1987 found Dylan back in his sideman role for the first time in quite a while. It is interesting that both in the early-1970s and in the late-1980s when Dylan seemed to have lost a step in terms of songwriting he did two things: a) recorded a large amount of covers, and b) played on other people’s records. Here are three that he did in 1987.
- Warren Zevon, “The Factory”
Dylan played harmonica on Warren Zevon’s song, “The Factory”, from the 1987 album, Sentimental Education. You can hear him here at 0:46 and 1:25 in particular. It’s a good performance on a song that I don’t rate that highly. I certainly don’t like the chorus, which is something that demonstrates that Dylan wasn’t the only singer-songwriter making odd choices in production at this point in time. Dylan doesn’t seem to be much more than a hired hand on this one, which is typically Zevon-esque.
- Ringo Starr, “Wish I Knew Now (What I Knew Then)
Bjorner lists that as potentially a Dylan written song, given to Ringo Starr and recorded with him in Memphis on April 15, 1987. The song has never been officially released, but here it is on Soundcloud. It is pretty bad. Ringo, never a great singer, gives a lacklustre performance and the Dylan vocals don’t help matters much. This probably would have required a lot of work to get cleaned up enough for release, but lyrically the song doesn’t really merit it at all. The title is clever, but that’s about it. It should’ve been repurposed into a better song. I think that the relationship between Dylan and Starr is kind of interesting – Ringo is just sort of always hanging around, at The Last Waltz and at Dylan shows. They didn’t do much together, particularly relative to Dylan’s relationship to George Harrison, but they did seem to be quite friendly.
- U2, “Love Rescue Me”
By far the best of the collaborations. Dylan co-wrote and recorded this song with U2 in June 1987, but it was released on U2’s 1988 album Rattle and Hum. Dylan had performed with Bono in Ireland in 1986, and then appeared with the band on stage in Los Angeles on April 20, 1987, performing “I Shall Be Released” and “Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door”. Bjorner lists these as available on half a dozen bootlegs that I don’t have, and I’m sure that they’re on an even greater number of U2 bootlegs, but I don’t have any of those either. If anyone has a lead, I’d be curious to hear that performance.
“Love Rescue Me” is a pretty good song. I really hated Rattle and Hum when it was released. I wasn’t a huge U2 fan prior to that, but that album left me pretty cold. Listening to this now, I kind of like it, and would probably speak up for this one. Dylan performs a role similar to that of B.B. King on “When Love Comes to Town”, certifying and Americanizing the Irish band. That bugged me then, but I’m a lot more sympathetic to it today. It doesn’t hurt that it is a pretty good song.