Back in the day, record reviews were magical things….works of art in their own right. They didn’t limit themselves to a format of a song by song tear down of the album. Instead, these reviews discussed an album in the context of a story and somehow managed to communicate everything you needed to know about the music. Today I attempt to recreate the magic of the record review in my first review of a classic albums. I should note that this may be my last review if this one ends up being a bomb.
Today’s review is my take on what very well might be the best album ever recorded….Blood on the Tracks by Bob Dylan. My review takes the form of a story about the night I first listened to the album. I might have taken a few artistic liberties in the telling of the story but it is very close to what really happened. Unfortunately, it is impossible to get real songs from the album onto YouTube (licensing issues) but I have cobbled together some early recordings of the album songs, and one live performance, to make my review somewhat of a participatory event. I hope you enjoy this post! Please let me know what you think even if your feedback is negative.
I buy the album on the way home from class. I have that buzz of anticipation that I always get when I finally get my hands on an album I have been waiting for. I make it through the small talk with my parents and head to my room in the basement.
Headphones are finally on. Album is on the turntable. Raise the tone arm and lower the needle onto the album (gently). The fuzzy sound of the needle tracking before the first song. Quickly turn out the lights and head for my bed. Tangled Up In Blue is playing even before my head finds my pillow and I am transported to another place. Join me if you would like……
The opening jangle of the guitar is quickly followed by a torrent of words that flow over me. No, on second through, those words are flowing through me, painting not a static picture but a moving picture that is better than anything that I had ever seen at a theater. Some of the scenes are incredibly sharp and focused while others are slightly fuzzy making my brain race while trying to fill in the gaps between the words. The song is ending way to soon….don’t stop I need to know more.
Back to the sound of the needle tracking between the songs. I try to catch my breath while thinking that this is the best album lead off track that I have ever heard. I prepare myself to be disappointed with the remainder of the album…they always put the best song first. There is no way the rest of the album can ever live up to the promise shown by the first track. Wait…the jangling guitars are back again and before I know it I am in the middle of another story this one about about Fate. Listen with me…..
Another movie… but I am watching this movie from the inside. I am there, by the canal, walking behind the people in the song and somehow I even manage to follow them into that strange hotel without being seen. Just like before this movie ends way too soon. Three more songs and three more movies before I hear that distinctive sound of the tone arm reaching the end of record and returning the needle to its resting position on the turntable post. I think the needle must be as exhausted as I am.
I lay there for a while in the dark, initially unable to move. My need to know what is on the other side of this record eventually compels me to get up, flip the record. lower the tone arm and start the process all over again.
A part of me is hoping that the singer will have mercy and let up on the intensity of the first side of the album. Another part of me can’t wait for the assault on my senses to continue. No need to worry, the singer was just getting started on the first side! Just when I think I can’t take anymore, the second song on the second side conjures up not just a movie but an epic tale full of mysterious characters…all related somehow but I can’t seem to grasp how. Listen with me…..
I need to understand this song more than anything I am studying in school but any hope of that is always just out of reach. But… before I can fret too much, that song is over and we are on to the remainder of the album. The album finally ends and I know I should take off the headphones and go to sleep if I am going to have any hope of making my 8:00 class the tomorrow morning. Although these thoughts floating through my brain, I know in my heart that school can wait…I get up, turn over the album and start it all over again.
I am now nearing 60 and I have repeated the above process with this album more times than I care to admit. It has never failed to pull me in and make the rest of the world just disappear while I listen Maybe the most amazing thing about the album is that no matter how many times I listen to it, the level of understanding that I crave continues to elude me. I have theories about the meaning of some of the songs, but the real artistic intent of them is always just out of reach.
Genius is a word that is used too often but I have to use it to describe this album. Genius….absolute genius!