Bob Dylan

Columbia, 1985

REVIEW BY: Christopher Thelen


Towards the end of 1985, two box sets compiling the work of Bob Dylan came out. One of these, Ten Of Swords, is a now-infamous bootleg which featured his previously unreleased work (some of which, to the best of my knowledge, has still never seen official release), and was notoriously hard to find.

This left the official release, Biograph, a five-record set which not only covered the bulk of Dylan's best-known work, but also threw in some previously unreleased gems to get the diehards to spend a nice chunk of money on another compilation.

The thing is, it turns out to be a surprisingly pleasant collection, and the unreleased works do add to Dylan's legacy. The only sticking point for me is that the set does not proceed in chronological order… though, to be fair, I can't say if it would have been as successful had it done so. (If anything, it would have given the neophyte Dylan fan an education in the progression of the artist – though a weekend listening to the two greatest hits albums available at the time could have done the same thing.)my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

The thing is, though, that this set is specifically not designed for the newcomer to Dylan's work. Rather, it is for the individual who followed him from his folksinger days to storyteller, up to his born-again period. (While I could understand Empire Burlesque not being featured on the set, one has to wonder why nothing from Infidels made the cut to reflect Dylan's return to secular music.)

Most of the songs you know and love are here… “Mr. Tambourine Man,” “Just Like A Woman,” “Positively 4th Street,” “Like A Rolling Stone”. But there are some surprising omissions – such as “Hurricane” and “Rainy Day Women #12 & 35.” Okay, the former I could see just due to its length… but to not include the rollicking number Dylan proclaimed numerous times was not a drug song, and is possibly one of his best-known works?

Of the unreleased tracks, some of them hit the bullseye (such as the live version of “Romance In Durango,” “Caribbean Wind,” and live versions of “Visions Of Johanna” and “I Don't Believe You (She Acts Like We Never Have Met)”), others just flounder along (“Baby, I'm In The Mood For You,” “I Wanna Be Your Lover”). But perhaps the most poignant song is the track which closes the collection – a 1973 demo of “Forever Young,” which is yet further proof that Dylan quite possibly could be America's greatest balladeer who never got the acclaim he deserved for such songs.

Putting out previously unreleased material was not new ground for Dylan; he had done so on his second greatest hits compilation. But Biograph equalled, to that point at least, the legal mother lode for Dylan fans. Yes, releases from The Bootleg Series would blow those doors off their hinges… but this was groundbreaking for the time (and, in fact, was one of the catalysts for the eventual explosion of boxed sets that would inundate the market in due time). It turns out that, while there were some glaring holes in what was included on this set (and some questionable choices of inclusion – I mean, did I really have to hear “Senor (Tales Of Yankee Power)” again?!?), it is the unreleased tracks, and the way they interweave with the well-known material, that makes Biograph a set that a true Dylan fan should have on their shelves.

Rating: B

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