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Bob Dylan: Breaking Down The Incomplete Discography

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Another Side of Bob Dylan. There are a number of outtakes from this session, and "East Lared" seems to be one of them. Produced by Tom Wilson, it's a piano solo, with echoes of Ben E. King's "Spanish Harlem," a pretty number that would have made a good B-side for a single. Also from this session is "Lay Down Your Weary Tune," a song that seems to be a call to the quest for the perfect, unobtainable music. Stately, restrained and majestic, it is as much a break with the past as "My Back Pages," though the metaphors are musical, not political: "Lay down your weary tune/ Lay down the song you strum/ And rest yourself 'neath the strength of strings/ No voice can hope to hum."

It's also possible that the versions of "Bob Dylan's New Orleans Rag" and "Denise, Denise" that are recorded with piano, maracas, and harp are from this session.

Bringing It All Back Home. Dylan broke loose as a rock and roll singer on this album, with "On the Road Again," "Outlaw Blues," and "115th Dream," but it was "If You Gotta Go, Go Now," a natural, sexy rock and roll song, that had hinted at what was going to happen on Bringing It All Back Home. Dylan had been performing this number acoustically for some time, and it never failed to stop the show, as laughter and cheers broke over the singer's grin as he smiled back to the crowd: "It's not that I'm questioning you/ To take part in any kinda quiz/ It's just that I ain't got no watch/ And you keep asking me what time it is." A "Let's Spend the Night Together" with jokes. Supposedly set for American release in 1967, it seems clear that the cut was recorded as part of the sessions for Bringing It All Back Home: the piano-styled guitar of Bruce Langhorne is a delight, as are the back-up vocals, which seem quite girlish. It was released as a single in Europe in 1967 (b/w "To Ramona") and is still available in the Benelux markets (CBS 2921). Manfred Mann's excellent version prompted Dylan to announce that they did his material more justice than anyone else. "It's not that I'm asking/ For anything you never gave before/ It's just that I'll be sleeping soon/ And it'll be too dark for you to find the door."

Highway 61 Revisited. Aside from producing one of the two or three finest rock and roll albums ever made, the sessions for Highway 61 Revisited also produced their share of rarities. "Killing Me Alive (Barbed Wire Fence)" is the most outstanding — a tough, solid, tremendously exciting blues, with Kooper on organ and Bloomfield in his brash, I-Can-Play-Any-thing-Better-Than-You groove (and he just about could, too). Kooper chords for the rhythm and Bloomfield solos for fun, Bob shouting out the lyrics that ultimately give it all away: "You're gonna think this song is just a riff/ I know you're thinking this song is just a riff/ Unless you've been inside a tunnel and fell down 69,000 feet over a barbed wire fence." The lyrics also bear out what Dylan has said time and time again to disbelieving audiences: he makes up his songs as he goes along, building around lines and images that he really digs. The alternate version of "From a Buick 6" demonstrates this in-the-studio process, as do these words from "Killing Me Alive": "The Arabian doctor comes in, gives me a shot but he wouldn't tell me what it was that I got" — lines that later appeared, in different form, in "Just Like Tom Thumb's Blues." The pattern is repeated in many other unreleased songs.

Also a product of this session was the first version of "Won't You Please Crawl Out Your Window," which featured what sounds like a xylophone and magnificent guitar from Bloomfield. Columbia accidentally released it under the title "Positively Fourth Street" (some gremlin must have mixed the labels), recalled it a week later, and then some months after released a different version of the song that included Robbie Robertson and probably the rest of the Hawks as a backing band. Virtually nothing is known about the sessions that produced this take. The standard release take of "Crawl Out Your Window" has a weird, circus sound, with odd jangling rhythms something like the Band's "To Kingdom Come." The lyrics seem to echo a follow-up to "Like a Rolling Stone" — come on, honey, get out of there, you can go back if you want to, but look at this cat you're with: "If he needs a third eye he just grows it." The standard version is still available (Columbia 4-43477, CBS EP 6288), while the mellow, seductive "mistake" gets rarer by the day.

The Basement Tape

"The Basement Tape," recorded before John Wesley Harding in Woodstock on a home machine, is the best-known, most accessible and perhaps the most striking of all of Dylan's unreleased material (whether or not this ought to be called "unreleased" is up to the reader — all of it is now available on the Great White Wonder and Troubled Troubador (bootleg LPs). Rolling Stone ran a comprehensive review of the session some time ago (June 22, 1968, Vol. II, No. 2), and since then most of the songs have been covered by various performers. One of the compositions, "I Shall Be Released," has been covered by almost everyone, from Joan Baez to the Box-Tops. Dylan's magnificent performance has not been touched; his vocal may well be the best he has ever recorded.

The sessions, which included the Band as a backing group, musically and on vocals, set down basic performances of songs Dylan was not intending to release himself but which were to be included in the Dwarf Music catalogue. Copies of the tape in the form of acetate discs were sent to Manfred Mann, the Byrds, and the Rolling Stones, among others. Unlike the songs on John Wesley Harding, almost none of which have formal choruses, the songs from this session use the device of a chorus with a great deal of imagination; with so much imagination, in fact that the choruses often do not have a logical relationship to the verses. The relationship is often one of mood, or, simply, of dramatic impact. Richard Manuel is extremely effective on some of the choruses, especially on "I Shall Be Released."

The Basement Tape is anything but unique; it's rather a semi-public version of what goes on at Dylan's house and at Big Pink any day of the week. "There're lots more," said one member of the Band. "They're just for fun." For after all, making music, writing songs, changing the old music and inventing the new music is simply what Dylan and the Band do; it's their life, their vocation.

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It turns out that a single with "American" in its title--recorded on the Fourth of July during the nation's Bicentennial, no less--can actually sell better in Britain. Coupled with the Heartbreakers' flair for Byrds jangle and Animals hooks, though, is Tom Petty's native-Florida drawl that keeps this classic grounded at home. Petty dispelled rumors that the song was about a suicidal student, explaining that the inspiration came from when he was 25 and used to salute the highway traffic outside his apartment window. "It sounded like the ocean to me," he recalled. "That was my ocean. My Malibu. Where I heard the waves crash, but it was just the cars going by."

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