A very belated happy birthday to Bob Dylan who turned 80 last week. I was preoccupied with my dad’s own 80th birthday (amongst other things) to really pay attention. But this week I enjoyed reading John Harris on Dylan in the Guardian and this by Alan Jacobs from his blog post linkage over at Snakes and Ladders. And BBC 6 Music did a nice 6 Music Artist Collection I am currently listening to.
If I had been able to pay it any mind I would have chosen a song by Dylan for Going For A Song last week instead of choosing nothing. So to cover that omission may I point you in the direction of a GFAS I wrote in 2016 about ‘Sign on the Window’ from New Morning.
Earlier this year in March Bob Dylan released ‘Murder Most Foul’. Nick Cave wrote about the song in The Red Hand Files Issue #91 in April. Now in November I’m finally able to do what I couldn’t find time to do back then, and that is direct your attention to both.
I have seen Bob Dylan live. I wasn’t sure at first. I remembered seeing him perhaps at Wembley Stadium, because I had a vague memory of talking with my friend Tim as we made our way out of the gig. But I thought this might have been a dream, a false memory. But no, I was there. I found the ticket stub:
I watched Trouble No More over the Easter bank holiday. I’m no authority to say so for sure, but the documentary seems to be part of a recent ongoing reassessment of Dylan’s Christian “phase”. And I use scare quotes there because after watching the film I’m inclined to agree with the conclusion of this writer:
In the footage of the gig, which is of the tour around the time of his conversion, Dylan’s anything but insincere.
The documentary is a good one. There are sermons interspersed between the live footage, and these are delivered by the actor Michael Shannon and written (I think I noticed his name in the credits) by the writer Luc Santé.
The song ‘Every Grain of Sand’ is one of the stand out songs of that late 70s and early 80s period, even though it ended up on Shot of Love and not on one of the two albums – Slow Train Coming and Saved – directly linked to Dylan’s conversion.*
This version of ‘Every Grain of Sand’ is the one included on The Bootleg Series Volumes 1-3 (Rare and Unreleased) 1961-1991 compilation and it is, to my mind, the superior version to the album version.
* Saved and Shot of Love began the competition for worst Dylan album cover. A competition that continued unfettered throughout the 1980s.
Interesting this on recording technology by Keith Richards, and as interesting is Alan Jacobs’ take on it:
Keith rails against “technology” but what he’s actually doing is making the case for one kind of technology rather than another
Listening to the music the Stones (and Dylan is another example) made in the 80s, I think it remained of a quality in the early part of this decade because of the new recording technology not despite it. It was only when everyone involved in making the records became more adept and familiar with the recording technology – and now after reading Richards’ account, felt they had to use all of it – the music of these two suffered. This perhaps is connected to what I was feeling when I wrote about ‘Emotional Rescue’.
Recently I’ve been listening to a few albums from the mid to late 90s. There is definitely a sound they share which dates them to that period; it’s not always prevalent through a whole album (not on the good ones anyhow), and you can get a sense of it listening to albums that don’t share it, but as yet I can’t quite put my finger on what “it” is or how, or even if, the recording technology around that time played a part.
Related maybe to this is this interview with Ewan Pearson, where the subject of dynamic range compression being used more (and so becoming an issue) in the first half of the decade of the 2000s comes up.
In an interview with Stuart Maconie about a compilation, English Weather, he and Pete Wiggs had compiled, Bob Stanley was asked if they were trying to evoke a certain period with the songs they had chosen? In reply he said the day after the 60s; before the 70s knew what the 70s were.
A song like 1980’s ‘Emotional Rescue’ (and Dylan’s ‘Jokerman’  comes to mind also) evokes for me, if I can adapt Stanley’s phrase, the day after the 70s; before The Rolling Stones (or Dylan) knew what the 80s were. However, where Stanley means his positively, I don’t necessarily.
In Bruce Springsteen’s recent interview for Desert Island Discs he tells interviewer Kirsty Young how the E-Street band’s snare drum sound was based on the snare sound on Elvis Presley’s ‘Hound Dog’. If you compare the snare drums on ‘Hungry Heart’ and ‘Hound Dog’ you discover he isn’t being disingenuous.