Bob Dylan’s 34th Best Studio/ Bootleg Album

A black-and-white photograph of Dylan sitting in a rocky field

Under the Red Sky
Grade — C

After a brief reprieve of re-emerging as a popular artist again because of the involvement with the Traveling Wilburys and his critically acclaimed album Oh Mercy!, Bob Dylan took a step back with the release of Under the Red Sky. He dedicated the album to his then four year old daughter, with the songs consisting of a lot of inspiration from nursery rhymes. Many just saw it as a jumbled mess, with lots of celebrity appearances such as George Harrison, Slash and Elton John.

The piece consisted of a very upbeat, although dark, series of songs, and two that were outtakes from the previous album, “God Knows” and “Born in Time”. Critics bashed the simplistic lyrics, the lack of variety and just the overall lack of focus that made his previous album work so well.

Although Dylan agrees with these sentiments, there are some very good tracks on the piece.

“Born in Time” is a masterful song that although has a bit to much production on it compared to the early version of the song, still shines through as a very strong track. “Unbelievable”, similarly, is a very catchy song that is always a fun listen.

Most people listening to the album despise the lead track, “Wiggle, Wiggle”. It is very simplistic in nature, but then again, the album is dedicated to a four year old. I wouldn’t write “It’s alright Ma” to a four year old, and “Wiggle Wiggle” is catchy enough to get a pass from me.

Overall though, a pretty average album, though it is upbeat and can be fun at times.

Unbelievable –


Bob Dylan’s 35th Best Studio/ Bootleg Album

A painting of a woman in a bikini holding a water jug over her head to use as a weapon against a man who is wearing a bandolero and hat while throttling another man

Knocked Out Loaded
Grade — C-

To be a roots musician in the heat of one of the most musically desolate period in history, the eighties, was really a struggle to many solo artists that gained popularity in the 60’s and 70’s. Dylan was no different, as before releasing a negatively panned album in Down in the Groove, he also released this one, which was received just as poorly.

The album consisted of a couple of covers, a few co-written pieces and just two entirely original compositions. The artist hit a wall with his lyrics, and it spurred some to even call the album, “a career-killer”.

However there are, as every Dylan album, very bright spots. The most obvious of these is the widely praised “Brownsville Girl”, an eleven minute epic so absurd it almost seems a parody of Dylan. The piece, composed with Sam Sheppard, was a perfect mix of the vague illusions that paint the illustration of the song, while also having a bit of ADD along the way. Its one of Dylan’s best, and don’t let the length fool you, its nearly the only song you’ll have on repeat for this album.

Besides “Maybe Someday” that is. Beneath all that over-production lies a very clever song that seems to be a step down from “Brownsville Girl”, but still has a charm and a catchy beat.

Otherwise, the album isn’t worth very much. The cover of Kris Kristofferson’s “They Killed Him” is abysmal, but otherwise most of the tracks are just bland. Really, really bland.

But not this one! Take a listen to “Brownsville Girl” in all its insanity!

Bob Dylan’s 36th Best Studio/ Bootleg Album

A painting of a man and woman in a sleigh pulled by two horses over snow

Christmas in the Heart
Grade — C-

For those of you who are unaware, Dylan’s voice has gone through different stages in his career. Whether the crooning country one, the extra whiny 80’s one, the strong early 70’s one, or the one he’s developed more recently. He’s in the process of belting out songs like Louie Armstrong. The deepness in his singing, which he describes on Love and Theft as “Some people say I got the blood of the lamb in my voice”, is appropriate for the music he sings…except for this album.

Bob Dylan may be Jewish, but has stated that he had grown around the Christmas carols and decided to cut an album in 2009 for these songs. All the proceeds of this album went to Feeding America in the U.S., Crisis in the UK and the World Food Programme, which gains major brownie points.

Some people were disappointed he did the classics pretty straight forward, but his rebuttal was, “There wasn’t any other way to play it”. The growl to Christmas tunes can be thoroughly entertaining, but for the most part are pretty forgettable pieces.

“O Come All Ye Faithful” and “Little Drummer Boy” are two of the three stronger songs on the album, as the dark feeling given by Dylan in his voice really seems to actually help these two songs.

However the most fun on the album is assuredly the cover of “Must Be Santa”. It is a pretty zany piece of Bobby’s history, with Dylan’s late love of the accordion, crazy pace, and pretty action filled music video. One of my favorite Christmas songs to play around the holidays (which isn’t hard, as the only other songs I play are from this album, “Pretty Paper” by Roy Orbison and “Jingle Bells Rock”).

So here is that video. –

Happy Christmas! 10 months early that is. And Happy Hanukkah to all those aging Jewish Musicians too! 

Bob Dylan’s 37th Best Studio/ Bootleg Album

A close-up of Bob Dylan wearing a coat and hat, holding a guitar

Bob Dylan (Self Titled)
Grade — C-

Bob Dylan’s introduction from Greenwich Village in New York to Columbia Records was met with nearly no attention. Dylan was a part of the then growing act of the solo-folk-acoustic-traditional-singing-youth genre. The covers of popular traditionals such as “Gospel Plow” and “Man of Constant Sorrow” were fairly standard, and met with little to no response from the public, generating nearly non-existent sales until a few years later in Dylan’s prime. 

Only two songs off the thirteen track album are original cuts, one being the excellent piece to Woody Guthrie, his idle at the time. The song showed his songwriting skill, and caught the attention of then popular counter-culture icon Joan Baez. After time around her and others praising his own compositions, he started to start trying to come with material for his next album almost immediately, where his fame would soon be found.

The album has some very bright spots, but mostly just focuses too much on songs done by many, and for the most part, very similarly to those people.

“Song to Woody”, “Baby Let Me Follow You Down”, and the song the Animals would make famous soon after, “House of the Rising Sun” are all excellently done. All use his fingerpicking skills well and the first also has some really clever rhymes and a good tempo for such a young songwriter.

This album would be a lot better if he had included some of his early compositions, as with the release of The Bootleg Series Vol. 9 shows, he had a lot of extra songs he had written, but was nervous of responses.

Not a terrible album, but lacking a big hit or jaw dropper. The good songs are great, and the rest are somewhat middling, but sung very well, as this was before he took up smoking as a full time job.

The song that made the Animals a household name for a while. –

Bob Dylan’s 38th Best Studio/ Bootleg Album

A painting of the profile of Bob Dylan's face with red, yellow, purple, and black stripes

Dylan (1973)
Grade — C-

Later the same year Pat Garrett was released skewing Peckinpah’s vision due to CBS , Bob Dylan ran into some troubles with studios of his own. These troubles stirred with the record company he had always been a part of, Columbia Records. Working on a new contract, negotiations soured with higher ups, and Dylan fled to Asylum records for a year or two, temporarily ending his run with Columbia.

None to happy about one of their solid stars jumping ship, they released outtakes from his albums “Self Portrait” and “New Morning” sessions entirely without the artist’s consent. Hand picked as ones executives chose to be the most fruitless and embarrassing, they slapped on the horrid cover and shipped it to entirely negative reviews from critics.

Dylan was appalled, requesting the record not be made for CD in North America, and renamed it after one of the songs on the piece, “A Fool Such as I”.

Is there anything salvageable? Sure.

That track “A Fool Such as I” is quite fun, as well as the overly goofy “Sarah Jane” and the traditional favorite covered by many, “Lily of the West.”

However the cover of Elvis’ “Can’t Help Falling In Love With You” is not a song Dylan does especially well, as its — well — an Elvis song. The corny lyrics are perfect for the king of cool, but for the Wizard of Wheeze, it falls flat.

“The Ballad of Ira Hayes” and “Mary Ann” are even worse, as while Cash’s version of Ira Hayes is at the very least entertainingly grating, Dylan’s is just…well, grating.

The album has enough good moments to not be as abysmal as Dylan himself makes it out to be, but if you were in his shoes, you’d probably say the same thing. Definitely something I have in my collection for my record player, but only played for the three good songs I mentioned and the very interesting “Spanish Is the Loving Tongue” cover to end it.

Song from the album is quite certainly Dylan’s given name to it, but its unavailable, so here’s “Lily of the West.” —

Joan Baez and Bob Dylan are the two best versions I’ve heard so far, what a coincidence.

Bob Dylan’s 39th Best Studio/ Bootleg Album

The name of the album in black on a white background

Pat Garrett & Billy the Kid

Grade – D+

After abandoning his star status after 1970 to spend some down time with his young children and wife, Dylan was set to add another first to his repertoire. His first, and ultimately the only to feature all new material, soundtrack to a movie. The movie was a mess however, being skewed from the original vision that director Peckinpah had in mind. CBS completely moved around the movie to leave out important scenes and alter the order of said scenes. Dylan’s music was also shuffled, leaving the movie to be assumed a mess.

For a soundtrack, its not really that disappointing, as music is usually tertiary or quaternary in a movie unless ones like “O Brother Where Art Thou”, “Phantom of the Opera”, etc. As an album however, it fairs relatively poorly, with most cuts being instrumentals.

There is nothing wrong with this style of music, however Dylan is not listened to for his guitar. He is fairly skilled at the guitar, sure, but people listen for his lyrics and his voice. The album is therefore mostly a bore, as what sounds nice in a motion picture does not always translate well to the record player.

Of course there are a couple exceptions, including one of the biggest hits of his career, “Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door.” Eric Clapton and Guns and Roses both have covered the Top 20 hit, and its one of Dylan’s most played songs for his own shows as well.

“Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door” is a song of near-fatality relating to the movie, and almost single-handedly makes this album a good one. Almost.

“Turkey Chase” is a fairly good instrumental, and some of the others are good, but again, not what Dylan’s best at. There aren’t really any bad songs like “Ugliest Girl In the World”, but lots of boring flute solos and guitar picking. Entertaining for some, but for Dylan fans, a bit to be desired.

If you want to see the music and movie at their best, check out Peckinpah’s cut, made in the 1980’s.

I can only find live versions of “Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door” so here’s one of my favorites off of MTV Unplugged. –

Enjoy the classic song over 40 years later.

Bob Dylan’s 40th Best Studio/ Bootleg Album

Dylan sitting onstage with a guitar

Down In the Groove
Grade – D+

The mid 80’s were dark times for the Dylan fan base; having to be subjected to an artist having incredible writer’s block and a lack of control over his own product. The classic Dylan ‘one-take’ style was, as Robert Christgau put it, “patented and by now meaningless”. The album was fully panned by critics as his worst work to that point, and looking back, certainly had the least to offer from the collection.

The songs put forth were mostly co-written, or songs he’d decided not to record previously, and a couple of new compositions of his own. Full Force, a popular hip hop group, helped with the sound (as well as the backing vocals on “Death is Not the End”) but it wasn’t any use. Dylan seemed to be running on fumes, running out of the magic that made him great.

Not to say the album was a complete disaster, as no Dylan album fully is. “Silvio” was modestly successful, with backing from the Grateful Dead, it became one of the artist’s greatest hits, and thus becoming popular while on tour.

“Sally Sue Brown” and “Let’s Stick Together” have some charm, but the absence of real song-writing was far too much to handle otherwise.

“When Did You Leave Heaven”, was so obviously not written by Dylan, as instead of his patented “vagueness”, he sings a series of bad pick up lines written by Richard Whitting and Walter Bullock.

“Ugliest Girl in the World” was written by head of the Graterful Dead (Robert Hunter) and Bob. The song is one of the most shallow and irritating ditties in both of their collections, as Dylan sings about how much she loves this woman, even though she’s so damn ugly. One of the few songs I skip on my shuffle.

Overall, this album is pretty awful. The writing isn’t there, the drive of the artist from the 60’s and 70’s isn’t there, and the sound definitely isn’t there. There’s “Silvio” and one or two other decent songs, but not one I recommend for non-Dylan fans.

Silvio –

Have a listen, as this is assuredly one catchy song.