Inside Bob Dylan's Massive New Sixties Bootleg Series Trove

New box set traces Dylan's electric transformation with dozens of unreleased alternates and outtakes from 'Bringing It All Back Home,' 'Highway 61 Revisited,' 'Blonde on Blonde'

The latest installment of the Bob Dylan Bootleg Series sheds new light on the singer-songwriter's mid-Sixties masterworks. Credit: Michael Ochs Archives/Getty

Between January 1965 and February 1966, Bob Dylan wrote and recorded his first three electric albums, breaking from folk music and forever changing the course of his career and of rock itself. And as his exhaustive new studio-outtakes box set reveals, the journey toward the perfection of Bringing It All Back HomeHighway 61 Revisited and Blonde on Blonde was just as fascinating as the final products. The Cutting Edge 1965–1966: The Bootleg Series Vol. 12, out November 6th, offers a definitive look at the development of Dylan's plugged-in sound, unveiling embryonic takes and alternate versions of some of his greatest songs, including "Subterranean Homesick Blues," "Like a Rolling Stone" and "Visions of Johanna."

"At the beginning, most songs were fairly shapeless," says organist Al Kooper, a key collaborator on Highway 61 Revisited and Blonde on Blonde. "Only little by little did they come together."

The collection reveals that six months before the Byrds turned "Mr. Tambourine Man" into a folk-rock smash, Dylan himself saw its possibilities, taking a clumsy, abortive stab at recording a drums-and-electric-guitar version. ("The drums are driving me mad," he says at the end.) It shows how Dylan attempted to record some Blonde on Blonde tracks with future members of the Band before opting for the subtler touch of Nashville musicians: Their "Visions of Johanna" is almost another song altogether (complete with lyric tweaks — "useless and small" instead of "useless and all"), rollicking where the released version is hushed. And it reveals how much fun Dylan was having in the studio, especially during Highway 61 Revisited — he improvises a shout-out to guitarist Michael Bloomfield during a version of "Sitting on a Barbed Wire Fence," and he cracks up uncontrollably at early attempts to deploy the police whistle in the title track.

The Cutting Edge will be available in a six-disc and a two-disc version, as well as a monster limited-edition 18-disc set that includes every single take of every song from the three albums. In all, it documents a process that is, in its own way, as dramatic as Dylan's most public going-electric moment, at the 1965 Newport Folk Festival with the Paul Butterfield Blues Band. "A lot of people don't realize what an incredible risk he took," says a source close to the Dylan camp. "Why risk alienating his gigantic audience? But the burst of creativity was remarkable. The music goes to so many different places, and no two things are done the same way twice."

The complete "Like a Rolling Stone" sessions take up an entire CD, tracing the meandering path the epochal song took over two days, from an indifferent-sounding waltz to a ferocious, world-shaking rock hit. "People are going to get lost in that," says critic and Dylan scholar Greil Marcus.

Dylan approached each of the three albums differently. He had just three days to record the half-acoustic Bringing It All Back Home, and nailed songs including "Gates of Eden" in single takes. He spent considerably more time on Highway 61, and the process was nearly chaotic. "The recording of Highway 61 was unbelievably disorganized," says Kooper, who famously sneaked into the session and ended up playing organ, an instrument he barely knew, on "Like a Rolling Stone." "It was an unprofessional situation, exemplified by how I ended up playing on it! But Blonde on Blonde was a thoroughly professional situation. I knew all the songs before we went in. I could teach them to the band before Bob got them."

The Blonde on Blonde sessions are the richest vein tapped by the set, yielding far more outtakes than the other two LPs. There's a groovier "Stuck Inside of Mobile With the Memphis Blues Again," with Dylan syncopating the vocals, and an unnervingly danceable "Just Like a Woman" that's missing the line about amphetamines and fog. By that point, Dylan had slowed his process so he could fine-tune lyrics and experiment with wildly different arrangements. In Nashville, says Kooper, "we'd show up at the studio at noon and go home around 6 a.m. But we were only recording a small percentage of that time. Some days, we'd sit there for six hours and play ping-pong while he worked on lyrics."

The Cutting Edge is the third Bootleg Series collection released in the past two years, following Another Self Portrait and The Basement Tapes Complete — and the Dylan camp is nowhere near done raiding the vaults. "We've always wanted to do one of pre-album stuff where Bob is just singing songs in Greenwich Village coffeehouses," says the Dylan source. "We'd also love to revisit Blood on the Tracks, Infidels, Oh Mercy and the gospel albums." 

The Best of The Cutting Edge 1965–1966: The Bootleg Series Vol. 12 Track List

Disc 1:

1. "Love Minus Zero/No Limit" - Take 1 (1/13/1965) acoustic, incomplete
2. "Love Minus Zero/No Limit" - Take 2 (1/13/1965) acoustic
3. "Love Minus Zero/No Limit" - Take 3 remake (1/13/1965) acoustic
4. "Love Minus Zero/No Limit" - Take 1 remake (1/14/1965) electric
5. "I'll Keep It with Mine" - Take 1 (1/13/1965) piano demo, previously released on Biograph, 1985
6. "It's All Over Now, Baby Blue" - Take 1 (1/13/1965) solo acoustic, previously released on The Bootleg Series, Vol. 7, 2005
7. "Bob Dylan's 115th Dream" - Take 1 (1/13/1965) acoustic, incomplete
8. "Bob Dylan's 115th Dream" - Take 2 (1/13/1965) acoustic
9. "She Belongs to Me" - Take 1 (1/13/1965) solo acoustic
10. "She Belongs to Me" - Take 2 Remake (1/13/1965) acoustic
11. "She Belongs to Me" - Take 1 Remake (1/14/1965) electric
12. "Subterranean Homesick Blues" - Take 1 (1/13/1965) solo acoustic, previously released on The Bootleg Series, Vol. 1–3, 1991
13. "Subterranean Homesick Blues"- Take 1 remake (1/14/1965) electric
14. "Outlaw Blues" - Take 1 (1/13/1965) solo acoustic
15. "Outlaw Blues" - Take 2 Remake (1/13/1965) electric
16. "On the Road Again" - Take 1 (1/13/1965) solo acoustic
17. "On the Road Again" - Take 4 (1/14/1965) electric
18. "On the Road Again"- Take 1 remake (1/15/1965) electric
19. "On the Road Again" - Take 7 remake (1/15/1965) electric
20. "Farewell, Angelina" - Take 1 (1/13/1965) solo acoustic, previously released The Bootleg Series, Vol. 1–3, 1991
21. "If You Gotta Go, Go Now" - Take 1 (1/13/1965) solo acoustic
22. "If You Gotta Go, Go Now" - Take 2 (1/15/1965) electric
23. "You Don't Have to Do That" - Take 1 (1/13/1965) solo acoustic, incomplete

Disc 2:

1. "Tombstone Blues" - Take 1 (7/29/1965) alternate take
2. "Positively 4th Street" - Take 5 (7/29/1965) alternate take
3. "Can You Please Crawl Out Your Window"- Take 1 (7/30/1965) alternate take
4. "Just Like Tom Thumb's Blues" - Take 3 (8/2/1965) rehearsal
5. "Highway 61 Revisited" - Take 3 (8/2/1965) alternate take
6. "Queen Jane Approximately" - Take 5 (8/2/1965) alternate take
7. "Visions of Johanna" - Take 5 (11/30/1965) rehearsal
8. "She's Your Lover Now" - Take 6 (1/21/1966) rehearsal
9. "Lunatic Princess" - Take 1 (1/27/1966)
10. "Leopard-Skin Pill-Box Hat" - Take 8 (2/14/1966) alternate take
11. "One of Us Must Know (Sooner or Later)" - Take 19 (1/25/1966) alternate take
12. "Stuck Inside of Mobile With the Memphis Blues Again" - Take 13 (2/17/1966) alternate take
13. "Absolutely Sweet Marie" - Take 1 (3/7/1966) alternate take
14. "Just Like a Woman" - Take 4 (3/8/1966) alternate take
15. "Pledging My Time" - Take 1 (3/8/1966) alternate take
16. "I Want You" - Take 4 (3/10/1966) alternate take
17. "Highway 61 Revisited" – Take 7 (8/2/1965) false start

All tracks previously unreleased except Disc 1, track 2, Biograph; Disc 1, track 8, The Bootleg Series, Volume 1–3.

The Cutting Edge 1965–1966: The Bootleg Series Vol. 12 (6CD Deluxe Edition) Track List

Disc 1:

1. "Love Minus Zero/No Limit" - Take 1 (1/13/1965) acoustic, incomplete
2. "Love Minus Zero/No Limit" - Take 2 (1/13/1965) acoustic
3. "Love Minus Zero/No Limit" - Take 3 remake (1/13/1965) acoustic
4. "Love Minus Zero/No Limit" - Take 1 remake (1/14/1965) electric
5. "I'll Keep It with Mine" - Take 1 (1/13/1965) piano demo, previously released on Biograph, 1985
6. "It's All Over Now, Baby Blue" - Take 1 (1/13/1965) solo acoustic, previously released on The Bootleg Series, Vol. 7, 2005
7. "Bob Dylan's 115th Dream" - Take 1 (1/13/1965) acoustic, incomplete
8. "Bob Dylan's 115th Dream" - Take 2 (1/13/1965) acoustic
9. "She Belongs to Me" - Take 1 (1/13/1965) solo acoustic
10. "She Belongs to Me" - Take 2 Remake (1/13/1965) acoustic
11. "She Belongs to Me" - Take 1 Remake (1/14/1965) electric
12. "Subterranean Homesick Blues" - Take 1 (1/13/1965) solo acoustic, previously released on The Bootleg Series, Vol. 1–3, 1991
13. "Subterranean Homesick Blues" - Take 1 remake (1/14/1965) electric
14. "Outlaw Blues" - Take 1 (1/13/1965) solo acoustic
15. "Outlaw Blues" - Take 2 Remake (1/13/1965) electric
16. "On the Road Again" - Take 1 (1/13/1965) solo acoustic
17. "On the Road Again" - Take 4 (1/14/1965) electric
18. "On the Road Again" - Take 1 remake (1/15/1965) electric
19. "On the Road Again" - Take 7 remake (1/15/1965) electric
20. "Farewell, Angelina" - Take 1 (1/13/1965) solo acoustic, previously released The Bootleg Series, Vol. 1–3, 1991
21. "If You Gotta Go, Go Now" - Take 1 (1/13/1965) solo acoustic
22. "If You Gotta Go, Go Now" - Take 2 (1/15/1965) electric
23. "You Don't Have to Do That" - Take 1 (1/13/1965) solo acoustic, incomplete

Disc 2:

1. "California" - Take 1 (1/13/1965) solo acoustic
2. "It's Alright, Ma (I'm Only Bleeding)" - Take 1 (1/15/1965) acoustic, demo
3. "Mr. Tambourine Man" - Takes 1 - 2 (1/15/1965) incomplete, with band
4. "Mr. Tambourine Man" - Take 3 (1/15/1965) incomplete, with band
5. "It Takes a Lot to Laugh, It Takes a Train to Cry" - Take 1 (6/15/1965)
6. "It Takes a Lot to Laugh, It Takes a Train to Cry" - Take 8 (6/15/1965)
7. "It Takes a Lot to Laugh, It Takes a Train to Cry" - Take 3 (7/29/1965)
8. "It Takes a Lot to Laugh, It Takes a Train to Cry" - Take 3 remake (7/29/65)
9. "Sitting on a Barbed Wire Fence" - Take 2 (6/15/1965)
10. "Tombstone Blues" - Take 1 (7/29/1965)
11. "Tombstone Blues" - Take 9 (7/29/1965) previously released on The Bootleg Series, Vol. 7, 2005
12. "Positively 4th Street" - Takes 1–3 (7/29/1965)
13. "Positively 4th Street" - Take 4 (7/29/1965)
14. "Positively 4th Street" - Take 5 (7/29/1965)
15. "Desolation Row" - Take 1 (8/4/1965)
16. "Desolation Row" - Take 2 (8/4/1965) piano demo
17. "Desolation Row" - Take 5 remake (8/2/1965)
18. "From a Buick 6" - Take 1 (7/30/1965)
19. "From a Buick 6" - Take 4 (7/30/1965) released in error on first pressing of Highway 61 Revisited, 1965

Disc 3:

1. "Like a Rolling Stone" - Take 1–3 (6/15/1965)
2. "Like a Rolling Stone" - Take 4 (6/15/1965)
3. "Like a Rolling Stone" - Take 5 (6/15/1965)
4. "Like a Rolling Stone" - Rehearsal (6/16/1965)
5. "Like a Rolling Stone" - Take 1 (6/16/1965)
6. "Like a Rolling Stone" - Takes 2-3 (6/16/1965)
7. "Like a Rolling Stone" - Take 4 (6/16/1965) released on Highway 61 Revisited, 1965
8. "Like a Rolling Stone" - Take 5 (6/16/1965)
9. "Like a Rolling Stone" - Take 6 (6/16/1965)
10. "Like a Rolling Stone" -Take 8 (6/16/1965)
11. "Like a Rolling Stone" - Takes 9-10 (6/16/1965)
12. "Like a Rolling Stone" - Take 11 (6/16/1965)
13. "Like a Rolling Stone" - Take 12 (6/16/1965)
14. "Like a Rolling Stone" - Take 13 (6/16/1965)
15. "Like a Rolling Stone" - Take 14 (6/16/1965)
16. "Like a Rolling Stone" - Take 15 (6/16/1965)
17. "Like a Rolling Stone" - Master take - lead guitar isolated track
18. "Like a Rolling Stone" - Master take - vocal and guitar isolated track
19. "Like a Rolling Stone" - Mast take - drums and organ isolated track
20. "Like a Rolling Stone" - Master take - piano and bass isolated track

Disc 4:

1. "Can You Please Crawl Out Your Window" - Take 1 (7/30/1965)
2. "Can You Please Crawl Out Your Window" - Take 17 (7/30/1965 released in error on the first pressing of "Positively 4th Street" single
3. "Highway 61 Revisited" - Take 3 (8/2/1965)
4. "Highway 61 Revisited" - Take 5 (8/2/1965)
5. "Highway 61 Revisited" - Take 7 (8/2/1965)
6. "Just Like Tom Thumb's Blues" - Take 1 (8/2/1965)
7. "Just Like Tom Thumb's Blues" - Take 3 (8/2/1965)
8. "Just Like Tom Thumb's Blues" - Take 13 (8/2/1965)
9. "Queen Jane Approximately" - Take 2 (8/2/1965)
10. "Queen Jane Approximately" - Take 5 (8/2/1965)
11. "Ballad of a Thin Man" - Take 2 (8/2/1965) incomplete
12. "Medicine Sunday" - Take 1 (10/5/1965)
13. "Jet Pilot" - Take 1 (10/5/1965) Previously released on Biograph, 1985
14. "I Wanna Be Your Lover" - Take 1 (10/5/1965)
15. "I Wanna Be Your Lover" - Take 6 (10/5/1965)
16. "Unknown Instrumental" - Take 2 (10/5/1965)
17. "Can You Please Crawl Out Your Window" - Takes 5-6 (11/30/1965)
18. "Visions of Johanna" - Take 1 (11/30/1965)
19. "Visions of Johanna" - Take 5 (11/30/1965)

Disc 5:

1. "Visions of Johanna" - Take 7 (11/30/1965)
2. "Visions of Johanna" - Take 8 (11/30/1965) previously released on The Bootleg Series, Vol. 7, 2005
3. "Visions of Johanna" - Take 14 (11/30/1965)
4. "She's Your Lover Now" - Take 1 (1/21/1966)
5. "She's Your Lover Now" - Take 6 (1/21/1966)
6. "She's Your Lover Now" - Take 15 (1/21/1966) previously released on The Bootleg Series, Vol. 1–3, 1991
7. "She's Your Lover Now" - Take 16 (1/21/1966) solo piano
8. "One of Us Must Know (Sooner or Later)" - Take 2 (1/25/1966)
9. "One of Us Must Know (Sooner or Later)" - Take 4 (1/25/1966)
10. "One of Us Must Know (Sooner or Later)" - Take 19 (1/25/1966)
11. "Lunatic Princess" - Take 1 (1/27/1966)
12. "Fourth Time Around" - Take 11 (2/14/1966)
13. "Leopard-Skin Pill-Box Hat" - Take 3 (2/14/1966)
14. "Leopard-Skin Pill-Box Hat" - Take 8 (2/14/1966)

Disc 6:

1. "Stuck Inside of Mobile With the Memphis Blues Again" - Take 1 (2/17/1966)
2. "Stuck Inside of Mobile With the Memphis Blues Again" - Rehearsal (2/17/1966)
3. "Stuck Inside of Mobile With the Memphis Blues Again" - Take 5 (2/17/1966) previously released on The Bootleg Series, Vol. 7, 2005
4. "Stuck Inside of Mobile With the Memphis Blues Again" - Take 13 (2/17/1966)
5. "Stuck Inside of Mobile With the Memphis Blues Again" - Take 14 (2/17/1966)
6. "Absolutely Sweet Marie" - Take 1 (3/7/1966)
7. "Just Like a Woman" - Take 1 (3/8/1966)
8. "Just Like a Woman" - Take 4 (3/8/1966)
9. "Just Like a Woman" - Take 8 (3/8/1966)
10. "Pledging My Time" - Take 1 (3/8/1966)
11. "Most Likely You Go Your Way (And I'll Go Mine)" - Take 1 (3/9/1966)
12. "Temporary Like Achilles" - Take 3 (3/9/1966)
13. "Obviously 5 Believers" - Take 3 (3/10/1966)
14. "I Want You" - Take 4 (3/10/1966)
15. "Sad-Eyed Lady of the Lowlands" - Take 1 - (2/16/1966)