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Music Review: Bob Dylan – Knocked Out Loaded

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Knocked Out Loaded was released July 14, 1986 and would be one of the worst selling albums of his career as it would find a distant Dylan who seemed preoccupied. The first hint that this is an unfocused album is the number of musicians and singers that appear in the credits which number over fifty. Ultimately it would not be a terrible release but it would be a forgettable one.

There is one shining moment on the album and that is the 11 minute song co-written by playwright Sam Shepard. The music is average on “Brownsville Girl,” but the lyrical quality is excellent. This haunting song of long lost love has wonderful lines and is really a novel set to music. Eleven minutes may seem like a long time when listening to a narrative type song but it just flies by. It remains one of Dylan’s better tracks from the 1980’s.

Three songs provide the best of the rest. “You Wanna Ramble” is an old Little Junior Parker tune that at least seems to find Dylan interested. He provides a nice gritty vocal that is sadly missing from much of the album. “Maybe Someday” is a good to middling popish piece that is easy on the ears. “Precious Memories” is an old traditional gospel song that Dylan takes out for a ride. Johnny Cash would provide a terrific interpretation of this song and while this version may not measure up it is still very good.

It is difficult to completely ruin a Kris Kristofferson song but Dylan comes close with his version of “They Killed Him.” There is a children’s choir present that removes just about any other redeeming features the track might contain. I am also not partial to “Under Your Spell” which was written with Carole Baker Sager. While she is a talented songwriter in her own right her style is just too different from that of Bob Dylan.

His motive for creating an album to which he does not seem committed is unknown. On the rare occurrences when I actually play Knocked Out Loaded, except for the one brilliant song, it is just not memorable. However, if you really want to explore some obscure Dylan, then you can give this album a try.

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About David Bowling

  • Dude Skoodle

    Isn’t Brownsville Girl as a song enough to make you happy? “Got my mind made up” is good too.
    Most Dylan albums have 3 or 4 really good tracks. Thats how it always is. Of all the albums released in 85-86, this still stands up to repeated listening. I could listen to Brownsville Girl into eternity. IT IS BASED ON AN EARLIER SONG CALLED NEW DANVILLE GIRL by the way, which had you any recondite Dylan knowledge you would have mentioned.
    What do you mean “the music on Brownsville Girl is only average”? What does such a comment actually mean? Nothing. I love the line “Long before the stars were torn down” I guess you have a right to your rather predictable opinion.

  • nancy bakker

    the title of the album says it all… to enjoy this one, you need to be knocked out or loaded.

  • mike murphy

    like every dylan album there are songs that stand out. what sometimes confuses me is how did gregory peck get to speak at the kennedy honors show, is it because he was mentioned in brownsville girl? why not einstein or michelangelo or his son jacob forever young was written for himor one of the many others he wrote about or mentioned in his songs

  • kevin cramsey

    “You Wanna Ramble” and “Maybe Somebday” are kind of fun. “Brownsville Girl” would be so much better without the annoying backing vocals and over production. As for the rest . . . yuk. “They Killed Him” is one of his all-time worst recordings; The Petty and Carole Sager contributions are utterly forgettable; “Precious Memories” is a pretty bad cover of a beloved traditional country tune . . . what else . . . Nothing! Cause not only is the album a clunker content-wise, it’s also a rip-off because its only got 7 songs and lasts about 30 minutes or so. Really, Bob, whatever happened to the credo you espoused for “Self-Portrait,” in which you said, “If you’re going to put out an album of crap, load it up.”

  • michael mcmahon

    as an avowed dylan addict I have to say this album overall is a stinker…but still has some little gems that linger in the memory ….Brownsville Girl reflects his state of mind at the time and with a litlle tinkering could have been an absolute classic

  • Between 1980 and 2001 Dylan released more genuinely horrible records than anybody ever has. In a perfect world, releasing albums as bad as Knocked Our Loaded, Empire Burlesque or [shudder] Dylan & The Dead should result in a mandatory prison term. What is a testament to Dylan’s genius is that he was able to return in 2001 with the best record of his career, Love & Theft and follow that up with another masterpiece in Modern Times. Dylan apologists who actually defend dreck like Under the Red Sky or Down in the Groove make me laugh. And laughter is good for the soul, so tell me again why the NET doesn’t suck.