Fremantle, Western Australia, March 25th, 1978
My parents wouldn’t let me go to the Dylan concert. I was 14 and beside myself with resentment.
I had a Saturday job, sweeping the floors of a pine furniture workshop, and on this particular day it was rage that propelled that broom. I bristled with it.
I wanted to see my new hero.
I had only just found his music and he was playing in Perth tonight and here I was, fourteen miles away, stranded, grounded, oppressed!
In my room, I remained truculent, silent and fuming.
At school on Monday, I heard that he played Girl From The North Country, my favourite song.
I was beyond heart-broken.
The Record Store
About five months later, after my broom shift, I went to the local record store as usual and headed straight for the Dylan section.
I could scarcely believe my tired, dusty eyes: a new Dylan record!
It was a double LP and a lot of money, but I had to have it.
As I approached the counter, I trembled with excitement.
The guy behind the desk nodded as I handed over my crumpled, hard-earned dollars, “did you see him in Perth? Man, he was brilliant! You’ll love this. It was recorded in Japan, just before he came here…”
I still felt the disappointment fire through my veins but at least now I could hear what I’d missed.
Bob Dylan At Budokan was mine. The first record I’d ever bought.
I went straight to my room and opened the cellophane. It was glorious – there was a booklet with photos and all the lyrics in English and Japanese.
And a poster!
I gently dropped the needle, put my headphones on and slid into another realm.
I had never heard the first song, Mr Tambourine Man, before but I was knocked out by the beautiful guitar at the start, by the rich sound and his voice. It was amazing. What a song!
I read the lyrics as it played, knowing that I had never been happier. I played it from beginning to end, pausing only to change sides.
Later, my old man told me I was an idiot for spending all my savings on a bloody record, but I didn’t care. I had pushed the broom myself and the money was mine. Besides, it was worth every penny – the lavish packaging, the lyrics, the big, new sound, his flawless singing and a fucking poster!
It was perfect.
“During a recent tour of Japan, CBS/Sony released a three-record set of Dylan’s greatest hits, called Masterpieces. Dylan was so impressed by the attention and care given to the Masterpieces album by CBS/Sony that he agreed to let them release a live album recorded at his last Japanese show. Tentatively titled Dylan Live at the Budokan, the LP should be ready by August.”
– June 29th, 1978 issue of Rolling Stone.
“The writers complain the show’s disco or Las Vegas. I don’t know how they come up with these theories...”
– Bob Dylan, 1978, to Robert Hilburn.
At the time, I felt that the Budokan album, and the tour generally, was a natural progression from the Rolling Thunder Revue (that I’d read about in Sam Shepard’s brilliant Rolling Thunder Logbook).
The costumes, the varied and radical arrangements, the large array of musicians. It made sense. It was theatre – and a good, old-fashioned ‘show’. I also really loved the female backing singers.
It wasn’t quite so ‘travelling circus’ but it was just as musically innovative and the shows were just as long. It also involved hats…well, the occasional beret, at least.
” I had a couple of bad years. I put a lot of money into the movie, built a big house … and it costs a lot to get divorced in California.“
“The ‘78 tour was not so improvisational as Rolling Thunder. It was more rehearsed in the traditional sense of rehearsal. Although Bob took some of the songs and completely put new music to the lyrics and he changed the “feel”–radically–of some of the material. But once he decided on a feel, and the arrangement was worked out, it would pretty much stay that way for weeks. It wasn’t like he would play something that was a shuffle one night and a waltz the next.”
– David Mansfield.
The crowd-pleasing elements were obvious on both tours – Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door from the Rolling Thunder Revue wasn’t all that different from the Blowin’ in the Wind on Budokan. Slow, anthemic, crowd-pleasers. At least on Budokan, I was spared an over-emoting Roger McGuinn.
Dylan has always been a shrewd and skilled entertainer – he learnt the hard way (and the best way), playing his harp for a dollar a day, paying his dues, honing his skills, learning how to work a crowd – and in 1978 he was able to please the crowd while pleasing himself, pressing on and challenging expectations.
Most musicians respect and admire Bob Dylan for exactly the reasons a lot of people, even ‘fans’, criticise him: he changes.
His metamorphoses are both beautiful and staggering – rock n roller to folky, folky to electric poet, rocker to country singer, Master of Americana, a pop crooner, gypsy rocker, film-maker, gospel thunderer, civil war balladeer…and at each turn, shouts of “Judas!” or ‘What is this shit?’.
The Street Legal/Budokan/Slow Train period stands as one of the most startling, strident and musically interesting periods of his career, and the Budokan album is a peek inside the chrysalis. It’s not the best of the 78 Tour, but it is fascinating, superbly recorded and so fucking unusual!
“They twisted my arm to do a live album for Japan. It was the same band I used on Street Legal, and we had just started findin’ our way into things on that tour when they recorded it. I never meant for it to be any type of representation of my stuff or my band or my live show.” – Bob Dylan in typical negating mode.
The album was recorded at the beginning of the tour and released quickly in order to catch the market. It was a souvenir of the tour, originally intended for Japanese release only. Probably in response to bootleggers and importers, CBS released it in Australia and then worldwide. It was fantastic value for money – as were the shows themselves.
Dylan played almost every night for 3 months and the shows were regularly 3 hours long, with partying very much in evidence:
“Actually it was a very hedonistic time. Bob hadn’t quite found religion, it was the year before all that went down and we all partied hard! Plus we had our own plane in the States, and our own train in Europe. First class all the way.”
– Ian Wallace.
They played to a total audience of two million people, with 114 shows in Japan, the Far East, Europe and the US, and the tour reportedly grossed over $20 million, which is pretty good for 1978.
It was very big news in Japan, as Toshiyuki “Heckel” Sugano, engineer and CBS Production Director recalled:
“It was certainly a matter of popular national interest — and the eight, virtually sold-out concerts he played at the 10,000-seat Budokan set a new record for any foreign artist in Japan.”
Mr Sugano also sheds light on the care Dylan took with the shows and the running order of the album:
“It was funny though, because the audiences were silent all the way through and then they applauded at the end of the concerts — like classical music audiences do. This worried Dylan, until I explained that it was normal in Japan, and especially in Tokyo.
For myself and the others in our CBS team, that album was a special source of great pleasure, because Dylan entrusted us entirely with the song selection, mixing and artwork.
I remember Dylan, the serious musician, asking me all the time after his concerts, “What did you think about today’s sound — really?”
I remember, too, a very kind person with a very good sense of humor who is, put simply, a most honorable human being.”
-Toshiyuki “Heckel” Sugano, May 22nd 2011, Japan Times.
Mr Tambourine Man
I love the guitar intro to Mr Tambourine Man – the playing and the sound. Warm sparkling colours and tube break-up, like sun through stained glass.
I can’t even pretend to be objective about this track, because it is burned into my brain like a childhood rainbow.
Shelter From The Storm
Falsetto mirroring isn’t a vocal trick that can be used too many times, but it works on this performance, strangely enough.
Ballad Of A Thin Man
The 1966 recordings of this song are amazing. Garth Hudson’s swelling, swirling Hammond bursts along with Dylan’s stabbing piano and wounded howls sounding supernatural and I really haven’t heard better versions.
However, this Budokan arrangement is great. The drums are ace with both Steve Douglas and the brilliant Billy Cross getting to step out a little.
Don’t Think Twice, It’s Alright
A reggae take of a folk song was a reasonably fresh and interesting approach in 1978.
The move has been subsequently pop-kicked to death by a myriad of bands, with varying levels of appeal – The Clash, UB40, Eric Clapton, The Pretenders, Elvis Costello, The Police etc, etc..
The slightly limp, loping reggae vibe doesn’t bother me at all, but, oh, the flutes…the flutes. I loathe the instrument and could happily live the rest of my life without ever hearing a flute again. I have listened to this track for holistic reasons, but, quite frankly, it makes me want to punch things – particularly flutes.
Flutes should be shoved into bagpipes and then buried in the jungle. Kurtz could play one with his ass.
All Along The Watchtower
In 1978, the intro to this song was the first time I had heard Bob Dylan speak, so it gets one star for that alone.
I saw him perform a radically different take at the Royal Albert Hall in London last year, and although that growling, ominous storm of a version was great, this is better.
Until Desire, I hadn’t heard a violin used as a lead instrument in ‘rock’ music and I like it occasionally.
I’m a huge fan of Billy Cross, so could listen to his sound and string-bending all day.
It’s just a brilliant version of a great song.
I Want You
This has always sounded like a foretaste of what we were to hear on Saved. It’s a brother to A Satisfied Mind, and even though the windy instrument sounds suspiciously like a flute, it’s played with economy and isn’t too shrill, and so I still love this track.
I think the vocals are amazing – tender, aching and executed perfectly. I love that he can bring out the sorrow in such a chirpy track.
Just Like A Woman
The timbre of his voice is lovely on this whole album. I don’t know what microphones they used, or how they were EQ’d, but he sounds fantastic – strong, supple and rich. A lot like my second ex-wife.
Again, this version has a strong Gospel feel to me, and could easily have fitted into his late 1979 or early 1980 shows.
He delivers “it’s time for us to quit” in perfect 1966 style, and when he blows that harp, I am smiling like a child.
“Dylan sounds like a nightmarish cabaret letch while the new arrangements struggle under sterile production and some bizarrely emphatic flute playing” said Mojo.
Okay, I’m with them on the flutes, but ‘sterile production’? Are they nuts? The production is sublime. It radiates warmth.
‘Nightmarish cabaret letch’? Jesus, the guy can’t win. If he says nothing he’s surly and arrogant, if he interacts and makes jokes, he’s a ‘nightmarish cabaret letch’.
Dylan likes women. Well, stone me, what a weirdo.
Creepy organ, staccato stabs, congas, bongos or whatever they are, and sinister sax. This song has atmosphere, and some cool reverby guitar. I’m not a major fan of Dylan’s moaning at the ends of the verses, but the rest of it is top notch.
Simple Twist Of Fate
“Here’s a simple love story…happened to me…”
In comparison to some of the rehearsals for the tour, this version is fairly pale. It’s worth it for the little tick-tick-tick on the snare when he sings “he hears the ticking of the clock” line. Hilarious.
One More Cup Of Coffee (Valley Below)
The piano on this track is immense. It only appears here and there, but it’s perfect. The hand drums, too, deserve a mention. I get a bit tired of the sax, but it’s Steve Douglas, so I’ll keep quiet.
Is Your Love In Vain?
I really don’t like this song, but, musically, the Budokan take is wonderful. There’s something so nasty and misogynistic running through the lyrics, that even an old chauvinist like me feels slightly nauseated. As a post-divorce bag of vomit, it works. I recognise it, but don’t want to hear it.
The intro goes “here’s an unrecorded song. Let’s see if you can guess which one it is?”
All I Really Want To Do
This performance is so exuberant, strident and choppy that I cannot help but love it.
It’s Alright Ma, I’m Only Bleeding
Such drama, such boldness! It’s great! It has everything you could ask for really. And Dylan delivers the lyrics perfectly, with bite, venom and his own perfect timing.
What was it that people didn’t like?
Oh yeah, the flutes.
Jerry Weintraub/Management III
Dylan went to see Neil Diamond play at the Aladdin Theatre over the 4th July weekend in 1976 (as reported in The Salt Lake Tribune, July 18, 1976), and he may have been jotting down notes.
If the shows hadn’t impressed Dylan, he would certainly have been interested in the box office numbers Diamond had earned through Management III and Jerry Weintraub.
“By the time I got Jerry to manage me, I almost didn’t have a friend in the world. We were working on [Renaldo & Clara]…I was being thrown out of my house. I was under a lot of pressure, so I figured I better get busy working.”
– Bob Dylan 1977.
Jerry Weintraub was (and still is) a big noise in the movie and management world. His clients included John Denver, Neil Diamond, Elvis Presley, Frank Sinatra and The Carpenters, who were all big money-spinners in the late Seventies, so it makes a great deal of sense for me – that Bob Dylan would choose to work with him at that particular time.
Fritz Rau (who was negotiating the 78 tour with Weintraub) is invited to dinner:
“…Bob Dylan enters the room. Knowing his reputation of being rather taciturn, I wonder: What is he going to say? Probably he’ll inquire about the tour deal again. Nothing in that vein: ‘Fritz, I wanna talk to you about the American Folk Blues Festival of 1963.'”
In 1987, Mr Weintraub told reporter, Fred Schruers:
“Bob Dylan was here yesterday, sitting right where you’re sitting. We talked her hours. He is a friend of mine, you know, a great guy, a perceptive guy.”
There once was a kid with a dream
Whose vision was clean and supreme
He formed Management III
and quick as can be
The dream became one with his scheme…
First there was Denver
And eventually Frank…
He was man of the year,
The wiz of the biz
And accolades too many to count.
His dream and his scheme
Turned bread into cream,
Success it continued to mount…”
(This little poem is, in it’s entirety, framed on Jerry’s office wall. It’s by Bob Dylan.)
The Press Hit The Nail On The…oh, hang on….
“The fire and brimstone are behind Dylan…” wrote Janet Maslin on July 12th 1979.
It is my favourite dumb-ass quote, because Dylan released ‘Slow Train Coming’ on August 20th. Surely the most fire and brimstone of all fire and brimstone albums.
A Proverb For No Particular Reason.
“It is better to be in chains with friends, than in a garden with strangers”
Dag Braathen, once again, for his unfailing criticism, contempt and sneering. And pictures.