Quick Review (LP): Self Portrait by Bob Dylan

Bob Dylan
Self Portrait
Columbia; 1970

My Rating: C (44/100)

Best Tracks: "I Forgot More Than You’ll Ever Know", "The Mighty Quinn (Quinn The Eskimo)"

A classic of the school of monumentally bizarre career moves.

NOTES

  • He’d already released a greatest hits collection. Why not an odds + ends collection? Throw in some live takes from Isle of Wight ’69, and you’ve got a money-maker.
  • It’s a strangely appropriate album title. This is perhaps Dylan’s most radical attempt to reclaim his identity, to snatch it away from the 60’s counterculture. Truth is, I think he succeeds, with unintended effect.
  • Just what the heck IS "All the Tired Horses"?
  • Lots of covers, not much original here. Still, there are some quality moments.
  • "I Forgot More Than You’ll Ever Know" is a really nice; is it a Nashville Skyline outtake?
  • He really does sound bored on the live take of "Like A Rolling Stone."
  • He really farts around on "The Boxer."  I think that qualifies as irreverent? What was that petty rivalry that Simon and Dylan had going on back then?
  • I love this version of the "The Mighty Quinn." One of my all time favorite Dylan cuts. So loose, so carefree, so joyful.
  • I don’t know that this is really the load of junk that everyone suggests. It’s an odds and ends collection that would sound right at home on "deluxe" reissues of some of Dylan’s late 60’s and early 70’s work. It’s not prime material, but it ain’t bad either.
  • Stephen Erlewine’s AMG review is pretty incisive here. Key insight: "To say the least, it’s confusing, especially arriving at the end of a decade of unmitigated brilliance, and while the years have made it easier to listen to, it still remains inscrutable, an impossible record to unlock. It may not be worth the effort, either, since this isn’t a matter of deciphering cryptic lyrics or interpreting lyrics, it’s all about discerning intent, figuring out what the hell Dylan was thinking when he was recording — not trying to decode a song."

ATTRIBUTES
Cohesion (2/5)
Consequence (4/5)
Consistency (2.5/5)
Concept (4/5)
Songs (3.5/5)

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Career In Brief: Bob Dylan in the 60’s

Bob Dylan exerted his greatest influence on American culture in the 1960’s. Arriving anonymously in New York from Hibbert, Minnesota in the early 60’s, he came with a guitar, a dream, and not much else. What helped him standout was an ear for various American music genres, a truly unique lyrical wit, and a knack for memorable songwriting that has only really been rivaled by a few other greats of his generation (you know the names).

Dylan’s 1960’s career can really be divided into 3 distinct phases: folk icon, rock poet laureate, and Americana revivalist. While distinct, these phases definitely overlap. Bringing It All Back Home in particular finds him transitioning from an idealistic folky into a visionary proto-punk. From 1962 thru 1965, Dylan re-defined the canon of folk music with tunes like "Blowin’ in the Wind" and "The Times They Are A-Changin’". In 1965, he "went electric", diving into full band rock and roll and releasing a string of three records that probably constitute the greatest triple header in the history of American rock and roll. After suffering a motorcycle accident and getting married within the space of a year, Dylan began writing simpler but no less marvelous tunes, preferring Nashville to New York City as his music took a turn back toward the subdued folk leanings of his early style. It was also during this period that Dylan began his famous collaborations with The Hawks, later to become The Band.

Albums

Bob Dylan (1962) – [B-]: An understated debut. Dylan hadn’t quite figured out how to be Dylan, and most of the songs aren’t his. Probably only interesting to Dylan diehards. ("Song for Woody", "Baby Let Me Follow You Down") [my review]

The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan (1962) – [B+]: This album is a bit overrated, but it does feature some truly classic tunes. The best of Dylan’s "folk icon" period. ("A Hard’s Rain’s A-Gonna Fall", "Don’t Think Twice It’s Alright") [my review]

The Times They Are A-Changin’ (1963) – [B-]: Dylan swerves toward the protest folk scene on this one. Features some pretty well known tunes, but in my book, a skipper. ("The Times They Are A-Changin") [my review]

Another Side of Bob Dylan (1964) – [B]: Dylan begins to hint at what was to come by re-directing toward the sense of humor that he displayed a bit of on his precocious debut. He doesn’t quite nail it, but there are some worthwhile moments. ("All I Really Want To Do", "It Ain’t Me Babe") [my review]

Bringing It All Back Home (1965) – [A]: Dylan’s first great record. Poetic rebel mysticism. ("Subterranean Homesick Blues", "It’s All Over Now Baby Blue") [my review]

Highway 61 Revisited (1965) – [A+]: One of the greatest of the greatest, hands down. Dylan makes a helluva road record, and probably invents punk rock a decade before anyone knew to call it that. ("It Takes A Lot To Laugh, It Takes A Train To Cry", "Just Like Tom Thumb’s Blues") [my review]

Blonde on Blonde (1966) – [A]: Rock and roll’s original epic, and perhaps still its best. A mystical and romantic Americana road show. ("Stuck Inside Of Mobile With The Memphis Blues Again", "Visions of Johanna") [my review]

The Basement Tapes (1975) – [A]: Though not officially released in the 60’s, this vital set of recordings probably marks the beginning of a number of different genres, including alt-country and lo-fi. That’s incidental though. What really matters is that these are FANTASTIC songs that simultaneously launched The Band’s career, and Dylan has never sounded like he was having so much fun. ("Goin’ to Acapulco", "Yea Heavy and a Bottle of Bread") [my review]

John Wesley Harding (1967) – [B]: Dylan’s early electric material gets the most press, but let’s be honest, it really was a natural and organic progression. It’s JWH that represents a truly jarring change, because it finds Dylan sounding completely stripped down and completely over his mid-60’s persona. It may not be a GREAT record, but it’s a warm and enjoyable listen, and the sort of the thing that you’ll find yourself coming back to with surprising frequency. And in many ways, it’s a sort of template for 70’s folk rock. ("I’ll Be Your Baby Tonight", "All Along The Watchtower") [my review]

Nashville Skyline (1969) – [A-]: Warm and sweet as apple pie, there’s almost no sign of the rock and roll rebel that ruled the 60’s here. Instead, Dylan swaggers through 10 tracks in a little more than 26 minutes, with a new found vocal style that sounds totally removed from anything he’s done in the past. It’s brief, but it’s a strong offering nonetheless. ("Lay Lady Lay", "Tonight I’ll Be Staying Here With You") [my review]

Non-Album Highlights:

  • "Positively 4th Street" (one of his best)
  • "I’ll Keep It With Mine"
  • "Percy’s Song"
  • "Mixed Up Confusion" (notable because it’s an "electric" Dylan track from 1962, well before he supposedly "went electric")
  • "I Don’t Believe You (She Acts Like We Never Have Met) [live 1966]"
  • "Quinn the Eskimo" (bridges the gap between the Manfred Mann version and Dylan & The Band’s Isle of Wight version)
  • "Can You Please Crawl Out Your Window?" (sounds like early Springsteen)
  • "Baby Got Back"