“Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door”



I plan on coming to the soundtrack album for Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid tomorrow after a few more listens (it’s super short), and then likely the film itself (which I have never seen!) on Tuesday. I thought that I’d kick off 1973 with Dylan’s first single from that year: “Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door”.

Dylan wrote this tune as an additional song for Sam Peckinpah’s film (in which he has a small part). Dylan wasn’t much used to writing for soundtracks, and Peckinpah apparently didn’t care much for the song – he left it out of the first cut of the film. When Peckinpah lost control of the editing of the film to the studio, who reportedly butchered it, the song was put back in, and it was one of the only things that anybody liked about it. Kris Kristofferson, who starred in the film, thought it was one of the best songs ever written for any movie, but noted that Peckinpah had a blind spot in that regard.

Obviously the song went on to be legendary. It’s been covered by just about everyone from Guns ’n Roses to Avril Lavigne. The Grateful Dead used it as a show closer for about a decade in the late-1980s and early-1990s, while Dylan himself has played it live 460 times. It appears on an astonishing five of his live albums. Virtually everyone plays it the same way – as a dour drone. Eric Clapton did a reggae-inspired version, which is certainly the most unusual.

It is one of the simplest songs that Dylan ever wrote – two short verses and a one line (repeated) chorus. It’s a maudlin, fixin’ to die song, but it is a really good one. It’s sad without actually being that sad, if you know what I mean. Sort of an accidental classic, and the best new song Dylan has produced in a number of years at this point in time.

One thing that strikes me as somewhat hilarious is that the song was packaged as a single with a B-side of “Turkey Chase”, which is just about the least notable song on the entire soundtrack. I suppose that had they gone with “Billy”, the only other song from the album with vocals, it probably would have negated the need to buy the album at all.

Here’s the Clapton. I can’t bring myself to link to GNR.


Rock of Ages



“We haven’t played this in, we haven’t played this in how many years? six years?”, Bob Dylan tells the crowd at New York’s Academy of Music. Even though I’m ending the week with this, it was, technically, the first thing that Dylan did in 1972 – his set with The Band was recorded just after midnight on New Year’s Eve. I saved it for the end because it is the only major output from Dylan in 1972, and it was, undoubtedly, the highlight of the year.

Dylan performed live only twice in 1972 – four songs at The Band’s fourth and final show at the Academy of Music from December 28 – 31 (and crossing over into the early minutes of the new year, January 1), and he played harmonica on three songs with John Prine at The Bitter End on September 9. To the best of my knowledge, none of the Prine set exists on tape. Guess you should’ve been there.

The shows with The Band were compiled into a live album, Rock of Ages, that featured music from each of The Band’s first four studio albums. It is a great double album. Recently, though, it was re-released as Live at the Academy of Music 1971: The Rock of Ages Concerts, a four CD box set. Some criticism that I have read notes that release as an over-priced rip-off because it has so much duplicate material that a true fan would already have. As I am not a true fan of The Band, I had none of it, so I’m here to tell you that it is truly great. This is really The Band at the peak of their powers, and it is a remarkable live album. The addition of horns to The Band’s music adds a great deal, and doesn’t overdo it.

Dylan appeared only at the final show, and only for the encore. They did four songs. The first two, “Down in the Flood” and “When I Paint My Masterpiece” were Basement Tapes material that may have been familiar to Dylan aficionados from Greatest Hits v2 (although in non-Band versions), and the third “Don’t You Tell Henry” wouldn’t be released officially for another three years. These are all really good versions of these songs.

The culmination was the song that they hadn’t performed live since the Isle of Wight in 1969, “Like a Rolling Stone”. Not six years ago, but about two and a half. Apparently Dylan forgot about that performance, since he seems to think that the last time these men had played this song someone had yelled “Judas” at him, and they had then absolutely crushed this song. That’s okay, they nail it again here. It’s funny – again, the crowd doesn’t really seem to hear it coming until Dylan sings “Once upon a time”. There’s no applause for the opening chords or the piano part. Anyway, it’s a much better version that the Isle of Wight version, but it’s also a lot closer to the way that it was recorded, except that Robbie Robertson sings along to the chorus.

Before I started this project I was never that much of a fan of The Band. Not sure why. I’d seen The Last Waltz, I’d heard most of their hits and could sing along to many of them, but I had no real love in my heart for them. I have to tell you, my eyes have been opened – maybe even more than they have been by Dylan. This four CD set is the real deal.

Here’s a YouTube playlist claiming to have the whole album, but a number of tracks have been deleted – probably Dylan related deletions:

Backing Doug Sahm (again)



Apparently I lack basic literacy skills. After I posted some thoughts on Bob Dylan’s contributions to Doug Sahm’s third solo album last night, I received a comment from my friend Rusty (who is wise in all things) that I had neglected to mention “Wallflower”, the song (written by Dylan) of Sahm’s where the Dylan presence is most notable. This sent me scrambling back to my websites to figure out how this could have happened. Simple: I don’t read very thoroughly.

Bob Dylan played not on one day of Sahm’s recording sessions in October 1972, but on four consecutive days (October 9-12). Well, that certainly changes everything. Dylan participated not on four songs, as I erroneously reported yesterday, but on thirteen.

I’m not going to go through all of the remainder today, because a lot of them he’s simply playing harmonica, piano, or guitar and it is tough to pull the Dylan contributions out of the totality of the band’s sound. Still, two songs are particularly worth mentioning:

“Wallflower” is a song that Dylan wrote in 1971, but which wasn’t released officially until the first Bootleg Series record came out. A second, alternate, version of Dylan’t version of the song was released last year on the most recent Bootleg Series, Another Self Portrait. This is a pretty good song, and one that, ironically, I’ve recently associated with the great all-female old time band, Uncle Earl, who recorded it in 2007 for their album Waterloo, Tennessee (highly recommended, by the way). Dylan’s version on Bootleg Series 2 is a slow waltz that isn’t very alive or interesting. The version on Another Self Portrait is actually slightly slower, but, I think, slightly more interesting – less produced (mostly just his voice and slide guitar) and simpler. Not great, but better.

Sahm’s version is similarly paced to the Dylan version, and Dylan sings the chorus with him. Rusty (in his comment) is correct: this is a collaboration much more than is “San Antone”.

The other interesting one is “Blues Stay Away From Me”, which has the feeling of a rehearsal track. You can hear Sahm introduce it, urging the band to stick to the same tempo as a previous take. You can hear someone (Dylan?) coughing in the background. And you can hear Dylan and Sahm singing clearly on this. “Blues Stay Away” has the feel of the Basement Tapes, only a bit slicker. It’s nice.

Hopefully this is the last time I seriously misread Bjorner’s site, which had all of this information laid out for me, and I just ignored it. On the plus side, it gave me one more thing to write about in a week with not a lot going on!

Here’s Uncle Earl shot on someone’s phone:

Backing Doug Sahm



Sorry! I took a couple of days off mid-week because I was busy. That’s okay, though, since Bob Dylan essentially took off the whole year of 1972 and left me almost nothing to write about this week.

The third instalment of our tour of Dylan playing back-up for other artists finds us in the land of Tex Mex music, with Dylan singing, playing guitar and harmonica at one of Doug Sahm’s recording sessions in October. Dylan had praised the Sir Douglas Quintet in the 1960s, and here joins with Sahm on his third album as a solo artist, Doug Sahm and Band. Augie Meyers and Flaco Jimenez, both of whom would join Sahm (and Freddie Fender) as The Texas Tornados in the 1990s, also performed during this session.

Four songs with Dylan were recorded this day, according to Bjorner, including the best known one “(Is Anybody Going to) San Antone”, which was released as the first single from the album in December 1972. The song had already been made famous as a number one hit in 1970 by Charley Pride. It would be hard to dislike this version of the song, just as it would be hard to really pick out Dylan’s voice as one of the back-up singers if I wasn’t telling you that it was him. Much as I like Pride, this version is just an order of magnitude better than the earlier version.


Sahm’s next album, as The Sir Douglas Band, included a second song from this session: Bobby Charles’s “Tennessee Blues”, a slow waltz that has also been recorded by Kris Kristofferson and Rita Coolidge. Dylan plays harmonica here, but it is often hard to make out because of the prevalence of the saxophone – it’s really not much more than a series of fills on his part.

The final two songs, both by Hank Williams, “On the Banks of the Old Ponchartrain” and “Hey Good Looking”, are also nice covers. Dylan plays guitar on these, and so is even more hidden among the band. Both of the songs were only released on the double-album Doug Sahm: The Genuine Texas Groover in 2004, five years after Sahm passed away at the age of 58 from a heart attack.

I have to say that I had never listened to Sahm much at all before getting Genuine Texas Groover (which contains all four of these songs), and that was a mistake on my part. I was much more familiar with Fender and Jimenez, for example, than with Sahm. I’m happy to have had that rectified.

Here’s “San Antone”. Listen closely for Dylan singing harmony (along with Atwood Allen):

Backing Steve Goodman



Continuing with our year of Bob Dylan on vacation, in mid-September 1972 Dylan played piano on two songs recorded by Steve Goodman for his third album, Somebody Else’s Troubles. Goodman, of course, was a well-known young country/folk songwriter who won a Grammy for writing “City of New Orleans”, the song made famous by Arlo Guthrie and, later, by Willie Nelson. Goodman was diagnosed with leukaemia while in college, and knew that he would not live a long life. He was only twenty-four when Dylan sat in on his session, and he would pass away at the age of thirty-six.

The two songs that Dylan played piano on are the title track of the album, “Somebody Else’s Troubles” and the minor political satire “Election Year Rag”. Of these, the latter is not particularly notable. The problem with a funny song about elections is that it probably should be genuinely funny, which this is not. This is not a topical song, and it is not a satire insofar as it has no real point of view at all. It is a pox on both their houses, and not even really that, which would give it more credit than it deserves.

“Somebody Else’s Troubles” is a full-on bluegrass tune, but it’s also not a particularly great one. It is a wry song: “As long as Fate is out there busting somebody else’s bubble/Everything’s gonna be alright”, but not a classic by any stretch of the imagination.

Goodman worked a lot with John Prine, with whom Dylan performed on September 9th of this year at The Bitter End, probably right before these sessions. I haven’t read much about Dylan’s relationship to Prine and to Goodman to be able to add much to this story, other than it is kind of interesting to see Dylan in the role of session man here. The record label promoted Dylan’s contributions, even if the songs themselves don’t exactly foreground them. Musically, we’re not going to get much more from Dylan this year.

Backing Roger McGuinn



As we cross over into 1972 listening to Bob Dylan one year per week, there is an enormous problem: Dylan essentially took this entire year off. He released no albums, no singles, no greatest hits. He played no concerts. He published no books. He mostly relaxed, and, at the end of the year, began filming Pat Garrett & Billy the Kid (which we’ll watch next week). So we’re going to picking at crumbs this week.

Here’s the first of those: In November 1972, Dylan played harmonica on the first track of Roger McGuinn’s first post-Byrds solo album, boringly titled Roger McGuinn (also, one of the worst covers of all time). The song is at least in part about McGuinn’s relation to Dylan, who is addressed as “Mr. D” in the song. The second verse is about John Lennon, and the third is about Mick Jagger.

Here’s the first verse, just for the record:

Hey Mr.D do you want me to be
A farmer, a cowhand, an old country boy
To get up in the a.m. and tend to the chore
And leave all my troubles behind a locked door
Layin’ with my lady and strummin’ on my toy
Oh I know what you mean and it sounds good to me
But oh Mr.D. I’m so restless

This is a perfectly fine song. There is nothing really wrong with it, and nothing all that memorable about it either. For the first track on a first solo album it makes some sense insofar as it tries to differentiate the singer from the two singers he was most influenced by, and one, Jagger, whose connection I can’t really fathom (but who wouldn’t want to compare themselves to Jagger?)

Dylan’s harmonica playing is fine: perfunctory, even. I’m not really sure what else to say about it. Nice job, Bob. Thanks for coming out.

Though it was recorded in 1972, it didn’t come out until 1973, but I’m putting it here because, as I say, crumbs. It’s going to be a long week, I guess.

Here it is:

Tarantula (editions)


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You can buy Bob Dylan’s “novel”, Tarantula, on AbeBooks for $1.10 (plus shipping). You can also buy it on AbeBooks for $9,500. The latter copy is the first hardback edition from 1971, and it is signed to John Carter, a music industry A&R man. The book is probably worth something that falls in between those two prices.

Dylan memorabilia can be ridiculously expensive. AbeBooks has signed copies as “inexpensively” as $700. Signed copies hold no lustre for me at all, unless I was the person to get it signed, so this is not something that I’d ever think of shelling out for (I would also be extremely wary about forgeries with someone like Dylan – not that I am accusing any of the dealers on AbeBooks, but it is something that I would always worry about).

Interestingly, not all of the most expensive copies on AbeBooks are signed editions – many of them are bootleg editions. Dylan wrote Tarantula in the mid-1960s – the book has all the hallmarks of his speedy writing from that period and is in line with his lyrics from the Highway 61 era, as well as the liner notes from those albums. He published it only reluctantly, and possibly only because he had been paid a large advance. It was endlessly delayed, and he felt a need to go back and improve it. Because it had gotten to the page proof stage, bootlegs (early Xeroxes, re-typed versions) circulated for years before it actually was released. Some of these are extremely costly (with the obvious note that just because a price is asked for a book there is no guarantee that anyone will actually buy it for that price).

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The most expensive Tarantula bootleg on AbeBooks today is $1,250. This is an edition published in Madison, WI. The notes on a $700 copy of the same edition says that the money made from selling these went to support local writers (which is, come to think of it, true of almost any book published by anyone).

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For $686.08 (an odd number – a conversion from British pounds) you can get a pirated edition in a file folder. This one is only 36 loose leaf pages, so it is not entirely clear to me that it would be the whole book, but possibly.


Another interesting one (same price – $686.08) is the AJ Weberman produced edition with covers by underground cartoonist S. Clay Wilson. This is the edition, if I was going to have one, I would most want, because of the Wilson cover.

For $400 you can get a tabloid edition of Vancouver’s still extant newspaper, The Georgia Strait, which gave over an entire issue to printing Dylan’s prose. That would be a nice, rare one. $279.06 gets you the UK rip off from Wriptoff Press. For $200 the edition from The Wimp Press in Hibbing, MN who gave their proceeds to the Caladan Free School, whatever that was. The French edition (presumably licensed, published in 1973) is $70.03, and notes that it has been “adapted from the American”.

Such a curious book for a book that was so little loved and admired. I’ve bought two copies in my life – one that arrived a few weeks ago from Amazon.ca (for about $11.00, if I recall correctly) and one (possibly the 1977 paperback edition?) that I bought from City Lights Books in London, Ontario when I was doing my undergraduate degree at the University of Western Ontario. City Lights was a classically, stereotypically jam-packed used bookstore near where I lived off campus (and across from the rep cinema, so I was there all the time) owned by Marc Emery, who is now best known as an imprisoned pot legalization crusader. He was a libertarian rabble-rouser at the time that I knew him. That copy of Tarantula sat on a shelf for a few years before I actually bought it. I don’t think I ever made it all the way through that copy (I sold it when I sold almost all of my old books before we moved from Montreal). I’ve been struggling all week to get through it now.

I promised a friend that I would read and write about Tarantula, but it’s going to take a few more days. I will get this thing swallowed all the way down, even if it kills me. Until then, enjoy browsing for bootleg copies.

Greatest Hits Volume 2



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.

“George Jackson”



Bob Dylan’s recorded “George Jackson”, released as a single but never on an album, on November 4, 1971 and it was released eight days later. Jackson was killed in Soledad Prison on August 21 of that same year. Like Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young’s “Ohio”, the song was a quick turnaround on an issue of contemporary importance – Jackson’s killing was one of the sparks of the Attica Prison riots.

The circumstances of Jackson’s death are complicated, and it would seem almost inconceivable that a song like “George Jackson” would be recorded today. Jackson was sentenced at eighteen years of age to a year to life in prison for robbing a gas station, and in prison he became radicalized, turning to Marxism, Maoism, and eventually becoming a member of the Black Panthers. He wrote extensive letters to people outside of prison, and those letters were collected into well-received books. I read “Soledad Brother” when I was about twenty and when I was fascinated by the fragmentation of the counter-culture into increasingly militant organizations, but I have to admit that I don’t have any really clear memories of it today.

Jackson was shot by guards during a confrontation that led to the deaths of three guards and two prisoners just days before he was to go on trial for the murder of a different guard. The facts of the case are wildly disputed, with many arguing that he was set up for assassination, and others noting that he was in possession of a handgun in the prison and that he may have killed several guards. Clearly he was a much more divisive figure than someone like Reuben Carter, a prisoner about whom Dylan would also write later in the 1970s, who was clearly a much more conventionally sympathetic figure. For his return to topical songwriting Dylan did not pick an easy topic upon which there would be unanimity.

The song itself, I just learned today actually, was released in two versions. There was a full band version with back-up singers as the A-side, and a solo acoustic version was the B-side. I’ve been listening to the B-side all week as that is the one that is included on the CDs of non-album bits in The Complete Album Collection. You can hear the full version here.

I greatly prefer the stripped down acoustic version, as the other one sounds sort of needlessly over-produced to my ears. The song is a bit odd in its construction by Dylan terms, with the very short two line verses and the repeated two line choruses. I also have to wonder if this was the first song to break into the US Top 40 (it peaked at #33) that uses a clearly enunciated word “shit”? I don’t know the answer to that at the moment.

The most interesting thing about the song is that it marked a full-blown return by Dylan to political and topical song-writing, six years after he gave that up. I’d be curious to know if playing The Concert for Bangladesh played any role in that, or if it’s a mere coincidence. Having listened to the acoustic version all week, I was surprised that the song hadn’t ever received more attention, particularly among fans who felt he’d betrayed the topical song movement. Now that I understand that that was the B-side it makes more sense, because while the A-side is topical, it’s also so highly produced that it would be hard for the remaining folkies to get into it.

Here’s Joan Baez doing a very folk version, as she always does:


The 100th Post



This is the one hundredth post on LongAndWastedYear.com. It’s also the seventy-first day of the year. I will admit that when I paid for this domain, a large part of me thought that we’d never make it this far, and I never expected to posting at the rate of more than once per day. But Bob works in mysterious ways, and I still have quite a few things to say about 1971 this week.

Before that, however, I felt that we should note the centennial post. It is my plan, when this is all wrapped up, to produce a list for myself of the 100 Best Bob Dylan Songs (and Versions). That is, not just a list that says “Like a Rolling Stone” is better than “Mr. Tambourine Man” (which it is), but that says “Like a Rolling Stone” is the best Dylan song and his version of it from “The Royal Albert Hall” show is the best version of it. This particular list will likely drive me insane.

I haven’t been keeping very careful notes for that project in recent weeks (aided by the fact that Dylan hasn’t been touring, so there have been few alternate versions to listen to), but tonight I decided I should at least begin taking thorough notes. So I made a list of what I think are contenders for the Top 100 through 1971. That list was 68 songs, which leaves lots of room for the next four decades to fill things in.

I then gave each song on that list a score from 1 to 5, with 1 meaning that it would be nice if it made it onto the final list (“Let Me Die in My Footsteps”, “Wicked Messenger”) and 5 being “this song is absolutely essential”. It turned out, not surprisingly, that there was a huge bulge of 4s and 5s around 1964-1966, and that they tapered off from there. These were all just simple gut level reactions, mind you, not well thought out positions. I basically looked at the title, heard the song in my mind, and gave it a score. Since these will change so much over the course of the year because of live versions, I’m not sharing the lower parts of this list. But I will share the top ten as it exists this very second. I could edit this in an hour. Who knows?

I have to say this. My first gut reaction (which would likely change tomorrow if I’m in a different mood) generated eleven songs that I gave five stars to. Pushing one out of the top ten was BRUTAL. I felt so bad for it. The process is only going to get worse as it goes along – Blood on the Tracks and Desire alone have about five songs that I put at such elevated heights. This is why they pay me the big blogging bucks, I guess.

First Attempt at a Bob Dylan Top Ten

10. A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall (Bootleg Series 9: The Witmark Demos)

9. It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue (Newport Folk Festival 1965)

8. Song to Woody (Bob Dylan)

7. It’s Alright Ma (I’m Only Bleeding) (Manchester Free Trade Hall 1965)

6. Went to See the Gypsy (New Morning)

5. Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right (Newport Folk Festival 1964)

4. Positively Fourth Street (single version)

3. Girl From the North Country (Oscar Brand Radio Show 1963)

2. Visions of Johanna (London 1966)

1. Like A Rolling Stone (London 1966)

Yeah, that’s right – I put two songs from the same show in the top two spots. Oh well, that show is just that damned good. Make your own list if you don’t think so!