This review was originally posted on the first Toorak Times web site where publications ceased on that site in March 2017. The old site will be permanently closed in 2020 and these reviews are being re-published in order to preserve them on the current Toorak Times/Tagg site.
Cream Of The Crate Reviews 1 to 50 were vinyl album reviews. The following fifty reviews (51 - 100) were originally marked as CD Reviews 1 - 50 and this numbering has been kept to keep consistency with the published CD reviews.
This is number three in the series of albums I’m featuring as part of an on-going retrospective of CD’s in my personal collection.
The series is called, “Cream of The Crate (CD’s)”, and they represent CD albums that I believe are of significant musical value, either because of their rarity, because they represent the best of a style or styles of music or because their is something unique about the group or the music.
CD retro review #2 was a boxed set of Robert Johnson. This weeks review also features a boxed set and although this artist had produced many albums and many sets of work, this is the more complete set of his work up to the date of the final recording, than I believe exists elsewhere.
The CD’s are from the boxed set “Bob Dylan – Biograph“,which consists of three CD’s and was released in 1985 on the Columbia Label (C3K 38830).
It has 53 tracks that represent a mixture of album tracks, hit tracks and ‘rarities’ (including some spectacular previously unreleased material) and covers recordings from 1962 to 1981.
The total play time of the complete set is 3 hours 31 minutes and 50 seconds.
This 1985 boxed set marked the first time that the label had gone back to original first-generation tapes for a Dylan CD, and is pretty damn impressive.
Incidentally, the set was originally released as a five vinyl LP set and that set is certainly now a collectors item.
It is said that this box set really was the beginning of CD boxed sets, and certainly it set the standards bar very high!
The first is the fantastic accompanying booklet.
If there was one thing that Columbia appeared to do well when they started releasing back catalogs on CD, it was the booklets that accompanied the music.
With the move from vinyl to CD, the upside was the compactness of the CD meaning it took up far less space, and, the case was far more durable than the cardboard sleeve of the vinyl LP.
The downside meant that the information that was often printed on the rear of the cover, or via a printed insert, was no longer available. So the buyer missed out on much interesting and factual background information on the artist and the recording.
With the advent of the boxed sets of CD’s, the marketing folk realised that the opportunity was once again there to provide this material.
So it was in many cases, such as in both the previous Robert Johnson boxed set, and indeed this Bob Dylan boxed set, where that material was not only being supplied but supplied as a quality product.
The booklet contains 32 pages (large pages) of what could best be described as a ‘mini’ biography of Bob’s life from his school days through to circa 1981.
It has been well laid out and well written, and, while it obviously can not go into every detail of his life, it does cover most of the critical times of his career.
Sometimes they are referred to briefly and other times in more detail. It is hard to be critical because although we do have 32 pages, that is insufficient to truly cover this remarkable mans career.
Now each of us has probably amassed differing amounts of knowledge of Dylan’s life and career, and so each of us will have a differing perspective of the value of the booklet in terms of ‘new knowledge’.
However, I did learn many new things.
One instance is regard to the recording of Dylan’s first album (titled “Bob Dylan” – 1962), with John Hammond handling the recording. I didn’t realise that the only reason they stopped recording in that session was that, they simply ran out of tape, and that the whole session cost only $402.
Another reason why some information was not included and other information was sparse is due to the space being taken up by the addition of some wonderful photographs.
Some are small, taking up a quarter a page, others are simply magnificent and are full page. Many I had never seen before.
Here is a selection of those photographs.
Now I did say there were two other reason why I thought this boxed set was superior.
The other, while not something I appreciated as much as the booklet, was non-the-less very welcomed. It is five loose insert pages that obviously accompanied the original five LP set. Each insert relates to one of the vinyl LP’s and sets out some background information to each track.
Being tied to the vinyl LP release they therefore they do not relate directly to the track layout on the CD, however, they do ALL list the tracks on the three CD’s as these reflect the the five LP’s.
I think this is a nice addition and one of those ‘classy’ touches the media department at Columbia came up with that provides that little extra something for the collector and enthusiast.
Listing the tracks for you is simply done by taking a shot of each of the inserts in the three CD’s.
Choosing the tracks to play/review, is a far harder task, and so it should be as we are talking about one of the true “Masters of Music”, whose compositions are without peer in his genre.
On one hand anyone who even pretends to have a love of music will have listened to some Bob Dylan, and many people who read these types of reviews will be very familiar with his work, in all its amazing breadth.
It is so hard not to just go for the well known, the tried and true tracks that all Dylan fans love. For example “Lay lady Lay” has to go down as one of his best tracks and fans most favorite love songs!
It was a track that Dylan never felt that close to and never wanted released as a single. However Columbia Records President Clive Davis insisted, and the rest his history.
However, I have gone for “I’ll Keep It With Mine“, a previously unreleased track.
This was a very rare tape recorded for Judy Collins, and it features a heartfelt Dylan on piano. The track has popped up on bootlegs all around the world.
Part of the problem for Dylan, was his prolific song writing and that many good songs tended to get overlooked for “great” songs (good and great in Dylan’s mind).
This track was recorded on an incredibly productive night session in June of 1964. With a control room full of friends and several rambunctious children, he cut this track along with, “All I Really Want To Do“, Chimes of Freedom“, “To Ramona“,and, an incredible FOURTEEN other tracks!
A small but interesting thing, the liner notes declare it was recorded June 1964, but the track lists it as 14/1/1965! This cannot be the release date, as it never was released so I am uncertain as to why the discrepancy!
I’ll Keep It With Mine
Keeping up with the theme of looking at the previously unreleased tracks on this set, brings me to CD #2 which actually has four previously unreleased tracks on it.
These are tracks #1, #10, #11 and #13. Now, before the you start jumping up and down crying, “It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue” certainly was released, let me explain.
This previously unreleased acoustic version was recorded while Bob was on tour in Manchester, UK, on May 17th 1966.
The version we are familiar with was released a year earlier. This version was recorded during what has been identified as, “a break in the chaos of the 1966 tour“. In it we hear Dylan singing in what can only be described as an anguished type vocal delivery and, it certainly features two magnificent harp solo’s.
It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue
This CD features a large number of previously unreleased tracks, these being; tracks #1, #2, #3, #4, #9 & #18.
This gave me a real problem, because all these tracks need to be heard and they are from a variety of periods that Dylan has recorded, being from track #3 – Baby I’m In The Mood For You (1962) to track #1 – Caribbean Wind (1981).
I chose track #2 – “Up To Me“.
It is, as the set says, very much the ‘Treasure’ of this set! Recorded on 25th September 1974 in New York City, it is in fact a companion piece to “Shelter From The Storm” from the 1975 album ‘Blood On The Tracks‘. Seriously, it is quite possibly the very best unreleased Dylan track, ever!
That’s a big call but I stand by it.
It is fascinating because in it Dylan is actually ‘playing’ with his own persona.
He sings in the final verse:
“If we never meet again
baby remember me.
How my lone guitar played sweet for you,
that old time melody.
And the harmonica around my neck,
I blew it for you free,
No one else could play that tune.
You know it was up to me.”
Up To Me
As Dylan once commented, “I don’t think of myself as Bob Dylan. It’s like Rimbaud said, ‘I is another‘.”
So now we have three tracks discussed and available for listening to. One unreleased track from each CD and as wonderful as they are, I still feel as though this review is incomplete.
I have a need to revisit at least one of my all time favorite Dylan tracks, and this isn’t easy either, as there are some utter rippers this set.
We have to recognise that Dylan has written so many songs it borders on the ridiculous.
Even trying to get a definitive number is impossible, but it seems to be somewhere between 460 and 500 (possibly more) tracks and then there are all those unreleased tracks like the ones in this set.
So it is impossible to have a boxed set that would encompass all his ‘best’ work (and frankly I have no idea how you could even begin to classify ‘good’ when it comes to Bob Dylan).
However, I believe this set is one of the better sets because it does have such a great mixture of ‘hits’, fan favorites, classics and rare unreleased tracks.
To bring the audio part to an end I have chosen a track from this set that I just utterly adore, and the funny thing is, one of them was covered by another musical genius and I think his version is sublime.
However, I will not get into comparing them, because they are so different in their approaches, there is no point.
So here is, “All Along The Watchtower” (also recorded by Jimi Hendrix).
In fact Dylan is quoted as saying, “I liked Jimi Hendix’s record of this …..”
All Along The Watchtower (part of the Hendrix version)
All Along The Watchtower (Dylan version)
So in 1997, Columbia Records issued an upgraded, a reconfigured version of this boxed set with a new catalog number (65298), and a lower price.
However a major trade-off was that both the box and booklet were reduced from an LP-size box to a CD-size. Other reviewers say that the 1997 CD-size box version was remastered in Sony’s Super Bit Mapping process, making it a significant improvement over the 1985 version, and is to be preferred.
I have not heard this version!
However the large box version which I have reviewed sounds pretty damn good on my pro-audio set up, and I still come back to the fact that having that important booklet in the large size, tips this version into the preferred version in my opinion.
So if you go looking for it, don’t be surprised at the not significant price differences, because they largely represent (quality of second hand goods not withstanding), the difference in the 1985 (more expensive) and the 1997 (cheaper) versions.
There are a number for sale online, ranging from Au$10.00Au to $100, however, many do not identify which version you are buying, so do inquire.
If there is one artist well represented on Youtube it is Bob Dylan. here are three video’s of Dylan some of his most loved works.
Just Like A Woman (1966)
Compilation of live tracks