Rare or Unreleased 38: Bob Dylan

Sat across the table, my friend told me how his girlfriend and he had just split up. Despite the brave face, it was obvious he was love- and
forlorn. Seems like an everyday occurrence—romance never being stable for anyone—but it was almost enviable how his heart could still break. Almost.

Days later, some beautiful stranger just passing through started me «daydreamin' 'bout the way things sometimes are» (to quote Bob Dylan). Looking back on the record that quote is from—the widely regarded Blood on the Tracks—Dylan once said, «A lot of people tell me they enjoy that album. It's hard for me to relate to that. I mean, it, you know, people enjoying the type of pain, you know?» What the man seems to be missing is that it's better to have loved and lost, etc. And so even the prospect of heartbreak becomes life-affirming, which may help explain why so many enjoy an album that, after all, celebrates the good with the bad. Like heartache, Blood on the Tracks is all about possibility: missed opportunities, current impossibilities… future prospects? If you can feel that ache, there's still hope. There are only other fish in the sea if you're capable of love, devotion.

Now, these days any bohemian songwriter with respect for him- or herself writes at least one relationship break-up concept album in the span of their career. But it wasn't always like this: In 1975—when Blood on the Tracks (the most famous work in that genre) came out—the only previous break-up album proper had been 1970's equally pared back vox, acoustic guitar, bass and harmonica vehicle, the by turns tender, bitter, funny (and totally underappreciated) Requiem for an Almost Lady by Lee Hazlewood. Save for the absence of humour, straightforward lyrics and quirky spoken intros, Dylan's landmark album is remarkably (almost suspiciously) similar. But no less impressive.

The original 1974 test pressing of the album's solo acoustic material was held back, with Dylan re-recording the longest tracks in incongruous «classic rock» band versions, finally releasing a new version of the album that lost in intensity what it gained in variety. Apart from «Lily, Rosemary and the Jack of Hearts», the acoustic versions that were replaced have since appeared on official Dylan anthologies—Biograph, The Bootleg Series, vols. 2-3
and the Jerry Maguire soundtrack(!). Some alternate acoustic versions, however, (as well as the solo version of «Lily, Rosemary and the Jack of Hearts») have only seen unofficial release on bootlegs.

So until the veritable goldmine of unreleased Dylan stuff is eventually exhausted, here you are: takes of «Tangled Up in Blue», «Idiot Wind» and «If You See Her, Say Hello» that differ from the renditions on The Bootleg Series—as
well as the acoustic take of «Lily, Rosemary and the Jack of Hearts» and Roger McGuinn's version of irresistably self-pitying Blood on the Tracks outtake, «Up to Me», recorded exclusively for Mojo Magazine's September 2005 CD give-away, Dylan Covered.

  1. Tangled Up in Blue (alternate acoustic take)
  2. Lily, Rosemary and the Jack of Hearts (acoustic version)
  3. Idiot Wind (alternate acoustic take)
  4. If You See Her, Say Hello (alternate acoustic take)
  5. Up to Me (covered by Roger McGuinn)
Blood on the Tracks saw Dylan mature from the immensely talented, but ultimately immature wise-ass clever-dick showing off that very talent with self-indulgent, faux-Surrealist throw-away lines («All except for Cain and Abel / And the hunchback of Notre Dame / Everybody is making love / Or else expecting rain») into a mostly sincere and less defensive-aggressive songwriter. (Well, on this record, at least.) Blood on the Tracks features some of the most satisfying song structures Dylan has ever come up with, like the way he adapts the phrase «tangled up in blue» at the end of each verse in the song of the same name. And then there are the melodies, squeezed out of a drawl
that but for the urgent flow of pained words seems lazy, but is actually a minor revolution in phrasing, even for Dylan, carefully enunciating probably the best words he's ever written—all accompanied by his impelling, but always unobtrusive guitar strumming and Tony Brown's subtle, empathic bass for a backdrop. The old calculating people user, movement exploiter, media trickster and narcissist savant never sounded so truthful…

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