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Music Review: Bob Dylan – Blood on the Tracks

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This would be somewhere in a series of me examining super influential albums of my past. I encourage you to do the same. For some reason, we only discuss new releases. Anyhow, onto the work:

We are here today to celebrate one of the great albums off all time, certainly Bob Dylan's greatest album… 1974's Blood on the Tracks. If you know me (or read me), you know I am usually yammering about 'early Dylan'. This is an important distinction for me. It is true, I am a fan of only 'early Dylan'. People then assume I mean acoustic Dylan, before he 'sold out' in 1965. Actually, that is not the case at all. Dylan went electric for Blonde on Blonde, which kicks major ass.

Generally speaking, I do appreciate the acoustic stuff more. It better showcases his wry sense of humor and brilliant lyrical play.  Blood on the Tracks is almost entirely acoustic, with a gentle backing band for emphasis. After 1965, though, things got weird. Dylan kinda disappeared after his very bad motorcycle accident, and came back all hopped up on jesus (with that molester beard).

Also, Dylan got weird. He was showing up in white face pancake makeup. It seemed on many levels, he wasn’t even trying to sing. Too much of Dylan’s stuff sounds like Dylan making of his own known style. Does that make sense? When you hear him hit the chorus in "Like a Rolling Stone", and he builds to ‘how does it feeeel’? Doesn’t it sound like someone making fun of Bob Dylan? I don’t know, it’s too personal to explain. I just feel he has given up way more than once. That’s okay, it’s his life. Whatever dude.

Okay, I guess I am some kind of Dylan snob. See, I love the young wry big haired handsome kid from Don't Look Back. I mean, seriously… who is this guy? I mean, weird is cool and Dylan was a pioneer… but this phase just freaks me out. I guess I am mad he got old. I just turned 35, and am not terribly thrilled either.

So, why I am hustling a 1974 album? Well, he went back to his roots and did an acoustic album that is so powerful and well written it makes my heart hurt. See, this album is about his divorce. It isn't subtle, and there is little metaphor when Dylan sings "You're an idiot, babe, it's wonder you can even feed yourself". Yeah, that is some serious hurt. Probably a bad idea to hurt the feelings of this centuries most important songsmith. Dude will get back at you, but that isn't what Tracks is. Dylan said the album was a diary entry for him, and helped him cope. He later said the album is so mean and depressing that he couldn't see why "'anyone would want to listen to it".

This album is unique Dylan, for me at least. Dylan always loved the wordplay and the innuendo. He was sly and mischievous. On this disc, he lays is all out. The imagery is still as beautiful, but the feelings are raw. This album spawned the rock and roll masterpiece Tangled up in Blue. Even Dylan, who refused to talk about himself or his legacy, regards that as a favorite. When touring, he would play around with the lyrics and sing it in third person.

Since I can't give you music samples here, you will have to trust me that the musical landscape painted is complete. So instead, violating one or two less laws… let's look at some of the lyrics. Above was a sample from "Idiot Wind", probably more famous now for being referenced by Hootie in "I Only Wanna be With You". How about just the titles? Seriously, the titles are so fucking sad they need no translation. Let's look at a few:

  • "Tangled Up in Blue"
  • "You're a Big Girl Now"
  • "Idiot Wind"
  • "If You See Her, Say Hello"
  • "Shelter From the Storm"
  • "Buckets of Rain"

Yeah, this is serious stuff folks. You are watching a man's life come apart. For whatever reason, we are invited. After this album, Dylan lost me again… probably more my fault than his. There is another final aspect of this album which I am sure is not appreciated. This is a really great work out album. I used to listen to super ragey testosterone rock for work outs: early Tool, Megadeth, early Metallica… you get the idea. This music helps me channel energy to a physical channel.

I had Tracks on my iPod the other day when I hit the gym. I left it on, really loud, and it was an amazing work out jam. It is about 44 minutes of the meanest and most rage filled music I have. Zach de la Rocha, you got nothing on Bobby Dylan for riotous indignation. 44 minutes is perfect. It is how long albums were back then, limited by the technology. Also, it is as long as I can pretend to work out before I collapse in tears and sweat. I have been listening to this disc/ cassette/ record for about fifteen years. It gets better every year, as I mature. Thank you Bob, you give me a gift every day with your music.

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About Lono

  • justafan

    I will try and be brief:

    While i agree that it is dylan’s best album, i disagree about all the rage and anger you mention.
    Specifically in the songs you pick out.

    Dylan, who has proclaimed himself to be a post-pessimist reveals more of the hurt rather than the anger. This is excepting, Idiot Wind, of course. Now all of us realize that hurt and anger are both sides of the same coin, still when expressed come out as different as night and day.

    In “You’re A Big Girl…,” “If you see her,…” and “Shelter…” it is the pain that he mentioned in an interview with Mary Travers (soon after the album was released) that comes through. “If you see her…” is pure heartbreak — especially the last line as sung on the released version.
    “Buckets…” is complete resignation -especially the last 2 lines.

    I would guess you have heard the outtakes, some of which have ben officially released. The original versions were much quieter, just guitar and bass. It was the sound of man destroyed and too hurt to express hardly any anger (again Idiot Wind excepted) at all.

    I find the sound of the official release to be impossible to label whatsoever. And I have been listening to that album since it came out.

    You should note his use of cliches – deliberate and acknowledged by Dylan – throughout the album.
    As you say there is a ton of wordplay mostly in Tangled Up In Blue and I do not refer to the changing of the pronouncs but the puns.

    Good choice to reflecton.

  • Justafan,

    You what? You are right, thanks for your insight. The album really is more sadness than anger. I think the anger is something I inserted as I listened.

    I just saw there is a remastered SACD of this, so I am tempted to pick that one up. Thing is, I listen to 99% of my music through the iPod. I doubt the SACD would translate any different once smooshed down to an Mp3.

  • I love Blood on the Tracks but I think Bringing it All Back Home is even better. Dylan is at his best vocally and lyrically in Subterranean….. and his 115th Dream is a vastly underated narrative that contains all kinds of brilliant metaphor knocking America that seems to become more relevant every day, 42 years on. Nothing needs to be said about Tambourine Man; the last verse is the best he has ever written. Gates of Eden was his first venture into surrealism and stands the test of time very well. Its All Right Ma contains the best combination of intricate rhyme structure, powerful lyrics and memorable lines of any song. On the Road Again, while being a throwaway in comparison with the other songs, is still memorable. Maggies Farm is another powerful denounciation of the status quo that retains its impact today. She Got Everything She Needs is not a great song, but again it is still memorable. If not a masterpiece, Its All Over Now Baby Blue remains an enigmatic, haunting song to this day. The delicate Love Minus Zero has probably undergone more literary analysis than any other of Dylan’s songs except LARS. So Bringing It All Back Home is crammed full of memorable and brilliant songs, as against two or three masterpieces on Blood on the Tracks.

  • I don’t think it’s meaningful to argue over which is Dylan’s “best” album. His work has covered a lot of ground, and different albums speak to different moods at different times. However, I do think Blood on the Tracks is one of those that speaks more often to more people – and certainly to me – than many of his others.

    I can’t agree that the lyrics are more direct than on his other albums. “Idiot Wind” is not characteristic – in the other songs Dylan plays around with non-linear narrative and points of view a lot, particularly in “Tangled Up In Blue”. He was studying painting at this time, and attempting a sort of musical cubism here where we see the same thing from several angles at once. He may also have had the movie “Rashomon” in mind. At the end of “Lily, Rosemary and the Jack of Hearts”, for example, we certainly know something has hgappened, but can we be sure what?


  • It’s intriguing to me that so many people are so taken with Blood on the Tracks, as I’ve always been somewhat on the fence about it.

    It’s a major Dylan album, no doubt, one that tracks a relationship from anger to despair to something resembling forgiveness and acceptance, and it has some good songs on it, particularly “Idiot Wind” and “Shelter From the Storm.” I’ve heard it many times over the past 30 years, but not lately. It’s dropped off my radar. It’s not one I reach for when I want to hear Bob Dylan. It no longer excites me. It doesn’t stir the blood like his great triumphs from the 1960s — and by the way, Bringing It All Back Home was his first official electric album — or the way Desire or The Basement Tapes or Time Out of Mind or Modern Times does.

    Not only that, I think it’s somewhat flawed. I don’t much care for “Tangled Up in Blue,” and “Meet Me in the Morning” doesn’t have anywhere near the bite of its original version, “Call Letter Blues,” on The Bootleg Series, Volumes 1-3: 1961-1991.

    A recent point of fascination: in his book Chronicles, Dylan cryptically noted that he once wrote an album of songs based on stories by Chekhov, yet all the critics thought it was about his divorce. He never specified which album, leaving us all to guess, but if it’s Blood on the Tracks I’d sure like to know which stories he was talking about.

  • John

    Let’s face it: you’re a moron. He “came back all hopped up on Jesus”? Have you heard John Wesley Harding? Nashville Skyline? If you’re referring to regular touring, he “came back” touring to promote the album you rave about. If Blood on The Tracks is an acoustic album, then so are a couple dozen other Dylan albums. I’m with you on how magnificent the album is, but on everything else…. well, if you’re gonna post your opinions for the world to see, maybe you should consider having some idea what you’re talking about.

  • mick

    bob had his moterbike accident 1966 and did’nt get hooked on jesus till late 1970’s although jwh does have some religous references

  • John’s post made me read the article more carefully — and indeed it does seem Lono has several things confused.

    “Dylan kinda disappeared after his very bad motorcycle accident, and came back all hopped up on jesus (with that molester beard).”

    He definitely wasn’t “hopped up on Jesus” on the 1967 John Wesley Harding, unless you’re referring to random religious imagery that has been in his music from the very beginning.

    He didn’t become a born-again Christian until 1979 or so — well over a decade after the accident.

    “Also, Dylan got weird. He was showing up in white face pancake makeup.”

    That was the mid-Seventies.

  • Y’all are right, my timelines are confused… and I apologize for that. I am thinking in my very simplistic thinking of:

    everything leading up to Blonde on Blonde

    and everything after Blonde on Blonde

    I am crazy insane in love with everything leading up to (and including) Blonde on Blonde. Most after that I can leave. Exceptions are Blood on the Tracks, and the last few albums Dylan has kicked out.

  • John

    Alright, maybe I was a little heavy with the “moron” jab. If you’re a Bob fan, it’s hard not to love everything through Blonde on Blonde, and his last few albums. It’s equally hard, though, to dismiss 30 years of Bob’s material, though. Here are just a few of the highlights that are from some of the albums:

    All Along the Watchtower
    Lay, Lady, Lay
    Time Passes Slowly
    If Not For You
    Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door
    Forever Young
    One More Cup Of Coffee
    Gotta Serve Somebody
    Every Grain of Sand
    Union Sundown
    etc., etc., including everything from The Basement Tapes.

    We all love early Bob, but he did some pretty remarkable stuff in that 3 decades of material that you just don’t seem to care for.

  • In Idiot Wind, Bob shares in the realization that we are all in this mess together. The line is not “You’re an idiot, babe, it’s a wonder you can even feed yourself”.
    But, “We’re idiots babe, it’s a wonder we can even feed ourselves.”

    For me it’s a toss-up between “Highway 61 Revisited” and “Blood on the Tracks” and “Blond on Blond”.
    Honorable mention:
    Bringin it all Back Home
    New Morning
    Planet Waves – think Tough Mama and Hazel.
    Street Legal
    “Changing of the Guards” and
    “Where are you Tonight” alone make it
    worth the price of admission for me.
    Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan
    John Wesley Harding

  • daryl d

    Thanks for the article. I’ve always been appreciative of Bob Dylan and his music. However, unlike other artists, I can never think of a single that really defines him or stands out. He’s more of an album artist, in my opinion, which isn’t a bad thing.

  • Like a Roling Stone ring any bells there Daryl?


  • Yep, I’m generally in agreement with you. Don’t forget Dylan/The Band – Basement Tapes.

  • Hey,

    Since I am in room full of Dylan fans, does anyone have any of these remastered CDs? How different or better are they? Is it worth replacing my existing stock of Dylan?

  • John

    Don’t bother replacing stuff you already have. If you haven’t already, start collecting live shows. Like you, a friend and I have always really liked Tangled Up In Blue. The version Bob did at one of the shows we were at last fall, is, though, the best we’ve ever heard. Who could’ve known? I just listened to a Shelter From The Storm from a show in 1975. It’s different than anything I’ve heard studio-recorded and it’s so good you’ll think your hair is gonna start on fire. Think about it.

  • John

    p.s. The show I referred to is from 1976, after all, not 1975.

    p.p.s. Bob was almost certainly wearing the whiteface makeup at the time.

    p.p.p.s You’ll never hear Bob sing better.

  • I have all of the bootleg collections that were officially released. Where can I find that boot you mentioned with Shelter from 1976? I listened to some stuff from Bodokahn and thought it was terrible. Everything was reworked into a car crash.

    The Tangled up in Blue performance on DVD that came with one of the bootleg series is AMAZING though. It is Bob at the top of his game, of course in clown face… but the music and delivery is superior even to the studio version.

  • ok team, in the interest of science I went out and bought the SACD today of the CD. I listened to it in my truck on the way home and the audio did not seem remarkable or different.

    That is ok, the glory was going to be when I plug it into my home theatre. Problem is, my stupid DVD player (about two years old) doesn’t play SACD. WTF? Even my Ford truck could play the thing. So, I am bummed and will have to return the disc.

    the point being, check to make sure your system is compatible before buying a SACD. The good thing is that it was very reasonable priced…. $14. Really, the same price as the original, which might not even be on the market anymore.

  • rob

    Your comments are just the kind of thing that would give Dylan a smile…a wry smile mind you, but a smile nonetheless.

  • John

    Disc trading of Bob shows is almost a craft – you have to know where to look and how to get them. If you want to email me off this page, I can get you started, and send you some samples that should get you pretty enthused… [Personal contact info deleted]

  • John

    Here’s a link to Bill Pagel’s excellent site as a starting point on all-things-Bob. Note the links under “Trading”. You can still hit me up, if you like, and I can hook you up with some resources and some music.

  • Our Lady of Bob

    This was fun, reading all the comments and the article too of course.

    I have to say I can’t pick a “best” Dylan album. And i’ve been listening right from the first one. (which I still love because of the singing… that is right, yu heard me correctly… but then I LOVE his voice and his singing. His phrasing and timing are fantastic, and what seems to be a throwaway, is always done with purpose. In fact Charlie Sexton said the most important thing he leaned from touring with Bob is that there was no waste moments. everything had a point and purpose or it wasn’t there!)

    I could never pick a best album from Bob’s body of work.
    Of course I could never pick a worst album from Dylan either.
    I could say that any album of bob’s would be on my top favorite albums before any one else. I was going to say in his genre, but he does transcend genre, doesn’t he?

    I could listen to OH MERCY for days, weeks, and I have. Or Blonde on Blonde, or any of the others. some of his oft dismissed Christian music is so spectacular that one has to question the bias of those critiquing…(unlike myself of course.)
    And BTW, how come people don’t mention “OH MERCY” when talking about his latest works?
    That is one amazing album. As haunting a collection of songs as I’ve ever heard. don’t believe me? Go put it on for a day or two and tell me if it hasn’t worked its way into your soul.

    anyway, I agree about bootlegs. Get the boots, listen to the changes as Bob covers his own music and makes it his again, from a new place in time.
    One of the most amazing things about Dylan is how he does not do a show of greatest hits night after night, year after year, evenif he plays the song again, it is usually fresh and new.

    Does it sound like I’m a fan? I’m too old to be a fan or a groupie. (58)
    He is my muse… and definitely my imaginary boyfriend. LMAO

  • our lady of Bob, great comment.

    Bob covers his own music. It wouldn’t make sense with hardly any other artist. I thought I was crazy for noticing that by Blonde on Blonde, Dylan has finally fully embraced his own singing style. In fact, at times it sounds like he is making fun of Bob Dylan. What an enigma. I have watched ‘Don’t Look Back’ and ‘No Direction Home’ many times, and I still don’t have any better feel of him as a person.

  • another thing about this disc (I told you people I can’t stop listening to it). it is Bob as an adult. I love the early stuff, he was this punk kid with a wry and devilish sense of humor. Everything, to me, came with a wink and a nod.

    This album is such a departure from all that. All the playfullness is gone. The wordplay is still fully there, but that joy is gone. I don’t think that is just because of the divorce. It is about him maturing, and not writing about ‘them’ anymore.

  • Haven

    I’m 14 and the first time I heard Blood on the Tracks was when I was going through my dad’s record collection. I may not have liked it at first since I was so used to Dylan’s older stuff, but after a while it became my favorite album of his besides Desire.