Friday, November 30, 2007


A couple months ago, Columbia starting a huge marketing campaign to promote the upcoming release of (yet another) Bob Dylan boxset. With the definitive name "DYLAN", it seemed to promise to be the ultimate collector collection, a rosetta stone of unearthed new jems and re-imaginings of classic works.

Unfortunately, all of the hype was just that--hype. A completely unoriginal collection of the usual Dylan "greatest hits" fare (every track had been on at least one previous Dylan compilation), it was obvious from a quick look at the tracklisting that this collection was a complete waste of time. Not a single new track, or even an imaginative re-evaluation to choose some new, completely deserved tracks to define the man's cannon.

Bob Dylan has written thousands of songs in the 40+ years he has been a recording artist, many of which may never see the light of day or can only be found in expensive, obscure bootlegs. However, he has also written and recorded dozens (if not hundreds) of masterpieces that never seem to make the greatest hits collections and are unknown to only to Dylan completists.

I have compiled 33 such songs, all of which I consider to be among Dylan's best works. Some were overshadowed by more popular masterpieces on classic albums, some were diamonds in the rough (good songs on bad albums), and some were recently uncovered outtakes that somehow didn't make it to record (Dylan is notorious for leaving some of his best songs on the cutting room floor). However--not a single track included is from a bootleg. They are all from official releases, so if you like them, I highly encourage you to buy the albums.

Here's the tracklisting:

1) "House Carpenter" (from "The Bootleg Series, Vol. 1"): One of Dylan's many interpretations of traditional folk songs, "House Carpenter" features passionate vocals and some great "It's Alright Ma" style acoustic guitar playing.

2) "Isis (Live)" (from "The Bootleg Series, Vol. 5": Dylan is famous for his ability to reinvent his own songs, and the electric reworking of "Isis" (originally on "Desire") is one his most successful transformations. This is a really rocking song from the incredibly energetic Rolling Thunder Revue tour.

3) "Percy's Song" (from "Biograph"): This is supposedly an autobiographical song about a friend of Dylan's who was convicted of manslaughter after causing a car accident. A mournful wail of a song, an elegy for a friend not dead but lost. A deceptively simple song, but try singing it--not easy.

4) "Tears of Rage" (from "The Basement Tapes"): One of the greatest successes of the drunken rehab session know as The Basement Tapes, this never-meant-to-be-released track is a cryptic song about a father wronged by his daughter (or a citizen wronged by his/her country? A musician wronged by his fans? Who knows). Absolutely gorgeous song.

5) "Moonshiner" (from "The Bootleg Series, Vol. 1"): Whenever someone tells me they think Bob Dylan has a terrible voice, the play this song for them and they usually change their mind. A radical re-working of an Irish drinking song, Dylan turns it into an elegy of the drunkard that would make even Charles Bukowski weep.

6) "Black Crow Blues" (from "Another Side of Bob Dylan"): This song was one of Dylan's early attempts to throw off the confining label of "protest singer" and start exploring a more obscure type of poetry in his lyrics, one which took a symbolist approach of valuing the sound of a word as much as (or more than) its meaning. It's also an experimental departure from the traditional folk/blues guitar styles he was used.

7) "Tell Me Momma" (from "The Bootleg Series, Vol. 4"): The only song performed during the infamous 1966 tour that never appeared on an official studio release. Used to start off the electric portion of most shows, this rocking methedrine-blues tune is one of my favorites.

8) "Mama, You Been On My Mind" (from "The Bootleg Series, Vol. 2)": One of Joan Baez' favorites (she often performed it duet with Dylan), this is a simple but elegant love song.

9) "Dear Landlord" (from "New Morning"): Supposedly written about Dylan's breakup with long-time manager Albert Grossman, the song takes on a greater meaning as an anthem about the little man demanding respect from the person who has control over his life. The final line is pure redemption.

10) "Abandoned Love" (from "Biograph"): Originally written for the "Desire" album, this cryptic breakup song is contains some of Dylan's finest lyrics. The bootleg of his solitary live performance of this song is even more powerful and can be found easily on P2P sites.

11) "She's Your Lover Now" (from "The Bootleg Series, Vol. 2"): An outtake from the "Blonde on Blonde" sessions, this is one of many versions of the song that start of strong and fall apart at the end (possibly explaining why a version never found its way onto Dylan's greatest album). My guess is that this song is probably about Edie Sedgwick.

12) "Can You Please Crawl Out Your Window" (from "Biograph"): Probably better known from Jimi Hendrix's interpretation, this is yet another great "Blonde on Blonde" outtake. And another song that I suspect is about Edie/Andy Warhol.

13) "Santa-Fe" (from "The Bootleg Series, Vol. 2"): An outtake from "The Basement Tapes", this song gives a good insight into Dylan's songwriting style--come up with a melody and lyrical sound, then develop the actual lyrics after.

14) "Nobody 'Cept You" (from "The Bootleg Series, Vol.2"): An outtake from the "Planet Waves" sessions, this has always been one of those songs that, to quote Ron Burgundy, "cuts to the core of me". A simple song about being in a place you hate just to be with the one you love.

15) "This Wheel's On Fire" (from "The Basement Tapes"): Another masterpiece from "The Basement Tapes", this song borrows a classic line from Rimbaud to create a damning song about being scorned.

16) "I Forgot More Than You'll Ever Know" (from "Self Portrait"): The album "Self Portrait" is often looked at as blemish of Dylan's early recording career, but I absolutely love this album (at least it started to get a bit of a re-evaluation after Wes Anderson used "Wigwam" in "The Royal Tennenbaums"). This beauty cover of a country tune by The Davis Sisters is one of the album's highlights, with Dylan's crooning voice in top form.

17) "Up To Me" (from "Biograph"): An outtake from "Blood on the Tracks", written during the breakdown of his marriage, this song was the true jem of the "Biograph" set for me. Just listen to Dylan's voice starting to crack as he sings the line "If we never meet again/baby remember me". Great, great song.

18) "I Wanna Be Your Lover" (from "Biograph"): Yet another "Blonde on Blonde" outtake (it should have been a triple album), this rocking amphetamine-fueled jam always makes me want to get up and shake my money maker.

19) "Senor (Tales of Yankee Power)" (from "Street Legal"): One of the few songs worth listening to from this mediocre album, "Senor" is nonetheless a great work, a cryptic and atmospheric song about confusion, fear and love lost.

20) "Blind Willie McTell" (from "The Bootleg Series, Vol. 3"): Remember how I mentioned that Dylan often leaves his best works off of albums? This song is the definitive example. An outtake from "Infidels", this nostalgic elegy for times past is better than the all of the songs on that album put together. One of the best Dylan has ever written.

21) "One More Cup of Coffee" (from "Desire"): This beautiful gypsy love song is one of Dylan's most unique works. One of Jack White's favorite songs; check out the great live version by The White Stripes.

22) "John Brown" (from "Unplugged"): Originally written by Dylan in 1963, this song didn't really get its due until this performance 30 years later, during the Persian Gulf war. Easily Dylan's best anti-war song, and probably the best one ever written. Brutal and heartbreaking.

23) "Man In The Long Black Coat" (from "Oh Mercy"): Foreshadowing Dylan's career renaissance with "Time Out of Mind", this creepy dirge from the Daniel Lanois produced "Oh Mercy" is a gem. Key lyric: "There are no mistakes in life, some people say/It is true sometimes, you can see it that way/That people don't live or die, people just float/She gave her heart to the man in the long black coat"

24) "Gates of Eden (Live)" (from "The Bootleg Series, Vol. 6): One of Dylan's first great symbolist successes, this song from "Bringing It All Back Home" tends to get overlooked in the midst of the other great songs on the album, which is a shame because it can really stand its own.

25) "Workingman's Blues" (from "Modern Times"): How can you not love a song that includes the lyric "the buying power of the proletariat is down"? This tune sounds like it was dug out of a time capsule, and does Springsteen-esque middle-America blue-collar nostalgia better than the Boss could ever dream of doing it.

26) "Lily, Rosemary and the Jack of Hearts" (from "Blood on the Tracks"): This song should have been made into a movie; the lyrics read like a script synopsis for greatest western never made. Dylan's ability as a storyteller are often overlooked in favor of his more esoteric lyrics, but this song (along with pretty much everything on "Desire") proves his talents as a narrative songwriter.

27) "Dirge" (from "Planet Waves"): The deepest, darkest anti-love song ever written and possibly the greatest song to listen to after a bad breakup. Check out this for an opening lyric: "I hate myself for loving you/And the weakness that it showed/You were just a painted face/On a trip down Suicide Row" Jeez...and it even sounds like a funeral dirge too.

28) "Sign On the Window" (from "New Morning"): I was tempted to put the entire "New Morning" album on this list, seeing as it is dreadfully overlooked. "Sign On The Window" plays out like Dylan sitting at a piano, coming to terms with his chaotic past & accepting the beauty of a quiet life in the country as a family man. Unfortunately for Bob, this idyllic pastoral life didn't last too long.

29) "The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll" (from "The Times They Are A'Changing"): This heartbreaking true story of a maid beaten to death by a drunken socialite is one of Dylan's most successful "protest songs". Sad and poignant.

30) "Dark Eyes" (from "Empire Burlesque"): Quite honestly the only song listening to on this trainwreck of an album, it is neverless a Dylan masterpiece. Bizarre song structure and how can you deny a lyric like "I live in another world/Where life death are memorized/Where the Earth is strung with lover's pearls/And all I see are dark eyes"

31) "Tonight I'll Be Staying Here With You" (from "Nashville Skyline"): Dylan's country-western album is often overlooked (besides the overplayed "Lay Lady Lay"), and it's really a shame because there are some great songs on it. Dylan's voice on this track is absolute perfection.

32) "Corrina, Corrina" (from "The Freewheelin'"): A nice, soft track to close out the playlist. Simple, pretty and timeless, just like Dylan's best work.

Here's the download link (just a warning: it's 200MB+ so be prepared for a long download if you're on a slow connection):


Tanner M. said...

took 6 minutes with my sweet burlington telecom connection. This looks great Jay, thanks - Jenny and i'll be listening to this tommorrow on our ride up the 'gate to fetch our holiday fir.

Anonymous said...

"Dear Landlord" is from JOHN WESLEY HARDING, not NEW MORNING.

wardo said...

That is a great collection, and something I'd listen to start to finish with skipping a single track. Nice going.
I'm slowly going through the ouevre (?) album by album, which can be accessed here:
Please feel free to comment and/or complain.