song from any album, which means, among other things, that there is twice as much music on it from Knocked Out Loaded (the 11-minute “Brownsville Girl”) as there is from Blood on the Tracks (the five-minute “Tangled Up in Blue”). Plus, Dylan’s live albums are totally ignored. The album did offer one previously unreleased song, and it’s a winner: “Dignity,” an Oh Mercy outtake given a new backing track by producer Brendan O’Brien (playing multiple instruments himself) and Black Crowes drummer Steve Gorman.
The 1995 album Till the Night Is Gone: A Tribute to Doc Pomus featured new versions of songs by the great writer, who had died in ’91, by Dylan, Lou Reed, B.B. King, Rosanne Cash and others. There are not a lot of Dylan songs that can be described as “rollicking,” but his take on “Boogie Woogie Country Girl” — originally recorded by Big Joe Turner in the ’50s — is one.
Strangely enough, Dylan opened his 1995 MTV Unplugged album (documenting his TV special of the same name) with a song from his Dylan-goes-electric days, “Tombstone Blues.” It makes for a good, bracing album-opener. Dylan hadn’t played “Tombstone Blues” at all in the previous decade; he continued to perform it fairly regularly until 2006, though it has dropped out of his repertoire again since then.
Time Out of Mind (1997) was Dylan’s first studio album of original songs since 1990’s Under the Red Sky. This was the longest such gap of his career (and he has not gone that many years without such an album, since then). So it was a big relief to fans that the album turned out to be full of gems, many revolving around the theme of mortality. Many critics called it his best album since Blood on the Tracks. Here’s the haunting first single, “Not Dark Yet.”
After kicking off his from-the-vaults “Bootleg Series” with a three-volume boxed set in 1991, Dylan continued with Vol. 4 in 1998: A two-CD package titled Bob Dylan Live 1966, The ‘Royal Albert Hall’ Concert. The first CD is solo acoustic; the second features Dylan with The Band (then known as The Hawks, and with Mickey Jones filling in on drums for Levon Helm, who had temporarily quit). Some fans were still booing Dylan’s decision to electrify his music; if anything, this only resulted in more intense performances by Dylan and the group at this show. Here is “Just Like Tom Thumb’s Blues.”
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