Looking backwards: Dylan, Doors, Collins, Ramones

Deluxe box sets make wonderful gifts
By Tom Von Malder | Nov 04, 2018
Photo by: Columbia/Legacy Records The cover of the new Bob Dylan bootleg box set.

Owls Head — Bob Dylan: More Blood, More Tracks: The Bootleg Series Vol. 14 Deluxe Edition (Columbia/Legacy, 6 CDs, 5:59:58). The first release in the Bob Dylan Bootleg Series was in 1991 and included a couple of tracks from this new large box set that gives an intimate view of one of Dylan's most personal albums, a masterpiece released in January 1975. The legendary New York sessions, recorded in four days, reveal masterful after masterful take of the album's songs as Dylan worked to perfect them, playing solo or just with a bass or trying with a band less successfully. Then, reportedly because he felt the tracks sounded "too monotonous," according to Glenn Berger, Dylan decided to re-record five of the songs with a band in Minneapolis, less than a month before the final album hit the stores. This was even as test pressings of the previous album version already were circulating among reviewers.

From the acoustic mostly just voice and guitar beauty of the original sessions, the five new band recordings showed a new direction for Dylan, one that would be even more prominent on his next album, "Desire," and performances with the Rolling Thunder Revue. The six-CD set contains 87 tracks, including the complete New York sessions in chronological order, including outtakes, false starts and studio banter. The latter includes a visiting Mick Jagger suggesting Dylan play slide guitar on "Meet Me in the Morning." Dylan does briefly, but deliberately incorrectly. In addition to the five songs on the test pressing that were replaced, only 12 performances out of 79 on the first five discs have previously been released and that includes the version of "Shelter from the Storm" used on the "Jerry Maguire" original soundtrack.

According to David Fricke in Rolling Stone magazine, the initial September 1974 recording in New York City were made as Dylan's 9-year marriage to the former Sara Lowndes was breaking down. Jeff Slate's liner notes in the 62-page book that also holds the CDs, points out that during the production, Dylan asked producer Phil Ramone to speed up many of the masters by 2 to 3 percent, a common practice then so the songs would have a "little extra bounce" to better engage listeners of AM radio. For this release, the songs are exactly how Dylan recorded them. One can even hear Dylan's guitar clattering against his jacket buttons during the solo take one of "You're a Big Girl Now." In fact, the first disc is all solo acoustic performances and take two of "Lily, Rosemary and the Jack of Hearts" includes a 12th verse that is not included in the final version.

For the first six tracks of disc two, Dylan tried recording with Eric Weissberg and Deliverance -- this includes three tries at "Simple Twist of Fate" -- but things did not work out and the band was dismissed. Take one of "Meet Me in the Morning" has an extra verse. By far the strongest is take two of "Call Letter Blues," which is overdubbed with pedal steel guitar. Much of disc three, including an early version of "Tangled Up in Blue," feature just Dylan on guitar and harmonica, with Tony Brown on bass and, for eight tracks, Paul Griffin on either organ or piano. Disc four has Dylan working mostly on "Buckets of Rain" and "Up To Me," first solo and then with Brown's bass. That instrumentation continues on disc five, with several versions of "Tangled Up in Blue," "Simple Twist of Fate" and "Idiot Wind." One version of the latter has an organ overdub.

The five songs Dylan re-recorded with a band in Minneapolis were "Idiot Wind," "You're a Big Girl Now," "Tangled Up in Blue," "Lily, Rosemary and the Jack of Hearts" and "If You See Her, Say Hello." When released, the album topped the Billboard 200, sold to double Platinum status and was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame in 2015. The limited edition box set also includes a 124-page hardcover photo book that includes a complete reproduction of one of Dylan's handwritten 57-page notebooks, allowing one to follow the development of the album's lyrics. Grade: A+

In addition, there is a single-CD or 2 LP edition that includes alternate New York City versions of all 10 songs from the original album, plus an unreleased take of "Up to Me."

The Doors: Waiting for the Sun: 50th Anniversary Deluxe Edition (Elektra/Rhino, 2 CDs, 1:16:15, + LP, 33 min.). The Doors' third album was their most commercially successful of their six studio albums (they also issued a live album) -- it spent four weeks atop the Billboard 200 in 1968, spurred by the chart-topping hit, "Hello, I Love You" -- but in some ways, it was a disappointing album, despite some interesting and wonderful keyboard playing by Ray Manzarek. With a couple of exceptions, vocalist Jim Morrison's poetic lyrics were more meandering. This is a numbered, limited edition of the album with bonus material.

The album's three highlights are: "Hello, I Love You," resurrected from the demo acetate recorded in September 1965 by Morrison, Manzarek and drummer John Densmore (Manzarek's brothers Rick and Jim played guitar and harmonica, respectively, back then). The fuzz-riff makes the song very appealing. "The Unknown Soldier" was a reenactment of a military execution, complete with a death-march stomp and gunfire. It was released five months ahead of the album and just made the Top 40. And the bluesy rocker, "Five To One," addressed the country's anxious youth.

Much of the album was written in the studio, TTG in Hollywood, while songs for the first two albums, "The Doors" and "Strange Days," had been honed during nightly performances on Los Angeles' Sunset Strip. The melancholy "Summer's Almost Gone" also came from the World Pacific demos, while "We Could Be So Good Together" was an outtake from "Strange Days." One of the strangest songs, "My Wild Love," is mostly percussion and a galley-slave chorale. "Not to Touch the Earth" has nice keyboards that turn weird as the song turns psychedelic. Robby Krieger plays nice Spanish guitar on "Spanish Caravan," but "Yes, the River Knows" is a failed ballad attempt.

The first CD contains the original stereo mix remastered, while the second CD contains rough mixes of nine of the songs, plus a five-song live performance from Copenhagen, Denmark on Sept. 17, 1968. All of disc two is previously unreleased. Best of the rough versions are "Hello, I Love You," "Not to Touch the Earth" and "Five to One." The live tracks include  "The Wasp (Texas Radio and the Big Beat)," "Hello, I Love You," Willie Dixon's "Back Door Man," a powerful "Five to One" and "The Unknown Soldier." The set comes with a 16-page, LP-sized booklet that includes the words to Morrison's poem, "The Celebration of the Lizard"; an essay by David Fricke of Rolling Stone magazine and Sirius XM Radio; and notes by original album engineer Bruce Botnick. There also are some very nice band photos. Grade: B

Phil Collins: Plays Well With Others (Atlantic/Rhino, 4 CDs, 4:45:48). I just love the title -- it fits the album perfectly -- and Collins' own cover drawing of a drummer. The first three CDs are broken into chronological order and showcase Collins' performances with other artists and bands, while the fourth CD collects live performances with very stellar performers.

The box set covers the byways of a career that stretches from the psychedelia of Flaming Youth, through the legendary 1970s recordings with Brand X, Brian Eno, Robert Fripp and John Cale, and into the superstar era of the 1980s, when Collins became the go-to man for legends. There also are examples from when Collins had the status to do whatever he wanted, including forming a big band with Quincy Jones conducting and Tony Bennett singing.

As Collins says in the liner notes, "Genesis, for me, was not enough. There are parts of my musical taste that weren't covered by what we did in Genesis. In theory, we could have done anything we wanted, but I was very much a minor partner at the time. I was mainly a player." This would lead to the formation of Brand X and Collins playing on Eno's records.

The collection's title comes from a joke gift. Chester Thompson, who became Genesis' day-to-day drummer once Collins had become the frontman, arranged to have a special birthday present made for Collins. It was a t-shirt with the slogan: "Plays well with others."

Disc one covers 1969 to 1982 and includes several jazzy tracks, including an unexpectedly jazzy Argent track. There are two performances with Eno (one has a vocal) and Brand X. He reunited with Peter Gabriel on "Intruder" and backs Robert Plant on "Pledge Pin." He also plays on Plant's wonderful "In the Mood" on the second disc (1982-1991) -- including a solid drum intro -- as well as artists as varied as Al Di Meola, Adam Ant, Philip Bailey (2, with "Walking on the Chinese Wall" marvelous), Eric Clapton, The Isley Brothers, Four Tops (the fun "Loco in Acapulco"), Stephen Bishop (2), Tears For Fears, Chaka Khan and the Band Aid charity effort ("Do They Know It's Christmas"). There also is Collins' own, excellent cover of Elton John's "Burn Down the Mission" and Howard Jones' "No One Is To Blame," which went nowhere initially until it was re-recorded with Collins on drums and backing vocals. The song then rose to No. 4 on the Top 40 chart.

While disc one has one John Martyn track, disc three (1991-2011) has four, along with jazz with Quincy Jones and Fourplay, hip hop with Lil' Kim (Collins' "In the Air Tonight" with rap; it actually works well) and a vocal and playing cover of the Beatles' "Golden Slumbers/Carry That Weight/The End" for a George Martin album. David Crosby and Genesis ("No Son of Mine") also appear on disc three, along with Collins' own "I've Been Trying." The live disc (1981-2002) includes Collins' doing "In the Air Tonight" (his first solo single, it is noted for its drum break towards the end), as well as collaborations with Tony Bennett, Quincy Jones, The Buddy Rich Band  and two with his Phil Collins Big Band. Showing diversity again, Collins also backs George Harrison ("While My Guitar Gently Weeps"), The Bee Gees ("You Win Again"), Clapton ("Layla"), Annie Lennox ("Why"), Bryan Adams ("Everything I Do, I Do It For You") and Joe Cocker ("With a Little Help From My Friends"). The discs are housed in the covers of the CD-sized hardcover book, with 48 pages of liner notes and archival photos in-between. Grade: A-

Ramones: Road To Ruin 40th Anniversary Deluxe Edition (Sire/Rhino, 3 CDs, 3:10:06, + LP, 31 min.). This set celebrates the Ramones' fourth studio album, with disc one containing both the original mixes remastered and an anniversary road revisited mix. The latter mix is the one contained on the vinyl LP. Disc two is 24 tracks of bonus material, all previously unreleased except for the single mixes of "Don't Come Close" and their cover of the U.K.'s Searchers' "Needles and Pins," and the fun "I Wanna Be Sedated" ("Ramones-On-45 Mega-Mix"). The third CD is a previously unreleased New Year's Eve 1979 concert at the Palladium in New York City.

While the Ramones tried to broaden their sound a bit in hopes of getting more radio airplay -- the ballad "Questioning" is actually a bit country -- they did not succeed. Only the cover of "Needles and Pins" and their classic "I Wanna Be Sedated" made any commercial headway. Another notable track is the very puckish "I'm Against It." Also contributing to a slightly different sound was the addition of drummer Marc Bell, now known as Marky Ramone, who had played with Richard Hell & The Voidoids. Previous drummer and founding member Tommy Ramone, tired of touring, had moved into producing and writing for the band.

The new album mix was created by Ed Stasium, the album's original producer. It strips off the original record's commercial gloss. Stasium also talks about the making of the album in the 16-page, LP-sized booklet, along with essays by former New York Rocker writer Roy Trakin and album cover artist John Holmstrom, and rare photos and artwork, including the unused, alternate cover image. Disc two's bonus material includes rough mixes for every album track, new mixes of unused songs "I Walk Out" and "S.L.U.G.," the instrumental backing track for "I Wanna Be Sedated," a Brit pop mix of "I Don't Want You," and acoustic versions of "Questioningly," "Needles and Pins" and "Don't Come Close." The unreleased live concert has audio sourced from Tommy Ramone's original cassette of the console recording. In addition to a handful of songs from "Road To Ruin," there are standout versions of "Blitzkrieg Bop," "Rockaway Beach" and "Sheena Is a Punk Rocker," plus covers of "California Sun," "Surfin' Bird" and "Do You Wanna Dance?" The concert covers 32 songs in 63 minutes, plus a New Year's Eve countdown. Grade: B

The newly remastered original mix of "Road to Ruin" also is available as a single CD.

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