By Chris Moore:
With just over three weeks to go before the release of Bob Dylan’s thirty-third studio album, Together Through Life, anticipation is high. A couple weeks ago, a free download of the lead track “Beyond Here Lies Nothin'” was released as a temporary free download at bobdylan.com. In typical Dylan fashion, his music remains enigmatic, even in the age of digital music and online samples.
Even iTunes does not provide the standard 30-second preview tracks for any of the songs on Together Through Life — aside from the aforementioned first song, of course.
What we do have — and what is somewhat surprising — is Dylan’s own words about the upcoming release. In Bill Flanagan’s ten page interview, Dylan reflected on some of the new songs and upon the overall ideas and themes of the upcoming album. When asking about the lack of guitar solos, Flanagan referred to the integral aspect of solos in Aerosmith recordings. I had to laugh at Dylan’s response. He said, “What can I say? If I had Joe Perry with me, everything would obviously be different. As it is though, he wasn’t there. Soloing is not a big part of my records anyway. Nobody buys them to hear solos. What I try to do is to make sure that the instrumental sections are dynamic and are extensions of the overall feeling of the song.”
While this was an interesting response, I most enjoyed reading about his take on dreams. He said, “Dreams can lead us up a blind alley. Everybody has dreams. We go to sleep and we dream. I’ve always thought of them as coming out of the subconscious. I guess you can interpret them. Dreams can tell us a lot about ourselves, if we can remember them. We can see what’s coming around the corner sometimes without actually going to the corner.”
In a lot of ways, that’s what Dylan’s songs have always done for me and what they seem to have done for many of his fans — lead us to corners that we couldn’t even dream of and take us around them, if only for the duration of the performance.
So, what is a person to do while waiting for this new release? In my case, I decided to listen to all 678 Bob Dylan tracks on my iPod. This included all seven tracks of Dylan and the Dead, so you know I’m serious! The only rules to this little game are that I couldn’t skip any tracks, even if I ended up listening to fifteen versions of “It’s Alright Ma (I’m Only Bleeding)” in one day.
Three weeks ago, I brought you the first five in my list of ten Bob Dylan rarities that I had either forgotten about or hadn’t listened to in a long time. Today, I bring you the final five in my list. I hope you enjoy this trip down Obscurity Lane, and I hope this helps you cope with the wait until April 28th…
Ten (Officially Released) Bob Dylan Rarities:
6) “Gonna Change My Way of Thinking” (with Mavis Staples) – Okay, I know what you may be thinking. Yes, this is the version from the compilation album Gotta Serve Somebody: The Gospel Songs of Bob Dylan. While I’m not a gospel enthusiast, I had to hear this new recording by the man himself. I don’t know what I expected, but it certainly wasn’t what I got. This version of “Gonna Change My Way of Thinking” is no more gospel than it is hip hop. It is 100%, pure rock’n roll with a driving beat, ragged vocals from Dylan, and a heavy-handed drum beat from George Receli. The most soulful part of the song is the guitar solo. Not only is it an amazing track, but it has an unprecedented breakd0wn 30 seconds in, complete with Dylan inviting Mavis Staples onto the recording, admitting to her that he’s been reading “Snooze-Week” with the blues, and Mavis telling him that he’s got to sing! Then, they proceed to duet for the remainder of the track. (Some may disagree with me on this choice, but it has a soft spot in my heart — what a great rarity!)
7) “Goin’ to Acapulco” – I hadn’t listened to The Basement Tapes in full for a few years. I had sort of forgotten about this simple, but wonderful track. “Goin’ to Acapulco” is one of the first songs I learned to play on guitar. I always loved how it (along with many other songs from the sessions) appeared non-sensical at first and yet offered so much after a close listening. I mean, come on. There is certainly a double meaning to lines like “She gives it to me for a song” and “Rose Marie, she likes to go to big places and just set there waitin’ for me to come…” Classic Dylan.
8 ) “Country Pie” (Live) – Bob Dylan Live 1961-2000: Thirty-nine years of great concert performances, the compilation from which this track hails, was my initiation into the world of Bob Dylan bootlegs. Or, so I thought at the time. It turns out it’s just an import and therefore a semi-official release… Regardless, this is a great track for anyone who enjoys seeing Dylan play live these days. Recorded in 2000 in Portsmouth, England, this track is a nice example of why I’ve been anxiously waiting for a live Dylan release based in the new millennium. And, of all tracks to dust off, “Country Pie” is an interesting choice. As per usual, Dylan reinvents and reinvigorates this Nashville Skyline classic and made me love it all over again.
9) “I Was Young When I Left Home” – A traditional song that Dylan recorded on the “Minnesota Hotel Tape” in December 1961, I first heard this track when it was released in the limited edition packaging of Love & Theft. Aside from presenting such a stark contrast — both vocally and instrumentally — to the material on his 2001 album, this song immediately stood out to me. It has a warm quality, probably due to the fact that the recording quality is limited. There is something fitting about releasing this early track so late in his career. The main focus of the song is leaving home and heading out to the world at large, only to find that things are not going well at home. Still, the singer is broke and feels he “can’t go home this a-way.” There are some great lines, such as the double meaning in “I’m playin’ on a track…” (he means a railroad track, but it also carries the musical reference of recording a song). Fortunately, this song was released on the No Direction Home soundtrack, so much more of Dylan’s fanbase has been able to hear this little gem.
10) “Maggie’s Farm” (Live at the Newport Folk Festival, July 1965) – Last but certainly not least — and also from the No Direction Home “Bootleg Series” release — this version of “Maggie’s Farm” finally, officially presented we latter-day Dylan fans with a primary document of sorts. From all the stories that have been told about that year’s Newport Folk Festival (the Pete Seeger ax story being my personal favorite legend), I think I honestly expected more. This performance is fairly straightforward, complete with a Tennessee Three-esque static bass line. And yet, I can understand from hearing this track what a shock it must have been to have the typically solo Dylan appear with a full band and with amplifiers cranked to the maximum to boot. This is truly a historic track that I was thrilled to finally hear — and in those terms, it’s really second only to the “Judas!” 1966 Royal Albert Hall performance of “Like A Rolling Stone.”
** Even as I type the final words of this post, I realize just how many other amazing tracks that I have omitted from this list. I hope you’ve enjoyed my choices, and please feel free to share any other tracks you think should have made the cut! **