Bob Dylan, 1974
You cannot reasonably argue which is the best Bob Dylan album. Sure, there’s a handful to choose from, and the distance between albums of such greatness and everything below is so vast. There’s so few records in that rarified air—by any artist—there’s almost no frame of reference. Objectivity becomes impossible. Scale halfway up those heights, everything after that purely personal preference. Thusly, I feel no reason to defend Blood on the Tracks as my favorite Bob Dylan album. It’s even hard to add much to the dialogue around such albums, as his classics are now the subject of actual academic study.
As someone who follows artists through their highs as well as their lows, Blood on the Tracks calls to me as a singular blip of brilliance in the midst of his flailing mediocrity of the 70s. Bob had eclipsed his glory days (he knew it as well as anyone).
I was listening to the latest collection of Dylan’s demos, rarities and live series, More Blood, More Tracks, collecting unreleased versions and material from the making of Blood on the Tracks. During the opening track, a stripped down version of Tangled Up in Blue, I couldn’t help but notice a shift in narrative perspective. Of course, it’s always ‘her’, but he toggles sometimes in the span of a verse between ‘he’ and ‘I’. For the life of me, I couldn’t remember if that was how it had appeared on the official album. I had to go back and listen to it. I can’t tell you what those shifts mean, but Dylan is a goddamn Nobel Laureate, so I’m pretty sure it wasn’t an oversight. For me, it felt true to how some things in our history feel very present, very real, and others feel like something that just happened to somebody else, like reading history—even if it’s actions we took.
That revelation is argument enough for the vault emptying Dylan’s empire has been up to for the last decade or more. The best of Dylan survives such scrutiny. I ultimately decided I wanted both versions of this phenomenal album on hand.
Don’t get me started on the excoriating, early version of Idiot Wind…