For diehard fans, Bob Dylan may have never made a record more shrouded in speculation than 1975’s Blood on the Tracks.
For one, there’s how it was made. Did he hire an entire studio band just to hand them all pink-slips and record alone? And what made him leave a nearly completed record in New York to make the whole thing over again in Minnesota? Then there’s the tunes, full of ultimatums and bitter farewells: was it his heart-on-sleeve divorce album or was Dylan essentially setting short stories to music?
While these questions may never be definitively answered, Dylan fans can console themselves with a new box set: More Blood, More Tracks. On Friday (Nov. 2), Legacy Recordings releases a whopping 87-track version of Dylan’s classic 1975 album.
The collection features a variety of demos, alternate takes and other unreleased material that sheds new light on how a folk-rock classic was made. In this heady six-disc edition, fans can witness the evolution of key songs like “Tangled Up In Blue” and “Idiot Wind” and get a few new clues about Dylan’s headspace and approach.
By providing a tantalizing fly-on-the-wall look into A&R Studios and Sound One, the expanded album offers new information for fanatics and casual fans alike on how a key Dylan album was made.
We may never know the entire story behind Blood on the Tracks, but there’s enough bonus material surrounding the album for heads to dissect, debate and cherish for hours. Here are three takeaways from the box:
1. Blood on the Tracks may have started its life solo and acoustic, not the other way around.
How did Dylan begin to make Tracks? A narrative has popped up over time to explain how it went at the outset: The session engineer, Phil Ramon, assembled Deliverance, a studio band named after the classic film it soundtracked, to back Dylan up, only for the legendarily cantankerous songwriter to send them all home. The bassist, Tony Brown, was the only man left standing.
But More Tracks, strangely enough, doesn’t begin with the band. Every disc is organized in chronological order — and Disc 1 begins with solo renditions of “If You See Her, Say Hello,” “You’re a Big Girl Now,” “Simple Twist of Fate,” “Lily, Rosemary and the Jack of Hearts,” and the outtake “Up to Me.” On Disc 2, Deliverance tries its hand at the tunes.
While it’s true that he’d eventually go in a different direction, More Blood, More Tracks shows that some Dylan fans have essentially gotten the whole story backwards.
2. Songs were rewritten until the eleventh hour.
Throughout the box’s six discs, we’re treated to a variety of takes of its famously bitter centerpiece, “Idiot Wind.” They all vary in almost every respect, especially lyrically; in Minnesota, Dylan would sing more universally (“You’ll never know the hurt I suffered nor the pain I rose above”), a marked change from the moodier, more nuanced prior lyrics (“You close your eyes and pout your lips and slip your fingers from your gloves”).
By the sound of Disc 6, Dylan continued to tweak this put-down song until the very last second. By the time Dylan hit Minneapolis, that band was still enduring rewrites: “Bob was still scribbling last minute lyric changes on little pink post-it notes,” remembers session guitarist Bob Odegard in the liner notes.
The sound had been radically reworked, too; if you know the fanged, garage-rock version on the original album, check out its spooky, sparse versions on Disc 2.
3. We can finally hear Tracks like we’re right there in the room.
It’s easy to forget that some of our ‘60s and ‘70s rock heroes’ records aren’t actually in Western tonality. In those days, it was common practice to speed up studio recordings to give them a little extra zest, and Blood on the Tracks is no exception. According to the liner notes, Dylan specifically asked Ramon to fudge the pitch and tempo for the radio and record market. That’s not the case on More Tracks; for the diehards, this is how this music really sounded as it was played.
And for Dylanites who swear by the rawer New York sessions instead of the relatively poppy Minneapolis takes, More Tracks has a lot to chew on. With this wealth of material, obsessives can almost build their own version of the album.
Will fans prefer the original “If You See Her, Say Hello” or the version in which Dylan really twists the knife: “If you’re making love to her, kiss her for the kid”? Was Dylan’s blues outtake “Call Letter Blues” too good to omit? And who inspired such animosity to have Dylan write and rewrite “Idiot Wind” about them?
With this box set, expect fierce debate and loving communion. There have never been Tracks quite like this.