There is no doubt in my mind that Dylan’s first great sin of omission came when he left “Abandoned Love” off of Desire. For me, this song is right up near the top of the Dylan pantheon as far as heartbreak songs go, and actually among my favourite Dylan songs of all time. The idea that it itself was basically abandoned makes no sense to me.
Dylan debuted “Abandoned Love” at a party at The Other End, a club in Greenwich Village in July 1975. This was around the time that he began collaborating with Jacques Levy, writing songs for the album that would become Desire, and putting together the Rolling Thunder Revue. That club version, available on a very low quality live recording, is apparently the only time Dylan ever played the song live. He recorded it on 31 July 1975 in just two takes, and it is the first of those that can be found on Biograph (and on the bonus discs of The Complete Album Collection).
I don’t think I can stress it enough – I absolutely love this song. I listened to it about a dozen times today and right now, at this very second, I would probably call it my favourite Dylan song. I know, I know, I’ll calm down, but it is really that great. By the end of the year this will be back in perspective, but right now, today, I can’t get enough of this thing.
The song was bounced from Desire because of “Joey”, essentially. I think “Joey” is fine, don’t get me wrong, but it’s no “Abandoned Love”. Not even close. In fact, had it been on Desire, “Abandoned Love” would have been the best song on what is one of Dylan’s best albums. But he left it off!
This is clearly a divorce song, and one might suspect that he felt it was too personal for the album, or too revealing. That seems unlikely. “Sara” is on this album, after all. Maybe just one too many break up songs then? Possible, but if so, he chose to leave off the wrong one.
From what I’ve read about the years to come, this won’t be the last time that Dylan leaves the best song – or best version of a song – off of one of his albums. There is an entire genre of bootlegs that attempts to produce “better” versions of some of his later less-respected albums from studio outtakes. I’ll be curious to check those out, but in the meantime this was a very real misstep and someone should have told him so.
Fortunately the people who put together Biograph corrected the error. One of the best things about YouTube is that it has the only live version of this song ever played by Dylan: