Wednesday, June 25, 2014

One Year, 100 Albums: #2 Bob Dylan "Blood on the Tracks"

Bob Dylan Blood on the Tracks, 1975

Oh goodness. This album. First of all, Bob Dylan claims this ISN'T about a horrible, gut-wrenching breakup. Which is, of course, hooey. Every song is about the end of love or betrayal or even, on "Idiot Wind" how stupid the both of you are.

It's some of the clearest writing of Dylan's career. Something that has frustrated me with albums like Highway 61 Revisited or Blonde on Blonde is that the words SOUND nice, but what the hell is he talking about? I mean, I'll still listen to them, but it's with the understanding that he could basically just as easily be saying nonsense words that sounded cool together. It's a pedestrian complaint and I'm 100% aware of that. It doesn't hold me back from enjoying any of those albums, but it does make me enjoy Blood on the Tracks more.

Most of my cool anecdotes about this album I gleaned from this book, which I highly recommend if you like this book. It goes through the overall context that the album was recorded in (in both NYC and Minnesota) as well as going into stories from the musicians themselves about the recording of each song.

I've featured two songs with stories in that book because I could have picked literally any song to feature and felt great about having picked it. That's the atmosphere we're working with here in the top 2.

"Lily, Rosemary, and the Jack of Hearts" is a Western epic that I just love. The story from the book is that when Dylan went to record the harmonica part, he came in and the whole band winced at how he was playing. He was off-key, off-time, just everything. But then they realized it worked. It worked better than it would have if he was playing "correctly".

And then there's "Meet Me in the Morning" which was not a song that ever really caught my attention until I read about it in the book. The slide guitar player tells a story about how Dylan provoked him into anger and that that is why he played the solo so passionately and intensely. Now when I hear the song, I smile because I can FEEL the guitar player seething in annoyance, coming in before Dylan is done singing the verse and just basically setting the track on fire. And it's become one of my favorite songs on the album.

When I was a lad, my Dad gave me three Dylan albums for my birthday: Freewheelin', Blonde on Blonde, and Highway 61 Revisited. If I were to give my son introductory albums for Dylan's career, I'd include Blood on the Tracks. I don't know which of those three I'd cut, so I'd probably give him 4 albums. Or, geez, I don't know.

Fortunately, I don't have to make that kind of decision, because I'm hoping to one day be able to set up my CDs in a way that the kids can pick albums out and play them and get to know them. I won't quote the whole Nick Hornby passage about Dylan albums, but I feel like it's a nearly impossible decision to pick just three or even five Dylan albums to introduce someone to him.

Oh what the hell. I have it from an email I sent to a friend nearly 4 years ago (Thanks GMail!) So, here's the whole Nick Hornby passage (from Songbook):

"I'm not a Dylan fan. I've got Blonde on Blonde and Highway 61 Revisited, obviously. And Bringing It All Back Home and Blood on the Tracks. Anyone who likes music owns those four. And I'm interested enough to have bought The Bootleg Series Volumes 1-3, and that live album we now know wasn't recorded at the Royal Albert Hall. The reviews of Time out of Mind and Love and Theft convinced me to shell out for these two, as well, although I can't say I listen to them very often. I once asked for Biograph as a birthday present, so with that and The Bootleg Series I've got two Dylan boxed sets. I also, now I look, seem to own copies of World Gone Wrong, The Basement Tapes, and Good As I Been to You, although this, I suspect, is due more to my respect for Griel Marcus, who has written so persuasively and brilliantly about Dylan's fold and blues roots, than to my Dylanphilia. And I have somehow picked up along the way Street Legal, Desire, and John Wesley Harding. Oh, and I bought Oh Mercy because is contains the lovely "Most of the Time," which is on the High Fidelity soundtrack. There are, therefore, around twenty separate Bob Dylan CDs on my shelf; in fact I own more recordings by Dylan than by any other artist. Some people -- my mother, say, who may not own twenty CDs in total -- would say I am a Dylan fanatic, but I know Dylan fanatics, and they would not recognize me as one of them."

Bob Dylan - Lily, Rosemary, and the Jack of Hearts
Bob Dylan - Meet Me in the Morning

You can buy Blood on the Tracks at Amazon, Amazon MP3, and iTunes

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