On this day in music history: October 21, 1970 – “New Morning”, the twelfth studio album by Bob Dylan is released. Produced by Bob Johnston, it is recorded at Columbia Recording Studios, Studio B & Studio E in New York City from June – August 1970. Issued just four months after the controversial and poorly received “Self Portrait”, Dylan emerges with a much more coherent and tightly produced album, attracting raves from both critics and fans. Some speculate that the album is rushed out, in response to the negative backlash that Dylan receives, following the release of “Self Portrait”. Though most of “New Morning” had been recorded prior to the release of “Portrait”. It produces the classic “If Not For You” which is also covered by George Harrison on his solo debut “All Things Must Pass”, and a version by Olivia Newton-John is her first US hit in 1971. The majority of “Morning is recording during June and July of 1970, with "If Not For You” and “Time Passes Slowly” being re-recorded. “Day Of The Locusts” which was not finished earlier on is completed and recorded during the same session on August 12, 1970. Dylan also records cover versions of “Ballad Of Ira Hayes” and “Mr. Bojangles”, but are not included in the final track listing. Prior to the completion of the album, Dylan parts ways with his long time manager Albert Grossman, gaining full control over management of his career and music publishing. Grossman continues to maintain a financial stake in Dylan’s earlier work until his death in 1986. The album cover artwork features a portrait of a bearded Dylan on the front, without any artist name or title graphics. The back cover features a black and white photo of the musician, with blues singer Victoria Spivey. The photo is taken during a recording session where Bob had played harmonica and sang backing vocals, on an album by Spivey and Big Joe Williams. Spivey had met Dylan in 1961, while he had been playing the coffee house circuit in Greenwich Village. Becoming fast friends, she is one of his earliest supporters prior to him signing with Columbia Records. Originally released on CD in the late 80’s, the album is remastered and reissued in 2009. It is reissued on vinyl by Sony Music in 2001, with a 180 gram LP pressing released by Music On Vinyl in 2009. Mobile Fidelity Sound Lab also remasters and reissues the classic title as a limited edition hybrid SACD and 180 gram vinyl LP in 2014. “New Morning” peaks at number seven on the Billboard Top 200, and is certified Gold in the US by the RIAA.
On this day in music history: August 30, 1965 – “Highway 61 Revisited”, the sixth album by Bob Dylan is released. Produced by Bob Johnston and Tom Wilson, it is recorded at Columbia Studio A in New York City from June 15 – August 4, 1965. The second “electric album” by the prolific singer/songwriter features the first side with Dylan backed by musicians including Mike Bloomfield, Al Kooper and Harvey Brooks, while the second side is primarily acoustic ballads. The album has more of a blues oriented sound than his previous work, inspiring the albums title which is the highway that runs from Dylan’s hometown of Duluth, MN down to the Mississippi Delta. It features several songs that become standards in Dylan’s catalog including “Like A Rolling Stone” (#2 Pop), “Ballad Of A Thin Man”, “Tombstone Blues” and “It Takes A Lot To Laugh, It Takes A Train To Cry”. The album becomes one of his most acclaimed and best selling albums. The initial stereo pressing of the LP, is issued with an alternate take of “From A Buick 6”, that was used in error while compiling the original master tape. It is quickly substituted with the correct take on all subsequent pressings. All copies of the mono release contain the intended take. “Highway 61” is remastered and reissued in 2003 as a limited hybrid SACD in digi-pak packaging by Sony, before reverting to a standard redbook CD only release. In 2014, Mobile Fidelity Sound Lab reissues “Highway 61” as a double vinyl LP set mastered at 45 RPM, and as a hybrid SACD. The album is inducted into the Grammy Hall Of Fame in 2002.“Highway 61 Revisited” peaks at number three on the Billboard Top 200, is certified Platinum in the US by the RIAA.
On this day in music history: July 25, 1965 – Bob Dylan performs an “all electric” set at the Newport Folk Festival in Newport, RI. Backed by guitarist Mike Bloomfield and members of the Paul Butterfield Blues Band, this is a radical departure for the formerly acoustic based folk rock musician. Having released his fifth album “Bringing It All Back Home” in March of 1965, his first to feature electric instruments, it is immediately controversial among Dylan’s contemporaries. The act of a folk musician playing an electric guitar is considered by the audience to be musical heresy, and react negatively by booing Dylan. He leaves the stage after just three songs. The incident inspires Dylan to write and record the song “Positively 4th Street” four days later, a rebuke of former friends in the folk music community who have criticized him for “going electric”. Bob Dylan accidentally leaves the guitar that he plays during his set at Newport behind on the private chartered plane he travels from the venue on. The sunburst 1964 Fender Stratocaster thought to have been lost for over the last four decades, is found in the possession of the pilot’s family in 2012. The guitar is found with several sheets of paper in the case containing early drafts of several unfinished songs. The instrument sells at auction (from Christie’s auction house) for a record breaking $965,000 (to an anonymous bidder) in December of 2013. It surpasses the amount paid for the previous record holder, Eric Clapton’s black Fender Stratocaster nicknamed “Blackie”, which had sold for $959,000 in 2004.
On this day in music history: July 20, 1965 – “Like A Rolling Stone” by Bob Dylan is released. Written by Bob Dylan, it is the first single released from the landmark “Highway 61 Revisited” album. Dylan writes the song (starting off as a ten (or twenty) page poem before it is edited down) after returning home from a tour of England in June of 1965. The track is recorded over two days at Columbia’s Studio A in New York City on June 15 and 16, 1965. Initially written and demoed in ¾ time, Dylan abandons the original arrangement after attempting five takes, and searches for another way to express the song. Musician Al Kooper who plays Hammond Organ on the second session, is a key element in “Like A Rolling Stone” being changed to the rock arrangement, it becomes known for when he improvises the riff that runs through the song. Initially, producer Tom Wilson is not impressed by Kooper’s playing, but allows him to sit in when Paul Griffin is moved from organ to piano. The other musicians on the session include Paul Butterfield Band guitarist Mike Bloomfield, Frank Owens (piano), Joe Macho, Jr. (bass), Bruce Langhorne (tambourine) and Bobby Gregg (drums) Written in a literal stream of consciousness, the lyrics are originally composed as Dylan refers to as “a long piece of vomit”, twenty pages long before paring it down. Eventually the lyrics are crafted into four verses and a chorus. The Columbia Records is initially very hesitant, to release the six minute long track as a single, but are forced to when it is leaked to several popular and influential DJ’s who lead the charge for its release. The record is revolutionary in rock & roll history, as being the first to shatter the “three minute rule” set by AM top 40 radio. “Like A Rolling Stone” peaks at #2 on the Hot 100 on September 4, 1965. The single is inducted into the Grammy Hall Of Fame in 1998.
On this day in music history: May 17, 1967 – The documentary film “Don’t Look Back” is released. Directed by D.A. Pennebaker (“Monterey Pop”, “Ziggy Stardust And The Spiders From Mars”), the film documents Bob Dylan’s 1965 tour of the UK, and provides a rare, intimate glimpse into the personal life of the prolific, but enigmatic musician. It also features appearances from numerous people in Dylan’s inner circle including manager Albert Grossman, Joan Baez, Donovan and poet Allen Ginsburg. The opening scene of the film includes the now iconic “music video” for the song “Subterranean Homesick Blues” featuring Dylan standing in an alley way displaying cue cards of various lyrics from the song. This segment is often parodied over the years by various artists. The film has its premiere screening at the Presidio Theater in San Francisco, CA. “Don’t Look Back” is selected for preservation by the United States National Registry by the Library Of Congress in 1998 for its historic and cultural significance. In November of 2015, The Criterion Collection releases a fully restored version of the film on DVD and Blu-ray disc, featuring a new 4K high definition transfer from the original camera negative and ¼ inch monuaral soundtrack masters.
On this day in music history: May 12, 1963 – Musician Bob Dylan withdraws from an appearance on the Ed Sullivan Show. Scheduled to make his national television debut on the highly rated variety show, Dylan is told during rehearsals by the CBS network “head of program practices” that he cannot perform the song “Talkin’ John Birch Paranoid Blues”, a song from his about to be released second album “The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan”. The executive tells Dylan that the network believes that the song criticizing the John Birch Society (an ultraconservative anti-communist group, also known to have highly xenophobic and racist underpinnings), is potentially libelous. Rather than comply to the network’s wishes, Bob Dylan walks off of the show, and does not perform on US network television until he appears on The Johnny Cash Show in 1969. As a result of his declining to appear on Ed Sullivan, "Talkin’ John Birch Paranoid Blues" along with three other songs are removed from the “The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan” album and are replaced by four other songs. The initial pressing of the album featuring the deleted songs becomes one of the most valuable LP’s of all time, since nearly all copies are destroyed before being shipped to record stores. An original stereo copy of “Freewheelin’” sold at auction for over $35,000 in recent years.
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On this day in music history: April 9, 1969 – “Nashville Skyline”, the ninth studio album by Bob Dylan is released. Produced by Bob Johnston, it is recorded at Columbia Studios A in Nashville, TN from February 12 – 21, 1969. Continuing with the stripped down country influenced style of his previous album, Dylan fully immerses himself into country music. Having previously recorded at CBS Records landmark recording studio in Nashville during the sessions for “Blonde On Blonde” and “John Wesley Harding”, he returns to the Music City again to record. Musically, it delves deeper in the creative territory the musician had explored on his previous album “John Wesley Harding”. Dylan also introduces a new form of vocal expression on “Nashville Skyline”. Abandoning his trademark nasally whine, he adapts a more soothing crooning style on the album, dramatically shifting away from the vocal style that he had been previously known for. Johnny Cash who happens to be recording in an adjoining studio duets with Dylan on “Girl From The North Country”. Cash also wins a Grammy Award for writing the liner notes for the album in 1970. It spins off three singles including “Lay Lady Lay” (#7 Pop), “I Threw It All Away” (#85 Pop) and “Tonight I’ll Be Staying Here With You” (#50 Pop). “Lay Lady Lay” had originally been intended for the Oscar winning film “Midnight Cowboy”, but is passed over in favor of Harry Nilsson’s “Everybody’s Talkin’”. The album’s now iconic cover photo featuring Dylan tipping his hat and holding a guitar, is taken by photographer Elliot Landy (The Band). The Gibson J-200 acoustic guitar that Dylan is photographed holding belonged to George Harrison (seen playing it in the film “Let It Be”) and had been on loan to him. Originally released on CD in 1986, it is remastered and reissued as a hybrid SACD in a limited edition digi-pak in 2003. The SACD is discontinued shortly after its release, and a standard red book issue of the remaster in a standard jewel case is available from then on. Out of print on vinyl for many years, it is remastered and reissued as a 180 gram LP by Sundazed Music in 2007. It is followed by vinyl reissues on Simply Vinyl, Music On Vinyl and by Sony Legacy. Mobile Fidelity Sound Lab reissues the classic title as a limited edition hybrid SACD and as double vinyl set, mastered at 45 RPM. “Nashville Skyline” peaks at number three on the Billboard Top 200, and is certified Platinum in the US by the RIAA.
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