August 10: Bob Dylan released Shot of Love in 1981
I hear the ancient footsteps like the motion of the sea
Sometimes I turn, there’s someone there, other times it’s only me
I am hanging in the balance of the reality of man
Like every sparrow falling, like every grain of sand
Shot of Love is Bob Dylan’s 21st studio album, it was released by Columbia Records in August 1981.
It is generally considered to be Dylan’s last of a trilogy of overtly religious, Christian albums. Also, it was his first since becoming born-again to focus on secular themes, from straight-ahead love songs to an ode to the deceased comedian Lenny Bruce. Arrangements are rooted more in rock’n’roll, less in gospel than on Dylan’s previous two albums. So maybe it is more of a new start than a gospel-tinged end?
At the time of its release, Shot of Love received mixed reviews; Paul Nelson of Rolling Stone in particular savaged the album, though he did single out the last track, “Every Grain of Sand,” as a stand-out. Shot of Love, while reaching UK #6, continued Dylan’s US commercial decline, reaching #33 during a brief chart stay. By contrast, Bono of Irish band U2 described Shot of Love as one of his favorites, particularly due to Dylan’s singing ability.
“To those who care where Bob Dylan is at, they should listen to “Shot of Love.” It’s my most perfect song. It defines where I am spiritually, musically, romantically and whatever else. It shows where my sympathies lie. It’s all there in that one song.”
– Bob Dylan (NME 1983)
A large number of songs recorded during the Shot of Love sessions were ultimately omitted from the final album, but several outtakes later found their way into private circulation.
A number of critics had already turned on Dylan for the evangelism of his last two albums, but the reception for Shot of Love was particularly harsh. Despite lavish praise of “Every Grain Of Sand,” Paul Nelson of Rolling Stone savaged the rest of the album. Nick Kent of New Musical Express called it “Dylan’s worst album to date.” Despite heavy touring in Europe and North America (in which all but two songs were performed), sales of Shot of Love were below CBS’s expectations. Still, in an interview taken in 1983, Dylan would describe Shot of Love as a personal favorite.
Great live version of Every Grain of Sand – Paris 84 (audio, with Mick Taylor on lead guitar):
Shot of Love finds Dylan still in born-again mode, but he’s starting to come alive again — which isn’t as much a value judgment as it is an observation that he no longer seems beholden to repeating dogma, loosening up and crafting songs again. And it’s not just that his writing is looser, the music is, too, as he lets himself — and his backing band — rock a little harder, a little more convincingly. Shot of Love still isn’t a great album, but it once again has flashes of brilliance, such as “Every Grain of Sand,” which point the way to the rebirth of Infidels.
– Stephen Thomas Erwine (allmusic)
I still believe it is an underrated album, yes I know that it has been somewhat reassessed, but the new reviews normally says: “It’s not as bad as they said…”. I think that is wrong, it is in fact a very good album. Put in on, play it loud and marvel at yet another great Bob Dylan record! And check out all these fantastic versions of Every Grain of Sand!
Album of the day:
Here are some great Shot of Love outtakes:
Shot of love, Heart of Mine, Yonder Comes Sin:
Let it be me: