Had I been a hardcore Bob Dylan in 1971, the release of Greatest Hits v2 would have absolutely driven me over the edge. The double album contains fifteen songs from earlier Dylan albums and six new ones not available anywhere else. So for the price of a double album you get, essentially, one new side. If you don’t buy the double album, you can’t, in 1971, get the six songs (legally) anywhere. These were infuriating days in the record industry, filled with executives who would soak a fan for any little advantage that they could get. No wonder bootlegs began to seem so appealing.
Today, of course, you can download individual tracks, or, as I did, get these songs on the bonus discs of The Complete Album Collection. They are varying quality, but generally pretty good. Most of them are from The Basement Tapes period, but were re-recorded by Dylan (with Happy Traum) at the end of September 1971. This version of “You Ain’t Goin’ Nowhere” is, I sort of think, the earliest Dylan song to feature banjo accompaniment, which makes it a new favourite of mine.
The album opens with “Watching the River Flow”, which had been released earlier in the year as a single. This was a song that I didn’t know well at all until this week, and which I quite like, with its rollicking piano. The whole slowing the band down to a false stop thing works for me. The rest of the first side, the second and third are just filled with songs from Dylan’s earlier albums dating all the way back to Freewheelin’. There is actually only one song each from Self Portrait and New Morning, indicative of their relative newness and lack of esteem, I suppose.
All of the new music – music that would have been found on the bootlegs of Great White Wonder – appears at the end of the fourth side, and includes an unreleased live version of “Tomorrow Is A Long Time” (from 1963), and then the new recordings of “When I Paint My Masterpiece”, “I Shall Be Released”, “You Ain’t Goin’ Nowhere”, and “Down in the Flood”. Of these last four, all date from the Basement Tapes period, but in these redone – banjo-fied – versions, I really like them much better than I do on The Basement Tapes themselves (where they were overdubbed by The Band) or on A Tree With Roots, where they are a little more ragged. None of these are among my favourite Dylan songs, but these are my favourite versions of these particular songs – at least so far.
Still, it is a nightmare of marketing to put these on a double album like this filled with material that many of his fans would already own. This will become an increasing trend with Dylan and Columbia Records as time moves forward: the constant slow release of material in ways that obligate fans to continuously re-buy older material. Even The Complete Album Collection is not a complete collection of Dylan albums, after all, since it doesn’t include this very album! For that, perhaps, you’ll have to wait for Bob Dylan The Complete Complete Collection, coming soon from Columbia Records.