Someone running things on the business side in the land of Bob Dylan is most certainly a fan of the man and his music. Otherwise, you and I would not be benefitting from the wonderful effort over the past number of years to bring back some of the fun to Bob’s catalog. Some of these special edition releases included Record Store Day-only 45 RPM singles, a box set of rare (and often better sounding) Mono mixes of early albums and now, a collection that condenses — and more importantly makes sense of — the numerous odds ‘n ends songs that have popped up on various and sundry hits collections over the years.
Now the first thing you might wonder: does the world really need another Bob Dylan collection, especially if it is a repackaging material that has been previously released.
The answer is a resounding yes!
Now you don’t have to repurchase (all over again) all of those separate collections just to get the rare tracks in a high fidelity, high resolution format.
Side Tracks, a seemingly daunting three LP set, was put out on Record Store Day at the end of last year amidst little fanfare, somewhat lost amidst a slew of other Dylan related releases (such as the Another Portrait set, which I’ve yet to get my hands on). I’ll be honest with you: I passed over this set initially, thrown by the $36 price tag and not realizing it was a three — count ’em, 3! — LP set. I also didn’t know it was pressed on 200-gram LPs, all of which are dead center, dead quiet and packed in nice audiophile sleeves.
Three LPs packed with 30 songs for $36. That’s a good deal — about $12 a disc — all presented on sweet 200 gram vinyl? Breaking them out to a cost of about $1.20 a track — and you won’t get this sort of fidelity from any MP3 download — someone on Dylan’s marketing team worked out a significant value proposition with the release of this set! Even if its a bit more ordered online with shipping charges and such, its still a very fair deal.
This set gives the music a new contextual home which makes for a fun and engaging listen. Now for the first time, we get in one place the rare tracks from the great 1980s box set, Biograph, and from the Greatest Hits Volumes One through Three. There are some rare singles and such in there too. This music is all sequenced chronologically for the most part, so everything plays well together — mostly acoustic with rockier material appearing later in the set. This is all wonderful material that hardcore fans would commonly have strung together on their own mix tapes or CDs back in the day (or playlists today).
As a listening experience, Side Tracks is arguably a better way to present these tracks than on the originals.
Better? Well, yes. Since these tracks were placed next to more popular hits, the songs didn’t always have a chance to stand on their own right and were usually glossed over (by most casual fans) as just some throwaway Dylan tune. For the hard core fan, you’d find yourself skipping around trying to find the unreleased tracks.
So, with Side Tracks, these songs now have a sense of purpose unto themselves without relying on the anchor of a well known tune to draw you, the listener, in. Frankly, there are some tracks here that are listed as having been on Greatest Hits Volume II which I do not recall — alternate takes and such. The old greatest hits album typically had no real information about he tracks so I never took the time to compare / contrast tracks with the actual album versions.
]]>For the longest time, I’ve wanted a good copy of “Watching The River Flow” without having to buy the whole two LP set again — what a great song! You get “Mixed Up Confusion,” an uncharacteristic (perhaps premature) rock-arranged single that Columbia put out in 1962! You also get the classic “Can You Please Crawl Out Your Window” (which Jimi Hendrix later covered) with backing by his then-band The Hawks (the group which later became The Band). You get “I’ll Keep It With Mine,” a 1965 outtake that was made more famous by Nico (of The Velvet Underground) on her first solo record in 1967, Chelsea Girls (interestingly, the Dylan track was produced by Tom Wilson, who later produced the Nico album).
The set goes on like this with tracks up until the late 1990s!
How does it sound? Pretty fabulous. While I don’t know for sure, it sure sounds like they used good sources for creating this LP set. There is a nice uniformity to the sound that is very appealing. Dylan’s voice sounds fuller and the guitars (acoustic and electric) are typically rounder sounding than I remember on some of these tracks (having only heard “Dignity,” for example, on CD)
Side Tracks is a great deal and frankly something of a game changer for an artist of Mr. Dylan’s stature product-wise. Now I’d like to see Sir Paul McCartney give something back to the fans akin to this — great quality and value at a great price.
And even though I am keeping my copy of Greatest Hits Vol. I (with the original, now rare, fold out psychedelic cartoon poster of Mr. Dylan’s profile), this one’s a winner and a keeper…
Mark Smotroff is a freelance writer and avid music collector who has worked for many years in marketing communications for the consumer electronics, pro audio and video games industries, serving clients including DTS, Sega, Sony, Sharp, AT&T and many others. www.smotroff.com Mark has written for EQ Magazine, Mix Magazine, Goldmine/DISCoveries Magazine, BigPictureBigSound.com, Sound+Vision Magazine and HomeTechTell.com. He is also a musician / composer who’s songs have been used in TV shows such as Smallville and Men In Trees as well as films and documentaries. www.ingdom.com Mark is currently rolling out a new musical he’s written: www.dialthemusical.com.