Self-Impersonation: Bob Dylan 1970 Reconfigured (Vol. 3)

Let’s pretend that the music Bob Dylan recorded circa 1970 had resulted in a series of different albums than the ones we got. In the real world, those recordings are smeared all over the place: Self-Portrait, New Morning, Dylan, Greatest Hits Vol. 2, vault releases, and bootlegs. The point of this curation is not to include everything, but to finally give persuasive form to a period that remains blurry (based on commercial releases) and that is often derided as a low point. I consider it a high point, even at its weirdest points. This is my case, via four imaginary albums. 

Volume 3: The Boxer

“Still a man hears what he wants to hear, and disregards the rest.”

“What is this crap?” a famous critic famously asked, after being exposed to “Self Portrait.” 

This third volume of my 1970 reconfiguration is a journey to the center of the crap. I’ve piled it up until there’s a whole statement’s worth of it. It’s delightful. It coheres. It’s greater than the sum of its parts. It’s not a joke.

And it’s not crap at all, of course. Dylan’s not singing as Mr. Nashville, or taking on any fixed poses. He’s taking all of this seriously and covering a lot of ground. He’s putting quarters into his private jukebox. Next up, “Mr. Bojangles.” 

If he’d named these songs in an interview as what he was listening to, we’d find it fascinating, but his playing of them, and the way he played many of them, are often ridiculed: covers of contemporary songs, lightweight originals that sound like those contemporary songs, weird oldies, non-adversarial-Dylan approaches to interpreting it all, backup singers all over the place.

Yes, it is Dylan’s easy listening album from 1970, and aren’t you glad you can finally listen to it all the way through?

43-minute mp3 pseudo-album zipped up here

  • The Boxer (SP)
  • Early Mornin’ Rain (SP)
  • If Not for You (NM)
  • Can’t Help Falling in Love (D)
  • Gotta Travel On (SP)
  • Woogie Boogie (SP)
  • Bring Me a Little Water (ASP)
  • Spanish is the Loving Tongue (b-side)
  • Mr. Bojangles (D)
  • Lily of the West/Flora (D)
  • Mary Ann (D)
  • Winterlude (NM)
  • Big Yellow Taxi (D)

Additional notes: 

  • As many before me have said, this b-side version of “Spanish is the Loving Tongue” is one of Dylan’s greatest performances. The fact that I would dare to place it in the midst of this other stuff reflects my confidence that I can serve you four stacks of 1970 Dylan, and make you like every song in each one of them… including three versions of “Spanish is the Loving Tongue,” a lyric and melody that Dylan obsessively explored in this period, beginning with The Basement Tapes. It’s a song about the borderlands between acceptance and regret, choice and fate, true love and inadequate love. It makes perfect sense that Dylan kept circling around it in this period, and that he also dug out and seriously recorded his old song “Tomorrow is a Long Time” and wrote “Watching the River Flow.” They’re all versions of the same separation narrative, questioning whether the narrator has irretrievably lost something, or is just too weak to pursue it. 
  • Dylan can’t be credited or blamed for some of the overdubbed arrangements here, but unfortunately the material originally released on the album “Dylan” (1973) seems to be so hated that the compilers of the archive box “Another Self Portrait,” didn’t consider including any of it in a purer form. For all I know, some of them began as amazing solo performances, later to be encrusted by others.  
  • I haven’t included anything from the widely-bootlegged June 1, 1970 screw-around recording session on my four compilations. It’s one of those Dylan documents best left to be enjoyed in isolation, IMO, like the ’66 hotel tapes, ’69 Dylan/Cash sessions, and ‘78 Rundown sessions. Lots of fun to be had, but no knockout performances of anything. However, one of the high points of the 6/1/70 recording is a rendition of “Matchbox,” which reveals exactly where “Woogie Boogie” came from.

Self-Impersonation: Bob Dylan 1970 Reconfigured (Vol. 2)

Let’s pretend that the music Bob Dylan recorded circa 1970 had resulted in a series of different albums than the ones we got. In the real world, those recordings are smeared all over the place: Self-Portrait, New Morning, Dylan, Greatest Hits Vol. 2, vault releases, and bootlegs. The point of this curation is not to include everything, but to finally give persuasive form to a period that remains blurry (based on commercial releases) and that is often derided as a low point. I consider it a high point, even at its weirdest points. This is my case, via four imaginary albums. 

Volume 2: To Woody

This is the sub-plot of 1970-ish Dylan studio recordings that I most wanted to pull together – the record I always wanted “Self-Portrait” to be. It’s something like the return of folk singer Dylan, but with the wider, weirder scope of traditional music opened up by The Basement Tapes. Covers and originals sit together comfortably. 

At the edge of the imaginary stage, alone in the spotlight, is Dylan, with microphone, acoustic guitar, harmonica, and a nearby piano. He’s singing his heart out without raising his voice, inhabiting each song as though it’s the most important or delightful story he’s ever told. Additional musicians appear in various formations to provide reserved accompaniment for one song or another. 

If this had been the 1970 comeback concert or “Self Portrait," I think it would be revered. 

63 minute pseudo-album zipped up here

  • Alberta #3 (ASP)
  • Down in the Flood (GH2)
  • In Search of Little Sadie (ASP)
  • George Jackson (single, solo)
  • Song to Woody (bootleg)
  • Only a Hobo (ASP)
  • It Hurts Me Too (SP)
  • You Ain’t Goin’ Nowhere (GH2)
  • Copper Kettle (ASP)
  • Spanish is the Loving Tongue (ASP)
  • Thirsty Boots (ASP)
  • I Shall Be Released (GH2)
  • Days of ’49 (ASP)
  • Belle Isle (ASP)
  • Pretty Saro (ASP)
  • House Carpenter (ASP)
  • These Hands (ASP)
  • Tattle O’Day (ASP)

GH2 tracks and “George Jackson” were recorded in 1971. ASP songs are sometimes SP takes without the overdubs. 

Self-Impersonation: Bob Dylan 1970 Reconfigured (Vol. 1)

Let’s pretend that the music Bob Dylan recorded circa 1970 had resulted in a series of different albums than the ones we got. In the real world, those recordings are smeared all over the place: Self-Portrait, New Morning, Dylan, Greatest Hits Vol. 2, vault releases, and bootlegs. The point of this curation is not to include everything, but to give persuasive form to a period that remains blurry (based on commercial releases) and that is often derided as a low point. I consider it a high point, even at its weirdest points. This is my case, via four imaginary albums. 

Volume 1: The Morning After 

One reviewer called “New Morning” a mid-term report from a position of domestic tranquility. However, the final report card, based on original songs recorded in 1970 and 1971, is a much more unsettled communique.

The first volume of my 1970 reconfiguration attempts to turn “New Morning” into the most substantial possible album of originals recorded in this period. The result includes six songs from "New Morning," three alternate versions of "New Morning" songs, and four songs that weren't on the album. 

The object of thematic puzzling is time. Simplified into biography (which isn’t fair), the plot involves “Bob Dylan” fleeing himself and celebrity into domestic tranquility and artistic freedom in upstate New York, but ending up estranged from wife and self, that masterpiece he was going to paint colliding with not having much to say, the past a mixed-up confusion, the future a blank, the river of time continuing to flow by. The gypsy he goes to see in the end, and can't connect with, is the Bob Dylan he escaped from and now can’t find his way back to. He’s the restless wallflower in his own life. He’s half-inclined to consider religion. Or he's just a restless Bob Dylan, hanging out in the cafes and bars of upstate New York, taking notes. 

  • Act 1: Hopeful escape
  • Act 2: Bliss
  • Act 3: Ambivalence, boredom, regret, and resignation

It’s the mighty Bob Dylan album, hiding in plain sight, that marks the mid-point between the official mileposts planted by “John Wesley Harding” (1967) and “Planet Waves" (1973). This re-stacking should startle even those who are intimately familiar with this material in its original contexts, especially in the second half. 

42-minute pseudo-album zipped up here.

  • Three Angels (NM)
  • Day of the Locusts (NM)
  • When I Paint My Masterpiece (ASP)
  • If Dogs Run Free (ASP)
  • New Morning (NM)
  • The Man in Me (NM)
  • Watching the River Flow (single)
  • One More Weekend (NM)
  • Time Passes Slowly #2 (ASP)
  • Tomorrow is a Long Time (bootleg 6/4/70)
  • Wallflower (ASP)
  • Went to See the Gypsy (ASP)
  • Father of Night (NM)

Side Trips: Bob Dylan: Outtakes/Album Companions 1962-1964

For reasons unknown, Sony decided not to release expanded editions of “The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan,” “The Times They Are a-Changin’,” and “Another Side of Bob Dylan,” in 2012, 2013, and 2014. 

In those years, Sony was required to “officially” release any unreleased material that they wanted copyright ownership of in Europe, prior to that material turning 50 years old. If they didn’t release it, it would become public domain. 

To meet this requirement, they released something like 100 vinyl boxed sets of studio outtakes and live recordings from each year. These did not in any way attempt to curate the material or to weave it together with outtakes or live material that had been previously released somewhere at some time. The only consideration was to publish previously unreleased material. Nonetheless, it meant that everything remaining in the vault was finally available in high fidelity.

For 1965-1966, Sony got wise and released three different versions of “The Cutting Edge,” ranging from two discs of studio outtakes from that period to a massive box including everything that was recorded during the sessions for the three relevant albums. It was the “copyright box” for 1965-1966, but it also included the previously-released material from those sessions.

So… there is still no canonical set of studio outtake companions to Bob Dylan’s official releases prior to 1965. That’s what the mixes here attempt to provide: the best general audience-through-semi-fanatic companion albums I can engineer, pulling from every official release there is, volume-equalizing it all, and assembling it into coherent listening experiences. Each of the three companions parallels the recording dates of their respective albums. 

They aren't complete, but they go deep enough that when I couldn't choose between two versions of a song, I included them both. With very few exceptions, my omissions were more takes of the same songs.

Hopefully, Sony won’t smack me down too hard for sharing these, since they have shown no interest in a general releases of this sort.