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Bob Dylan's fiscal cliff, and the 50th anniversary copyright extension box set

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While I was on vacation, one of the most peculiar officially sanctioned music products ever released by Bob Dylan was sprung on an unsuspecting public at the end of 2012. To protect the European copyright of his 50 year old recordings, which were about to expire, Sony released about 100 copies of an 86 song set of mostly unreleased material from 1962 in a low budget, but not inexpensive, 4 CD-R set titled "The 50th Anniversary Collection: The Copyright Extension Collection, Vol. 1," in select stores. The recordings were also temporarily available as MP3 downloads in these territories. While Dylan fans were already aware of this, apparently it took articles in Rolling Stone and the New York Times for others to wake up and spread the news.

Why a cheaply packaged 4 disc box set released only in Europe? I can only imagine the big wigs at Sony were panicking over their own fiscal cliff, having until the end of year to decide how to retain copyright control over out takes from a half century ago that would enter the public domain in Europe if not made commercially available.

There have been conspiracy theories and complaints about the limited availability and use of inferior CD-Rs. My guess is that it was a legal issue, and there wasn't even enough time to think up some dastardly scheme, although more sinister things have been known to happen in the music industry. Sony may be testing the waters for such a release, or they were possibly unaware of the furor suxh a release would cause. I'd put my money on the former.

Just because it was made available for a specialized market does not mean it will never be released again in other territories, or in another package. For example, when Dylan embarked on his 1978 world tour, there were a couple of albums specially made in some countries to coincide with Dylan's concerts in Japan, Australia, and New Zealand. First there was a 3 LP compilation called "Masterpieces," released in March. Each side featured a theme, e.g. love, rock, and topical songs. Of special interest was the inclusion of rare singles, accidentally including a previously unreleased take of "Mixed Up Confusion." The album was eventually freely distributed in the U.S. as an import.

In August, 1978, a 2 LP live set, "At Budokan," was released exclusively for the Japanese market. This was after the surprise success of Cheap Trick's Japan-only LP of the same name. In April, 1979, the album was released in North America and other territories. In 1984, Dylan had this to say about the album:

"The 'Budokan' album was only supposed to be for Japan. They twisted my arm to do a live album for Japan ... I never meant for it to be any type of representation of my stuff or my band or my live show." - Interview with Kurt Loder for 'Rolling Stone,' March, 1984.

There is another, more recent example of a limited edition album being re-released. In 2010, a previously uncirculated 1963 concert recording from a Brandeis University folk festival was packaged with the newly released archival "Mono Recordings" box set and/or the "Witmark Demos," depending on where you lived. The following year, a slightly more elaborate version was released in a proper jewel case, with new liner notes by Michael Gray.

On a non-Dylan note, Elvis Costello and keyboardist Steve Nieve played a handful of intimate concerts to promote the album, "All This Useless Beauty," in 1996. The shows were broadcast on local radio stations, and according to someone I knew at the label, Warner Brothers pressed up excerpts of the concerts on promo-only CDs without Costello's consent. At the end of the year, a legitimate limited edition 5 CD box set was released to meet the demand.

I'm not saying any of this means the Dylan set will be made available again anytime soon. I'm just saying that unlike many of the previously recordings in the box, I've heard this song before. And since this is only volume one, I know what most Dylan fans will be looking for at the end of 2013.

"The 50th Anniversary Collection: The Copyright Extension Collection, Vol. 1," track list, courtesy Exystence:

Disc 1:
01. Going Down To New Orleans [Take 1]
02. Going Down To New Orleans [Take 2]
03. Sally Gal [Take 2]
04. Sally Gal [Take 3]
05. Rambling Gambling Willie [Take 1]
06. Rambling Gambling Willie [Take 3]
07. Corrina, Corrina [Take 1]
08. Corrina, Corrina [Take 2]
09. The Death Of Emmett Till [Take 1]
10. (I Heard That) Lonesome Whistle [Take 2]
11. Rocks And Gravel (Solid Road) [Take 3]
12. Sally Gal [Take 4]
13. Sally Gal [Take 5]
14. Baby, Please Don’t Go [Take 1]
15. Baby, Please Don’t Go [Take 3]
16. Milk Cow (Calf’s) Blues (Good Morning Blues) [Take 1]
17. Milk Cow (Calf’s) Blues (Good Morning Blues) [Take 3]
18. Wichita Blues (Going To Louisiana) [Take 1]
19. Wichita Blues (Going To Louisiana) [Take 2]
(Note: This track was supposed to be “Talking Bear Mountain Picnic Massacre Blues [Take 2]“, but the record company made a mistake and so this is a duplicate of track 21 below.)
20. Milk Cow (Calf’s) Blues (Good Morning Blues) [Take 4]
21. Wichita Blues (Going To Louisiana) [Take 2]
22. Baby, I’m In The Mood For You [Take 2]
23. Blowin’ In The Wind [Take 1]
24. Blowin’ In The Wind [Take 2]
25. Worried Blues [Take 1]
26. Baby, I’m In The Mood For You [Take 4]

Disc 2:
01. Bob Dylan’s Blues [Take 2]
02. Bob Dylan’s Blues [Take 3]
03. Corrina, Corrina [Take 2]
04. Corrina, Corrina [Take 3]
05. That’s All Right, Mama [Take 1]
06. That’s All Right, Mama [Take 3]
07. That’s All Right, Mama [Take 5]
08. Mixed Up Confusion [Take 3]
09. Mixed Up Confusion [Take 5]
10. Mixed Up Confusion [Take 6]
11. Mixed Up Confusion [Take 7]
12. Mixed Up Confusion [Take 9]
13. Mixed Up Confusion [Take 10]
14. Mixed Up Confusion [Take 11]
15. That’s All Right, Mama [Take 3]
16. Rocks And Gravels (Solid Road) [Take 2]
17. Ballad Of Hollis Brown [Take 2]
18. Kingsport Town [Take 1]
19. When Death Comes Creepin’ (Whatcha Gonna Do?) [Take 1]
20. Hero Blues [Take 1]
21. When Death Comes Creepin’ (Whatcha Gonna Do?) [Take 1]
22. I Shall Be Free [Take 3]
23. I Shall Be Free [Take 5]
24. Hero Blues [Take 2]
25. Hero Blues [Take 4]

Disc 3:
01. Hard Times In New York Town [Mackenzie Home Tapes]
02. The Death Of Emmett Till [Mackenzie Home Tapes]
03. I Rode Out One Morning [Mackenzie Home Tapes]
04. House Of The Rising Sun [Mackenzie Home Tapes]
05. See That My Grave Is Kept Clean [Mackenzie Home Tapes]
06. Ballad Of Donald White [Mackenzie Home Tapes]
07. Honey, Just Allow Me One More Chance [Gerde's Folk City]
08. Talkin’ New York [Gerde's Folk City]
09. Corrina, Corrina [Gerde's Folk City]
10. Deep Ellum Blues [Gerde's Folk City]
11. Blowin’ In The Wind [Gerde's Folk City]
12. The Death Of Emmett Till [Finjan Club, Montreal]
13. Stealin’ [Finjan Club, Montreal]
14. Hiram Hubbard [Finjan Club, Montreal]
15. Blowin’ In The Wind [Finjan Club, Montreal]
16. Rocks And Gravel [Finjan Club, Montreal]
17. Quit Your Low Down Ways [Finjan Club, Montreal]
18. He Was A Friend Of Mine [Finjan Club, Montreal]
19. Let Me Die In My Footsteps [Finjan Club, Montreal]
20. Two Trains Runnin’ [Finjan Club, Montreal]
21. Ramblin’ On My Mind [Finjan Club, Montreal]
22. Muleskinner Blues [Finjan Club, Montreal]
23. Muleskinner Blues (Part 2) [Finjan Club, Montreal]

Disc 4:
01. Sally Gal [Carnegie Hall Hootenanny]
02. Highway 51 [Carnegie Hall Hootenanny]
03. Talking John Birch Paranoid Blues [Carnegie Hall Hootenanny]
04. Ballad Of Hollis Brown [Carnegie Hall Hootenanny]
05. A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall [Carnegie Hall Hootenanny]
06. See That My Grave Is Kept Clean [The Gaslight Café, NYC]
07. No More Auction Block [The Gaslight Café, NYC]
08. Motherless Children [The Gaslight Café, NYC]
09. Kind Hearted Woman Blues [The Gaslight Café, NYC]
10. Black Cross [The Gaslight Café, NYC]
11. Ballad Of Hollis Brown [The Gaslight Café, NYC]
12. Ain’t No More Cane [The Gaslight Café, NYC]

Keep up with Bob Dylan Examiner news. Just click on Subscribe above, or follow @DylanExaminer on Twitter. Harold Lepidus also writes the Performing Arts column for Examiner.com. Thanks for your support.

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