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Business News/ Mint-lounge / Mint-on-sunday/  Haiku 61 Revisited: What I included, and where you can find the music
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Haiku 61 Revisited: What I included, and where you can find the music

Choosing songs from a stellar career spanning five decades, which includes 36 studio albums, 11 live albums and 2,000 shows, was no easy task

Photo: ReutersPremium
Photo: Reuters

Bob Dylan has been releasing music since 1962. He has produced 36 studio albums, 11 live albums, 58 singles and 31 compilation albums. He has been touring regularly since 1988, playing some 2,000 shows, according to at least one source.

My mission when writing Bob Dylan: Haiku 61 Revisited was to determine which songs from this great pile to include and which to leave out. My original idea was to write a haiku for every song that Dylan ever touched, whether or not he wrote it. I dismissed this idea after a while because it seemed like trying to make a haiku out of every song that Dylan ever touched could become an endless, obsessive quest for the obscure.

The better idea, I concluded, was to write a haiku for every song that appeared on a Bob Dylan album or single, regardless of who wrote it. That still makes for a formidable collection, but it would put some definite borders on the project.

The true “Dylanologist" probably would notice what I left out:

- Songs that Bob Dylan wrote, but never performed. There are plenty out there that other people have used on their own albums, from Joan Baez’s performance of Love Is Just a Four-Letter Word to Go ’way Little Boy by Lone Justice, which appeared as an obscure single.

- Songs that Dylan wrote or performed that ended up only on movie soundtracks (Waitin’ for You from The Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood), TV shows (Don’t Ever Take Yourself Away from the remake of Hawaii Five-O), tribute albums (Accidentally Like a Martyr for the Warren Zevon tribute album) or other collections.

- Songs on other people’s albums featuring Dylan vocals or playing, whether or not Dylan wrote them. (Sign Language from Eric Clapton’s No Reason to Cry album, or Love Rescue Me from U2’s Rattle and Hum album).

- Songs that Dylan played in concerts or in rehearsals that are available on unauthorized recordings, but nowhere else.

All these songs, or as many as I can find, will appear in a deluxe version of Haiku 61.

For an introduction to Dylan’s music, I would recommend the following compilations:

-The Essential Bob Dylan. It was released in 2000, so it doesn’t include some great songs from his most recent albums, but it covers the basics. There are at least three versions circulating, depending on the country where it was released. Each has variations in the lineup.

-The three-album collection Dylan, released in 2007, includes some more obscure songs. Don’t buy the one-disc version, which omits some essential phases of his career.

If you are going to chase all the studio albums and the Bootleg Series albums (a series of rare and unreleased songs and concert songs, all of which contain major gems), here is a concise guide:

- Bob Dylan (1962): His first album is largely blues and spiritual music covers, performed acoustically. It’s decent, if undistinguished.

- The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan (1963): Solo acoustic. Contains hits such as Blowin’ in the Wind and A Hard Rain’s a-Gonna Fall. Other memorable tracks include Don’t Think Twice, It’s Alright, Talkin’ World War III Blues, Girl From the North Country and I Shall Be Free.

- The Times They Are a-Changin’ (1963): Contains the title song, along with a series of earnest, often dour songs such as The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll, North Country Blues and Boots of Spanish Leather. Lots of heartbreak, anger and regret.

- Another Side of Bob Dylan (1964): Dylan acoustic on guitar and piano. These are more introspective songs, dealing less with protest and more with the travails of the heart. Contains All I Really Want to Do, My Back Pages, Chimes of Freedom and the aching It Ain’t Me, Babe.

- Bringing It All Back Home (1965): The first side features Dylan’s first full-on push into electric guitar rock ’n’ roll. The second half is acoustic, and both add up to a brilliant album. There are no bad songs on here, but the standouts are the early rap song Subterranean Homesick Blues, and jewels such as She Belongs to Me, Love Minus Zero/No Limit, Bob Dylan’s 115th Dream, Mr. Tambourine Man, It’s Alright Ma (I’m Only Bleeding) and It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue.

- Highway 61 Revisited (1965): Dylan rounded off this year with an album that, improbably enough, exceeded Bringing It All Back Home in luminous, raging genius. Contains Like a Rolling Stone, It Takes a Lot to Laugh, It Takes a Train to Cry, Ballad of a Thin Man, Queen Jane Approximately, Just Like Tom Thumb’s Blues and Desolation Row.

- Blonde on Blonde (1966): This double album is considered one of his masterpieces. It contains the Everybody Must Get Stoned anthem, called Rainy Day Women #12&35, as well as Visions of Johanna, I Want You, Stuck Inside of Mobile With the Memphis Blues Again, Just Like a Woman and Sad-Eyed Lady of the Lowlands.

- John Wesley Harding (1967): After the loud rock excess of the previous three albums, Dylan surprised audiences with a hushed, spooky album featuring only himself on piano and guitar, along with a drummer and a bassist. The songs sound like an Old Testament prophet playing country music. Listen to this one for the title song, as well as As I Went Out One Morning, All Along the Watchtower, The Ballad of Frankie Lee and Judas Priest, Drifter’s Escape, I Pity the Poor Immigrant, Down Along the Cove and I’ll Be Your Baby Tonight.

- Nashville Skyline (1969): Dylan’s sweetest album is a country music pastiche. Contains a delightful version of Girl From the North Country performed with Johnny Cash. Also, Nashville Skyline Rag, To Be Alone With You, One More Night, Tell Me That It Isn’t True and Tonight I’ll Be Staying Here With You.

- Self Portrait (1970): This double album bewildered fans and made sure that many abandoned Dylan. He was sick of people analysing every song for deep meaning, and sick of people in general. He recorded an album that he thought would alienate people, and he succeeded. That said, it is a charming collection of easy listening, and includes some keepers, including Days of ’49, Early Morning Rain, Copper Kettle, Belle Isle, Wigwam and an unusual live take on Like a Rolling Stone.

- New Morning (1970): Dylan released this album in the same year as Self Portrait, and won back some of the fans whom he pushed away. The songs are varied, but the tone is rock + country, and rhapsodizes about American rural life, along with some darker tones about a man trying to make his way in the world with a wife and a family. Listen for If Not for You, Day of the Locusts, Went to See the Gypsy, Sign on the Window, New Morning and The Man in Me.

- Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid (1973): The soundtrack to the Sam Peckinpah film of the same name. Most notable for Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door. The rest of the album is inoffensive movie music.

- Dylan (1973): This is a collection of songs that Dylan withheld from the Self Portrait and New Morning albums. Columbia Records released it without Dylan’s consent after he left the label. (He returned after a short stint with Geffen Records.)

- Planet Waves (1974): Dylan performed this album with The Band, knocking it off in three days of recording in Los Angeles. Most notable for Forever Young, it also includes lovely songs such as On a Night Like This, Going Going Gone, Hazel, Something There Is About You, You Angel You and Never Say Goodbye. Also listen for the dark and deep Dirge and Wedding Song.

- The Basement Tapes (1975): Highlights of informal recording sessions that Dylan and The Band recorded in 1967 in a house in rural New York. It was never meant to be released, but the 100-plus songs appeared on illegal bootlegs, so eventually this album culled the best-sounding of the songs, added overdubs and shone some light in the basement. Odds and Ends, Goin’ to Acapulco, Lo and Behold, Clothesline Saga, Crash on the Levee, You Ain’t Goin’ Nowhere and Open the Door, Richard are standouts.

- Blood on the Tracks (1975): Widely assumed to be an album reflecting the wounds that Dylan suffered in his breakup with his wife Sara, Blood on the Tracks is a raw, injured album. It’s also a stunning work from start to finish and contains not one bad song. Try Tangled Up in Blue, You’re a Big Girl Now, Idiot Wind, You’re Gonna Make Me Lonesome When You Go, Meet Me in the Morning, Shelter From the Storm and Buckets of Rain. It’s an album made for crying along to.

- Desire (1976): A strange collection of story songs, Desire jumps around from stories of wrongly imprisoned black boxers to tropical islands sinking into the sea after earthquakes, and takes a few stops along the way to Mozambique, Mexico and Brooklyn. Hurricane and Isis are the best known tracks, but also listen to One More Cup of Coffee, Romance in Durango and Black Diamond Bay.

- Street Legal (1978): Dylan divorced, cranky and bitter with the world. Standout tracks include New Pony, Baby Please Stop Crying, We Better Talk This Over and the chilling, desperate Journey Through Dark Heat (Where Are You Tonight?).

- Slow Train Coming (1979): This album shows the teachings that Dylan learned from a born-again Christian group. Dylan, born and raised as a Jew, discovered Jesus and accepted him as his saviour. This and the next two albums that he did made clear that he was on a new path that stressed redemption and belief, and that he knew that most people wouldn’t accept his new thinking. His “teachings" through his songs often reveal contempt for his listeners, and he drove plenty of people away with his missionary piety. But there’s some great music on all these albums. On this one, listen to Gotta Serve Somebody, Precious Angel, I Believe in You, Do Right Unto Others (Do Right Unto Me, Baby), Gonna Change My Way of Thinking and Man Gave Names to All the Animals.

- Saved (1980): Dylan tries gospel. The album is hard going for most people, but I am partial to A Satisfied Mind, Saved, Solid Rock, In the Garden and Are You Ready?

- Shot of Love (1981): The last of the Christian-themed albums. It includes the glorious title track as well as Heart of Mine, Property of Jesus, Watered-Down Love, In the Summertime and the unparalleled Every Grain of Sand. You might not want to convert to Christianity, but you will feel the persuasive spirit in the last song.

- Infidels (1983): Dylan in newscaster mode, defending the state of Israel and plainly inspired by the conflicts of West Asia at the time. Jokerman is the standout track, along with License to Kill, Neighborhood Bully, Man of Peace, I and I and Don’t Fall Apart on Me Tonight.

- Empire Burlesque (1985): Dylan’s attempt to sound contemporary, using a big, dancey 1980s sound. It was one of his big flops, but I recommend it for the songs Tight Connection to My Heart (Has Anybody Seen My Love?), Never Gonna Be the Same Again, I’ll Remember You and Dark Eyes. Emotionally Yours is a favourite slow dance song among some people my age.

- Knocked Out Loaded (1986): A nearly unredeemable album in many people’s eyes. I like it for You Wanna Ramble, Brownsville Girl and Got My Mind Made Up.

- Down in the Groove (1988): Nearly as panned as its predecessor, the album still features some memorable performances. I like Let’s Stick Together and Shenandoah as well as Ninety Miles an Hour Down a Dead-End Street. Many fans like the song Silvio, which featured the Grateful Dead on backup vocals, and Death Is Not the End is remembered as a neglected classic.

- Oh Mercy (1989): The album that regained commercial success for Dylan. It’s the beginning of his period of rehabilitation in the ears of his fans. Soulful sad songs about the sad state of the world. Try Political World, Where Teardrops Fall, Most of the Time and Shooting Star.

- Under the Red Sky (1990): A cast of celebrities and high-tech production couldn’t save this album from landing hard. If you’re brave, you might enjoy the title song as well as God Knows, TV Talkin’ Song, Handy Dandy and Cat’s in the Well.

- Good As I Been to You (1992): An album of fireside ballads, convict songs, sailor songs, old English and Scottish tunes and other songs from the past 500 years of popular music. Try Jim Jones, Canadee-i-o, Tomorrow Night, Diamond Joe and Froggie Went a-Courtin’.

- World Gone Wrong (1993): A companion to Good As I Been to You. It focuses more on American blues music by long-dead musicians. The title song is a standout, as are Broke Down Engine, Blood in My Eyes and Delia.

- Time Out of Mind (1997): Dylan’s “comeback" album. A big hit, and home to well-known songs such as Love Sick, Not Dark Yet, Tryin’ to Get to Heaven, Cold Irons Bound and Make You Feel My Love.

- Love and Theft (2001): More boogieing down from the elder statesman of rock. Check Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dum, Summer Days, Lonesome Day Blues, Floater (Too Much to Ask), High Water (For Charley Patton) and Sugar Baby.

- Modern Times (2006): Dylan’s modern rock and roll sounds like a new edition of the days before rock. Smooth, organic and beautiful. Thunder on the Mountain, Spirit on the Water, Someday Baby and Workingman’s Blues #2 are gorgeous.

- Together Through Life (2009): A variation on the blues. Considered a minor album, but I like its tight pace and structure. Beyond Here Lies Nothin’, If You Ever Go to Houston, Jolene, I Feel a Change Comin’ On and It’s All Good are my favourites.

- Christmas in the Heart (2009): Dylan performs Christmas carols. Must be heard to be believed. And try to find the music video for the song Must Be Santa.

- Tempest (2012): More blues, more fun from the world before digital. Duquesne Whistle, Soon After Midnight, Pay in Blood, Early Roman Kings and Tempest, the strangest song ever about the sinking of the Titanic, are standouts, as is his elegy to John Lennon, Roll On John.

- Shadows in the Night (2015): Dylan performs hushed and dreamy version of songs that Frank Sinatra performed years ago. Short, sweet and gone too soon.

For people who want to take the next step into the world of Dylan, the Bootleg Series is an 11-part (and growing) series of releases of rare and unreleased songs, as well as memorable concerts. All these albums feature interesting performances of songs you know, as well as songs that you will find nowhere else. Another compilation album, Biograph, from 1985, features some rare performances.

Finally, if you become a true Dylan fiend, you will discover all sorts of hidden treasure if you look for it: songs like Trouble in Mind, available only on the B-side of a vinyl single from 1979, or recordings on the Greatest Hits Volume II album that were otherwise unreleased, or Angel Flying Too Close to the Ground, the B-side Willie Nelson song released on some of the singles from the Infidels album. The real obsessive will track down the three 50th Anniversary Collection albums. Only 100 copies of the 1962 and 1963 editions were released, and 1,000 for the 1964 edition. And yes, each contains songs that you won’t find anywhere else, and each I have rendered as a haiku.

Robert MacMillan is’s editor of global editions. He has worked at the news agency for more than nine years as a reporter and editor. He previously worked at The Washington Post as a website reporter and editor. He lives in New York City.

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Published: 06 Jun 2015, 11:40 PM IST
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