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Bob Dylan Goes Back to Columbia Records

Elektra/Asylum/Atlantic cochairman David Geffen is less than pleased with the deal

Bob Dylan performing onstage at Benefit for ousted Chileans on September 5th, 1974 in New York.
David Redfern/Redferns/Getty
September 12, 1974

LOS ANGELES — David Geffen, cochairman of Electra/Asylum/Atlantic, who signed Bob Dylan for two albums this year (Planet Waves and the live tour album, Before the Flood) summed up Dylan's return to Columbia Records: "Bob Dylan has made a decision to bet on his past. I was more interested in his future.

"The tour I put together sold a huge amount of records for him. Every time he did a concert he sold his catalog. He has a lot of stuff in the vault that's about to come out, but with this deal, ownership of his masters reverts to him at the end of five years. Also, he gets a retroactive raise on his past records. What I did was make it possible for him to get back his masters from Columbia. He should thank me. At the time he went with me, they weren't that interested in him."

Photos: Bob Dylan Captured at Home and on the Scene

Geffen's statement reflected one current of thought in the industry on why Dylan had returned to Columbia – his label for 11 years: to protect his old tapes. Dylan himself was unavailable, and Irwin Segelstein, Columbia Records president who announced the signing early in August, refused to comment, saying, "The nature of our arrangements is a confidential matter."

There was a second rumor in the industry: that Dylan had left Electra/Asylum because he was unhappy with Geffen. A source at Columbia, who confirmed that the Dylan-Band tour had pumped up sales of all Dylan albums, said, "He really disliked Geffen, and he wasn't happy with the sales of Planet Waves." Another source said, "Dylan thought Geffen ran a terrible record company; there was no follow-through on release of albums, a hundred and one technicalities. He thought Geffen was just interested in being a celebrity."

Geffen said: "The bottom line is that Planet Waves was Number One for three weeks [a first for Dylan], and it's probably one of his bestselling albums. He didn't do as much as Elton John, Pink Floyd – but then Bob never has and probably never will. But he's still a great artist; if he sells only ten records he's still a great artist.

"Three [Asylum] albums were released January 1st: Carly [Hot Cakes] sold 1,080,000 and Joni [Court And Spark] sold 1,400,000, and they're still on the charts. We shipped 771,000 Planet Waves albums and we've taken back less than 15%, which is standard for the industry, around 110,000, so it will end up around 600,000 probably. That's fantastic for Bob. His influence and importance have always been greater than his sales and he's naïve to think otherwise.

Photos: Bob Dylan Hanging With Joan Baez, Allen Ginsberg and More

"Bob never indicated to me anything but gratitude for all that I've done for him. I like him and I wish him well. He wasn't unhappy with me and that's the truth."

Dylan, the business done, has been working on songs for a new album and, two separate sources confirm, a European tour in 1975. "The European tour has been pushed back from November to spring," one said, "and he may do some U.S. dates in late winter."

This story is from the September 12th, 1974 issue of Rolling Stone.


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