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Freewheelin' - Bob Dylan: Odds and Ends on Digital

  Few musical artistes benefited more from the medium of film, television and video than Bob Dylan, since it gave his (often obsessive) fans a little more insight into what was going on inside his mercurial mind. Bob Dylan: Odds and Ends is a compilation of music, interview and documentary down the years of Dylan's career, containing deep dives into the mythos of the star, and will prove an education for the casual fan.

Roy Silver Interview

First up, an interview with Roy Silver, Dylan's initial manager; the singer has little to say about him in an intro, other than he was a "character", but Silver is willing to chat from his office about his first impressions of the performer, how Blowin' in the Wind is his favourite song (we get the 1962 demo too, where Dylan coughs halfway through), and his misgivings about Albert Grossman, the next manager who allowed his signing to go stratospheric and really make the folk music boom of the early nineteen-sixties. Silver seems a little regretful, but happy to be part of music history.

Inside the Witmark Demos

Second, a brief interview with the chap who signed Dylan to his first record contract (filmed in a boxing gym, for some reason) where we get more demos on the soundtrack and more rare photographs of the man, as well as the first filmed footage of him, which is silent (he doesn't do very much, except attend to his guitar case and mug for the camera a little). But the Witmark record executive makes the valid point that Dylan signalled the end of the Tin Pan Alley tradition, where artists wrote and performed and owned their own work rather than just performing others' songs; not entirely true, but it did indicate "authenticity" to many fans.

Stick with Mono! The Original Mono Recordings

Third, a spoof vintage public service announcement promoting the release of Dylan's mono recordings, or rather, their re-release as these were the original mixes, for as the ad points out, stereo mixes from the sixties were often made after the fact and not as pleasing or well-assembled as the mono. It's amusing enough, though Dylan doesn't feature other than on the soundtrack.

Just Like Tom Thumb's Blues: Music Video

This is a later video for the 1965 song about a trip to Mexico and the disappointment of seeing the destitution there, though the clip compilation we see is of Dylan's touring, fans queuing around the block, press conferences, travelling from concert to concert, basically the daily grind of his life at the time. The resignation in the lyrics oddly matches the hustle and bustle of the visuals.

The Story of The Cutting Edge

The Cutting Edge: Bob Dylan 1965-66 is a selection of outtakes from his classic mid-sixties albums Bringing It All Back Home, Highway 61 Revisited and Blonde On Blonde released on vinyl and CD in various editions. This is the extended commercial for the release, earnestly portrayed and including clips of some alternate takes.

Bringing It All Back Home: The Story of the Album Cover

A brief documentary on the cover, an image that invites you to decipher it with its collection of stuff scattered around behind Dylan (holding a Persian cat) and Grossman's wife Sally posing behind. You imagine some fans have pored over the image for longer than this gives it.

Highway 61 Revisited: The Story of the Album Cover

Journalist Bob Egan is back to do the same for this cover, interviewing the photographer for the image of Dylan sitting in front of a door staring down the lens while someone stands holding a camera behind him.

Blonde on Blonde: The Story of an Album Cover

Guess what? Egan again, for his website investigating album covers, and the famously blurry one here. Photographer Jerry Schatzberg explains it was really cold the February day they snapped it, hence the shivery blur, not a statement on drugs or anything else - Dylan chose it and so it stuck.

Visions of Johanna: Music Video

One of the fan favourite songs gets an after the fact video, occasionally showing Dylan but more often than not an assembly of images of eyes, hands, guns, and so on, appropriately difficult to pin down for one of his most confounding lyrics.

The Untold Story of the 1966 Live Recordings

A more substantial bit here, where the sound engineer on Dylan's 1966 tour of Europe, Richard Alderson, shares reminiscences about the controversial gigs where the singer tried out his electric material to not always a great welcome, the diehards there because they wanted to hear him do the folk music he became famous for. There were problems with the sound, Alderson lost control of the tapes they made, and many in the audience were actively hostile - from what we see, so was Dylan, especially in front of the French crowd as he deliberately interrupted his set to tune up for twenty minutes and draped a massive Stars and Stripes on the stage behind him (!). Alderson, at least, seems pleased the recordings were preserved.

From the Village to the Basement

This is another ad, narrated by Jeff Bridges no less, describing the creation of The Basement Tapes, those late sixties recordings of jams, improvs, covers and so on with The Band that the massed armies of Dylan fans sought after so badly. The image is of a sped-up car journey from New York City to Big Pink, the house where they were recorded.

The Basement Tapes: The Legendary Tale

Possibly the most famous bootlegs of all time, and the songs that kicked off the Americana genre that lasts to this day, were captured in the Woodstock barn while Dylan was ostensibly taking a break from touring and to recuperate after his serious motorcycle accident. He got The Band together and they began what started as rehearsal and experimentation turned into the stuff of folk and country rock legend, and this short documentary, another promotion for the CD release of yet another volume, gathers experts like Griel Marcus and Sid Griffin to expound on the history and significance of them. That there was still fresh material to be found from these sessions is almost a standing joke: they seem to have recorded about a decade's worth of albums in that basement, but the attraction of that supposedly secret set of songs remains.

Dylan in Nashville: The Story of Travelin' Thru 1967-69

This was the album Dylan made with Johnny Cash back in the late sixties when he travelled to Nashville to immerse himself in the country scene, but the record company refused to release it because they both talked on it during the songs (it was a very relaxed set of sessions). This is an extended promo for the eventual release, with interviewees including Rosanne Cash and Darius Rucker, that fills out the story of the meeting of minds.

Reflections of Another Self Portrait

Self Portrait was Dylan's 1970 album, or rather, his first 1970 album as the story goes it suffered such a poor recepton from critics and fans that he rushed out another, New Morning, which was supposedly more what was expected of him. This is a short on that year's output with contributors like Al Kooper telling us what it was like to play on it and considering a reassessment may be due. Although not on the Self Portrait album cover, which is one of the worst of all time.

Columbia Records In-House Sales Video for Blood on the Tracks

That's precisely what this is, a reassurance for record shop owners that the new Dylan album is an instant classic, and that's a fact, according to celebrated exec John Hammond and producer Don DeVito who are interviewed throughout. Although they talk big, you can sense a little unease about Dylan returning to Columbia mid-seventies, and an uncertainty that this would work out. They did, of course, have nothing to worry about: though critics were initially divided, Blood on the Tracks was a hit, and is a classic today.

Dylan: Career Spanning Hits Promo

To end on, an ad from 2007 for a Dylan compilation, that aptly features a compilation of clips and songs for around a minute.

All in all, for a career like Dylan's this barely scratches the surface, on the other hand, for any Dylan fans it should provide two hours of entertainment simply hearing people speak warmly of the man and his enormous legacy. For newcomers, it will set a lot in context, despite more or less wrapping up in 1975, when he's still going in his eighties. But it is assembled with respect.

Also available from Sony:

Bob Dylan: Trouble No More - A Musical Film (a look at his Born Again Christian period)

The Other Side of the Mirror: Bob Dylan Live at Newport Folk Festival 1963-65 (a compilation of these famed performances)

Bob Dylan: The 30th Anniversary Concert Celebration (a concert featuring stars singing Dylan songs)

Bob Dylan: MTV Unplugged (the 1994 broadcast, an acoustic concert with Dylan)
Author: Graeme Clark.

 

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Last Updated: 31 March, 2018