The aim of this project is to go through the discography of Bob Dylan, and remake his albums in a way that I prefer. Over the years, as I consumed more and more Dylan alternate takes, bootlegs, home recordings and live records, I came to realize that the studio albums, while occasionally masterpieces, would also benefit from a reimagining. An album made in 1983 might have sounded passable at the time, but now, that same album might have enough extra material available to be remade into something far superior. Even the albums in Dylan’s discography that could be seen as complete masterworks still have a few songs on them with left off versions that I prefer.
The best thing about doing this project with an artist like Bob Dylan as the subject is that hindsight and history can be brought into the equation. We can now look on a 50-year career of an extremely well documented artist, and know everything there is to know about the state in which he made the records, the political and world climate surrounding them, and the long-term impact that these albums had. In addition, Bob Dylan seemed to move in cycles, where a series of albums would follow a certain trend before being abandoned: here he is as a drifting poet with a ratty acoustic guitar, here he is as an amphetamine headline prophet, here he is divorced and in a shattered exile, here he is with God at his side as he preaches to the heathens he sees everywhere, here he lost in a wilderness of studios and studio musicians while trying to find the new sound, here he is returned to form, and there he goes to make Christmas albums and crooner records as the light fades from a musical life well lived. All of these periods can be broken down and discussed, in addition to having all of the music from them moved around to suit the listener. It is a great thing that we have so many piles and piles of documented music from each phase of Dylan’s many stylistic careers to choose from. The fact that all of this cursory detail provides enough background information for it to be easily slotted into where an “album” should be, only makes this task of mine all the easier. I don’t need to do much digging to find this stuff, or where it was recorded or when.
So, using this material, and the original records, I will remake the albums as I see fit, and they hopefully will become more interesting records. This is of course not to say that I don’t love the originals (in most cases), because to do something like this requires a love of the source; one doesn’t listen to Empire Burlesque willingly unless they are truly committed to the artist that made it.
Another way that I will be changing the records is by not adhering to the exact length and structure that they are current presented in. When going through a musical career that spans 30+ albums, it can sometimes be difficult for someone to know where to start or what to listen to. Therefore, it will be almost a secondary aim of this project to cut and reorganize the Dylan discography into better and easier to consume chunks, presenting both a personalized portrait of the artist, as well as easier to digest versions of the music and records he made at a particular time. Therefore, in my version, it might not be necessary for an album like Highway 61 Revisited to have 9 songs; instead it could have 7 or 22. In the end, it might not even be necessary to consider what I make of that particular set of songs “Highway 61 Revisited.”
I’m leaving myself a lot of freedom, because it’s more fun that way.
1. Only studio records. No live albums. No greatest hits records.
2. I’m not touching the fucking Christmas album
3. Dylan’s current album cycle of Shadows in the Night, Fallen Angels, and Triplicate won’t be covered. For one thing, there’s no extra material for any of them, and I think that albums of covers shouldn’t count.
4. Speaking on that same point, the covers albums in the 80’s and 90’s don’t count. If Bob Dylan was too lazy to write songs, then I’m too lazy to cover the albums he made entirely out of other peoples songs.
5. I won’t be including the movie soundtrack Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid either.
A Note on the Rules:
While I will be going through all of the studio albums that Dylan has released, the sheer number of them and the material that they represent means that at some point in the project, I might fold multiple albums into one. However, this can only be done if the albums come from the same stylistic period. For example, it would be impossible to combine The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan with John Wesley Harding, Oh Mercy, or even Highway 61 Revisited. For one thing, all of these albums can stand on their own, and for a second thing, none of these records have Dylan in the same place and the same frame of mind when he was making them.
A Caveat on Live Albums:
While I will not be doing a reordering and recycling of the live records, I have given myself permission to pull from them to help make the studio albums better. However, I’ll probably only use live songs that aren’t from the albums with walls of crowd noise. Something like “Before the Flood” doesn’t lend itself to the task.
A Note on Availability:
The other thing that I’m taking into account when doing this list is the availability of material. Yes, there may be an astounding bootleg version of Slow Train Coming/Chimes of Freedom/Tangled Up in Blue/Positively 4th Street recorded by some burnout jackass with a cassette player at some show on some tour stop in the flyover states, but that recording isn’t available to really anybody, and if I did find it in a record store, it would probably be too much goddamn money. I’m going to be working off of material that can actually be found with only a decent modicum of digging.
Another Note on Something I Don’t Care About:
Stereo VS Mono recordings: I know some people might care, but I don’t. It all sounds the same to anyone who doesn’t cram their head into the speaker looking to see if the fourth trombone on track six shows up in all of the clarity that the song needs. It will be assumed from here on out that all of the choices I’ve made are from whatever recording comes on the CD, vinyl, or digital download that I possess.
A Note on The Basement Tapes:
I won’t be including the Basement Tapes and the subsequent Bootleg Series album that covers that particular session. For one thing, it seems as if the Basement Tapes were done in the spirit of experimentation and fun, and should not be considered a full studio album. The musicality and relevance of The Basement Tapes is of course, massive, but to me it seems to exist in an almost separate area than the main discography; as something that contains it’s own series of albums and outtakes made out of a massive selection of music. To go through all of it and try and find one perfect twelve song record would be almost impossible, and pointless, as that is not the point of The Basement Tapes. So, fuck it, I’m not doing the Basement Tapes.
Also, I have a strong fear that if I had to listen to a stoned and drunk Bob Dylan and The Band stumble elegantly through endless bullshit about Oranges and Picnics and Civil War beards while camped out in a goddamn basement, that I might lose my mind somewhere around disc 9 or 12 or whatever.
A Note on Self Portrait:
While I said above that I wouldn’t be spending any time with albums comprised entirely of covers, I am making an exception for Self Portrait. I think that the album has enough artistic merit to be included, and it also conveys a messy, miserable time in Dylan’s life flawlessly. Also, there’s a whole Bootleg Series (Vol.10) devoted too it with plenty of music to work with to try and build something out of the train wreck that is Self Portrait and the time surrounding it. You think the 60’s ended with the Manson murders? Wrong, it ended when Bob Dylan made Self Portrait and shit all over everybody who had the balls to care about what him and his misguided exile facial hair were doing out there in Woodstock.
* As seen through the lens/criteria I mentioned above
1. Bob Dylan (1962)
2. The Freewheelin Bob Dylan (1963)
3. The Times They Are A Changin’ (1964)
4. Another Side of Bob Dylan (1964)
5. Bringing it All Back Home (1965)
6. Highway 61 Revisited (1965)
7. Blonde on Blonde (1966)
8. John Wesley Harding (1967)
9. Nashville Skyline (1969)
10. Self Portrait (1970)
11. New Morning (1970)
12. Planet Waves (1974)
13. Blood on the Tracks (1975)
14. Desire (1976)
15. Street Legal (1978)
16. Slow Train Coming (1979)
17. Saved (1980)
18. Shot of Love (1981)
19. Infidels (1983)
20. Empire Burlesque (1985)
21. Knocked Out Loaded (1986)
22. Oh Mercy (1989)
23. Under the Red Sky (1990)
24. Time Out of Mind (1997)
25. Love and Theft (2001)
26. Modern Times (2006)
27. Together Through Life (2009)
28. Tempest (2012)