There are lots of Bob Dylan bootlegs. Indeed, I think that there are literally more than 3,000 of them. You could probably do a project like this one ten times and not exhaust everything that is out there (if you could get your hands on all of it). There are good bootlegs, bad bootlegs, and in-between bootlegs. There are show tapes, compilations of shows, and tour greatest hits. There are bootlegs for only the acoustic material played on tour. And only the electric material. There are studio outtakes, drafts, revisions, and different versions and mixes. There are bootlegs with mono mixes, stereo mixes, and rough cuts. There are bootlegs of vocals only and guitar only. Oh, there are bootlegs.
One of the oddest – well, no, definitely the oddest – bootleg that I have listened to so far this year is the second disc of Surviving in the Ruthless World, which is a four disc collection of Infidels outtakes (not to be confused with Surviving in a Ruthless World, which is two discs – “a” versus “the”). This has a sizeable collection of the Infidels material, but it seems that there are at least three additional discs worth. See here for a complete (?) listing of what is available.
So, this disc. It has forty-one tracks, and thirty-eight of them are attempts to record “Sweetheart Like You”. The shortest is 20 seconds long. The longest is 4:32. Seven of them run longer than 3:00 minutes. There are fast versions, slow versions, versions where Dylan forgets the words, and versions where there are no words at all. The album version is 4:34, just for the record.
Listening to this disc is sort of surreal. I can’t say that this is my favourite song on the album, but the outtakes are something that I’ve played a lot this week while working. It is very peaceful and serene, often just the same guitar part over and over and over again. I don’t get a strong sense from it of how Dylan works to build a song, just a lot of different attempts at the same thing. I would be a terrible record producer, because I find it hard to isolate the individual tracks and analyze their strengths and weaknesses. I just sort of like to immerse myself in the whole thing. It’s not like listening to the album cut on repeat at all, but it is slightly hypnotic.
I don’t think that the same effect, or even a similar one, would come from most of the other songs on the album. It’s the slow tempo and lovely guitar playing that works here. A more repetitive song – like “Neighborhood Bully” – would drive me to distraction.
I played this at first just to say that I’d listened to it. Strangely, it became my favourite part of the whole week.