‘Dylan’ 1973 – 40 Years On.

Bob Dylan – ‘Dylan’

40 years on.

LP Cover 'Dylan' 1973
LP Cover ‘Dylan’ 1973

Background

Bob Dylan’s 13th studio album, Dylan, was released by Columbia Records on November 16th, 1973.

Although it received very poor reviews, it managed to hit #17 in the US Billboard chart and went ‘gold’ – which by 1973’s RAA standards meant it sold in excess of 500,000 units. Surprisingly, it became his first album never to chart in the UK, where his albums generally charted higher than in the US.

Bob Dylan left Columbia Records when his contract expired and signed to David Geffen’s brand new Asylum Records in 1973. Dylan’s deal with Columbia ended with the release of 1971’s Greatest Hits Vol. II (or More Greatest Hits in UK), although Columbia supposedly bought the rights to release  Pat Garrett & Billy The Kid.

The precise reasons for Dylan wanting to leave Columbia are open to debate, but he had complained in interviews that Columbia “didn’t care” about him or his work:  “It was long overdue. Just a feeling it was time to go on…Suspected they (CBS) were doing more talk than action. Just released ’em and that’s all. Got a feeling they didn’t care whether I stayed there or not.”

Clive Davis being fired on 29th May (1973) can’t have helped, as he had a good relationship with Mr Davis. It is quite possible that he felt taken for granted, or perhaps he felt he could negotiate a better royalty rate with greater creative control elsewhere – all without his manager, Albert Grossman.

The contracts between Dylan and Grossman were officially dissolved on July 17, 1970, prompted, apparently, by Dylan’s realization that Grossman had rights to 50% of his song publishing rights.

(Dylan ceased paying Grossman in 1979 and then Grossman sued Dylan in 1981, claiming he had received less than his contractual entitlement of Dylan’s back catalogue royalties. The disputes would not be resolved until 12th October, 1987 (well after Grossman’s death of a heart attack on January 25th 1986), when Dylan paid the Estate of Albert. B Grossman’s  nearly $2 million. The Grossman Estate transferred its interests in Dylan’s catalogue on 13th October, 1988).

Bob Dylan’s position was reasonably strong in 1973, having recently released New Morning, Pat Garrett & Billy The Kid, with the hit single Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door’ and his back catalogue was a steady seller and added prestige to any label. His set at the Concert For Bangladesh had been a widely-publicized triumph and the triple LP album of the concert had sold very well – the album was certified gold by the RIAA on 4 January 1972 for sales of over 500,000 units. Bob Dylan’s Greatest Hits Vol. II (with a cover photo from Concert For Bangladesh) also sold extremely well. Although Self Portrait hadn’t gone down overly well with some of the press (Greil Marcus famously wrote: “What is this shit?” in 1970), New Morning had been generally hailed as a return to glory. There were also rumours of a Dylan/Band ‘comeback’ tour.

UK Pressing
UK Pressing

It is not surprising that Columbia didn’t want to lose him, or that others wanted to court him.

Jerry Wexler at Atlantic was extremely keen to sign him, as were Warner Brothers and others. The fact that Columbia could release ‘official bootlegs’ of Dylan’s 1961-1966 recordings was a deal-killer for MGM though.

The former William Morris Agency whizz-kid, David Geffen, had signed Jackson Browne, Tom Waits and Joni Mitchell to his new label, Asylum Records, and desperately wanted Dylan as the jewel in his young crown.

Tom King, in his book ‘The Operator’, describes how Geffen tried to secure Dylan’s signature with Asylum:

Geffen worked his star-courting act, by now a perfectly rehearsed pitch that rarely failed, on Dylan to devastating effect. He simply told him that if there was to be a tour, there naturally should be a new album in stores for fans to purchase at the same time. Who better to release it than Geffen, who was also masterminding the tour?

What convinced Dylan was an astonishing prediction Geffen made: He said that Elektra/Asylum could sell a million units per Dylan record, hundreds of thousands higher than the average charted at Columbia. “Columbia doesn’t appreciate you anymore,” Geffen told Dylan. “Come with me. I’ll show you what you can really do. I’ll sell records you never dreamed you could sell.”

Then Geffen sweetened the deal by telling Dylan he would create a new record label that he could run. Elektra/Asylum would distribute the label’s albums, of course, but Dylan would have the freedom to sign and record other artists to his label in addition to recording for it himself. Dylan liked the idea very much and told Geffen he would leave Columbia and sign to Elektra/Asylum.

But there was a caveat to the signing. Having been locked up in long-term contracts at Columbia and cautious about the match with Geffen, Dylan told Geffen he would make two albums for Elektra/Asylum. But in a sign that he was hedging his bets even further, he instructed his attorney, David Braun, to write up the contract for only one album. After that, he would re-evaluate the situation. Geffen announced that Dylan’s new Ashes and Sands Records would release one album to coincide with the tour and a second Dylan album that would be a recording of a concert on the tour. Despite the short-term deal, Geffen was convinced the marriage would prove to be a long-term proposition.

Dylan and the Band went into the Village Recorders studio in West Los Angeles on November 5 and banged out one of the quickest rock albums ever made. They finished the record, Planet Waves, in just three days. Ironically, it was Geffen’s elaborate tour plans that boxed them into an impossibly short recording schedule, which resulted in an album that most critics and fans found disappointing. Dylan was still writing material in the sessions, and neither he nor the Band had the time to do their best work.

– (C) 2000 Tom King All rights reserved. ISBN: 0-679-45754-2

The 15th December 1973 issue of Billboard reported that Dylan’s first album on Asylum would be called ‘Love Songs’.  It was subsequently called ‘Ceremonies Of The Horsemen’, with artwork for the album covers completed. Shortly before production started though, Dylan changed his mind and it became Planet Waves, with Dylan’s own sketches as the cover and his hand-written, slightly raunchy liner notes on the rear.

David Geffen was quoted as saying that for the forthcoming 651,000 capacity Dylan/The Band tour, over 5,000,000 ticket applications had been received.  This all helped create a healthy, expectant market for Dylan’s next release.

'Hey Bob, you wanna change the album title and artwork for a fourth time?'
‘Hey Bob, you wanna change the album title and artwork for a fourth time?’

Geffen also rather pointedly stated: “Asylum will never put out outtakes of old sessions. It’s not the way we do business, and nobody who records for us will have to face that sort of hassle”.

This was surely a dig at Columbia’s release of ‘Dylan’.

The Recording Sessions for ‘Dylan’

Dylan is made up of 2 studio outtakes from Self Portrait  sessions and 7 from New Morning.

The Self Portrait sessions were recorded at both Studio A, 804 16th Ave. South, Nashville, Tennessee (the same studio that gave the world Blonde On Blonde) and Columbia Studios, New York, and stretched from April 24th 1969 up to April 3rd 1970, according to Clinton Heylin and Michael Krogsgaard. After the basic tracks were recorded in New York City, the tapes were flown to Nashville, Tennessee for overdubbing. The sessions started while Dylan was still recording Nashville Skyline.

SELF_PORTRAIT_sessions_4

SELF_PORTRAIT_sessions_2

SELF_PORTRAIT_sessions_3

Recording sessions for New Morning began on May 1, 1970, when Dylan was joined by George Harrison, Charlie Daniels and Russ Kunkel at Columbia’s Studio B (49 East 52nd Street) in New York City. With producer Bob Johnston, Dylan began recording some very loose ‘covers’, including renditions of ‘Yesterday’,  ‘All I Have To Do Is Dream’ and an early version of ‘If Not For You’.

Clinton Heylin, in ‘Stolen Moments’, writes that ‘The Ballad Of Ira Hayes’ was recorded in Mid May, with Al Kooper and Buzzy Feiten, on organ and guitars.

Sessions resumed on 1st June 1970 at Studio E and ended on August 12th. These sessions are where the majority of Dylan was recorded.

Side one
1 “Lily of the West”
(Traditional; arrangement by E. Davies, J. Peterson) – 3:44
NEW MORNING Session.
2 “Can’t Help Falling In Love” (George Weiss, Hugo Peretti, Luigi Creatore) – 4:17
NEW MORNING Session.
3 “Sarah Jane” (Traditional, arranged Dylan) – 2:43
NEW MORNING Session.
4 “Ballad Of Ira Hayes” (Peter LaFarge) – 5:08
NEW MORNING Session.
Side Two
1 “Mr. Bojangles” (Jerry Jeff Walker) – 5:31
NEW MORNING Session.
2 “Mary Ann” (Traditional) – 2:40
NEW MORNING Session.
3 “Big Yellow Taxi” (Joni Mitchell) – 2:12
NEW MORNING Session.
4 “A Fool Such As I” (Bill Trader; NOT James Buford Abner, who wrote a gospel song with the same title) – 2:41
SELF PORTRAIT session.
5 “Spanish Is The Loving Tongue” (Charles Badger Clark) – 4:13
SELF PORTRAIT Session.

This version of ‘Spanish Is The Loving Tongue’ is a different recording from the one released as a B-side to Watching The River Flow in 1971.

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SELF_PORTRAIT_sessions_8

SELF_PORTRAIT_sessions_1

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What Bob Dylan Has Said

  “At the time, I was in Woodstock, and I was getting a great degree of notoriety for doing nothing. Then I had that motorcycle accident [in 1966], which put me out of commission. Then, when I woke up and caught my senses, I realized that I was workin’ for all these leeches. And I didn’t wanna do that. Plus, I had a family, and I just wanted to see my kids. I’d also seen that I was representing all these things that I didn’t know anything about. Like I was supposed to be on acid. It was all storm-the-embassy kind of stuff—Abbie Hoffman in the streets—and they sorta figured me as the kingpin of all that. I said, ‘Wait a minute, I’m just a musician. So my songs are about this and that. So what?’ But people need a leader. People need a leader more than a leader needs people, really. I mean, anybody can step up and be a leader, if he’s got the people there that want one. I didn’t want that, though.” – Rolling Stone, 1984.

But then came the big news about Woodstock, about musicians goin’ up there, and it was like a wave of insanity breakin’ loose around the house day and night. You’d come in the house and find people there, people comin’ through the woods, at all hours of the day and night, knockin’ on your door. It was really dark and depressing. And there was no way to respond to all this, you know? It was as if they were suckin’ your very blood out. I said, ‘Now wait, these people can’t be my fans. They just can’t be.’ And they kept comin’. We had to get out of there.

This was just about the time of that Woodstock festival, which was the sum total of all this bullshit. And it seemed to have something to do with me, this Woodstock Nation, and everything it represented. So we couldn’t breathe. I couldn’t get any space for myself and my family, and there was no help, nowhere. I got very resentful about the whole thing, and we got outta there.

We moved to New York. Lookin’ back, it really was a stupid thing to do. But there was a house available on MacDougal Street, and I always remembered that as a nice place. So I just bought this house, sight unseen. But it wasn’t the same when we got back. The Woodstock Nation had overtaken MacDougal Street also. There’d be crowds outside my house. And I said, ‘Well, fuck it. I wish these people would just forget about me. I wanna do something they can’t possibly like, they can’t 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. He ain’t given’ us what we want,’ you know? They’ll go on to somebody else. But the whole idea backfired. Because the album went out there, and the people said, ‘This ain’t what we want,’ and they got more resentful. And then I did this portrait for the cover. I mean, there was no title for that album. I knew somebody who had some paints and a square canvas, and I did the cover up in about five minutes. And I said, ‘Well, I’m gonna call this album Self Portrait.’ – Rolling Stone, 1984.

“Self Portrait was a bunch of tracks that we’d done all the time I’d gone to Nashville. We did that stuff to get a [studio] sound. To open up we’d do two or three songs, just to get things right and then we’d go on and do what we were going to do. And then there was a lot of other stuff that was just on the shelf. But I was being bootlegged at the time and a lot of stuff that was worse was appearing on bootleg records. So I just figured I’d put all this stuff together and put it out, my own bootleg record, so to speak. You know, if it actually had been a bootleg record, people probably would have sneaked around to buy it and played it for each other secretly. Also, I wasn’t going to be anybody’s puppet and I figured this record would put an end to that…I was just so fed up with all that who people thought I was nonsense.” – Cameron Crowe, Biograph, 1985.

S_P_sessions_May_69_2

The Songs – A Personal View

Lily Of The West

An old Irish ballad, reincarnated as an American folk song, often called ‘Handsome Mary, The Lily Of The West’.

It’s a classic murder ballad – boy finds girl, girl cheats on him, boy kills rival.

The sound takes some getting used to. It is indistinct and poorly balanced, but despite this, the playing and singing is excellent, with some sweet dynamics that the mixing desk hasn’t destroyed. The backing singers come in here and there, which adds a witty, cowboy western soundtrack feel.

It is short and sweet.

Can’t Help Falling In Love

Famously covered by Elvis in 1961 on the Blue Hawaii soundtrack, the melody is based on “Plaisir d’Amour”, written in 1784 by Jean Paul Egide Martini (1741-1816).

My list of favourite Dylan performances contains this track. I love it.

I think the singing is great, the band play loose and loping, the harmonica works and the whole track always makes me happy.

The album is worth purchasing for this track alone.

Sarah Jane

This is an old folk song, re-arranged by Bob Dylan. There are versions by Uncle Dave Macon, The Kingston Trio and Flatt and Scruggs.

The mixing on this track is awful – I don’t know why it would have been released in such a state. The instruments sound foggy and indistinct, and the backing vocals are way too high. That said, it’s a chirpy song about domestic bliss and Dylan sounds happy. There’s no great depth to the song, lyrically or musically, but that’s fine. Not everything has to be deep and dark. I find myself singing it when I’m in a good mood.

The Ballad Of Ira Hayes

A song that should fit Dylan like a glove. The subject matter – Ira Hayes (Chief Falling Cloud) was a Pima Native American who served as a US Marine in World War Two and died of alcoholism and exposure in 1955 – would surely have interested him and the tune could easily suit his vocal style.

Sadly, it is atrociously mixed and sounds like a warm-up – a wandering, directionless, passion-free piano ballad that should have been cut. Given the amount of decent outtakes from this period, I cannot think of a single positive reason why this version was included.

Early studio sheet.

Early studio sheet.

Mr Bojangles

The acoustic guitar sounds great and the electric organ lifts in the right places and although the backing singers sound a little strange – they work well. I don’t like the long held notes near the end, but that’s just me. Partly due to the mixing, and partly due to the playing, it is dull and lifeless, and again, should not have appeared on an official release.

Mary Ann

This is a traditional folk song, that bears a striking resemblance to Fare Thee Well. The first published version of the song appeared in Roxburghe Ballads dated 1710.

There is little to get excited about here, but possibly, were it to be remixed, it could be a really good track. It suffers from blandness. Again, it must have been difficult to mix this track to sound so dead, but they managed it.

Big Yellow Taxi

Why? Why put this on a record? It sounds like a warm-up, a cover to get the studio sound or break in the vocals. I can imagine the engineers running around setting up the baffles while they jam through it. There are much better ‘warm ups’ than this on some of his Bootleg Series releases. No disrespect to Joni Mitchell, but it’s a banal little throwaway and is treated as such. It’s fun for a minute, but then is forgotten.

A Fool Such As I

I love late 60’s Elvis, when he went really funky and gospel-edged, and this track reminds me of that period. Like looking at a pearl through dirty water, the muddy, bland mixing cannot completely hide a great, funky version of a classic crooner. You can hear the musicians grinning. Dylan’s voice sounds wonderful. It’s no wonder it did well as a single in Europe.

Spanish Is The Loving Tongue

This song is based on the poem “A Border Affair” written by Charles Badger Clark in 1907. Clark was a cowboy poet who lived throughout the American West, and was named the Poet Laureate of South Dakota in 1930. The poem was set to music in 1925 by Billy Simon.

Along with the version on the B Side of 1971’s Watching The River Flow, Dylan and the musicians treat the song with great respect and record a shining little crooner’s gem. It’s a Bakelite pop belter that could have been playing on a mantelpiece radio from anyone’s past. It’s a great final song and shows what a versatile singer Bob Dylan really is.

Listening to this LP now, taking into account the song selections, the atrocious mixing, the quality and quantity of outtakes that could have been included and the timing of its release, it is hard to come to any conclusion other than: Sabotage.

I bet Dylan was thrilled to have this poster advertising a single he didn't want released!

I bet Dylan was thrilled to have this poster advertising a single he didn’t want released!

After The Flood

     After the 1974 Tour with The Band, Bob Dylan signed back to Columbia– negotiating a much healthier royalty percentage, and far greater creative control.

Billboard reported on rumours that Dylan was unhappy with sales of Planet Waves (released January 16th 1974), given the huge wave of publicity surrounding the US Tour. Carly Simon’s Hotcakes out-sold the (close to) 700,000 copies of Planet Waves.

Billboard (August 17th 1974) went on to say that Dylan had (privately) complained at David Geffen bragging about ‘wooing him away from Columbia’. This clearly wasn’t the case, as in June 1972 Dylan had meetings with Warner Brothers, so was clearly unhappy before David Geffen approached him.

It was reported that David Geffen allegedly said of Dylan’s return to Columbia, “he fucked me!” but the statement was later  withdrawn.

There were also rumours that Dylan was unhappy at having to rush the recording of Planet Waves, so Asylum had a product to release to coincide with the tour. It certainly sounds rushed and the recording schedule definitely looks intense.

The main sessions took place at Village Recorder Studios in Los Angeles on

2nd November 1973 (‘Never Say Goodbye’)

5th & 6th November (‘Hazel’, ‘Tough Mama’, ‘You Angel You’, ‘Going, Going, Gone’ and ‘Something There Is About You’)

8th & 9th November (‘On A Night Like This’, the slow version of ‘Forever Young’ and ‘Wedding Song’)

14th November (fast version of ‘Forever Young’ and ‘Dirge’).

Most interestingly of all, ‘a spokesman’ for Columbia told Billboard in August 1974 that Dylan had given “tacit approval” for the Dylan material to be released before Planet Waves came out. I can find nothing to back this statement up, so far.

So, was this release a malicious attempt by Columbia to hurt Bob Dylan’s reputation, detract sales from (the forthcoming) ‘Planet Waves’ and make some extra income from ‘Hammond’s Folly’? Was it spiteful?

I think it was.

It was certainly common practise at the time for record companies to release compilations when an artist changed labels, but there seems no other justification for those particular song choices. They were all rejects from Self Portrait or New Morning. It’s not like they were hidden treasures from Blonde On Blonde or Highway 61 Revisited. I believe they were deliberately intended to hurt his reputation because he jumped ship. And to squeeze a few more dollars from his name, of course.

“They were not to be used. I thought it was well understood. They were just not to be used…They were just to warm up for a tune.” Bob Dylan 1974

Whatever the reasons, it hasn’t hurt him in the long-run and he signed back to Columbia on August 2nd 1974 with Irwin Segelstein at the Century Plaza Hotel in LA, so he must have not taken it personally.

If it were up to me, I would re-mix the original tapes (if they have them) and add some of the outtakes.

As it is, it isn’t all that bad. There are a couple of tracks where his voice sounds fabulous and the playing is sweet.

Listen to it again and smile.

"I think I'm gonna go back to Columbia and record the best album of my career..."
“I think I’m gonna go back to Columbia and record the best album of my career…”

CD Release

     ‘Dylan’ is the only Dylan album not to be released on CD in the US market, aside from a few compilations.

The single, A Fool Such As I did relatively well in Europe, and according to Searching For A Gem: “The success of this single in mainland Europe is the reason why the short-lived CD release of the 1973 Dylan album was retitled (A Fool Such As I) in those countries!”

The CD was also released in Japan, along with a 4 track EP (Sony SOPD 63).

Copyright © 2013 William Henry Prince.

All rights reserved. Please contact author for permissions.

THANKS TO: Dag Braathen and his incomparably massive collection of Dylan stuff, Denton Welch, Expecting Rain site and the ‘Searching For A Gem’ site.

SOURCES: Rolling Stone, Billboard, Biograph notes, Tom King ‘The Operator’ – (C) 2000 Tom King All rights reserved. ISBN: 0-679-45754-2, Wikipedia, ‘Stolen Moments’ (original softback version) by Clinton Heylin, Michael Krogsgaard: Bob Dylan: The Recording Sessions (Part 2). The Telegraph #53, Winter 1995, pp. 97-100 and Clinton Heylin: Bob Dylan. The Recording Sessions [1960 – 1994]. St. Martin’s Press December 1995, pp. 83–90. and Paul Williams.

PHOTO CREDITS: Michael Ochs Archives/Getty; Sony/Columbia Records 2013; LP cover photo by Al Clayton; front cover serigraph by Richard Kenerson; album design by John Berg and photographs of records I own.

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