Bob Dylan has been remarkably prolific in the 48 years since his first album was released, and along the way some great songs have been ‘lost’.
As Bob Dylan prepares for his only UK date this year, Clinton Heylin picks 25 of his finest unheard tracks.
By Clinton Heylon, Telegraph.co.uk – When Bob Dylan makes his only UK appearance this weekend at the Hop Farm Festival, it is anyone’s guess which songs he will and won’t pull out of the bag.
With any prolific writer, there is much that slips between the cracks.
In Dylan’s case, the periods when the songs flowed free and easy (notably 1961-67 and 1974-83) produced far more songs than his record label could comfortably accommodate on their annual album release. But he has also been guilty of discarding some of his best work because he felt it “wasn’t recorded right” (his own description of the immaculate Blind Willie McTell).
These songs have not been completely lost to posterity because they still exist in manuscripts, studio logs, out-takes, rehearsal track listings, session musicians’ memories or, in some cases, because they have been performed in concert.
Here, then, is just a sampling of some of the songs that got lost in the shuffle, plucked from some 610 song histories in my recently completed two-volume study of Dylan’s remarkable output.
1 – Song to Brigitte
This was young Bobby’s first song, long-lost. He says it was inspired by Bardot “because she had that baby-like quality and that grown-up woman quality all in one”.
2 – I Was Young When I Left Home
A magnificent reworking of the traditional 900 Miles. Dylan played this just once, at a home session in Minneapolis at Christmas-time 1961. It was finally given a general release in 2005 on No Direction Home: The Bootleg Series Vol 7.
3 – Ballad for a Friend
Originally called Reminiscence Blues and one of his earliest poems in naked wonder, the song was demoed for music publisher Leeds Music in January 1962. It was his first “north country blues”.
4 – Liverpool Gal
Using the traditional When First Unto This Country as his template, Dylan reminisces some months later about a girl he met in England in January 1963. Liverpool Gal survives in manuscript form but was never recorded for record label or music publisher.
5 – Love is Just a Four-Letter Word
Famous thanks to a 1968 Joan Baez cover version, but there is no known Dylan version of this Bringing It All Back Home-period classic. Dylan claimed he never finished it. Baez claimed he finished it eight different ways.
Joan Baez – Love is Just a four Letter Word (LP Carry It on) also Baez sings the song in the movie Bob Dylan – Don’t Look Back (1965 Tour Deluxe Edition)
6 – Sign on the Cross
Perhaps the last great “basement tape” original to still be unreleased, this seven-minute testifying spiritual seems to be largely improvised, and wholly inspired.
7 – I’m Not There
Another great lost “basement tape” track, this magisterially mysterious song was finally put out on the soundtrack to Todd Haynes’s equally impenetrable movie of the same name.
8 – Shirley’s Room
A song from August 1970 known only in manuscript form. One line – “It had been a long blind night” – may even be his way of describing the writing amnesia he was suffering at this time. Shirley was his wife Sara’s real name [Shirley Marlin Noznisky].
9 – Goodbye Holly
One of three songs Dylan had initially written for the soundtrack to Sam Peckinpah’s valedictory western, Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid, to mourn the death of another member of Billy’s gang. It was forgotten when Dylan wrote Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door on the film set.
[Not available on any official releases. Bootleg CD version on Bob Dylan Genuine Bootleg Series]
10 – Bell Tower Blues
Written between Shelter from the Storm and Simple Twist of Fate, this heartfelt blues was superseded by Meet Me in the Morning when it came time to record 1974’s stunning return to form, Blood on the Tracks.
[Lyrics of this song are reported by Clinton Heylin to have been found in a notebook containing lyrics of the “Blood On The Tracks” songs, and two lines are reproduced on page 310 of Bob Dylan’s “Lyrics 1962-2001&Prime (Simon & Schuster). However, no studio or live version is known, although it may have been the track called BLUES recorded at A&R Studios, New York, 17 Sep 1974. Also known as CLIMBING UP THE BELL TOWER. Antonio J Iriate describes it as an early version of CALL LETTER BLUES, released in 1991 on “The Bootleg Series Vols. 1-3&Prime Searching for a Gem]
11 – There Ain’t Gonna Be a Next Time
Another of the seven songs from the “little red notebook” that would be left unrecorded at the Blood on the Tracks sessions, this one seemed to suggest reconciliation with Sara was some way off.
12 – Patty’s Gone to Laredo
This could well be the long-rumoured song he allegedly wrote about Patty Hearst in 1975. It was included in Dylan’s cinematic folly Renaldo & Clara (1978), but otherwise left unused.
[You may listen to the song here]
13 – Coming From the Heart
One of Dylan’s best love songs, co-written with backing singer Helena Springs. It was performed only once, at a concert in October 1978. It would be left to the Searchers to put it in the public domain.
14 – More Than Flesh & Blood
Another brassy blast from the past, deriving from the period in 1978 when he was co-writing songs with Springs, this was rehearsed with Dylan’s touring band and then earmarked as Springs’s debut solo single, yet remains unreleased.
15 – No Man Righteous (No Not One)
The second song recorded for Dylan’s first album of righteous fundamentalism, Slow Train Coming (1979), this was prefaced in concert by Dylan claiming: “This is a song nobody knows. That’s how I can tell who really wants to stick with me.”
16 – Ain’t Gonna Go to Hell (For Anybody)
This was consistently performed in concert between April and December 1980, with two entirely different sets of lyrics, but was never recorded in the studio. Some pithily Pentecostal rhymes (“I had the visions/But they caused divisions”) and one of his best ever melodies, too.
17 – Let’s Keep It Between Us
A song about a mixed-race relationship that seems to be causing ructions among so-called friends, this was performed throughout the tour of autumn 1980 tour, but was given – in demo form – to Bonnie Raitt, who just about did it justice on her 1982 studio recording.
18 – Caribbean Wind
Probably Dylan’s greatest “lost” song, this masterpiece was – in Dylan’s own words – a latter-day Visions of Johanna. But, although he recorded the song multiple times in sessions for the 1981 album Shot Of Love, and performed it definitively at San Francisco’s Warfield Theatre in November 1980, it was the one that got away. The released version on Biograph (1985), the second rewrite of the song, is a pale shadow of its prodigal self.
A seven-verse litany on the many sins of man, this update of Ma Rainey’s Yonder Comes the Blues features one of the great Dylan vocals, but the October 1980 demo would prove to be its one and only setting.
20 – Blind Willie McTell
Many people’s favourite Eighties Dylan song, this masterful eulogy to a world on the brink was recorded in both electric and acoustic configurations for the 1983 album Infidels. However, it was pulled at the last minute, and when it was eventually released, on 1991’s Bootleg Series, it was the patently inferior acoustic “demo” that was preferred. Has become a live favourite in recent years.
21 – Angel of Rain (Almost Done)
One of three new originals Dylan was threatening to play on his 1984 tour of European stadiums, this gorgeous song was worked on a number of times at pre-tour rehearsals, of which recordings remain, but was never performed or recorded at the post-tour sessions in New York.
22 – Shirley Temple Don’t Live Here No More
Written during the Under the Red Sky sessions, and in the words of producer Don Was, “conjuring up images of a dying town and a disappearing way of life”, this was a song Dylan gave to Was, who later recorded it with his band Was Not Was as Mr Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore.
23 – Time to End This Masquerade
Co-written with Gerry Goffin for Goffin’s 1995 solo album, Backroom Blood, this is Goffin fronting Dylan’s own polka band, having a hoot in a friend’s back room, and signing off in style: “I bid adieu to all of you/I think it’s time to end this masquerade.”
24 – Red River Shore
Cut from 1997 comeback Time Out of Mind at the last minute, this old-time slice of real life – “It’s steamboat, civil war, Mark Twain,” as one musician put it – was finally released on the eighth Bootleg Series, Tell Tale Signs, in 2008.
25 Chicago After Dark
Described at length in a 2009 interview to promote the album Together Through Life, according to Dylan, it’s about “how sometimes we know people and we are no longer what we used to be to them”. In fact, this song never existed. He made it all up. How fitting.
© Clinton Heylin, 2010. Clinton Heylin is the author of Revolution in the Air: The Songs of Bob Dylan Vol.1:1957-73 and Still on the Road: The Songs of Bob Dylan, 1974-2006
By Stephen Pate, NJN Network