Happy Birthday, Bob! Welcome to another installment of Reissue Theory, where we focus on notable albums and the reissues they could someday see. To celebrate Mr. Dylan's 70th birthday, we're taking a look at one acclaimed LP and the controversial collection drawn from its outtakes. Can these albums be reissued and expanded in the proper context? One answer follows!
Greil Marcus famously asked, "What is this shit?" in his review of Bob Dylan's 1970 Self-Portrait. Dylan's tenth album for Columbia Records remains as controversial today as it was then, and Marcus' question has never been definitively answered. A mix of frankly strange cover versions, instrumentals and originals spread over 2 LPs, Dylan told Cameron Crowe that the intention was to put out "his own bootleg record" consisting of studio warm-ups "just to get things right, and then we'd go on and do what we were going to do." Prior to the Crowe interview, the singer had asserted that the album was a pointed slap in the face to his own overzealous fans: "I said, 'well, fuck it. I wish these people would just forget about me. I wanna do something they can't possibly like, can't possibly relate to. They'll see it, and they'll listen, and they'll say, 'Well, let's get on to the next person. He ain't sayin' it no more.'" Whatever the explanation, Self-Portrait mystified its audience but still managed to go gold as listeners wanted to hear what the hell it was all about. Like many of Dylan's albums, a number of outtakes were generated in the sessions held between April 1969 and March 1970; some might wonder about the quality of the songs left off such a maligned album!
But the reaction to Self-Portrait was nothing compared to that which greeted Dylan (1973). Dylan had made a shocking (and short-lived) exit from Columbia Records for David Geffen's Asylum label, where he would reunite with The Band for Planet Waves. As was record company fashion in those days, Columbia prepared to compete with Asylum. The label hastily cobbled together an album of vault material that hardly showed off Dylan at his best. Likely due to the fact that he was not consulted in the making of the LP, Dylan has subsequently all but disowned the album. It has never been released on CD in North America on compact disc, though it has surfaced on cassette and on iTunes. Even when a complete Dylan on Columbia box set has been discussed, there's been precious little talk of Dylan being included. So, then, what's the point of this Reissue Theory?
1973's Dylan consisted of two outtakes from Self-Portrait together with seven outtakes from 1970's New Morning, its near-immediate follow-up. A standalone reissue is unlikely, but what if Bob Dylan would consent to seeing the material on Dylan released where most of it belongs? These admitted outtakes would find a natural home not as a proper album, but rather as the second disc of an expanded edition of 1970's acclaimed "comeback," New Morning.
Intrigued by the story of these two intertwined albums? Help us celebrate the 70th birthday of a true American bard, Bob Dylan, with this special Reissue Theory installment. We’ll explore a hypothetical Legacy Edition restoring Dylan's tracks to print on an expanded edition of New Morning. Hit the jump to read more!
Dylan followed the misunderstood (?) Self-Portrait with New Morning a scant four months later. The title of New Morning heralded a new beginning, and for Dylan, it was indeed back to basics. Gone was the pronounced, deep croon that had featured so prominently on 1969’s Nashville Skyline and Self-Portrait. The album was a shorter 1-LP affair, and while many speculated it was intended to course-correct Dylan's career after Self-Portrait, the truth is that the album was near-complete by the time of Self-Portrait's June, 1970 release. But it did almost follow that LP’s route, originally planned to include both Dylan compositions and versions of his favorite songs.
New Morning began to take shape on May 1, 1970 when Dylan was joined by George Harrison, Charlie Daniels and Russ Kunkel at Columbia's Studio B in New York City. With producer Bob Johnston, Dylan began recording an eclectic blend of material in rough-hewn versions. On Self-Portrait, Dylan had covered the Rodgers and Hart standard "Blue Moon,” Gordon Lightfoot's "Early Morning Rain" and most notoriously, future touring mate Paul Simon’s “The Boxer.” So odd was that recording, in which Dylan sings as both Simon and Garfunkel, that listeners could be forgiven for wondering if it was a joke! This time, he turned his attention to the Phil Spector/Jeff Barry/Ellie Greenwich "Da Doo Ron Ron," Carl Perkins' "Matchbox" and “Your True Love,” Sam Cooke's "Cupid," and even the Lennon/McCartney "Yesterday." Dylan’s "Doo Ron Ron" is most bizarre, retaining the title phrase but little else as Dylan - with jaunty harmonica - laconically goes through the days of the week. (Perhaps needless to say, Bob doesn't meet Bill, nor does Bill walk him home!) Though lacking harmonies, his rendition of Boudleaux Bryant's "All I Have to Do is Dream" has a certain charm as Dylan drawls, "Gee whiz!" with wide-eyed discovery. The ragged "Yesterday" sounds heartfelt in a country-and-western tinged recording. "Cupid" is slowed-down and a less natural choice, with Dylan’s nasal rasp no substitute for Cooke’s silky vocals. “Your True Love” sounds like a short warm-up between Harrison and Dylan, with the latter back in his Nashville Skyline vocal style.
A number of Dylan's own songs were revisited including "Rainy Day Women Nos. 12 and 35," "One Too Many Mornings" and "It Ain't Me Babe." New songs were attempted: "If Not For You," "Went to See the Gypsy" and "Time Passes Slowly." The latter was originally written for a stage musical Dylan had been exploring with poet and playwright Archibald MacLeish (J.B.) based on The Devil and Daniel Webster. When the writing of the stage show stalled, "New Morning" and "Father of Night," along with "Time Passes Slowly," found a home on New Morning.
Sessions resumed one month later on June 1 at the neighboring Studio E, and it was during the month of June that the core of both New Morning and Dylan was recorded. A variety of musicians was present including old hand Al Kooper and David Bromberg. The very first June session produced Dylan's "Sarah Jane" and Peter LaFarge's "Ballad of Ira Hayes," both of which were rejected for New Morning and appeared on Dylan. The next day, Charles Badger Clark's "Spanish is the Loving Tongue" was recorded for an eventual single release, although a version dating back to April 1969 was selected by Columbia for inclusion on Dylan instead. The traditional "Mary Ann" and Jerry Jeff Walker's "Mr. Bojangles" were also tackled on June 2. “Bojangles,” which was adopted by Sammy Davis Jr., might seem an odd choice of songs for Dylan, but it's not a stretch to imagine him having identified with the down-and-out song-and-dance-man portrayed in Walker’s song. Those two tracks, again, wound up on Dylan and “Bojangles” is a highlight.
Recording continued the entire week with more loose covers and newly-written songs committed to tape. Perhaps Dylan shouldn't have attempted the widescreen romance of "Can't Help Falling in Love" on June 3; he does little justice to the song. The original "One More Weekend" made it to New Morning; "Can't Help Falling in Love" and the traditional "Lily of the West" were destined for Dylan. "Kingston Town" and "Long Black Veil" remained unreleased. One of the most infamous of all Dylan's cover versions was recorded on June 4 when he put his indelible stamp on Joni Mitchell's "Big Yellow Taxi," taking some lyrical license (heck, Sinatra did it all the time!) in introducing a "big yellow bulldozer" to Mitchell's cautionary tale. Mitchell took her revenge by adding a couple of words into a sacrosanct Dylan text, “It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue.” She commented, “I felt I could take this liberty since Bob had written a ‘big yellow tractor’ verse into my ‘Big Yellow Taxi!’” He tried “Lily of the West” again on June 5 along with a number of the songs that would eventually form the spine of New Morning, including "Went to See the Gypsy," imagining a meeting with a figure who may or may not be Elvis Presley.
Following that intense week of recording, Dylan returned to the studio for overdubs and on June 30 attempted a new version of "Blowin' in the Wind" which hasn't yet seen the light of day. In August he cut three new songs for New Morning, leading one to believe that he wasn't happy with the previous sessions. All of the interpretations of others' songs were shelved. New Morning's only single, "If Not For You," was finalized in August as was "Time Passes Slowly" and "Day of the Locusts," based on an unhappy visit by Dylan to Princeton University where he had accepted an honorary doctorate in music.
Following the August 12 session, New Morning - and by extension, Dylan - was in the can. Our Legacy Edition begins, appropriately, with the original 12 track line-up of New Morning. As this is a completed album as envisioned by its writer and artist, the original LP sequence stands alone on Disc One. Dylan's "return to form" gambit worked, with Rolling Stone's Ralph Gleason atoning for Greil Marcus' comments in the magazine with an enthusiastic cry of "We've got Dylan back again!" Robert Christgau concurred that the album was "love on the rebound."
Dylan was on the rebound, too. New Morning took the country sound of Nashville Skyline as its starting point and added a more visceral rock-and-roll edge to it. “If Not For You” proved his mastery of the classic pop songwriting form; “The Man in Me” is equally infectious, if a touch misogynistic! The spoken-word “If Dogs Run Free” was another opportunity for him to engage in wordplay. “Winterlude” even plays with a jazzy feel while “New Morning” is a laid-back composition with charm to spare. If not in the same league as Blonde on Blonde or Blood on the Tracks, New Morning is more than worthy of the deluxe treatment.
Disc Two, then, begins with 1973's Dylan. Its cover intentionally echoed New Morning, recolored to give the album an off-kilter look. Every track other than "A Fool Such as I" and "Spanish is the Loving Tongue" dated from the New Morning sessions, with those two having been recorded for Self-Portrait. In our hypothetical track listing, we've concentrated on the unreleased cover versions as they are of a piece with the material released on Dylan, making for a comfortable fit. They give a window to Dylan’s original concept for New Morning, which would have featured both new songs and covers. (Did Dylan abandon the non-original songs after the scathing reaction accorded Self-Portrait? Or was he going for that reaction all along?) We’ve added a couple of Dylan originals for good measure including an alternate take of “If Not For You” accompanied by George Harrison and the reworking of “Blowin’ in the Wind,” and we have also included the rare single version of “Spanish is the Loving Tongue.” What of the rest of the still-unreleased self-written tracks and re-recordings of his sixties classics? They would undoubtedly find a better home on a future edition of The Bootleg Series.
Well, an expanded edition of New Morning, of course, has to “take a number.” After all, we’re still waiting for a Legacy Edition of Blood on the Tracks bringing the original and final mixes together as one package, just to name one possible Dylan archival project. But it's fun to imagine, isn't it? Our hypothetical New Morning: Legacy Edition can be discovered below!
Bob Dylan, New Morning: Legacy Edition (Columbia/Legacy, 2011)
Disc 1: New Morning: The Original Album
- If Not for You
- Day of the Locusts
- Time Passes Slowly
- Went to See the Gypsy
- If Dogs Run Free
- New Morning
- Sign on the Window
- One More Weekend
- The Man in Me
- Three Angels
- Father of Night
Disc 2: New Morning: The Outtakes, Including Dylan
- Lily of the West
- Can't Help Falling in Love
- Sarah Jane
- The Ballad of Ira Hayes
- Mr. Bojangles
- Mary Ann
- Big Yellow Taxi
- A Fool Such as I
- Spanish is the Loving Tongue
- If Not For You (with George Harrison)
- Da Doo Ron Ron
- Ghost Riders in the Sky
- All I Have to Do is Dream
- Your True Love (duet vocal by George Harrison)
- Fishin’ Blues
- Honey, Just Allow Me One More Chance
- Spanish is the Loving Tongue (Single Version)
- Kingston Town (Jamaica)
- Long Black Veil
- Blowin' in the Wind
- I Forgot to Remember to Forget
- Oh, Lonesome Me
Disc 1, Tracks 1-12 from New Morning (Columbia KC 30290, 1970)
Disc 2, Tracks 1-9 from Dylan (Columbia PC 32747, 1973 – Tracks 1-7 recorded for New Morning, 8-9 recorded for Self-Portrait, Columbia C2X 30050, 1970)
Disc 2, Track 10 recorded May 1, 1970, previously released on The Bootleg Series, Volume 2: 1961-1991, Columbia 468 086 2, 1991
Disc 2, Tracks 11-19 recorded May 1, 1970, previously unreleased
Disc 2, Track 20 recorded June 2, 1970 previously released on Columbia single 4-45409, 1971 & Masterpieces, CBS/Sony 57 AP875-7, 1978
Disc 2, Tracks 21-22 recorded June 3, 1970, previously unreleased
Disc 2, Track 23 recorded June 30, 1970, previously unreleased
Disc 2, Track 24 recorded June 5, 1970, previously unreleased
Disc 2, Track 25 recorded June 1, 1970, previously unreleased