…”while the Springtime turned slowly into Autumn…” – waiting for Bootleg Series, Vol 16 by Bob Dylan

So let’s agree that the Eighties wasn’t Bob Dylan’s greatest decade. It wasn’t. Let’s agree that Dylan got lost or lost his Muse someway and sometimes along the way, in the Eighties, like he himself explains in Chronicles.Then again, it’s the decade of songs like “Shot of Love”, “Groom’s Still Waiting At The Altar”, “Every Grain of Sand”, “Sweetheart Like You” and “Jokerman”, of “Brownsville Girl”, “Most of the Time” and “Ring Them Bells”, the decade of “Traveling Wilburys” and the Grammy for Best Male Rock Vocal, and yes, as we now know, the decade of “Blind Willie McTell”, “Foot of Pride”, of “Caribbean Wind”, “Angelina”, “Dignity” and “Series of Dreams”, the fabulous cover of Willie Nelson’s “Angel Flying Too Close To The Ground”, the great appearance on “Farm Aid” with the ultimate version of “Maggie’s Farm” and the start of the “Never Ending Tour”. Well, not even the sum of those parts makes this Dylan’s greatest decade. Of course not. But it wasn’t bad. We know that, not if it’s measured against either songwriting skills or performing skills, at least not if we measure it after Dylan’s finest moments those years, and not the weakest. Like we should do. Not a bad decade after all. We know that. We already knew that. Even if we in clear sight could see the artist restlessly seeking for new harbors. For another artist this easily could have been the highlight of decades. Not so for Dylan.

Bootleg Series, Vol 10: “Another Self Portrait” (2013) made us look at the “Self Portrait” period with new eyes, like Bootleg Series, Vol 13: “Trouble No More” (2017) documented for all the world to see that the cursed Gospel period (1979-81) contained both some really glory days and some of the greatest performances of Dylan’s career. What now with the announced release of Bootleg Series, Vol 16?

The news is out, all over town, it’s called “Springtime In New York” (1980-85). Another Another side of Bob Dylan will appear. Or maybe another five sides of Bob Dylan? The full Deluxe Edition will contain 5 CDs & 57 tracks – including both cover versions, outtakes, alternate takes, live versions and rehearsals. We’ll even get to hear Dylan cover “The Temptations” in a beautiful and touching version of “I Wish It Would Rain”. There always was something special with Dylan and the rain.

The first disc is, I think from reading the titles, mainly rehearsals for the beautiful “Retrospective Tour” in fall 1980, among them duets with Clydie King. This was the first tour when Dylan started to mix his gospel songs with both older material and some new songs that wasn’t released, some of them not released before this collection. Some great footage from the rehearsals was included in the “Trouble No More” film. Now we can close our eyes and “see” more of those.

One disc focuses on outtakes/alternate takes from the usually, in my opinion, underrated, “Shot of Love”, the last album from the “Gospel Trilogy”, an album that actually never was a gospel album, even if one song, the mocking of critics & about people stoning him when he tried to be so good, was called “Property of Jesus”, and another, “Every Grain of Sand”, one of Dylan’s finest, surely, in poetic terms, explains the faith in something you cannot see, but far from in an evangelical way, like the previous album, “Saved” (1980). With “Shot of Love” the journey moves on, not because it’s denouncing a special kind of faith, far from it, but because it’s movement to other angles, themes and new sides of life, a turning of the page. The mystery black train is rolling. All sides of human nature is still under the magnifying glass. “I don’t want to repeat myself”, as Dylan said in an interview the same year. On this collection we also get several cover versions recorded in this sessions, like “Mystery Train” and “Let It Be Me”, even the great Hank Williams song “Cold, Cold Heart”.

The Eighties were the decade of new recording techniques. Still, Dylan invited Robert “Bumps” Blackwell to the studio, known from producing both Little Richard and Sam Cooke in the Fifties. Blackwell, due to health issues, left the process, ended up producing only the great title track, but in this song making us feel the room of the recording, just like the classics, while Dylan ended up using Chuck Plotkin, mostly known for his work with Springsteen, producing the rest of the songs. As it worked out Dylan didn’t like the “nice” mixes Plotkin provided, decided on using his own rough monitor mixes, as remembered by drummer Jim Keltner. The album, from most of the critics thrown into the “gospel” bag, didn’t get the reception it deserved. The later inclusion of “Groom’s Still Waiting At The Altar” obviously made the album even stronger. With Bootleg Series Volume 16 we among many other songs new alternate take of the fabulous “Angelina” and Dylan’s lively Bo Diddley-pastiche “Price of Love”.

For the next album Dylan was hunting a long time for producer, as the story goes, even suggesting the job for Frank Zappa in late 1982. As we know, Dylan produced the album with help from Mark Knopfler, the two coming into the process from different angles and different experience with working in studio. Dylan’s live attitude meets the possibilities of overdubbing and the drum sound of the Eighties is introduced in full. It’s no secret that Knopfler wasn’t satisfied with Bob’s choices of neither the mixes nor the songs.

Two of the discs on “Springtime in New York”, the center of this collection (and maybe the reason for the title, the recording sessions was in springtime 1983), are reserved for outtakes and alternate takes and versions of songs from “Infidels”, the album not least famous because of the songs not released, also leaving the now classic “Blind Willie Mc Tell” at the studio floor. The first edition of “Bootleg Series” in 1991, included both this song and several other unreleased tracks from Infidels, notably “Lord Protect My Child”, “Someone’s Got a Hold of my Heart” (an early version of “Tight Connections To My Heart”) and “Foot of Pride”. Some of us had already heard an alternate take of “Blind Willie McTell”, a full band version as opposed to the acoustic piano/guitar version released, and was a bit disappointed that this wasn’t chosen. Well, we just had to wait twenty more years for the official release in all its glory, building and building from a quiet start, lifted by the great slide guitar of Mick Taylor and an intense vocal performance from Dylan. At last!

“Infidels” got mixed reviews, but by many critics and fans it was taken as a “return to form”, a “comeback” after three years in the gospel wilderness, a step away from the born-again phase, even a step towards a jewish heritage that Dylan most likely never left, or towards a more secular world view. A great video of “Jokerman” made quite an impression, a more low-key video of “Sweetheart Like You” did too. (Not so much as Dylan’s first appearance on Letterman Show the 22nd of March the next year, surprising absolutely everyone, including his own band and Letterman. Dylan’s punk attitude versions of both “Jokerman” & “License to Kill”, the last performance even included in this collection, had little resemblance to the album versions. The highlight of this night nevertheless, for me at least, was his take-no-prisoners-version of Sonny Boy Williamson’s “Don’t Start Me Talkin'”. Wow! What a teaser before the Summer Tour in Europe the same year!)

On this collection we got a long string of alternate takes of the songs released on the album, but also of the songs first released at “Bootleg Series 1-3” (1991). In addition also “new” songs appear, as the “protest song” “Julius And Ethel”, about the couple (37 and 35 years old) who was executed for espionage on behalf of the Soviet Union, and the tender Sinatra cover “This Was My Love”, 22 years before “Shadows In The Night”. And yes – finally the beautiful cover of “Angel Flying Too Close To The Ground” will be released for all who wants to hear (not only they who got the single). Earlier we got the teaser in form of an acoustic version of “Too Late”. Bot this and another version of Too Late” (an early stage of “Foot of Pride”) with full band shows up, and even a beautiful video is enclosed, released same day as the announcement.

The release of “Infidels” was what it was, “Bootleg Series, Vol 16” doesn’t change anything about the album released in 1983. It’s of no use to discuss what it could have been, and actually, I personally don’t think the environment was the right one for “Blind Willie McTell”. Nevertheless, this is something different, this is documenting the process of this period as much as anything – this is behind-the-scenes of what the early eighties was for Dylan, and what we’ll se here, even the eighties contained multitudes of both songs, lyrics, poetic styles, musical genres and vocal performances, Dylan restlessly searching for a gem. And found a few.

Still, as much this is documenting the past, this release is also giving us mixes that makes an effort when it comes to de-eigthy-fy some of the drum work of Infidels, as it is de-baker-izing the tracks from “Empire Burlesque”, as we can hear in a beautiful and naked version of “Emotionally Yours” and a rocking “Seeing The Real You At Last” with Heartbreakers. The inclusion of the great “New Danville Girl” is wonderful news – the early version of “Brownsville Girl” is an exercise in tonal breath control, and one of many exquisite vocals on this collection. Remember, Bob Dylan was always a singer first. Bootleg Series, Vol 16 will remind us of that.

For many, both critics and fans, Arthur Baker’s layers of production stood in the way for many of the songs on the album, even the best of them. Still, we got to thank Baker for challenging Dylan to bring an acoustic song to the studio, resulting in the beautiful closer, “Dark Eyes”. Here we got another wonderful take of the same song in all its naked glory. Also a perfect ending of this collection:

Oh, the gentlemen are talking and the midnight moon is on the riverside,
They’re drinking up and walking and it is time for me to slide.
I live in another world where life and death are memorized,
Where the earth is strung with lovers’ pearls and all I see are dark eyes.”

What a joy to get this box at September 17! We are the Lucky ones!

Johnny Borgan

P.S. As i wrote this, the complete list of songs arrived at Amazon, and below I’ve made a list of a few comments, for whom it might interest. D.S.

The song list of the 57 tracks as advertised on Amazon.com 21th of July 2021.
(Lots of stuff I never heard here! Yippee!)

No.TitleMy comments
Disc 1  
1Señor (Tales of Yankee Power) (Rehearsal)Probably tour rehearsal for the Retrospective Tour fall 1980
2To Ramona (Rehearsal)Probably tour rehearsal for the Retrospective Tour fall 1980
(Jerry Garcia played on this one one night.)
3Jesus Met the Woman at the Well (Rehearsal)Probably tour rehearsal for the Retrospective Tour fall 1980 –
the song was included in the “Trouble No More” film in BS 13.
4Mary of the Wild Moor (Rehearsal)Wow!! Some fabulous versions was included of this in the live set both fall 1980 and in 1981
5Need a Woman (Rehearsal)A full studio version included in BS 1-3. Covered by Ry Cooder.
6A Couple More Years (Rehearsal)A beautiful version included in some of the fall 1980 live sets.
Dr Hook’s version is well known, so is Willie and Waylon’s.
Written by Shel Silverstein and “the voice” of Dr Hook, Dennis Loccoriere.
Dylan also plays a version of the song in the movie
“Hearts of Fire”, his character Billy Parker claiming
he wrote it to the girl in the movie.
7Mystery Train (Shot of Love Outtake)Wow! At last! The Junior Parker song, famously covered by Elvis.
Includes the “long black train” and the line “Train, train,
comin’ round the bend”, a bit earlier than the slow train.
8This Night Won’t Last Forever (Rehearsal)A cover of the song written by Roy Freeland & Bill Bounty.
The original version by Bill LaBounty.
9We Just Disagree (Rehearsal)A cover of the Dave Mason song, written by Jim Krueger.
Dylan included a beautiful version of the song in live sets both in fall 1980 and in 1981.
10Let’s Keep It Between Us (Rehearsal)A great song by Dylan, covered by Bonnie Raitt. Includes the great line:
“Backseat drivers don’t know the feel of the wheel
But they sure know how to make a fuss”. Played live fall 1980.
11Sweet Caroline (Rehearsal)Cover of the Neil Diamond song.
12Fever (Rehearsal)Cover of the classic Little Willie John song.
An endless list of covers exists, including the Elvis version.
13Abraham, Martin and John (Rehearsal)The Dion song, a fabulous Dylan rehearsal included in the
“Trouble No More” film, beautiful duet with Dylan’s soulmate,
as he himself told us, Clydie King. Dylan played it live with Clydie both fall 1980 and in 1981.
Disc 2
1Angelina (Shot of Love Outtake)We know the song from BS 1-3, one of my favorites. I
love that there will be an alternate take of this one.
“If you can read my mind, why must I speak?”
2Price of Love (Shot of Love Outtake)A great Bo Diddley-pastiche by Dylan.
3I Wish It Would Rain (Shot of Love Outtake)A very touching cover of the song originally by The Temptations:
“My eyes search the skies desperately for rain
‘Cause rain drops will hide my teardrops”
4Let It Be Me (International 7″ Single B-Side)Great that the already released single B-side (to Heart of Mine)
finally will be available for us all. A beautiful version of the song,
Dylan singing his heart out. Of course also released at “Self Portrait”
in a more straight version. Originally a french song,
famously covered by Everly Brothers and Elvis.
5Cold, Cold Heart (Shot of Love Outtake)Yes!!! Bob Dylan singing the great Hank Williams song,
a song of his “first idol”. He also fooled around with this
one at the Infidels sessions, according to the great book of Terry Gans:
“Surviving in a ruthless world – Bob’s Voyage to Infidels,”
made after deep dives in the Bob Dylan Archive in Tulsa.
6Don’t Ever Take Yourself Away (Shot of Love Outtake)Dylan’s song used in the series “Hawaii Five-O”,
released on the soundtrack. Almost like a calypso-version
of the melody of “Romance in Durango”.
A caribbean vibe, or wind, that blows, I guess.
7Fur Slippers (Shot of Love Outtake)The one that B B King covered!
8Borrowed Time (Shot of Love Outtake)
9Is It Worth It? (Shot of Love Outtake)
10Lenny Bruce (Shot of Love Alternate Mix)The song known from Shot of Love, might even be the
same take but in a different mix? Dylan sang it live
mostly in 1981, but a beautiful version was included in the set
of his last shows in 2019, a showstopper and needle-dropping
moment each night I saw him at the Beacon Theatre. A wonderful tribute to free speech!
11Yes Sir, No Sir (Shot of Love Outtake)
Disc 3
1Jokerman (Infidels Alternate Take)Alternate take and some alternate lyrics.
2Blind Willie McTell (Take 5 – Infidels Outtake)Finally, the fabulous full band version is released.
3Don’t Fall Apart on Me Tonight (Version 1) (Infidels Alternate Take)Alternate takes of this beautiful song.
4Don’t Fall Apart on Me Tonight (Version 2) (Infidels Alternate Take)Same as 3.
5Neighborhood Bully (Infidels Alternate Take)
6Someone’s Got a Hold of My Heart (Infidels Outtake)Another great outtake of the song was released at BS 1-3,
the song an early version of “Tight Connections to my heart”.
7This Was My Love (Infidels Outtake)Bob Dylan’s crooning of course did not start with
“Shadows In The Night”. The beautiful “This Was My Love”
was released by another blue eyed boy, Frank Sinatra, in 1959.
8Too Late (Acoustic Version) (Infidels Outtake)Early version of “Foot of Pride”. One of those two versions was
included in the 80 Year special CD from “Uncut”:
“Whether there was a murder, I don`t know, I can`t say,
I was visiting a friend in jail. There were only two women
at the scene at the time, neither one of them saw a thing,
both of them were wearing a veil.”
9Too Late (Band Version) (Infidels Outtake)Same comment as for 8. But then, this fabulous video!!!!
10Foot of Pride (Infidels Outtake)Another great outtake of the song, a more quiet but really
intense version.
Disc 4
1Clean Cut Kid (Infidels Outtake)Early version of the song that later was released on “Empire Burlesque”.
The Textones covered it already in 1984.
The song has been played live 68 times from 1985 to 1990.
2Sweetheart Like You (Infidels Alternate Take)Never played live. What a treat to get an alternate take of this.
3Baby What You Want Me To Do (Infidels Outtake)Hello, Jimmy Reed!! Also famously covered by Elvis.
4Tell Me (Infidels Outtake)An alternate take to the one released on BS 1-3.
5Angel Flying Too Close to the Ground (Infidels Outtake)At last! The fabulous version (duet with Clydie King)
of the beautiful Willie Nelson song was included as a B-side
on four different singles in 1983, but never released on cd (
or streaming services). If this is that version or an alternate,
I don’t know, but I know there was several versions recorded
at the sessions.
6Julius and Ethel (Infidels Outtake)The story of the Rosenberg’s, both, in 1951,
convicted to death penalty for spying on behalf of the
Soviet Union, both executed in 1953.
A very controversial case and trial,
Sartre calling it a “a legal lynching which smears with
blood a whole nation”.
Or as Dylan puts it:
“Now that they are gone, you know the truth it can come out
They were never proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt”
7Green, Green Grass of Home (Infidels Outtake)A cover of the song originally released by Johnny Darrell,
made popular by Porter Wagoner. An endless list of covers
exists, some of the most known are Bobby Bare,
Tom Jones and Elvis. Wow! To hear Dylan do this…..
8Union Sundown (Infidels Outtake)Alternate take to the released song, I guess.
9Lord Protect My Child (Infidels Outtake)Originally released on BS 1-3. A very beautiful song.
So excited to hear an alternate take.
10I and I (Infidels Alternate Take)
11Death is Not the End (Full Version)
(Infidels Outtake)
A song officially released on “Down In The Groove”.
This version my be different.
Disc 5
1Enough is Enough (Live from Slane Castle, Ireland)Dylan’s song, played live nine times in 1984. “always”
changing lyrics. “Tell ’em enough is enough!”
2License to Kill (Live on Late Night with David Letterman 03/22/84)From the fabulous first Letterman appearance,
a set which also included “Jokerman” and “Don’t Start Me Talkin'”.
3I’ll Remember You
(Empire Burlesque Alternate Take)
4Tight Connection to My Heart
(Has Anyone Seen My Love)
(Empire Burlesque Alternate Mix)
Maybe the version we know, but with less Baker in monitor?
5Seeing the Real You at Last
(Empire Burlesque Alternate Take)
A great rocking version! Backed by some Heartbreakers.
6Emotionally Yours
(Empire Burlesque Alternate Take)
A beautiful naked version, both when it comes to
emotions in the vocal and when it comes to production.
7Clean Cut Kid
(Empire Burlesque Alternate Take)
8Straight A’s in Love
(Empire Burlesque Alternate Take)
Dylan’s song. Released by Williams Brothers.

“In history, you don’t do too well
You don’t know how to read
You could confuse Geronimo
With Johnny Appleseed”
9When the Night Comes Falling from the Sky
(Empire Burlesque (Slow Version) Alternate Take)
Alternate takes to the released version, also documented in this video of the song.
10When the Night Comes Falling from the Sky
(Empire Burlesque (Fast Version) Alternate Take)
11New Danville Girl (Empire Burlesque Outtake)Wow! The early version of what we later would know
as “Brownsville Girl”, released on “Knocked out Loaded”.
Co-written with the late great Sam Shepard.
12Dark Eyes (Empire Burlesque Alternate Take)Another beautiful version of the closing song of the album.
A fitting end to this collection, too. And a song suited for another episode of “Shadow Kingdom”.

“Oh, the gentlemen are talking and the midnight
moon is on the riverside,
They’re drinking up and walking and it is time for me to slide.
I live in another world where life and death are memorized,
Where the earth is strung with lovers’ pearls and all I see are dark eyes.”

5 thoughts on “…”while the Springtime turned slowly into Autumn…” – waiting for Bootleg Series, Vol 16 by Bob Dylan

  1. Thank you for this beautifully written piece on the new bootleg series. Would I have wanted that they had focussed the whole period in one edition? No, I would have preferred three different editions for each, and an alternate Infidels as a bonus, but you made me enthousiast nonetheless!
    greetings
    hans altena

    Like

  2. Boy, I commented too fast, a badly written comment, I just meant to say that I would have been pleased with a more album like approach, the best of the outtakes for Shot of Love, then another one for Infidels, and another for Empire Burlesque. The vinyl double elpee and the 4 elpee of Third Man are confusing me, the choices made puzzling, yet all the material interesting, as you have made clear!
    greetings, hans a.

    Like

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