So after the announcement that Bob Dylan had been awarded the Nobel Prize for literature, I decided to listen to his entire studio catalogue. 37 albums. I made it most of the way through. His last album is not on Spotify (Nederland) yet, but here are the pithy comments I posted to the Music Obscurica group of my progress. And links to (usually) related videos.

1. Usually I try to read something, a poem or a short story at least, but each new recipient of the Nobel in literature. My new goal is to listen to one Dylan album per day for the next few weeks. I listened this morning to Dylan’s first album for the first time. I love lots of Dylan, but was never a completist, and knew most of the songs only from other people’s versions. Back in ’91 or so (follow me here), I saw Diamanda Galas on her solo piano tour. Her intro to this song made mention of the original and to Dylan’s ‘awful’ version of it, and that she was there to reclaim it. I quite like her version, but that night was my introduction to…

Blind Lemon Jefferson: See That My Grave Is Kept Clean:

2. Trying to listen to Bob Dylan’s discography. I know there’s brilliance in the lyrics, but Another Side of Bob Dylan is nearly unlistenable. I listen to some difficult music – I crank up Swans’ Public Castration Is A Good Idea for pleasure, but wow, there’s a hole in the bucket Dylan’s carrying his tunes in. [NB: I apparently didn’t post consistently for the first few]

3. A Dylan A Day #(Buick) 6:

This might be the first in his discography that I actually like. This is partly true because it’s the album of his I probably know best. Have owned more than one copy. These weren’t songs written for someone else to improve/do correctly. These were done well in the first place. The presence of other musicians meant that Dylan actually had to sing in key. And yeah, it’s all good stuff/no filler.

I don’t think I prefer the Dead’s version of Queen Jane, but when I think of the song, I always hear Bob Weir’s vocal:

4. A Dylan A Day took a break yesterday in favor of mostly industrial music to get me through some repetitive tasks. Today’s Dylan has been Blonde On Blonde, which I’ve enjoyed in the past. Much like Highway 61 Revisited, the full band treatment keeps Bob in vocal check. I’d not previously noted the musical similarities between Sad Eyed Lady and Robert Hunter’s Keys to the Rain. I still really dislike Just Like A Woman, but dig most of the rest of the album. Odd choice to open with Rainy Day Women, but if it had to be included, it didn’t make sense to do anything but get it over with.

And here’s the Dead without Dylan doing a nice version of Stuck Inside of Mobile, with Brent Mydland on keys. Very clean recording and everyone in form.

5. A Dylan a Day advances to John Wesley Harding. Another solid set, toned down from the previous two, but with some a pair of (and very competent) session musicians. Clean vocals. Classic tracks. The duffest of the lot is I’ll Be Your Baby Tonight, which is still a pretty fine track. And it’s got this song which would make any album a classic.

Neil Young: All Along The Watchtower:

6. A Dylan A Day brings us to Nashville Skyline. Short, sweet. Musically a meeting of country feel of John Wesley Harding, but with a larger accompaniment.  The Wikipedia article quotes a Rolling Stone review, ‘Nashville Skyline achieves the artistically impossible: a deep, humane, and interesting statement about being happy.’ That kinda nails it. At 27 minutes, it’s easy to enjoy and move on to the next.

Next week is gonna be a little more difficult. He kinda went into the wilderness for a few years after this one, not coming out until Blood On The Tracks in ’75.

And I’m sure to be one of about six people in the world who really likes this one…

Ministry: Lay Lady Lay:

(ETA: One of the guitarists on Nashville Skyline was Charlie Daniels, who celebrates his 80th birthday today [28 October].)

7. A Dylan A Day moves on to Self Portrait. Wow. What a hodgepodge. Some gems in there though:

  • Woogie Boogie is okay. So is Living The Blues.
  • The Isle of Wight version of Like A Rolling Stone is painful in its lo-fi ultra-whininess. Ow.
  • Gotta Travel On is an okay country blues. He actually sounds interested in playing the song. Not a common feeling on this album.
  • He’s not bringing anything new to ‘Blue Moon’ – the weird female backup that shows up periodically is especially weird here.
  • Why The Boxer, why?
  • Why The Mighty Quinn, why? Yeah, I know he wrote it, but Manfred Mann own it. He really didn’t do the song any favours.
  • Save for the word ‘jam’ (which only kinda made sense when the Everly Brothers sang it because they were kids), Take A Message To Mary makes sense in the canon of Dylan’s C&W-styled songs. It starts out oddly, but concludes well.
  • Minstrel Boy manages some nice harmony, but you can tell even the audience is tired of him.

Grateful Dead: Quinn The Eskimo:

8. Today’s edition of A Dylan A Day is New Morning, an oddly pleasant album, still in the country vein. Apparently he got the vinegar out of his system with Self Portrait and got back to business. My favourite track, after one listen, is this country blues which must have been a surprise to the completist fans when it came up in this 2002 performance…

If Dogs Run Free:

9. A Dylan A Day skipped over Greatest Hits Volume II as it’s not on Spotify (NL). I’d at least have given side 4 a chance. That said, Pat Garrett and Billy The Kid came next. Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door is a merciful 2 minutes 30, so that’s a plus. My favourite track on the album is a little bluegrass number called Turkey Chase. Alas, no vid, so you get this…

Heaven: Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door:

10. And A Dylan A Day suffered through the unauthorized 1973 album Dylan, which comprises seven outtakes from New Morning and two from Self Portrait. Yeah, there were songs that didn’t make it on to Self Portrait. For an album that’s only 33 minutes long, there’s a good bit of why (Mr. Bojangles, Big Yellow Taxi, and Can’t Help Falling In Love for a start). Columbia wanted to squeeze one more out as he skipped for Asylum.

Here, however, is how it’s done…

Joni Mitchell: Big Yellow Taxi:

11. A Dylan A Day features Planet Waves. I’m pretty sure this is the one that colleagues years ago said ‘Shipped gold, returned platinum’. It’s musically solid, but (on one listen) it’s probably not what the Nobel folks were listening to when they awarded him that prize a couple weeks ago.

Manfred Mann’s Earth Band: You Angel You:

12. A Dylan A Day is up to the live album Before The Flood. Mostly Dylan backed The Band, but with five or six tracks that are just The Band. I think those tracks might be my favourites. Everyone is working very well together. The only track that really grates on my ears is the closing rendition of Blowin’ In The Wind. Dylan seems to be parodying himself, but the instrumentation is still great.

Stage Fright:

13. A Dylan A Day brings us to Blood On The Tracks. Good stuff this album. Appropriate lyrics for the day…

Big Jim was no one’s fool, he owned the town’s only diamond mine
He made his usual entrance lookin’ so dandy and so fine
With his bodyguards and silver cane and every hair in place
He took whatever he wanted to and he laid it all to waste
But his bodyguards and silver cane were no match for the Jack of Hearts

Cool though that song is, I think one of Jerry’s epic takes on the opening track is also appropriate…

Jerry Garcia: Tangled Up In Blue:

14. A Dylan A Day brings us to Desire, which is far more intense than I remember in the 80s when I had a copy. When I was in high school I made a couple of mix tapes that consisted only of live b-sides of 45s, and these were in heavy rotation on my various tape players for years. The first one had the version of Isis from Renaldo and Clara, which was the b-side of Jokerman. My mix tapes were notoriously unlistenable by people I gave them to. This one also had, if I recall rightly, a live version of Frankie’s Relax, and The Lady Lies by Genesis (from the Abacab tour on a green flexidisc that came with some British magazine.) Anyway, by the time I heard the studio version of Isis a couple years later, it just didn’t sound right. Too slow, not enough energy. Now, the studio version sounds better.  This video has the first bit of the song cut off, but it’s the same version from that 45. (I’m pretty sure it’s the same version found on Biograph as well.)


15. A Dylan A Day came to Street Legal this morning and I listened and then went on to listen to something else. A decided step down from Desire and Blood on the Tracks. I’m sure he recorded interesting stuff in the 80s and 90s and I’ll soldier on. I’m skipping on the live albums at this point. 100 minutes of Bob at Budokan is a little more than I can take. I’ll head into the Christian period tomorrow, but here’s…

Jerry Garcia: Senor (Tales of Yankee Power):

16. A Dylan A Day takes us to Slow Train Coming, which is musically more interesting than Street Legal. He was on a mission, quite literally, and it seems to have given him some energy that had been lacking.

Gotta Serve Somebody:

17. After listening to a little fIREHOSE, I dropped in on Dylan’s Saved. Another energetic effort – I think the gospel arrangements work well with what Bob had always been trying to do. The closing track however, brought nothing to mind so much as…

Nina Simone: Do I Move You:

18. A Dylan A Day finds us enjoying Shot of Love. More rock and roll, but he’s obviously trying to edge back into the real world. Good stuff. This track is one I knew was a rarity back in the 80s. Until the CD reissue, it was only available as a b-side. This woman’s rendition is sweet…

Elkie Brooks: The Groom’s Still Waiting At The Altar:

19. A Dylan A Day has made it to Infidels. Good stuff. Despite being his first post-born-again album, it’s not short on biblical imagery. I knew bits of Bob when this album came out, but it was the first with new songs to get airplay since I’d been buying records. (I was 16 when it came out and watching a *lot* of MTV.) Solid backing band (Sly & Robbie handling rhythm!), clean production. Here’s the opener…


20. And A Dylan A Day brings us to Real Live. I was going to skip it, but noted the 1-2 punch of Ian MacLagan on keys and Mick Taylor on Guitar. The classics are mostly handled well, though I thought the 80s stadium rock arrangement of Masters of War gutted it of its impact. If you’re going to go 80s on that track, go full-on…

Roger Taylor: Masters of War:

21. A Dylan A Day is progressing through the 80s. Empire Burlesque, for all of its disjointed recording sessions and long credits list is pretty cohesive. It’s just not very interesting. Tight Connection got some airplay, but it had a stupid literal video that I just can’t watch. I didn’t realise that two other videos were released. This one’s not bad…

When The Night Comes Falling From The Sky:

22. A Dylan A Day takes us to the long-slagged Knocked Out Loaded. A credit list as long as my arm couldn’t do Bob’s obvious lack of interest in the project much help. The epic Brownsville Girl (cowritten by Sam Shepard) contains the line ‘Oh if there’s an original thought out there, I could use it right now.’ Truer words, Bob, truer words.

So here’s some classic Brownsville Station instead…

Smokin’ In The Boys’ Room:

23. A Dylan A Day comes to Down In The Groove. It clocks in at only 32 minutes and features a couple of really jarring fadeouts. Yeah, it’s a little disturbing that the editing is the thing the hits the listener. The song with the most energy, Had A Dream About You Baby is nothing to sing about (so to speak) lyrically, but it’s the only track on which you can identify the musicians. Alas Brent Mydland was wailing on the keyboard and the engineer seemed to think it was enough and faded him out before the three-minute mark.

Nothing really interesting in the Robert Hunter collaborations that open side two.

And Nick Cave didn’t cover Death Is Not The End for its brilliance either. After the excess of O’Malley’s Bar, it might have been the only song that could possibly have closed out that rather dismal album. (I love me some Nick Cave, but there are only about four tracks on that album that I enjoy.)

And while 90 Miles An Hour Down A Dead End Street isn’t an original, it seems to have been the inspiration for Tom Robinson’s One Way Street.

Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds: Death Is Not The End:

24. A Dylan A Day keeps going. There are only about ten studio albums to go after today’s offering, Oh Mercy. Yeah, it’s a return to form, he sounds like he’s interested in what he’s doing. Daniel Lanois was generous to the musicians involved (songs seem to end because they’re done, not by fade out, for example). And, because I’ve always got a complaint, it seems to have that Lanois of Sound that infected most of the albums he produced at the time (Robbie Robertson’s first solo album, Peter Gabriel’s Us, The Joshua Tree). Note that I’m listening to the album via Spotify on earbuds, which probably was worth noting when I first started this project.

Political World:

25. A Dylan A Day comes back with Under The Red Sky. Same issue with fade outs that I mentioned a few days ago. The Wikipedia page mentions that the childlike lyrics that pepper the album might have been written for a young son. Yeah, well, keep that stuff in the family or make a kid’s album, I say. If Handy Dandy sounds awfully familiar, I’m betting it’s because Al Kooper’s playing that Rolling Stone riff. Album closer The Cat’s In The Well suffers (again) with some sloppy writing in the midst of what is otherwise a statement that resounds with the current situation in the world.

The Cat’s In The Well:

26. A Dylan A Day brings us to Good As I’ve Been To You. This is probably his best album since Exile on Main…. Wait. Never mind. But seriously, just the man and his guitar and a bunch of really good songs that he didn’t write. He handles the old ballads really nicely.

Hard Times:

27. And A Dylan A Day brings us to World Gone Wrong. Another really good just-bob-and-his-guitar recording of traditional folk blues goodies. To me, most of the songs were pretty obscure, save for Stack a Lee (hundreds of recorded versions) and Jack-A-Roe, long a staple of Grateful Dead shows. Bob does both proud. Here’s a slightly faster-paced Jack-A-Roe than the one on the album…

28. A Dylan A Day has made it to Bob’s thirtieth studio album, Time Out Of Mind. It’s definitely another Daniel Lanois production, but there’s some very interesting stuff on it. Not sure what to make of the 16-minute closer, Heartland. It’s a beautiful slow blues, but when I call upon the author to explain, he replies, ‘I’m wondering what in the devil could it all possibly mean?’

Love Sick:

29. A Dylan A Day finds itself in the 21st century! Love and Theft is the most satisfying of the late-period albums so far. Taking on his own production duties brought a more varied sound all around. My favourite track is the slow Lonesome Day Blues, but it’s an all-around winner. This is a close second…

Sugar Baby:

30. I’ll be listening to more Greg Lake today, but first A Dylan A Day takes us up to another winner, Together Through Life. He and Robert Hunter seem to have had a much more fun time writing these songs than they had on their 1988 collaborations. The band is also seems to be having a good time, which is not always in evidence on Bob’s albums.

Beyond Here Lies Nothin’:

31. A Dylan A Day gets modern! Modern Times is another self-produced gem. A similar variety of styles including some nice blues/folk blues goodies. Another that I think will reward multiple listenings.

Working Man’s Blues:

32. I’m sorry. I just couldn’t listen to the whole thing. Worse than eating an entire pie at one sitting. I’m sure there’s all kinds of merit to Bob Dylan’s Christmas In The Heart, but I just wasn’t getting it. I dug his version of Must Be Santa (almost, but not quite, as good as Brave Combo’s), and also gave a full listen to his take on Sammy Cahn’s Christmas Blues. Also nice.  For the rest of it, I gave every song but Little Drummer Boy about 30 seconds. I’ll listen to LDB again after xmas.

Must Be Santa:

33. While A Dylan A Day couldn’t sit through Christmas In The Heart yesterday, we’ve quite enjoyed 2012 offering Tempest today. The title track, a 14-minute evocation of the sinking of the Titanic is quite intense. My favourite is the murder ballad Tin Angel, but he doesn’t seem to have performed it. The Robert Hunter collaboration (and album opener) Duquesne Whistle is a tasty piece, though.

Duquesne Whistle:

34. Just two more albums in A Dylan A Day. Shadows In The Night, Dylan’s first approach to a bunch of songs associated with Frank Sinatra, is gorgeous and sad. The arrangements are lovely, and Bob uses his voice to some of its best effect. There are a couple of live videos of tracks from this album, but the sound and audience hooting on those is worse than usual. Best just to listen.

Stay with Me:

35. A Dylan A Day is terribly disappointed! There are 55 Bob Dylan albums available on Spotify (Netherlands). Nearly twenty live albums and compilations and all of the studio albums. Save one. The very latest, Fallen Angels, released in May. Melancholy Mood and All The Way are up on YouTube, and like the material from Shadows In The Night, the arrangements of these two are lovely and Bob’s phrasing is superb. No, his voice is no less gravelly than Tom Waits’ has been for 30 plus years, but he makes a convincing case that a croon isn’t always what these songs call for.

Melancholy Mood: