The “Listen Again” series went over well enough here in the L.A. area that your favorite rockin’ record reviewer decided to follow the lead of some Los Angeles TV executives and do a spin-off. In this series we once more examine previously-released albums but the platters we shall peruse in this particular series will be (Rolling Stone magazine) five-star albums. This time we (ahem) examine Bob Dylan’s Bob Dylan.
For those readers not up on their music history, Robert Allen Zimmerman, better known as Bob Dylan, was born on May 24, 1941. He is an American singer-songwriter, musician, artist and author. On November 20 and 22, 1961, he stepped into the Columbia studios in New York to record his premiere platter Bob Dylan armed with little more than his acoustic guitar, harmonica and vocal chords.
The original release would include 13 of 17 songs recorded. Side one opens on a cover of Jesse Fuller’s “You’re No Good”. It was a brief intro---under two minutes—and perhaps too quickly forgotten after the second selection starts.
The second song is “Talkin’ New York”. This is the first of only two original compositions on the LP. It humorously focuses on Dylan’s experiences in New York. It would be especially significant in that it introduces listeners to many elements of what would eventually become Dylan’s signature sound.
Two covers follow. The first—“In My Time of Dyin’”—a traditional gospel song and “Man of Constant Sorrow” which is a traditional folk tune first put out by partially-blind fiddler Dick Burnett around 1913. Both were arranged by Dylan although his versions were often influenced by other artists.
Dylan does his own version of Bukka White’s “Fixin’ to Die” next. It’s a blues song that stands out because the focus of the lyrics is on the surviving family of the person about to die. Also included here is his arrangement of “Pretty Peggy-O” which is an adaptation of the Scottish folk tune “The Bonnie Lass o' Fyvie (Roud # 545)”.
Perhaps one of the most memorable tracks is the next number. “Highway 51”, written by Curtis Jones, this country classic closes the first side admirably. (It would go on to become a fan favorite.)
The flip side opens on “Gospel Plow”. Again, this too would include an arrangement by Dylan. It’s a biblical traditional American folk tune.
“Baby, Let Me Follow You Down” follows. Here Dylan does the song following the arrangement from Eric von Schmidt. Blues guitarist Schmidt made the standard popular in the 1950s.
Also included here is Dylan doing “Freight Train Blues” as arranged by country artist Roy Acuff. The second original Dylan tune comes next. Titled “Song to Woody” it is a stark and beautiful tuneful tip of the hat to one of his inspirations musician/singer-songwriter Woody Guthrie. It’s based on Guthrie’s tune "1913 Massacre".
The closing cut is Dylan’s take on Blind lemon Jefferson’s “See That My Grave Is Kept Clean” which is a bit ironic in that while an apt end-note, the album itself was but a beginning for Dylan.
With a running time of almost 37 minutes, the album hit the record racks in March, 1962. It did not initially receive a lot of critical acclaim. (That would take years to happen.)
Nor was it a commercial success. It sold only 2500 copies in the US. Luckily, the album had been so inexpensive to produce it was not a financial failure. It would not chart here but climb to number 13 in the UK a couple years later.
The album was put out again in 2010 as the first of a 9 CD box set titled The Original Mono Recordings. In 2013 another edition would hit stores. This one would include 12 bonus cuts (1 single B-side and 11 live radio recordings from 1961-1962 including live versions of “Don’t Think Twice, It’s Alright” and “Blowin’ in the Wind”. Bob Dylan’s Bob Dylan/Col. PC-8579 contains not only an excellent example of original songs in the Guthrie talking-blues tradition but also of his interesting, original way of covering traditional tunes nicely foreshadowing things to come.
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