Our first installment of Greater Hits was a rousing success, and the big musical celebration of the day prompts our next installment of the series. Bob Dylan, 70 years old today, has been rhapsodized about all over the Internet. Rolling Stone made him the focus of their newest issue, while other publications have counted down the Bard’s best work (I’m of course partial to Popdose‘s write-up). And PopMarket, Sony’s beloved clearinghouse for box set deals, is offering the three-disc Dylan set from 2007 as the featured sale item through noon tomorrow.
Now, interestingly enough, PopMarket is also offering another three-disc Dylan set – the 1985 box set Biograph – as a standard deal for this week, at the same price tag. With that in mind, what better way to do our second installment of Greater Hits than set the two head-to-head?
The answers, my friend, are blowin’ in the wind…after the jump.
The lowdown: This Bob Dylan guy…he’s pretty popular.
Seriously, though, the man born Robert Allen Zimmerman in Duluth, Minnesota, is a folk hero, whose verbose, sometimes cryptic lyrics encapsulated the mindset of an entire generation in an era of sweeping social change. Entire details of his life – a change of guitars at the 1965 Newport Folk Festival, a 1966 motorcycle accident, his decision to embrace Christianity in the ’70s – have been endlessly dissected. Through it all, though, those songs remain vital to scores of new music fans across the globe.
The compilations: Biograph (Columbia LP C5X 38830/CD C3K 65298, 1985) and Dylan (Columbia/Legacy 88697 11420-2, 2007) were not the first Dylan compilations on the market; three volumes were released in 1967, 1971 and 1994, and an entry in the Essential series bowed in 2000. But as each respective set was released, it marked a degree of comprehensiveness. Biograph was one of the first box sets of the compact disc era, indirectly making this little site possible, and Dylan (also available as a single-disc and two-disc set) was the first compilation to include material from the singer’s improbably rich late ’90s comeback.
Songs and sequencing: Biograph edges out Dylan just slightly, offering 53 tracks to the latter set’s 51. Dylan is presented in straight chronological order, touching on hit singles and album tracks (skipping just three albums’ worth of tunes, the oft-maligned Self Portrait (1970) Dylan (1973), and Saved (1980)). Biograph is constructed out of sequence, giving listeners another side, if you will, of Dylan’s story. And there’s only a bit of overlap between boxes, due to Biograph‘s reliance on lesser-known material and the 22 years not covered by the same set that appear in Dylan‘s running order.
Extras: Biograph is the clear winner in this department; 18 of the tracks on the set – mostly live takes, outtakes, or other ephemera – made their debut on the set. No new material was dug up for Dylan, although some of it was exclusive to other compilations (i.e.: the alternate mix of “Dignity,” scrapped from the Oh Mercy sessions but released on the third volume of greatest hits in 1994).
Packaging: Both sets come in fancy boxes with extensive liner notes; Biograph‘s were penned by writer/director Cameron Crowe and feature commentary by The Bard himself, while Bill Flanagan penned the notes for Dylan. As was (and is) the trend at the time of Dylan‘s release, there’s some swag in the box that PopMarket’s selling, including 10 lithographs and LP-styled packaging (dig the vintage Columbia logo on the inside of the box!).
Verdict: If you’re looking for completeness or swag, go for Dylan. If rarities are your scene (or a respect for older, still relevant box sets), get Biograph. Personally, the latter would be my choice, but either would be the perfect birthday gift for yourself in honor of Dylan’s 70 years.