The outtakes are always the exciting part of the week. So much hope, so much promise. So much disappointment.
More than most musical artists, Dylan has had his recordings thoroughly excavated by bootleggers. It is genuinely shocking to read “does not circulate” on Bjorner’s site about some Dylan recordings (including some of his only sessions from 1982, for a project that sounds fascinating in the abstract). Between the Bootleg Series, and the actual bootlegs it seems that almost every significant thing that he put to tape is out there somewhere, and a lot of insignificant ones as well.
This week’s outtakes were entirely from the period between Saved and Shot of Love. Indeed, the best of them is called From Saved to Shot, so that’s pretty plain. The other, Studio Working Tape, seems to be well-referenced across the Dylan literature, and is from the same era.
Studio Working Tape is, to me, the lesser of the two. There is some overlap in terms of the songs on both (I haven’t listened back-to-back closely enough to actually determine if these are actually the same recordings, but I think so). “Is It Worth It?”, the opener on this bootleg, is a really good song that would not have sounded at all out of place on Shot of Love, and actually probably would have improved the album somewhat. Not a huge amount, but it’s better than something like “Trouble”. The song that is tagged here as “Ah Ah Ah #1” (for the chorus, which is basically Dylan and his back-up singing “Ah ah ah”) also had a lot of potential. “Hallelujah” doesn’t really go anywhere at all, while “Magic” is better, and, I think, was considered for Infidels but left off. That one sounds like someone from the early-1980s that I cannot put my finger on. Frustrating. Most of the rest isn’t that interesting. There are a whopping ten instrumentals on the bootleg, which indicates that it really was what it said it was: a working tape. You get a lot of Dylan “la la la-ing” in the place of actual lyrics that had yet to be worked out.
Initially I thought From Saved to Shot was better than both of those albums, but I don’t actually think that is the case in the end. It does have some excellent material (again: “Is It Worth It?”). Here “Ah Ah Ah #1” is identified as “Highway”. The versions of “Heart of Mine”, “Watered-Down Love”, and “Shot of Love” that can be found at the end of the bootleg are all at least as good as the versions found on the album Shot of Love, and “Heart of Mine” is probably better (though his singing is a bit bizarre, he’s singing in a higher register than ever before, and it is, well, creepy). There is a lot of quality material to be found here, although “Every Grain of Sand” and “Groom’s Still Waiting at the Altar” probably elevate the album above the bootleg.
Both bootlegs have strong moments, but they also have a ton of fluff on them. This is where the curated approach of the Bootleg Series of Biograph becomes much more appealing overall. Sometimes it makes sense to let other people go through all of this material on your behalf and tell you which is the good stuff.
Which is what I suppose some of my readers are doing right now….