The Rewind Button – Bob Dylan, Blood on the Tracksby LefebvreDave on Jun 27, 2012 • 6:21 pm No Comments
(The Rewind Button is a group blogging project. Every week we review an album from Rolling Stone magazine’s greatest albums list.)
We all have the quintessential break up album locked away in a special place in our memories. The lyrics seem written expressly for your personal pain. The music brings you back to the lowness of that time. It has always seemed so fitting that mine was called Blood on the Tracks because I was a train wreck for longer than I ever thought possible. In truth, I still carry the pain with me, much as I do this album on my iPhone.
At number 16 on Rolling Stone’s greatest albums list, Bob Dylan’s Blood on the Tracks is sandwiched between Jimi Hendrix Are You Experienced and Nirvana Nevermind. Only in rock ‘n roll can such variety exist, as these three albums share very little in common. It is Dylan’s third appearance on this list, placing him second behind The Beatles as the most revered artist. Released in 1975, it is also his 15th studio album. He was only 34 years old.
The mystery behind the lyrics of this mournful album remains, with Dylan mostly refusing to admit that it is about the end of his marriage to Sara Lowndes. Yet there is sufficient proof to assume that this is precisely what spurred such spectacular storytelling of love lost. Of the song Tangled up in Blue, Dylan said that it took ten years to live and two to write. He’s also expressed confusion, never understanding why people would take such pleasure in the pain therein.
The version of this album that I know best is the final released recording, but it was actually recorded in two separate sessions. The first of these became known as the New York Sessions. I listened to these for the first time while writing this review. There is no polish on many of the songs; their sound is as raw as their subject.
The tarnished tunes of the New York Sessions suits the theme of lost love much better. Recorded in just one week, it is as though Dylan simply wanted to get this project and this pain behind him.
Through the New York Sessions, I’ve rediscovered this album. I’m amazed at how very different each song is than those I’ve grown so comfortable hearing. Yet comfort is exactly what I experience as I listen to these less polished versions. If You See Her Say Hello is more subdued, more mournful. It is as though I’ve finally heard the songs the way they were supposed to be played.
Until I started playing guitar a few years ago, I’d never heard the sound of fingertips sliding down strings as they moved from one fret to another. The sound was always there, I had just never noticed it. When I learned to play, this sound initially confounded me. I wanted a clean sound, jumping from one chord to the other, something crisp. But then I started noticing it on many of the songs I enjoyed and it became part of the musicality of the song. It’s the only hint of process in some of my favorite tunes and it gives them intimacy. I feel like I’m beside the guitarist as they play.
In the New York Sessions it’s been said that you can hear the sound of Dylan’s coat buttons and nails against the strings of his guitar. Upon hearing the album that Dylan cut from these sessions, his brother urged him to re-record and Dylan listened to his advice. I’ve interspersed songs from those initial sessions throughout this post so you can experience them for yourself.
The New York Sessions has given second life to this album for me. Though it doesn’t carry the same weight, it is as moving as the first time I heard it. It remains one of my favorite albums and has a well-deserved place on this Greatest Albums list.
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