Completism: ‘Dylan’ (1973)

Dylan: Bob Dylan, CBS 1973

side oneside two
1 Lily of The West
(traditional)
1 Mr Bojangles
(Jerry Jeff Walker)
2 Can’t Help Falling In Love
(Weiss, Peretti, Creatore)
2 Mary Anne
(traditional)
3 Sarah Jane
(pending)
3 Big Yellow Taxi
(Joni Mitchell)
4 The Ballad of Ira Hayes
(Peter LaFarge)
4 A Fool Such As I
(Bill Trader)
5 Spanish Is The Loving Tongue
(Billy Simon, Charles Bager Clark)
Dylan: Bob Dylan, CBS LP 1973

This relates to the ‘Curse of Completism’ section

1973. David Geffen had lured Bob Dylan to abandon Columbia / CBS and sign with his Asylum label, which would include an album (Planet Waves) and a tour and live album (Before The Flood.) The carrot was an unprecedented royalty said to be 80 cents an album (with no advance), as against a Columbia signing on advance of $400,000. Then the Dylan / Band tour lined up for January 1974 onwards by Geffen proved to be the greatest ever demand (until then) for tickets.

Hell hath no fury like a label scorned, and so just a month before the tour, Columbia / CBS released Dylan. On the interest in the tour, it sold surprisingly well in the USA, reaching #17 in the chart. In Britain, not waiting for a tour, it sold poorly, and yet Dylan normally charted higher in the UK than the USA.

It is generally considered to be a threat, a warning shot. CBS were saying ‘We have a load more like this in the vaults, and we can release one every time you issue an album with another label.’ To a degree it worked, not that I imagine Bob Dylan has any shame whatsoever about under-par releases. Mainly it worked because Asylum’s distribution and pressing simply failed to deliver the promised high sales of Planet Waves. Dylan was back at CBS in 1975 for an “at last” somewhat inaccurate release of The Basement Tapes with The Band, and of Blood On The Tracks.

The reason Dylan was considered a threat to him was because of the bizarre and to many, dire, nature of the material, and a hint that this might not even be the worst stuff in the vault. To add financial injury to artistic insult, the “Traditional” songs on the album remained just that, cutting out Dylan’s normal “Traditional, arranged Dylan” or often “Bob Dylan” composer credit. Bob’s publishing company didn’t get a look in either because the traditional songs are labelled ‘Public Domain.’ Sarah Jane was labelled ‘Pending’ though most Dylan books assume he did write it. There were no listed Dylan compositions … I assume because he could have stopped the release of those. No one had told it was due to be released. He found out the day it came out.

At the time, it was said to be a collection of Self Portrait outtakes, but subsequent delving into the tapes show most were cut at New Morning sessions. I am in the pro-Self Portrait camp, a position which was vindicated when the Bootleg Series Vol. 10 was entitled Another Self Portrait and re-jigged the content and running order. I loved the original double album though, finding it full of playfulness and humour. New Morning is an under-rated album. Another Self Portrait adds a few alternate versions of New Morning songs … I Went To See The Gypsy, Sign On The Window, Time Passes Slowly.

Some of the songs were intended for release. A tentative track list for New Morning unearthed for Bob Dylan: The Recording Sessions by Clinton Heylin shows Mr Bojangles and The Ballad of Ira Hayes in place.

Most were a Dylan foible. In the Basement Tapes sessions he would start old songs or covers, perhaps to warm up, perhaps out of curiosity to see what evolved when The Band came in. This extended to the session musicians for Self Portrait and New Morning. Tom Petty said that when Tom Petty &The Heartbreakers backed a 1986 Dylan tour, they had a potential list of 150 songs that Dylan might choose to call. In one show in Australia, Bob Dylan started singing and they all looked at each other, not recalling it from the setlist. It turned out to be an impromptu Da Doo Ron Ron a cover of The Crystals, which had never been mentioned. Heylin’s research brings up a 3rd March 1970 session for Self Portrait where Otis Redding’s Sitting On The Dock of The Bay, Buffy Sainte-Marie’s Universal Soldier and Al Martino’s Spanish Eyes were recorded. None of them made it to the 2013 box set. The Al Martino cover points to his recent exhuming of Sinatra and other fifties songs. Most was from New Morning sessions, and Heylin found there were versions of Long Black Veil and Jamaica Farewell recorded and gathering dust.

The thing is, the stuff on Dylan isn’t simply impromptu. A girl chorus joins him on Can’t Help Falling In Love along with Hammond organ (Al Kooper) and Spanish guitar. It sounds arranged (and I like it).

The other Elvis cover, A Fool Such As I suddenly attached itself as the album’s title on its CD re-issue. Sarah Jane has the girls hollering La-la-la all over it.

Spanish Is The Loving Tongue is bizarre, and he is trying. He has done better versions.

The cover of Big Yellow Taxi has carousel organ from Al Kooper, and a bass part from Charlie Daniels that seems to be looking for its route at the start, then it has all those girlie voices swamping it. I can see him having fun with it. I wonder about the selection … made behind Bob Dylan’s back. Geffen’s route to signing Dylan to Asylum had been subtle. He took a trip to Paris with Joni Mitchell (then his house guest / lodger) and Robbie and Dominique Robertson. Robbie Robertson was his key to getting to Bob Dylan … Joni Mitchell commemorated the holiday with Free Man in Paris. Joni was recording for Asylum. So just before the Dylan / Band tour started, we got to hear Dylan’s playful (and probably misguided) deconstruction of Joni’s most famous song. Deliberate?

I really liked The Ballad of Ira Hayes on first hearing, and I still really like it.

It is an odd album. Al Kopper’s contributions are always interesting. Dylan has done far worse albums, especially in the last two decades (I except Rough and Rowdy Ways which is a first rate return to form). The girlie chorus cooing away points forward to Street Legal, especially on Mr Bojangles.

The reaction is the thing though.

The other (songs)- an unfathomable medley of standards such as Joni Mitchell’s Big Yellow Taxi, Mr Bojangles and two Elvis Presley hits (Can’t Help Falling In Love and A Fool Such As I) – reveal neither plan nor purpose, and in fact, they were no more the intention of Bob Dylan than they were of the producer or engineer who sequenced them from old tapes. The performances aren’t so much embarrassing as much as they are pointless, nothing more than expensive demos, not meant for public ears.
Bob Spitz, Dylan- A Biography, 1989

Michael Gray is kinder:

Unlucky 13th album … essentially a malicious record company response to Dylan signing with a new label, Asylum in the US – a deliberate release of the worst tracks they could find in their vaults without going to the trouble of looking very far back: Dylan warming up before other things, Dylan messing about; outtakes largely from the New Morning sessions; and all compounded by a mix that brought the back-up vocals horrendously far forward. Two ironies – despite all the malice aforethought, the album isnt as bad as it’s meant to be; andDylan subsequently returned to Columbia / CBS.
Michael Gray, The Bob Dylan Encylopedia, 2006

Bob Dylan (A Fool Such As I), Bob Dylan, US Columbia CD

I have the CD release on Columbia. It was an import copy. Wikipedia states that there was no North American CD release. OK, but I’m listening to it right now as I type. The title has changed from Dylan to Bob Dylan (A Fool Such AS I). Columbia were still trading as CBS in the UK and it has a red jewel case. My copy has ‘Made in Austria’ printed on it. Discogs says it was issued in Japan in 1990, and Mainland Europe in 1991, but not in the USA or UK. Wiki says it was unissued until 2013’s Complete Album Collection. I’d hazard that it WAS distributed in the USA, but briefly and withdrawn.

A Fool Such As I had been released as a single in January 1974, coupled with Lily of The West. I’d say they’re the two weakest tracks, but that’s the point they were trying to make at Columbia / CBS.

Gallery: A Fool Such As I … click to enlarge

MONEY …

Rare Record Price Guide 2022 rates the vinyl album at £15 mint. I reckon they consistently under-value Dylan.

Discogs has the UK vinyl LP as:

Lowest £3.99
Median: £6.47
Highest: £12.00

There are copies going up to £147 and £130, but mainly around the Median.

Discogs gets interesting on the US release. There are three truly mint sealed copies on sale from $200 to $298.99. There are several Very Good to Near mint between $50 and $150.

The CD, with “Made in Austria” is:
Lowest: £5.36
Median: £21.16
Highest: £35.71

However, there are CDs on sale (Excellent / Near Mint) at up to £58.00. So, it is highly unusual to rate the CD more, but on balance, I’d suggest that the rare European / Japanese CD is worth a lot more than the vinyl.

The A Fool Such As I single is rated at £6 in Rare Record Guide. Discogs Highest is £5. One at £8 online. Seems about right.

If you are a true Dylan completist you see, you will need this album. And you might have to pay through the nose for it.