August 20: Bob Dylan – The Gospel Years, Part 3 – Slow Train Coming (album)

bob dylan slow train coming

It’s in my system. I don’t really have enough time to talk about it. If someone really wants to know, I can explain it to them, but there are other people who can do it just as well. I don’t feel compelled to do it. I was doing a bit of that last year on the stage. I was saying stuff I figured people needed to know. I thought I was giving people an idea of what was behind the songs. I don’t think it’s necessary any more. When I walk around some of the towns we go to, however, I’m totally convinced people need Jesus. Look at the junkies and the winos and the troubled people. It’s all a sickness which can be healed in an instant. The powers that be won’t let that happen. The powers that be say it has to be healed politically.
~Bob Dylan (to Robert Hilburn – Nov 1980)

Musically, this is probably Dylan’s finest record, a rare coming together of inspiration, desire and talent that completely fuse strength, vision and art.
~Jann S. Wenner (rollingstone.com – Sept. 1979)

Slow Train Coming was a collection of songs Dylan had originally intended to donate to backing singer Carolyn Dennis.
~Clinton Heylin (The Recording Sessions)

More posts in the series:

 

From Wikipedia:

Released August 20, 1979
Recorded April 30-May 11, 1979
Genre Rock, gospel, Christian rock
Length 46:19
Label Columbia
Producer Jerry Wexler
Barry Beckett

Sometimes I feel so low-down and disgusted
Can’t help but wonder what’s happenin’ to my companions
Are they lost or are they found
Have they counted the cost it’ll take to bring down
All their earthly principles they’re gonna have to abandon?
There’s a slow, slow train comin’ up around the bend
~Bob Dylan (from the title cut)

Slow Train Coming:

Slow Train Coming is Dylan’s 19th studio album, released by Columbia Records in August 1979.

It was his first effort since becoming a born-again Christian, and all of the songs either express his strong personal faith, or stress the importance of Christian teachings and philosophy. The evangelical nature of the record alienated many of Dylan’s existing fans; at the same time, many Christians were drawn into his fan base. Slow Train Coming was listed at #16 in the 2001 book CCM Presents: The 100 Greatest Albums in Christian Music.

The album was generally well-reviewed in the secular press, and the single “Gotta Serve Somebody” became his first hit in three years, winning Dylan the Grammy for best rock vocal performance by a male in 1980. The album peaked at #2 on the charts in the UK and went platinum in the US, where it reached #3.

bob dylan slow train sessions muscle shoals

Today I’m accused of being a follower of religion. But I’ve always been a follower! My thoughts, my personal needs have always been expressed through my songs; you can feel them there even in ‘Mr Tambourine Man’. When I write a song, when I make a record, I don’t think about whether it’ll sell millions of copies. I only think about making it, the musical end-product, the sound, and the rhythmic effect of the words. It’s purely a technical piece of work because the most important thing is to come out with something that’s perfect artistically. Even Charlie Chaplin used to say that and I respect him for that judgment.
~Bob Dylan (to Sandra Jones – June 1981)





Musically, this is probably Dylan’s finest record, a rare coming together of inspiration, desire and talent that completely fuse strength, vision and art.Bob Dylan is the greatest singer of our times. No one is better. No one, in objective fact, is even very close. His versatility and vocal skills are unmatched. His resonance and feeling are beyond those of any of his contemporaries. More than his ability with words, and more than his insight, his voice is God’s greatest gift to him.So when I listen to “When He Returns,” the words finally don’t matter at all. They are as good as they ever were, maybe even better.I am hearing a voice.
~Jann S. Wenner (rollingstone.com)

…. when Jerry Wexler agreed to produce, he was unaware of the nature of the material that awaited him.
“Naturally, I wanted to do the album in Muscle Shoals—as Bob did—but we decided to prep it in L.A., where Bob lived,” recalls Wexler. “That’s when I learned what the songs were about: born-again Christians in the old corral … I liked the irony of Bob coming to me, the Wandering Jew, to get the Jesus feel … [But] I had no idea he was on this born-again Christian trip until he started to evangelize me. I said, ‘Bob, you’re dealing with a sixty-two-year-old confirmed Jewish atheist. I’m hopeless. Let’s just make an album.'”

Jerry Wexler Talks Bob Dylan and Slow Train Coming:

Track listing:

All songs were written by Bob Dylan.
Side one

  1. “Gotta Serve Somebody” – 5:22
  2. “Precious Angel” – 6:27
  3. “I Believe in You” – 5:02
  4. “Slow Train” – 5:55

Side two

  1. “Gonna Change My Way of Thinking” – 5:25
  2. “Do Right to Me Baby (Do Unto Others)” – 3:50
  3. “When You Gonna Wake Up” – 5:25
  4. “Man Gave Names to All the Animals” – 4:23
  5. “When He Returns” – 4:30

bob dylan slow train back

My 5 fav songs from the album:

  • Slow Train
  • Gotta Serve Somebody
  • When He Returns
  • I Believe In You
  • Precious Angel


Anyone else, riding as high as Dylan was in 1978, would have stuck with the same band and produced another Street Legal-type album. Dylan did no such thing. Converted to Born Again Christianity, he gathered different musicians around him and produced an album destined to be profoundly unpopular amongst almost everyone who’d ever valued him as a writer. It is not, however, an album that can be ignored, and in some ways now seems a logical direction for Dylan to have taken. No-one should have been surprised at Dylan choosing to add gospel to the many different modes of American popular music he has covered (and so well) on his artistic travels over the decades. Musically it’s strong, and strikingly well produced in Alabama’s Muscle Shoals Sound Studio under the supervision of veteran Atlantic Records producer JERRY WEXLER. Stand-out tracks are ‘Gotta Serve Somebody’, ‘Precious  Angel’, ‘Slow Train’ and ‘When He Returns’.
~Michael Gray (The Bob Dylan Encyclopedia)





Slow Train Coming finds Dylan and his audience both confused about who they are to each other. Long-time listeners who are not evangelical Christians can’t help but ask themselves, “ls he trying to convert me? ls he calling me a fool? Is he sharing his feelings with me, or mocking me? Am I one of the ‘so-called friends’ he talks about? ls he asking me to identify with what he’s going through, or is he waving goodbye?” Dylan for his part seems to have made a supreme (and very successful) effort to make an album that sounds good, that will appeal to a large audience, that leads off with a hit single, that puts him forward as a mature musical artist and popular performer (all things he reached for but failed to achieve with Street-Legal).
-Paul Williams (Bob Dylan: Performing Artist, Vol 2: The Middle Years 1974-1986)

Reception:

  • Greil Marcus wrote, “Dylan’s received truths never threaten the unbeliever, they only chill the soul” and accused Dylan of “sell[ing] a prepackaged doctrine he’s received from someone else.”
  • According to Clinton Heylin, “Marcus isolated Slow Train Coming’s greatest flaw, an inevitable by-product of his determination to capture the immediacy of newfound faith in song.”
  • Robert Christgau gave a mostly positive review, grading it a B+. “The lyrics are indifferently crafted,” wrote Christgau, “and while their one-dimensionality is winningly perverse at a time when his old fans will take any ambiguity they can get, it does serve to flaunt their theological wrongheadedness and occasional jingoism. Nevertheless, this is his best album since Blood on the Tracks. The singing is passionate and detailed, and the pros behind him – especially Mark Knopfler, who has a studio career in store – play so sharply that his anger gathers general relevance at its most vindictive. And so what if he’s taken up with the God of Wrath? Since when have you been so crazy about the God of Love? Or any other species of hippie bullshit?”
  • Reviewing the album in Rolling Stone magazine, Jann Wenner proclaimed it “one of the finest records Dylan has ever made.”
  • On October 18, 1979, Dylan promoted the album with his first—and, to date, only—appearance on Saturday Night Live, performing “Gotta Serve Somebody,” “I Believe In You,” and “When You Gonna Wake Up.”

Charts:

Year Chart Position
1979 Australian Kent Music Report Albums Chart 1
1979 UK Albums Chart 2
1979 U.S. Billboard Albums Chart 3

Personnel:

  • Bob Dylan – guitar, vocals
  • Mark Knopfler – lead guitar
  • Tim Drummond – bass
  • Barry Beckett – keyboards, percussion
  • Pick Withers – drums
  • Mickey Buckins – percussion
  • Muscle Shoals – horns
  • Carolyn Dennis – background vocals
  • Helena Springs – background vocals
  • Regina Havis – background vocals
  • Harrison Calloway – arrangements
  • Gregg Hamm – engineer
  • David Yates – assistant engineer
  • Paul Wexler – original mastering supervision
  • Bobby Hatta – original mastering engineer
  • Wm. Stetz — cover concept/design

Precious angel, under the sun
How was I to know you’d be the one
To show me I was blinded, to show me I was gone
How weak was the foundation I was standing upon ?

Precious Angel

Album @ spotify:

Check out:

-Egil

4 thoughts on “August 20: Bob Dylan – The Gospel Years, Part 3 – Slow Train Coming (album)”

  1. I heard the sound of a thunder, it roared out a warnin’
    Then stand on the ocean until its all sinkin’

    I met one man who was wounded in love
    I met another man who was wounded with hatred

    now hunger is over, where souls are rising
    a highway of diamonds with everybody on it

    And it’s a hard, it’s a hard, it’s a hard,
    my darling young one

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *