Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Street Legal (1978)

Street Legal
(1978, Columbia Records)


Pizza Pie! 

In 1978, the mighty Dylan could do no wrong. So what did he do? He started to do wrong, and whole lot of it, till it got way out of control and he woke up in the '90s like, "Huh, I'm Bob Dylan. That's not even my real name, but I'll be sure as shit if I don't start fixin' myself and jump starting this career again." This quote was most likely, never uttered by Mr. Robert Zimmerman, the son of a Abraham Zimmerman of one Duluth, MN.

After riding high off such smashing successes as his traveling concert ensemble circus, (The Rolling Thunder Revue), along with back-to-back-to-back critical stunners (Blood on the Tracks, The Basement Tapes, into Desire for the win!), Dylan snagged his foot on the creative rug and fell face first into the mantlepiece, nearly chipping his two front teeth. 1978's Street Legal, at its core is a daring album, willing to take risks, branching out into further musical landscapes for the always restless artist.

 Following in the footsteps of Desire's free-for-all rock, country jamboree assault, Dylan attempted to recreate the feel while leaning heavily on the rockin' side of things. This lead him down the path of... country funk? In addition, both interesting, and somewhat problematic, Dylan began dipping his toes into gospel territory, eventually falling knee deep in a pond of holy water (stay tuned for Dylan's religious trilogy, starting with the next entry! Praise the Lord, I can hardly wait). The results of this obsession with gospel music are fascinating to say the least.

Okay, before you go and get your knickers in a bunch, kicking up dirt in anger, let's take a quick look at the background behind Street Legal, also known as the beginning of the end. I said, DON'T GET THEM KNICKERS IN A BUNCH, please!

A couple significant things happened for our man Zim in 1977. First, his divorce with wife Sara had finally become finalized. The two went back and forth over custody of their children, Sara coming out on top. I'm no Judge, but I'm gonna go with the one who ain't painting his face afright, hanging out with Allen Ginsberg, globe hoping on speed.

"Your honor, it ain't like that no more"- Dylan in court, 1977.

Secondly, Dylan had finished a new batch of songs and hit the world stage with a new set of musicians. This group would mostly accompany him into the studio in 1977, as they hashed out what would become Street Legal in a Santa Monica basement rehearsal studio. What came forth was unlike a majority of what the public had come to expect from the ever changing Dylan.

On arrival, many critics found the songs, and styles a bit confounding. However, there's one ugly culprit that rears its ugly head throughout, dragging this LPs' name through the literal mud, that of which it actually aurally sounds like...


Yes, the production of this record is NOTORIOUS! 

"Good question?"- Street Legal producer, Don DeVito

Despite rumors circulated from Don's parents after hearing the record, and excommunicating him from the family tree, Don is not related to loveable crank Danny DeVito.  Production on this is so awful, it sounds a little something like that gross cover from that Royal Trux album. 

Royal Trux Sweet Sixteen (Drag City Records)

It's odd, since Don DeVito produced Dylan's last LP, Desire. While dated at times, Desire sounds like a record! Yet, the follow-up is akin to an ensemble cast playing inside an oil barrel, during a hail storm, inside a sewage plant while everyone dons earmuffs, including the listener! Eventually, a remastered version of the album saw release, and everyone cried a sigh of relief. However, the damage was done. Thanks Don DeVito, we forgive you.

Danny DeVito mixing Street Legal in 1977

It's like the old adage goes: Production is everything. That's it right? But, enough with the production. Street Legal is a fascinating mixed bag. Love it, hate it, you gotta take the ride. Sometimes it stings, other times it's glorious. Gloriously weird, bloated, sounding so far left of center than what the public was growing used to with Zimmy since that weird kid stumbled onto their radios some 14 years earlier. Always one to hurl curveballs, this is one that skips in the dirt, and a little off home plate. Still, it's full of charms and shining moments, just enough to ring the batter up. It's a wild ride, hard to pigeon hole the whole affair. Here's what the record sounds like in pictures for those who only understand internet communication...

(first, strap on your Dylan colored goggles.)

(Next, buy the ticket...)

(take the fucking ride...)

(sweat to the funk...)

(let the Lord in a little...)

(let it in a little more...)

(allow the music flow through you in dizzying waves....)

(and try to piece your life back together by Monday morning, so you can get your ass to work)

WOW! This record is flat-out crazy!

  Once again, Dylan comes to the crossroads of his fabled career, once more.

See, the cover seems to say it all. Dylan has descended from the top, looking like an agitated dad who just missed his bus home.

("Dammit. Dar she goes..."-Bob Dylan 1970-something)

Zimmy's looking one way, while his career seems to be fleeing in the opposite direction. Quick, turn and grab it!!! Oh well, it was a good run Zimmy. Now, let's get weird. 


Quickly, let's talk about my dinner. Hmmm, is it a crowd pleaser? Check! Goes well at any sleepover? Of course. See, this is authentic pizza from from the great state of New Jersey. New Jersey pizza, as everyone knows is the best pizza. Okay, don't have a fit New York. Your pizza is great too! We can share the love, can't we? We are the pizza united states. The rest of the country, I'm sorry. Look, Domino's is fine when I'm feeling terrible and need to feel worse, but what are you doin'? And DiGiorno's? Please... delivery? Don't make me laugh.

Here we have a plain pie (or pizza with cheese/cheese slice, as everyone else seems to call it). This comes from a little place in Somerville, NJ called Alfonso's. My good buddy Alex brought this over our place and turned me onto these guys! Thank you Alex for the recommendation.  Let's dig into this DELIGHT!... yes, and also listen to Street Legal.

Changing of the Guards- 4 If this LP was the first indication the good times were well behind (once again), then the title says it all. What in the good Lord is this? Sometimes you shouldn't fix what ain't broken. In Dylan's case, he broke a lot in the past (i.e. Self Portrait, his neck, etc.), and always seemed to right the ship.  Here, Dylan tries to put a spin on all that over the top success he achieved in Desire. However, he fails miserably and it's incredibly fascinating and unrelentingly catchy. If you like your 70's Dylan joined by a trio of eerie soul singers and second-rate Springsteen sax, then look no further. Actually, this album is probably for you then. All the while, this thing plays out for over 7 minutes, and I can't get enough of it.

(Dylan dethroning Sonny Bono during Rock's Annual "Changing of the Guards" ceremony in 1978.)

New Pony- Here Dylan opens the song singing about a female pony he named "Lucifer." Now, I'm no doctor, as I've stated before, but I'd diagnose that a terrible decision to name anything. Of course, this is a allegory for something else, like "cruddy women" messin' up ol' Dylan's mind. Wow, way to go Bob... This song is so strangely bleak yet finds room to let a little funk in. Quite similar to trying to eat gumbo with the flu while Dreamgirls sing you to nightmares, so I would imagine. Oh, and the ghost of Tito Puente's there to play the bongos for you. If you like that, you're gonna love "New Pony."

(a visual aid to eat gumbo to, if you also happen to have the flu. Being it's March, you might!)

Alright, so at this point you're probably wondering about this pizza? I know you were sweatin' a little waiting to hear about this sauce-tastic wheel of transfats. Well, this bad boy is 360 degrees of salty action, with a calculated circumference of delicious. Really, not all pizzerias in NJ are great, that's just something we tell ourselves. But, this one is pretty damn solid. 

Cheese to sauce feels right. The crust is a little soggy, which can defer a pizza into the shit zone, but this is working for me. Crisp crust is the way to go, but when the mild sog works, it works! Also, the sauce has a bit a of a sweetness in the finish, which I'm sucker for. I know a lot of purists that will throw a piece of pizza against the wall if the sauce has one hint of sweet. Me on the other hand, you'll never catch throwing pizza... unlike that guy at the Red Sox game who had it up to here!!!

(Unreleased Zapruder footage: back and to the left)

No Time To Think- Okay. Wipe that funk sweat off your brow from "New Pony," because Dylan's back to basics here. At least closer to the basics of Blood on the Tracks in feel, that is. Dylan and his posse of female crooners work their way through a mid-tempo, semi-copped whack version of "Like a Rolling Stone," capped off with some bizarrely rinky-dink horn interludes. You may think the way I'm describing this stuff is negative, but oh no my perky eared readers. It's like a car wreck you can't turn away from. BUT, what if that car was filled with clowns, and upon impact a bushel of balloons came out of the trunk and put a smile on all the onlookers faces. Imagine that! What a boner of laughs. It's a mess you've gotta revel in. (Also, according to "reputable" rock criticism sources, most people hate this song, and for good reason, but NO WAY)

(animated clowns on their way to a car wreck while listening to "No Time To Think")

Baby, Stop Crying- Have you ever hung out in an Elk's lodge too long, like I have? Out of nowhere, you begin to realize that ever present "room smell" is actually coming from the bathrooms, and that grilled cheese special you ordered is just two pieces of mismatched cheese on floppy white bread.  Also, there's gold tinsel hanging from the ceiling, and it's not even Christmas?  If you can relate to that, then you can skip "Baby, Stop Crying." Still, so strange, dated, you gotta love it.... maybe just a little.

You know who's not crying? Me, because I'm eating fucking pizza! Excuse my language, but all is right when you've got a nice slice. Seriously, this pizza place did a hell of job with this pie! Hats off to them. Here's an artist's rendition of the pizzeria where it was made.

(You can can see the sun is made of pizza. Or the moon perhaps, as in "when [it] hits your eye")

Is Your Love In Vain?-  Hey teens, are you tired of "Pomp and Circumstance" playing at your high school graduations? Then write to your Congressman or woman and tell them to replace it with the incredibly awkward intro to "Is Your Love in Vain?". In fact, the whole damn piece is awkward. A song that walks on stilts in the sand, it's all over the place! Part classic Dylan composition, part horn requiem for a fallen soul, with a quick dash of gospel droning, all cooking under multi-colored stage lights. Vocally, though, Dylan sounds pretty sinister, and the song is such a sappy anthem I can't help but raise a flag for this side opener. The song has received a lot of flack for Dylan for it's sexist overtones. Zimmy, take a cold shower and let a little love in your heart. You need to be SAVED!

Speaking of being saved, here's a great story about a little girl who saved her mother's life by slapping her with a piece of pizza.

(Inspiration is everywhere... a real hero)

Señor (Tales of Yankee Power)- With a song title like this, how could anything go wrong? Jesus! This track is a 5 minute plus, Spanish-tinged sleeping pill. It's no wonder Dylan tried to find Jesus after this record, because this is crummy trudging narrative-driven cow flop is enough to drive any self-respecting artist toward the altar of forgiveness.  Jesus, is that you?  Oh no, it's just....

(Oscar Gamble!. He was a señor who had average power, but did have one of the coolest baseball card's ever... he did retire with 200 career home runs though)

True Love Tends To Forget- True love is something Dylan seems to have a terrible grasp on at this point in his life. If you like white soul driven grooves, delivered poorly at that, have you found your new anthem! Dylan actually unleashes some passionate vocals on this one! Raw at times! However, the rickety old man soloing parts are barf worthy to boot. Easy to forget this one, I do say.  Hardy har har. 

We Better Talk This Over- Dylan goes part delta, part pop, part gospel, and all whackadasical with this catchy little piece. For a change, the backup singers give a tasteful performance as the song unravels along at a southernly charming steady pace, rather than taking it off the rails on the Cocaine Coaster. One can tap a foot to this following some real head scratching snoozers on Side B. 

In other news, "We Better Talk This Over" is what I expect my wife to say when she finds out I'm six pieces into this pizza. That mean's there's only 2 left. Embarrassed, am I? Not at all. Glutenous? You bet!

(Me, right now.)

Like a gentelmen, I'm going to leave these last two pieces in the box. Perhaps my wife will want them later. More likely, the cats will get to them first. I will audibly curse and say, "What's wrong with you cats?" even though we've been doing this same careless human/hungry feline routine for 9 years.

Where Were You Tonight (Journey Through the Dark Heat)- Earlier in the meal, I referred to "No Time to Think" as a "Like a Rolling Stone," rip, but this... This redefines self-plagorism. I'm no lawyer, but I'm sure I could get permed-out, sunglasses sporting, fresh-faced, '60s Dylan a nice cut of Street Legal money from the choruses alone. While it's impossible for any of this to happen, mainly because I've never been to law school, and you can't give someone's old self future profits, I'll think of other life goals to accomplish (like one day owning a ride-on lawnmower). Still, hang on to this uplifting, agonizing, fist-raising closer. It's as lame as a drunk, one-legged drunk goat trying to walk on water, but wholly digestible nonetheless. Whoa! What a rush.

(the day Bob Dylan met Bob Dylan and sued himself over this song)

Well folks... There you have it. A brief trip down pizza lane in the Garden State. I don't want to bore you with tons of pizza history about New Jersey, or continue to be so braggadocios about the simplest fucking meal combo in the world other than shelled eggs in boiled water.  And in other news, we've now left Street Legal behind us. 

Join me next time as Dylan begins to lose himself in the Lord. Yes, it's time to kick start the RERBORN period. There ain't gonna be no more blood on these tracks, because it's Slow Train Coming. 

(Y'all ready for this?)


  1. Good essay on the background of one of Bob's most under-rated albums. And while my knickers remain un-bunched, I have to say that you also badly under-rate this album. (A "1" rating for "Senor"? Seriously?)

    While "Street-Legal" certainly has some problems, about half of the songs here are stronger than anything on "Desire", IMO. I personally don't mind the sax or the girls, etc. The main problem for me is Bob's voice - nasal, thin, and whiny. It would be nearly two decades before Bob found another voice that really suited his material.

    It's been said that "Street-Legal" is Bob's real divorce album, rather than "Blood On The Tracks". Maybe true - the pain and darkness here make BOTT sound like a pleasant day in the park by comparison.

  2. Along with Down in the Groove, Street Legal is likely my least favorite (and least listened to) Bob album. Never been able to put my finger on it, but I just don't care for this one. With the exception of Senor, this album has little redeeming qualities IMO.

  3. SL has a different sound from any other Dylan album, so I can understand why a lot of folks don't like it. And there are a few weak songs here, but also at least a couple of great (or near-great) ones, so I still think the album is under-rated. But YMMV. :-)