“Abandoned Love”



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:




Here is what Wikipedia says about “Mozambique”, the second single from Desire:

“Mozambique” started as a game, to see how many rhymes for “-ique” Dylan and Levy could find.”

I know that one should never doubt the truth as spoken by Wikipedia (especially when that assertion has not corroborating link), but if we take this to be true, we have to believe that Bob Dylan and Jacques Levy, with whom he co-wrote a number of the songs on Desire, are completely useless. “Mozambique” has exactly three rhymes with “ique” in it: cheek, speak, and peak (there are only three verses, plus the bridge). Off the top of my head:






sheikh (in some pronunciations)



week or weak

Antique Greek physique with a unique mystique

Seriously wikipedia? Are we supposed to believe your meek squeaks?

I do have to say, “Mozambique” is a really good song, but is a very odd choice of singles from this album. Most of the other songs might get ruled out just for length (“Isis” and “Black Diamond Bay” are both seven minutes, “Romance in Durango” and “Sara” are both over five, and “Joey” is an epic eleven). You don’t follow an epic 8:33 single (“Hurricane”) that did only so-so, with another epic. Desire only has two short songs, this and “One More Cup of Coffee”, which is too slow and dirge-like to be an effective single. So it was sort of a default, I suppose (it also makes the exclusion of the fantastic “Abandoned Love” (released on Biograph in 1985) all the more inexplicable, as that might have been the best choice of a single on the album, had it actually been on the album).

If Dylan and Columbia were backed into a corner with their choice, it doesn’t make it a bad choice. “Mozambique” is one of the very few songs on Desire that I think is at its best on the album version. Almost every other song sounds better in the live versions on Hard Rain or elsewhere on the bootlegs, but “Mozambique” was pretty much nailed in the studio. It is a slightly odd, slightly goofy song. Dylan stopped performing it live after 1976, so it doesn’t really last in his canon of work, but it is thoroughly enjoyable. On this one he doesn’t shriek so there’s no need to tweak the sleek chic single.

Here’s a live version from 1976. Not as good as the album version, but still worth watching if just for the headgear. Sheik chic!:




Released as a single in 1975, but serving as the opening track of Dylan’s 1976 studio album, Desire, “Hurricane” is one of the best story songs Dylan ever recorded.

Dylan became interested in the story of Rubin “Hurricane” Carter, the boxer who imprisoned for murders that he did not commit, after reading the man’s autobiography. Carter had sent him a copy after being told that he was a politically aware celebrity at a time that the fighter needed powerful friends, and when Dylan read it he made a note to visit Carter in prison when he was next on the east coast. After meeting Carter in a New Jersey prison, he was determined to join a growing group of celebrities who had dedicated themselves to winning a new trial for Carter. The result was this anthemic song, co-written with Jacques Levy.


Musically, the song is a departure for Dylan. Larry Sloman, in his marvellous book about the Rolling Thunder Revue, has extensive chapters about Dylan’s meeting with Carter (Sloman interviewed Carter about it, and the two spoke regularly) and also about the re-recording session for the single. Dylan had cut a version of the song that was to be released, but, unfortunately, it had errors of fact in it that may have been deemed libellous, so it had to be rewritten and re-cut. Sloman’s description of the long night’s recording session gives what seems to be a very good sense of the chaotic way that Dylan was working at this time – literally picking up a fiddle player off the street while driving around New York, for example.

It was this song, Sloman argues, that was the inspiration for the work that went into Desire with Levy, and also to the Rolling Thunder Revue, the insane tour that sprung from it (and which included the Hurricane Carter benefit show).

One of the problems that I have with some of Dylan’s longer story songs, is the feeling that once I know the story, I generally lose interest. His more ambiguous material – with its aphorisms – generally holds more interest for me. This isn’t the case for me with “Hurricane”, which has some of Dylan’s most evocative and powerful lyrics. This is one of the best verses he has ever written:

All of Rubin’s cards were marked in advance

The trial was a pig-circus, he never had a chance

The judge made Rubin’s witnesses drunkards from the slums

To the white folks who watched he was a revolutionary bum

And to the black folks he was just a crazy nigger

No one doubted that he pulled the trigger

And though they could not produce the gun

The D.A. said he was the one who did the deed

And the all-white jury agreed

Sloman reports an interesting perspective from 1975 where he suggested that despite the “disco” flavour of the song, he felt that black radio would avoid the song for two reasons. First, Dylan was seen by some as an arriviste to the Carter cause, attaching himself only after others had already done so. Second, George Jackson’s mother had apparently complained that she didn’t receive royalties from Dylan from his song about the death of her son. Sloman reports that Dylan found the latter a bizarre claim, but there you have it. Ultimately the song did only ok on the pop charts (peaking at #33, ironically the exact same as “George Jackson”)

It’s a great opener to an even better album. I listened to Desire twice today on the plane (and Hard Rain twice, and two full live shows from 1976) and I may want to retract last week’s contention that Blood on the Tracks is his best album.

As for Carter, he won a new trial in 1976, but was convicted for a second time. A federal court dismissed the case against him in 1985, at which time he was released. A terribly sad story.

Basement Tapes (again)



Sorry that this is late. I’ve been on the road for the past four days watching The Masters, and haven’t had a second to listen to Bob Dylan at all. I’m back now.

We’ve been through The Basement Tapes already pretty thoroughly, so a large part of me suggests that you just go back and re-read what I previously wrote. Columbia released The Basement Tapes officially in 1975, so this post is belated. It wasn’t so much a Dylan album as a Robbie Robertson album. He picked the tracks, and The Band laid down overdubs to clean things up, but Dylan wasn’t involved with any of that. Of course, Robertson also included a number of demos by The Band on the album as well, making it more collaborative than it was in actuality. The image that the official release paints is of Dylan hanging out with The Band, and with them writing some new songs and Dylan writing some new songs. I don’t think that’s how it actually was.

A Tree With Roots is significantly better than The Basement Tapes, not just because it is so much more complete (a lot of the work on it just isn’t very good), but because the official album feels sort of ersatz. The Band material feels intrusive here in a way that it doesn’t on an album like Before the Flood, and I actually found myself quickly skipping these songs when they would come on. Also, and I don’t know much about this, I think that there have been allegations that The Band material has actually been muddied in the studio in order to make it sound less professional than it really was, to fit the aesthetic of the album. As I said, ersatz.

I bought this album as a teenager and was really disappointed by it, and I wonder if I would have been as let down by it if I had bought it in 1975. Dylan is said to have been surprised it sold at all, because he figured most of the people that would have wanted it already owned the bootlegs. That’s the situation that I found myself in as well. This one won’t get much play from me in the future, since if I decide to hear this material it will be from A Tree With Roots. In fact, there is nothing here that I think is better than the versions on the bootleg album, so I think it is the first disposable Dylan album.

Blood on the Tracks



I have no idea what the first Bob Dylan song I ever heard was, or what my reaction to it might have been. I’m certain it would have been something on the radio.

I do know what the first Dylan album that I ever listened to was: Blood on the Tracks. I can probably even guess that it would have been around 1983.

My parents were not big music collectors. I can sort of count on one hand the times I remember my father bringing home music (specifically, I remember one day that he brought home albums by Charlie Pride and Freddie Fender and Loretta Lynn when I was a kid). For some reason up at our cottage in central Ontario we had a bunch of cassette tapes – like maybe twenty of them. They were on a side table that had a little shelf, and we had a little radio/tape-player combination that got rarely used (we could only get one radio station at the cottage and it was the dreadful CHAY-FM, so it wasn’t on often).

Sometime around the time I was thirteen or fourteen I must have decided to play those tapes. Where did they come from? I believe, though I will have to check, but I believe that they came from the Columbia Record of the month deal. You know, buy ten for a penny, and then three more at full price. I guess this because I do think that they were all Columbia artists. This seems like something my father might have done before I was old enough to recall it.

I remember four of those tapes: Kenny Rogers’s Greatest Hits. Johnny Cash Live at San Quentin. Blood, Sweat and Tears something or other. Bob Dylan Blood on the Tracks.

If I’m being honest, the albums we liked best were Rogers and Cash. Further, the songs we liked were all the terrible ones (“The Gambler”, “Coward of the County”, “A Boy Named Sue”). We were kids and we had bad taste, but we would often play these when it was raining and there was nothing else to do but play cards and listen to “Lucille”.

I know that the Dylan didn’t immediately take. I don’t remember listening to it that much. More than Blood, Sweat and Tears, but less than Cash (I can probably still sing “A Boy Named Sue” from memory). It was likely the next year that the Dylan started sinking in. It was probably the third summer that I realized how good the whole thing was and started buying Dylan albums myself (first one: Empire Burlesque. On cassette. Not an auspicious debut).

Why did my parents own a copy of Blood on the Tracks? No idea. I know that my father has indicated to me that he never liked Dylan (he was in his 20s when “Like a Rolling Stone” hit, always more an Elvis fan than a fan of any rock stuff from the 1960s). The album was a #1 hit, so it could have just been its ubiquity when they were ordering – a tenth choice for a penny when nothing else looked that interesting. That would be my best guess.

That’s the secret origin of the Dylan blog. Somehow, mysteriously, I came across Dylan’s best album at a time when I had access to about five albums and a lot of spare time.

And, yes, I do think it’s his best album, even despite “Lily, Rosemary and the Jack of Hearts”.

“Buckets of Rain”


And then we reached the end.

“Buckets of Rain” is one of those terrific, minor Dylan songs that everybody loves more than Dylan loves it. Covered by everyone from Bette Midler to Beth Orton, this is a song that Dylan has only played once, in 1990.

It is a trifle, a palate cleanser, a “we’re moving on” song. It’s easy to imagine that Dylan tossed this off without giving it much thought – it almost could be improvised. It’s guitar and bass and not a lot to it, and it is a near-perfect conclusion to a powerful album filled with songs of suffering.

That’s it. There ain’t no more. Final thoughts on Blood on the Tracks tomorrow. In the meantime, here’s Neko Case. Take us home, Neko!

“Shelter From the Storm”



If you had put a gun to my head and asked me to stake my life on which album “Shelter from the Storm” was on, I’d probably be dead. I absolutely always think of this as a song from Desire. That is likely because of the live versions on Hard Rain and At Budokan, I suppose, although it’s not like either of those is completely overwhelmed by material from Desire. It’s odd. When it first came while listening to Blood on the Tracks on Sunday I actually thought it was a mistake.

The version on Blood on the Tracks is lovely, and much different than the yelling versions that Dylan often does live, where he really gets across that stormy feeling. It’s the version on Hard Rain that I know best – that guitar breakdown piece after he sings the title – is a Dylan hallmark for me. I know that I made a Dylan mixtape for someone while I was in high school and that version made it onto it. I never gave away the tape, and so it just wound up getting played a lot in my car. It definitely drilled that version into my head (the At Budokan version always seems really odd to me as a result). Listening to the Blood on the Tracks version now at an older age, I greatly prefer it.

I used to have a feeling like this song was getting misused quite often. For instance, an alternate version of this is played over the closing credits of Jerry Maguire. Cameron Crowe, of course. It never seemed to me at all like a song for a character of the likes of a Jerry Maguire, but if I sit and stare at the lyrics to try to tell you why the “Show Me the Money!” guy can’t have a part of it, I can’t find it. It does sort of all seem to fit. If Crowe were to suddenly appear and tell me that he made the film based on the song, I think I could believe it. This is a moral, spiritual vacancy that Dylan is writing about after all. On Hard Rain it is an angry driving emptiness, but on Blood on the Tracks it is a haunting one. As a teenager I definitely preferred the former, but now the latter makes a lot more sense to me.

You had me at “In a world of steel-eyed death”.

“If You See Her, Say Hello”


“Classic heartbreak album”. That’s the verdict of Hank Moody in Californication about Blood on the Tracks. Talking to his daughter about her first heartbreak, he offers to gift it to her on her iPod. She seems unimpressed as he sings “If You See Her Say Hello”. It’s a great scene, but I have to ask: who could be unimpressed by this song?

This is an absolutely classic heartbreak song. It might even be a contender for his best ever (if it weren’t for “Girl From the North Country”). It is perhaps the complete antithesis of the venom-spewing “Idiot Wind”.

The New York version, which can be found on Bootleg Series 3, is a fascinating one, with really prominent guitar playing. The Minnesota version fits the album far better. This is another of those songs with significant lyrical changes, including new lines for every single verse once he begins playing it live in 1976. Since that’s next week, I’ll try to swing back to those changes then.

Anyway, short and sweet – great song, great version. What else is there?

“Lily, Rosemary, and the Jack of Hearts”



(For Corey, who likes it)

Going into this week my thoughts on “Lily, Rosemary, and the Jack of Hearts” was that it was the scar on an otherwise flawless picture. A nine-minute miscalculation of a story song that is both pointless and irritating. When my friend Corey enthused about this song in particular from Blood on the Tracks I thought “Well, he has finally lost his mind!”.

I had planned to skip this song pretty much every time through this week, but instead I have been listening to it. This morning I listened to it three times (half an hour of my life!), once while reading along to the lyrics. I read along because Rebecca asked as we were coming to campus: “Who is Big Jim in this song again?”, which is a sort of understandable question in a song that uses the pronoun “he” thirteen times to refer to about four different men.

As a story song it is interesting that there are such a varied number of interpretations not only of what it all means, but, indeed, what the hell even happens. The wikipedia page for the song offers a bunch of (fairly poor) readings of the song. I do agree that it is all pretty vague though. Past relationships are hinted at without being explicitly stated (that Dylan dropped a verse in the album version doesn’t help matters on this front a lot either), the pronoun confusion adds to the misunderstandings, the fact that there is at least one love triangle and possibly two, and that characters (including the gang of bank robbers) are added very late in the whole thing, and that there is no explanation given for the disappearance of one of the title characters at the end.

And, of course, the Jack of Hearts might not even be a real person in the context of the song.

Apparently there were some discussions about turning the whole thing into a movie, with Dylan playing the Jack of Hearts. Maybe that would have made things more clear.

Anyway, there’re two great reasons to hate this song. The first is the bassist and the second is the drummer. The whole rhythm section in this song is just awful. The bump-da-bump trotting rhythm drives me absolutely around the bend on this thing, and sort of puts me to sleep. I’ve listened to this a number of times this week, and it was only while reading along that I could maintain my focus long enough to try to hear the whole thing. For the most part if I’m just listening in my car or elsewhere it becomes wallpaper because of the invariable rhythm. Then every once in a while Dylan will put some emphasis into his singing and I semi-snap out of it, only to be lulled back into submission.

The New York recording of the song, which features only guitar, is much, much better than the album version. It’s still not great, because the guitar becomes just as droning as the bass does on the album version, but I do think it is superior. You can hear that here as someone has made the bootleg available streaming (the whole album is worth listening to). Also, there’s Joan Baez’s version (below) which is also much better. Basically, if you shoot Dylan’s rhythm section you can turn this into a fine song, but I don’t think you can turn it into a great one.

Dylan’s website indicates that he has played this live only one time, at the last show on the 1976 portion of the Rolling Thunder Revue in Salt Lake City, UT. Bjorner reports that there is no known recording of this show, and that it is also claimed that this show had the only performance of “Black Diamond Bay”. I dunno. Seems sort of dodgy to me that one of the few shows with no recordings is rumoured to have had two unique song performances. It’s not impossible. The claim is that “Lily” was performed with Joan Baez, and since she performed it live elsewhere that year it is certainly possible.

I have to say: I still don’t really like it, and it is the only song on the album that I don’t like. I tried, but I’m going to start skipping it again.

Here’s Joan:

“Meet Me In the Morning”


The opening of “Meet Me In The Morning” is probably the most slurred line in my lyrical repertoire. I know that there is a whole genre of people mishearing Dylan lyrics and singing bizarre phrases (most of which I assume from this site are just made up by people making internet listicles). Nonetheless, I have listened to this song hundreds of times, including possibly a dozen in the past three days. Yet, still, driving home today I sang the opening as:

Meet me in the morning, whaa bah blah bah bah

I may have been doing that for thirty years. It has never occurred to me to find out what he actually sings for some reason (lack of intellectual curiosity…). If this applies to you, hold on! The first (and second) line is:

Meet me in the morning, 56th and Wabasha

Apparently there is a Wabasha in St. Paul, MN but it doesn’t actually intersect with 56th. So it’s not exactly the same as Portage and Main, which Neil Young and Randy Bachman made famous.

The interesting thing about this song, and, indeed the album, is that it could so easily fit with his very early 1960s material (at least until the semi-psychedelia starts at the end). It seems to me that this is the case with so much of Blood on the Tracks: “Idiot Wind” seems very mid-1960s, while “You’re Gonna Make Me Lonesome While You Go” seems early-1970s, and “Shelter From the Storm” seems late-1970s. The whole album is like a history of various Dylan styles.

This is a nothing song, but it’s another one that I like. Dylan basically wrote this off – he’s performed it only once – in Nashville in 2007 with Jack White. I guess if you’re going to only do a song once, there are worse ways to do it. I’ll see if I can dig that up in another thirty-three weeks.

This songs is, extremely unexpectedly, the b-side of Dylan’s most recent single, “Duquesne Whistle”. The b-side is a different version entirely, more spare, more bluesy. This is a much stronger version, really, because it doesn’t have the musical bits that I think detract from it.

Someone has nicely uploaded a recording of a turntable playing it onto YouTube. YouTube is weird, but helpful.