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Music Review: Bob Dylan – Desire

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Bob Dylan released Desire on January 5, 1976 and it would prove to be one of his best selling albums, reaching number 1 on the National charts while achieving double platinum status.

The Basement Tapes had been released in mid 1975. Since this was an album of material recorded in 1967, Desire was the follow-up to the classic Blood On The Tracks. In many ways Desire was a more ambitious project as he would produce an album of rockers, story telling, and topical songs clothed in imagery and melodies. Jacques Levy would serve as a co-creator on many of the tracks. If there can be any criticism of this album, it would be the rotating group of musicians that never really coalesced into a tight knit working band.  

Two long story songs appear on the album. “Hurricane” is a protest song about the incarceration of boxer Rubin “Hurricane” Carter. He had been convicted of murder in 1966 and quickly became a symbol of the civil rights movement. This song was very controversial when it was released. In 1976 Carter was re-tried and convicted a second time. Through a series of legal maneuverings a third trial became necessary in 1988 and when the state refused to prosecute, Carter was released. He remains an almost mythic figure. Dylan seemed committed to his cause but has not performed the song live since 1976. “Joey” was a biographical track about deceased gangster Joey Gallo. He is presented as an outlaw with morals. Noted writer Lester Bangs would take Dylan to task, line by line, for his praise of Gallo.

Two wonderful love songs appear on the album. “Oh Sister” is about the fragility of love. Emmylou Harris provides some wonderful vocals on this track and many others as well. “Sara” is a personal song in the form of a tribute to his wife. It is basically Dylan in the confessional. She would file for divorce in March of 1977.  

I have always been drawn to “Isis” which is a journey of imagery. “Black Diamond Bay” is almost a script waiting to be filmed. It explores the destruction of an Island from different perspectives including the Island itself. “Romance In Durango” is a return to the style of John Wesley Harding. It chronicles an outlaw and his lover on the run. “One More Cup Of Coffee” concerns a family of wandering gypsies. It is a moody and haunting tale set to music. “Mozambique” is a straight forward rocker with some lyrical imagery thrown in for good measure.

Desire was an album of adventure. The songs are well crafted and Levy’s contributions fit Dylan’s style well. If Blood On The Tracks is rated 5 stars then Desire is very close at four to four and a half stars. It remains one of the important releases of the 1970s and is still worth seeking out three decades later.     

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About David Bowling

  • Liuzhou Laowai

    I’m surprised you didn’t say more about the unique sound of this album within Dylan’s output. Scarlet Rivera’s violin is so much part of this album in a way few other musicians have added an overall tone to Dylan’s music.

  • Marc


  • whalespoon

    I own all of Bob’s albums and a tone of unreleased Bob as well and “Desire” is my all time favorite Bob album. For depth of performance and excellence in writing (“Joey’ notwithstanding), Bob seldom, if ever, topped this one.

  • kevin cramsey

    I guess I just missed the boat on this one. I have never been drawn to this album. It’s cohesive in sound, I will say that, but track by track, it just doesn’t excite me. I used to think “Hurricane” was a great song — and it may be — but it is so factually challenged lyrically that I can’t enjoy it anymore. (Carter never rode “a horse along the trail,” as Bob sings. He was a thug whose best days in the ring were behind him and he was hanging out in bars in his old hometown, neglecting his family and raising hell.

    “Joey” is also a lyrical disgrace lyrically, and the tune isn’t even any good. It plods on for like 10 minutes and seems longer. Just awful.

    “Romanco in Durango” and “Black Diamomnd Bay” are flat-out boring. “Mozambique,” is routine, almost pedestrian.

    “Oh Sister” is probably the best song.

    “Sara” is another I just can’t listen to. Fourteen minutes of someone — even the great Dylan — pouring his heart out to his soon-to-be-ex wife is just not a very pleasurable listening experience. If he felt so compelled, he should have sat down and sung the song to her personally and forgotten about preserving for posterity.

    As for Scarlet Rivera’s omni present violin, it gows tiresome after two or three songs. You just can’t escape it.

    My favorite song from these sessions was “Abandoned Love” and it didn’t make the cut. Ended up on “Biograph” I think.

    I give the album 2 1/2 stars. What can I say? I’ve been listening ot Dylan for 30-plus years and I still haven’t been converted on this album. Maybe it’s just me. Sorry fans of “Desire.” Don’t stone me, please.