Bob Dylan and the Velvet Underground

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Bringing It All Back Home could have been a much different album. Dylan recorded alternate takes of most of the first side cuts and could have released a solo acoustic (or minimally adorned) version of the entire thing had he wanted to do so. Some of those versions are just as good as the tracks that wound up on the album. “Maggie’s Farm”, which was recorded in one take, would have been left off, but that might have opened up a slot for “I’ll Keep It With Mine”, one of the better songs that Dylan never put on a studio album.

Recorded by Dylan in January 1965, “I’ll Keep It With Mine” was released later in the year as a single by Judy Collins. Apparently Collins believed that Dylan had written the song for her. Other sources suggest that it was written for Nico, who Dylan had met while in Europe in 1964. Nico recorded it on her debut album, Chelsea Girl, in 1967. It is entirely possible that Dylan told a lot of people he wrote the song for them…

Re-listening to the Nico version of the song, I am struck by the early connection between Dylan and The Velvet Underground through Nico. I will admit that I first started thinking about this project when Lou Reed passed away last year. Reading the many posts of my friends on FaceBook and elsewhere I was struck by my inability to really put my interest in Reed’s work into words, and I remember thinking “How are you ever going to be able to say anything when Dylan passes away, if you can’t wrap your head around Reed’s impact on your life?”

For me, Lou Reed was the singer-songwriter who dethroned Dylan. There came a moment in my high school days when all of my friends transitioned into listening to the Velvet Underground, as they traced their New Wave roots backward through time. The strong consensus was that the Velvets were great for all the reasons Dylan was lame. They were hard, he was soft. Over the next few years I would convince myself that they were right.

While Dylan and Reed would become friends in the 1980s (Reed would play Farm Aid, and the 30th Anniversary Show, for example), they seemed really distant in the 1960s. Andy Warhol apparently tried to court Dylan’s interest in the Velvets, but unsuccessfully. Reed railed against Dylan publicly.

Still, Nico reminds us that they could have been a lot closer than they were had things worked out even slightly differently. And on the Bringing sessions, there is a version of “She Belongs To Me” that sounds so much like Lou Reed that it is kind of weird: Dylan does the talk-sing thing that Reed did so well, and the spare guitar in the background is reminiscent of a lot of what Reed would later do.

They don’t seem to have crossed paths much during this period, but it would have been interesting if they had.

I can’t find a link to the version that I’m listening to (alas), but here’s a solo version of “She Belongs To Me” from Manchester on the 1965 tour. It doesn’t sound like Lou Reed, but it does sound quite different than the recorded version with the backing band.

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