Bob Dylan signed with the Asylum label in 1973 after a decade with Columbia. The re-action by Columbia was to assemble a number of outtakes and release them in late 1973 as the new Bob Dylan album. Dylan would prove to be the weakest studio album of Dylan’s career.
His Asylum label debut, Planet Waves, was released Jan. 17, 1974 and became his first number one album in the United States. Take that Columbia.
It is mostly a mellow rock album of personal lyrics and love songs. The album has a good, calm feel to it and has grown on me over the years. Sometimes this release is overlooked as it precedes the brilliant Blood On The Tracks. While it may not be its equal, it does remain a very good release.
Dylan would use The Band in the studio for backing on these tracks and the results are superb. They would tour in support of this release. It would be his first major tour in over six years and would gross over 90 million dollars.
“Forever Young” remains one of my favorite Dylan songs. It is far removed from his obscure lyrics of the 1960’s. This ballad was supposedly written for his children and if that is true then it was a gift. The brilliance of the words is in the wish that they will stay “Forever Young” yet there is a poignancy knowing that cannot be. Joan Baez would provide a superb cover of this song on her Diamonds and Rust album.
Dylan released two versions of this song on Planet Waves. The CD versions of this album place the two tracks back to back and they lose something of the original intent. The 1974 vinyl album release places one version as the last song on side one and the other leads off side two. This spacing increases the impact of both tracks.
I have always wished that “On A Night Like This” and “You Angel You” would have been paired together as they are both gentle folk-rock songs with lyrics that complement each other.
There are two songs that run counterpoint to the calm feel of the album. “Tough Mama” features one of his best vocals of the 70s. This is a full throttle rock ‘n’ roll song so turn it up loud. “Going, Going, Gone” finds The Band at their best. Robbie Robertson provides a masterful guitar solo and the group shows how well they meld with Dylan and his musical vision.
“Wedding Song” may be the most interesting song on the album. It is autobiographical in nature as Dylan sings about the wonders of married life and the escape from fame. His marital bliss would end shortly after this release but here at least his world is intact. “Dirge” is a song that calls or lures the listener back over and over again. It combines sparseness and desolation into an ultimately chilling experience. “Hazel,” on the other hand, is a nice bluesy ballad.
Planet Waves was a return to solid ground for Bob Dylan. It may not have been as creative as some of his very best work but it remains very listenable 34 years later.