Thursday, January 4, 2018

Blood on the Tracks (1975)

Blood on the Tracks
(1975, Columbia Records)


(veggie black bean burger on toast, with tomato and vegan smoked gouda cheese)

Welcome to the Hungerdome my delightfully dining Dylanites. Are you ready for another entry into the 38 course meal that is reviewing EVERY Bob Dylan studio album ever made? Well, I hope so, because we're in for a heaping pile of BLOOD!!!... Served up ON THE TRACKS! Yes, it's time to tackle one of Zimmy's most beloved records of all-time. The true "comeback" of his career after releasing weirdo double LPs (Self-Portrait), Western soundtracks (Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid), contractual obligation records (Dylan), and something unfortunately named Planet Waves. Blood on the Tracks is to Dylan's career to what the Ten Commandments are to Moses; career defining!

(Moses snags a 180-gram copy of Blood on the Tracks, Record Store Day circa 323 BC)

First, let's talk about the ol' din din. As some of you may have seen, I was away for a while... Again!!! Like any fun, fulfilling thing in my life, I find it's nice to abandon from time to time and come back to on a rainy night. Yes, I am a model recipe for success.  So welcome back to, my faithful readers. Tonight, we've got a delectable black bean burger, wedged between two perfectly toasted pieces of whole grain wheat bread. One ripe ass tomato accentuates the black bean heartiness, all smothered with a gooey layer of vegan smoked gouda cheese purchased from the trusty local Whole Foods. I will say I have two of these bad boy sandwiches on hand because I will certainly plow through one before the first track. Both were lovingly prepared for me by my girlfriend, who continues to think this blog is something of a good idea. Moses bless you, my dear for not sending me to the nut house years ago.

NOW.. on to the record.  This is one famous record. Why so famous? Because it just is, okay?  Basically, Dylan came out of left field after kicking up dirt, recycling ideas, putting out substandard music, and walloped the world with long, emotionally resonant folk-rock full of piercing lyrics, subtly killer hooks, and over long songs that somehow feel breezier than the (idiot) wind. It was a return to form, and an expansion, on Dylan's ever growing cannon that seemingly came out of nowhere. Well, mostly it came from divorce. 

The record alsomarked Dylan's return to Columbia records after jumping ship for Asylum Records for Planet Waves (along with his live LP with The Band, Before the Flood). On the historic side of things, Dylan recorded the whole record in New York, prepared it for release, and then scrapped the whole damn thing right into the toilet. Must be nice being so prolific... Right Baha Men?

(one of many1 hit wonders still waiting to get their foot in the prolific game)

After completing the record, and with a Christmas-time release set, Dylan rerecorded all the songs in his home state of Minnesota at the 11th hour. Following the Minnesota sessions, Zimmy sat around contemplating his stack of tracks, rescuing some of the NY sessions from the gutter. The resulting record of infamy is a 50/50 split from both recording sessions, or some similar ratio... I'm bad at math.

In a famous twist of wasting recording engineers time,  bootlegs from both these recording sessions have been forever traded and nitpicked to no end by a bunch of losers who have nothing better to do than trade bootlegs and review every single goddamn song... I mean who would review every song?

(a dramatization of myself, taking a moment to think about myself)

Speaking of losers (and a famous loser at that), Dylan himself was losing HARD at this point. The whole record, although somewhat denied by Zimmerman himself (who's denied tons of true things in his lying-sack-of-hit career), is an allegory for his recent messy divorce with his wife Sara. You'll recall Sara as the inspiration behind Dylan's epic "Sad Eyed Lady of the Lowland," and for patting his head with a cool washcloth after he broke his neck on his motorcycle. His better half, and mother to his children was gone. Dylan was out for blood. And there's blood on these tracks. Wait? Tracks as in "songs" or tracks as in "tracks"? Either way, this record title is cool as ice and way better than say, Planet Waves. Seriously, what the fuck does that mean?

What ever this record's about, you can read about the great debates in a book at your local library, if they still carry Dylan debate books in stacks. 

Quick note. The cover itself is rather famous, featuring one's view of Bob Dylan through a sort of frosted glass looking like The Penguin with a wig and shades. It's not winning any awards for originality, but damn that cover is famous.

(alternate "unreleased"version of the LP cover shown above)

Without any further ado, I'll stop typing, start listening, and begin savoring my black bean patty melt with a side of salt and vinegar chips. Did I mention I have chips? Regardless, join me on my strange trips through possibly the greatest mid-career reformation records of all time. 

Tangled Up in Blue- Perhaps the best known song off the album. It pops on the overhead at supermarkets once in a blue moon, and sometimes classic rock radio gives it the time of day. However, this does not mean you can stop right here. Oh no folks. If I have to eat 20 of these black bean patty melts before this LP is over, then so be it. You'll have to suffer the burn along with me. Flat out, this opener is fantastic! Dylan drops about 3000 words on us (like the old days before he was a country bumpkin, or playing stripped down ditties with The Band), recanting a tortured narrative while dropping a repetitive quality hook, all to a jangled country folk-rock background. Gone is the white roots groove funk of The Band's influence of Planet Waves, but still doesn't mean this song is the whitest blues to hit the market until this guy came chompin' about...

(The title is often misinterpreted as when one runs their fingers through Cookie Monsters fur after a night on the town)

Simple Twist of Fate- 5  So, this black bean burger is kind of the pits on its own. I'll admit it. It's a frozen ass patty purchased for peanuts at Aldi, which is a super savings mishmash of almost quality food. It's got calories, it gets the job done, but it's not going to floor Gordon Ramsey anytime soon.

(Gordon Ramsay making someone listen to Blood on the Tracks through breadphones)

Still, this sandwich is SAVED (not to be confused with Dylan's 1980 gospel LP), by the ripe ass tomato and the vegan smoked gouda. It's like eating bacon in cheese form. Smoke up, Johnny!

In the song department, while the opener was one of the Minneapolis recorded tracks, here we get the first cut from the original New York sessions. Essentially, Dylan drops a pain drenched acoustic chronicle under the guise of breezy uplifting strumming. Narrator Zim comes at the lister with a sparse inward tale, and then slathers it off with some harmonica blues that actually doesn't pierce one's eardrum for a change. This one can make you feel all sorts of churnked up ways, so sit back and be happy you're not some rock stars wife who's world famous husband is writing an album about you (allegedly). 

You're a Big Girl Now- This song is all mucked up by a horrid Muzak-type feel, topped off with spine numbing flamenco guitar. Ugh, and those crisp hi-hat tickles and piano frills is enough to make any self-respecting rock fan upchuck a bit of spittle on their pair of Chuck Taylor's. Fortunately, the song as a whole is pretty goddamn great despite seeming hellbent on appealing to Upper Class folks, perpetually in their 60's. Lyrically, more pain from divorced Dylan. He admits it, but hey dude... Ya fucked up.

You know what's not fucked up? This sandwich! One down... One to go. If you're gonna pick a tomato, pick the RIPE one. Ohhhhhh!

(Dr. Dylan pictured with wife Sara and son Jakob in the late '60s. Some historians credit this as the original line-up of '90s alt-rock darlings The Wallflowers)

Idiot Wind- The nearly 8 minute epic of the LP is a pretty blatant "shut your dang mouth, and zip up my nagging weirdo wife, I'm Bob Dylan and you're my wife and I wish I was dead, and shut up already," which is a stark contrast to such other beautiful epics written to wife Sara (see Blonde on Blonde's "Sad Eyed Lady of the Low Land). Again, Dylan says this ain't about her, but good LORD this is a scathing piece of art that happened to perfectly coincide with a torrid separation. Regardless, one of the greatest Dylan songs in the catalog, bar none! The whole track boils, the organ screams in the background, Dylan sounding flat-out unhinged at parts, but somehow it manages to not fly off the handle (although the same can't be said of his '66 motorcycle accident).

(a dramatization of the infamous Dylan bike wreck)

You're Gonna Make Me Lonesome When You Go- After the Dylan exhausted all his Minnesotan rage in "Idiot Wind," he pulls back a bit here. How unhappy can one man be? I'll tell you how unhappy? How about finishing your second sandwich before the second side of the LP? I'm mad at my lack of self control. So mad, I've moved on to eating through half this back of salt and vinegar chips, and boy is the roof of my mouth tired. These chips should come with an insurance policy. Must the entire roof of my mouth burn? Will I ever learn?
Sorry, got sidetracked as to what I'm gonna eat for the rest of this masterpiece. Through this song, Dylan spits out lyrics like the lost 4th member of the Beastie Boys (minus most rhymes and pop culture references, but Jewish all the way), a torrid of lyrics comes spewing out over an acoustic folk-country shuffle held together by some busy bass work. So short and simple, you'll wanna revisit before moving on to the next side. 

Meet Me in the Morning- 3 nod back to the Blond on Blonde LP, Dylan delivers a real smokey, blues number that nearly falls victim to the lame-ass qualities that made Planet Waves half a bummer. Still, in context of the record, "Meet Me in the Morning," is both lyrically and musically bland, unlike this..... Which I finished eating during "Idiot Wind," because as an American glutton, I can't possibly eat any slower. 

Lily, Rosemary, and the Jack of Hearts- Okay, if "Idiot Wind" wasn't long enough for you, take a couple weeks off of work and start doing a hoedown to Dylan's jovial oompah-rocker. At nearly 9 minutes long, this is a quality listen while waiting for your fingernails to dry. Also, despite its anti-early-era-Napalm Death song length, this song is a one hell of catchy, good ol' time ride. Imagine  if the "Chicken Dance" was actually cool and reworked by a masquerading folk poet from Minnesota. Also, if you're a fan of words, this song has most of them in it.

(It's believed the song inspired this best selling comic book, and spawned such blockbusters as X-Men: Origins, The Avengers, and the Robin Williams' family friendly, freak-child saga Jack).

If You See Her, Say Hello- A prickly send-off and impaired well wishes to his estranged wife Sara, after he dragged he figuratively dragged her through the mud on "Idiot Wind." Dank Dylan turns inward again, possibly singing this one up toward the moon as Sara packs up the family wagon, throwing little Jakob in the back, and driving off with one headlight. Musically, as well as vocally, this stands as a beautiful throwback to the glory days of Dylan's mid-60s French Folk poet/rocker phase. Lyrically, it bares all sorts of wounds for all parties involved. 

Shelter From the Storm- The first of two tracks that close out the LP and make music critics and meteoroligsts all giddy in their low pressure systems. A straight acoustic tune with bass backbone, Dylan runs through lyrical cycles, diverging never from a series of four lines, capped off with "come in I'll give you shelter from the storm." A goddamn classic worthy of repeated listens. Extra bonus for unbridled guitar pick clunking making an intrusive appeareance from start to finish. A song that both brings images of sunshine and humid rain showers.... Sounds to me like the perfect mix for a....

Buckets of Rain- 4 Dylan lets his acoustic guitar do most of the talkin' here. He does plenty of nasally goat-like singing too. However, the stabbing guitar walk downs played over the subtle bass melody really makes the song. Dylan pops in with a low-key performance vocally, including quick barbed hook for your listening pleasure, and together it all works as the perfect closer to a real album of bullshit, one sided marriage counseling.


("I don't wanna go down to the basement?" - Bob Dylan, reading songs title of the first Ramones LP in a confused voice outside of CBGBs with Allen Ginsberg). 


  1. Welcome back yet again! At this rate, you should certainly finish the project by 2087 or so... assuming Dylan dies before putting out any more albums, that is. :-)

    Anyway, a good review - I think I agree with every one of your song ratings. While BOTT isn't quite Bob's greatest album, I would put it in his Top 5, along with the 60s Electric Trilogy and one more album that you haven't reviewed yet. "Tangled Up In Blue" and especially "Shelter From The Storm" are among Bob's greatest songs ever. "Idiot Wind" is a great song too, but I much prefer the NY version - I think Bob's vocal on the album version of the song is just terrible, borderline unlistenable (though nobody seems to agree with me on this).

    And I gotta say, that sandwich looks really good....

  2. Agree with M the W about Idiot Wind, and I'd also include Twist of Fate as being better in NY. However, I can't agree with the "isn't quite Bob's greatest album" opinion. IMO, this is the greatest set of songs ever put down on vinyl by none. Thanks for the review. Gonna pull out the BOTT NY Sessions right now and give it a listen.