Bob Dylan: 3 track preview
October 15, 2015
Between January of 1965 and February of 1966, Bob Dylan recorded three albums that many believe changed the course of musical history: ‘Bringing It All Back Home’, ‘Highway 61 Revisited’ and ‘Blonde on Blonde’.
‘The Cutting Edge 1965-1966: The Bootleg Series Volume 12’ (out now) focuses on Dylan’s working methods in the studio during those superheated times. In most instances Dylan would latch onto a song and not let go of it until it was completed. In other rare instances, he would return to a track several times before he could wrestle it to the ground or give it up completely. This collection is sequenced in chronological order starting with the first time Dylan would attempt a track. Takes are selected in order to show how each song evolved from track to track and sometimes from day to day.
The producers have tried to select tracks that not only highlight the evolution of the songs but also focus on revelations – a subtly changed lyric – the search for the right nuance in the melody – the experimentation with meter and tempo and rhythm. All of it is here; all of it held together with Dylan’s tremendous vocal prowess, lyrical imagination and innate musical ability.
As a preview, you can listen to 3 tracks from the box set here and now:
IT TAKES A LOT TO LAUGH, IT TAKES A TRAIN TO CRY
‘The Cutting Edge 1965-1966’ features four different takes of this track.
“It Takes a Lot to Laugh” is the first song they record for ‘Highway 61’ and it’s a great example of how Dylan translates the sound he hears inside his head into music. This first take starts out with Dylan banging out a boogie rhythm on the piano. About midway through, the drummer kicks in with a heavy backbeat.
After a number of false starts and incomplete takes, they hit full stride on take 8. The song has a contemporary ’65 rhythm, but explodes with Mike Bloomfield’s blues-influenced guitar playing, along with a steady organ and piano counter-rhythm.
STUCK INSIDE OF MOBILE WITH THE MEMPHIS BLUES AGAIN
‘The Cutting Edge 1965-1966’ features four takes of this track.
February 17th 1966 is dedicated to one song, another epic, “Stuck Inside of Mobile.” The takes included on the box set provide a perfect snapshot of Dylan’s working method in Nashville. Things start with a casual rehearsal on take 1. Dylan doesn’t have the chorus yet, and is not really sure of the tempo, so they try it first in 6/8 time. They rehearse it again, but this time in 4/4.
Take 5, finds them locking into rhythm. Dylan has worked on the lyrics and things are pretty cohesive at this point. But the rhythm doesn’t yet perfectly serve the lyrics. They try it again with the same rhythmic feel on take 13 – this time including a descending interlude after the chorus…
… That’s discarded as well. Take 14 is one take away from the released version. They’ve changed the rhythm one more time, sped up but still leaving room for Dylan’s vocal gymnastics. Pay attention to the way Al Kooper constructs an organ part – almost like written out horn charts. Once Kooper finds the proper counter melody, he sticks with it – take after take. Kooper understands that what you don’t play is almost as important as what you do play. He’s looking for that perfect part and once he finds it, he locks in.
SITTING ON A BARBED-WIRE FENCE
When Dylan was playing at the Gate of Horn in Chicago, guitarist Mike Bloomfield was one of the musicians he met there. United by their love of country blues, Dylan and Bloomfield also shared another connection – both were signed to Columbia Records by John Hammond. Bloomfield recorded a number of blues sides in 1964 for the great talent scout, but the records were never released until much later.
“Barbed-Wire Fence” is a rhythmic blues track containing a series of free-floating lyrics. Some, like “the Arabian doctor” migrate to different songs and others fall by the wayside. This second, of the six takes they would do that day, is included here for the sheer musical delight Dylan and Bloomfield seem to find in each other’s music. Dylan is so thrilled with Bloomfield’s first day of session work that he freestyles a verse: “I got this woman out in L.A./She makes the sweat run down my brow. Well she’s good alright/But she ain’t as good as this guitar player that I got right now.”
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