Bob Dylan

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I wasn’t early to the party. It was about 1975 when my sister introduced me to Bob Dylan’s astonishingly iconic performances on music-cassette. It was a Greatest Hits Album with Dylan shot in blue in profile on the inlay card and I am forever grateful.

My sister had a small Sony Music-cassette compact system featuring a cassette deck and radio with two detachable speakers – mid-seventies cool for sure. Remember this?

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She was training as a Nurse in the City of London at one of the UK finest teaching hospitals, paving the way for my arrival in the Smoke within eighteen months. She is two years older, had tried Gitanes before me and she had discovered Bob Dylan before me.

The Greatest Hits album – was in fact it was the Greatest Hits Volume 2 – from 1971 and was released in view of the dirth of new material from Dylan at the behest of Columbia Record’s label boss, Clive Davis. He became of some influence over my later career in music and some time later he left under a cloud. Initially reticent, Dylan had then agreed to compile it himself adding unreleased material from the Basment Tapes era but I am getting ahead here….

Bob Dylan’s Greatest Hits Volmne 2 – click the link below the image

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Vol. 2-Greatest Hits

I simply don’t believe anyone who says they don’t like Bob Dylan’s songs. I love almost all. That’s like saying I don’t really like Spring or Tulips. I get that his singing may sometimes be a challenge. His voice varies hugely from the sonous and walnut to a croak but his words, his rhymes and his use of language are simply sublime. Weaving morality tales and fables with the support of a simple folk riff, a country slide-guitar, a brassy pomp or a more complicated cajun orchestration.

Dylan – together with able foot-soldiers Leonard Cohen, Neil Young and Bruce Springsteen – is the Voice of several generations. From the early 1960’s and the era of the Protest Song and the Civil Rights movement, to Woodstock and to the Summer of Love – see here our previous post – Peace Sign and The Summer of Love – to later “difficult albums” that explore love, loss and religion to more recent masterpieces that dwell on death and legacy.

In 2016, Dylan became the first songwriter ever  to win Nobel Prize For Literature.

Dylan has sold more than 100m copies of more than sixty albums. He has written, prolifically, broadcasted and podcasted for years and has nurtured a diverse and talented family.

I have seen Dylan perform live on several occasions including at Harvey Goldsmith’s promoted “The Picnic at Blackbushe Aerodrome” show in 1978. I still have the poster!

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Despite at times ill-health, his commitment to endless touring – since the late 1990’s – has become an enduring legacy allowing the faithful to flock to see his performances. In the earlier years shows performances were loyal to familiar songs, more recently Dylan’s treatment of his standards, deconstructing them to within an inch of their lives, has not always been well received. I guess the master artist needs stimulation and revising original orchestrations must be a way to keep things interesting. After all they are his songs!

I was in Los Angeles in 1980 and visiting the celebrated and iconic Polo Lounge at Beverley Hills Hotel. Arriving in a city taxi we pulled towards the entrance of the hotel and there, getting into a cherry red compact car, was the diminutive and slightly stooped stature of our hero. Something very domestic, almost deliberately improverished and above all not really giving a f**k about expectation, perception or pretense. The very anthesis of the image of Californian life.

Every filmed interview of Dylan – and there really aren’t many – from 1965 in San Francisco, to D A Pennebaker’s “Don’t Look Back” – 1967 traipse around Europe – to the media coverage of the his investigature as a Nobel Prizewinner is punctuated by his well intentioned and sincere confusion by all the fuss. The younger Dylan explaining to an overly fawning interviewer, who was clearly irritating, that he had nothing of interest to share and shouldn’t presume to be able to. His reluctant assumption of the role as “Spokesman of his Generation” is just ours for the invention. His “I just set up my stall, played a few tunes and the rest is down to you” appears to be his honest belief. No master manipulator, no synical plan.

Like many have before you – can you help understand a little more about Dylan’s work by reading his own writing from the autobiographical “Chronicles Part One”? – Click the link below the image 

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Chronicles: Volume One

Don’t tell me you haven’t tried! We’d all love to be able to master the riffs that make the songs sing – some will, some inevitably wont! I am one…..

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Bob Dylan Made Easy for the Guitar: 1

The Music – there are sixty albums to chose from but can I suggest a couple of starting places. I’d also suggest that you don’t stream – please enjoy the packaging as well as the songs – please click the link below the image 

The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan

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The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan

Bringing It All Back Home

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Bringing It All Back Home (2010 Mono Version)

Blood on The Tracks – for me probably the Best…..

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Blood On The Tracks

Desire

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Desire

Time Out Of Mind

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Time Out Of Mind

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Images courtesy of Milton Glaser, Sony, CBS and Columbia Record.

Vinyl Long Playing Records

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There are various examples of what may appear to be a reverse – or at least the application of a hand-brake – in the relentless progress of technology. One of the most interesting examples is the massive rise in the demand amongst a younger demographic for iconic Vinyl Long Playing Records or “LPs”.

Whereas the expectation may be for those in their twenties/thirties to want the convenience and portability of a clinical digital system – the instant hit of Spotify or similar – it seems that they may be eschewing binary for a more authentic sound.

My techie pals will tell you that the regular digital MP3 format used to store your music on your favourite streaming services or remote library is in fact phonically inferior to LPs – something about compression and EQ. Alternatively, the purity of the MP3’s digital format filters out the highs and lows of the authentic rattle and hum that seems to contribute enormously to the listener’s enjoyment of the LP format. Consequently, audiophiles are increasingly seeking out original or re-pressed vinyl LPs to enjoy on their turntables; the grooves of which are read by a stylus, amplified by the AMP and played through speakers or headphones.

See our earlier post about one of the finest turntables ever built David Gammon’s Transcriptors Turntable

Vinyl LPs, originally shellac, in the 1950’s became a recycleable plastic compound “PVC”,  appeared in a number of formats. The most popular was the 12” version that held an album’s worth of material – recordings of perhaps ten to twelve songs – on two sides that rotated on a turntable at 33 1/3 rpm. A smaller double sided 7” record that contained usually one, two or three songs  – a featured track or A side intended for the Top 40 chart eligibility plus a B side – that rotated at 45 rpm – these were called “Singles”.

In the clubbing years of the 1980’s, DJ’s called for extended mixes of Singles and these tended to be compiled onto another form of 12” – called an “Extended Play” or “EP” – that rotated usually at 45 rpm and contained several different mixes of the same song allowing the DJ to chose which to play or which to mix with other records on his deck – please see Dominic’s previous post here – Technics SL 1200 by Dominic Baker 

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Add these cool retro “Vinyl Rules” T shirts to your wardrobe – AMAZON links here

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Vinyl Rules Black T-Shirt (Red print)-XXXXXX-Large

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Vinyl Rules – DJ Mixing Deck Mens T Shirt – white – Adult Mens 50-52″ XXL 

Vinyl LPs are a flawed format with some serious drawbacks. They are prone to scratch, attract finger prints if mishandled – palms at 9.00 and 3.00 is ideal – and through static acquired dust in the grooves such that it was entirely possible to “wear out” your LPs. Premium versions were pressed in limited numbers and made for better audio quality yet inevitably more expensive.

When I worked in the UK recorded music business from the mid-1980’s I was invited to Hamburg for the Phillips’ launch of the Compact Disc (“CD”) then seen as the answer to all woes of the music business. Pre-recorded laser-read shiny discs with digital storage, that could have drinks spilit on them and easily wiped off. Initially, of course, they were “Play Only”.

Here is an excellent BBC Archive piece from 1983 that highlights not only some market resistance to CD from EMI but also that convenience is shown not to have won! CD Here To Stay?

The format was impressive but the Phillips presentation fell a little short of the parallel Sony presentation. You may recall that the development of the science behind the CD format was a collaboration between the two electronic giants and then gifted – in effect – to the World. A typically sedate presentation for the Northern German’s involved the playing of a Deutsche Grammophon recording of a Bach “Toccata” which did little to impress the leather jacketed crowd of A&R audience. Word has it that Sony’s presentation – in an attempt to prove the stability of the format and to funk it up for the industry audience – the CD player was flung from one side of the room to the other with no loss of quality! A triumph for the Chelsea Tractor in car market.

CD was a massive filip – pun intended – to the back catalogues of the giant record companies who’d been recording artists for many years onto initially, analogue tape and then digital tape. They saw the opportunity; if you had purchased the LP when it was first released then you were almost compelled to add it to your CD collection which grew to mirror – and eventually exceeded – your vinyl LP collection.

The size of the CD and its jewel case had a dramatic effect on the packaging both the format but the look. For more than fifty year the packaging of an LP – and its appeal on the record store rack – had developed, in line with the increasingly competitive marketing conditions, into an art form. The work of celebrated artists including Roger Dean – the man behind Asia and Yes covers – contributed materially to the sale of their products.

 

Imagine Pink Floyd’s “Dark Side of the Moon” without a black cover punctuated by a rainbow emerging from a prism.

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The extraordinary works of Peter Brooke and Jann Haworth – please see here our previous post –  Peter Blake and Jann Haworth – “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” whilst its precise impact may be incalculable the importance of an album’s cover should not be underestimated. Interestingly, the 50th anniversary re-release of Sgt Pepper’s on vinyl became the top seller in that format in 2017.

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It is reported that Nielsen Music’s market report in late 2017 marked a year on year increase in vinyl sales of around 60% compared to a mere 40% increase in digital streams during the same period. In 2017, Vinyl LP sales accounted for 14% of physical music revenue in the US and that sales of turntables and accessories exceeded $1bn in the US.

So with the previously slowed down or defunct Vinyl pressing plants now back in  action, please allow me to offer some guidance to finding the most influential Vinyl LPs to play on your turntable – below each LP cover is an AMAZON link:

Bob Dylan – “Blood On The Tracks”

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Blood On The Tracks [VINYL]

David Bowie – “Ziggy”

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The Rise and Fall Of Ziggy Stardust And The Spiders From Mars (2012 Remastered Version) [VINYL]

Bob Marley – “Legend”

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Legend [VINYL]

Bruce Springsteen – “Born To Run”

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Born To Run (Vinyl, 2014 Re-master) [VINYL]

Donald Fagen – “The Nightfly”please see our previous post here – International Geophysical Year

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The Nightfly [VINYL]

The Eagles – “Hotel California”

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Hotel California [VINYL]

Led Zepplin – “IV”

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Led Zeppelin IV [Remastered Original Vinyl]

Billy Bragg – “Life’s A Riot”

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Life’s A Riot With Spy Vs. S [VINYL]

Simon and Garfunkel – “Bookends”

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Bookends [180 gm vinyl]

The Stone Roses

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The Stone Roses [VINYL]

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Image Credits – with grateful thanks to BBC, The Washington Post, Roger Dean, Peter Blake and Jann Haworth, RCA, CBS, Island Records, Sony, Warners and Cooking Vinyl

International Geophysical Year

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Over the recent holidays, I was listening to Donald Fagen’s “The Nightfly” album from October 1982, his first since splitting “Steely Dan”. The first track on this iconic and multi-award winning solo album is “I.G.Y. (What A Beautiful World)”.

One of the amazing things about today’s tech is rather than spending ages locating your nearest library – that may be closed as its a Bank Holiday – the world of information afforded by the internet is a button away.

Nightfly

Get your copy of album by clicking this AMAZON link here The Nightfly

Fagen was born 10th January 1948 and graduated in 1969 from Bard College in upper New York State, had a childhood love of late night radio – thought to be the genesis of The Nightfly – born out of a certain dissatisfaction with his suburban upbringing. His family had moved to Kendall Park, New Jersey around 1958.

I.G.Y referred to International Geophysical Year, an eighteen month long celebration, ending on 31st December 1958, of scientific renaissance in the relationship between East and West. A post Cold War collaboration comprising the participation of sixty-seven countries – with the notable exception being the People’s Republic of China – in the fields of Earth science, Gravity, Geo-Magnetism, Meteorology, Oceanography and Ionospheric Physics. the organisation was presided over by Marcel Nicolet, a noted Belgian Physicist.

To celebrate IGY both the US and Soviet Union announced their intentions to launch unmanned satellites, respectively the Explorer 1 (from a team headed by Wernher von Braun) and Sputnik 1. Sputnik 1’s launch on 4th October 1957 was seen as a Soviet victory and ignited the “Space Race” leading to the creation of NASA on July 29, 1958.

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Much of the data collection made during the IGY is still in use and it lead to a more responsible management of particularly Antarctic environmental resources.

2018 represents not only Donald Fagen’s 70th birthday, on 10th January, but it also commemorates the 60th anniversary of I.G.Y. something of a testament to international co-operation and an optimism for a safer and more collaborative future.

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For our friends living in the US Live Nation have just announced that between May and July 2018 Steely Dan and The Doobie Brothers will be co-headlining a North American Tour – enjoy!

If you liked this post please “Like” and share it with your friends. We’d really like to hear your experiences of the subject(s) featured in this post. Please share them below in the “Leave a Reply” section. Thanks

Image Credits with thanks: Warner Bros.