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The 5 best songs Bob Dylan left in the studio – updated..


Bob Dylan left many a jewel in the studio. Some were rerecorded for later albums, others were abandoned for good.

All the songs on this list have been officially released at a later date.. they might not be the best version of the song.. I will point out.. but at least he eventually put a version out.

The List:

  1. Blind Willie McTell
  2. Idiot Wind – New York version
  3. She’s Your Lover Now
  4. Red River Shore
  5. Caribbean Wind

Details:

1. Blind Willie McTell

To resolve is nothing more than letting go. Do You think Rembrandt ever finished a painting?
-Dylan, to Allen Ginsberg, October 1977

I didn’t think I recorded it right
– Dylan to Kurt Loder (1984)

A legendary must-have bootleg-version.. song. On my personal “top 200 best Dylan songs” list this sits firmly as number 5.

BTW – Clinton Heylin argues that Dylan was in fact thinking og “Blind Willie Johnson”.. and not “Blind Willie McTell”… I think maybe he’s right.

Available & recommended versions:

  • Studio A, Power Station, New York City, New York – May 5, 1983.
    Released on “The Bootleg Series Volumes 1-3″ – 1991
    Fantastic acoustic version, but… not the best..
  •  Studio A, Power Station, New York City, New York – April 18, 1983.
    The date here is not certain
    This is the “electric” version known to collectors for many years. Check out the bootleg: “Rough Cuts – Infidels outtakes
    This is my fav version.

 

Acoustic version:

Electric version:

 

Seen the arrow on the doorpost
Saying, “This land is condemned
All the way from New Orleans
To Jerusalem”
I traveled through East Texas
Where many martyrs fell
And I know no one can sing the blues
Like Blind Willie McTell

Well, I heard that hoot owl singing
As they were taking down the tents
The stars above the barren trees
Were his only audience
Them charcoal gypsy maidens
Can strut their feathers well
But nobody can sing the blues
Like Blind Willie McTell

See them big plantations burning
Hear the cracking of the whips
Smell that sweet magnolia blooming
See the ghosts of slavery ships
I can hear them tribes a-moaning
Hear that undertaker’s bell
Nobody can sing the blues
Like Blind Willie McTell

There’s a woman by the river
With some fine young handsome man
He’s dressed up like a squire
Bootlegged whiskey in his hand
There’s a chain gang on the highway
I can hear them rebels yell
And I know no one can sing the blues
Like Blind Willie McTell

Well, God is in His heaven
And we all want what’s His
But power and greed and corruptible seed
Seem to be all that there is
I’m gazing out the window
Of the St. James Hotel
And I know no one can sing the blues
Like Blind Willie McTell

 

2. Idiot Wind – New York version

If you’ve heard both versions, you realize, of course, that there could be a myriad of verses for the thing. It doesn’t stop… Where do you end?… It’s something that could be a work continually in progress.
– Dylan to Paul Zollo, 1991

The original released version: Sound 80 Studio – Minneapolis, MN – 12/27/74
Blood On The Tracks (1975)

Okay… This is cheating.. as he didn’t leave the song out of the coming album… BUT he left the best version out :-)

  • Alt version1: Columbia Studio A, New York – 09/19/74
    The Bootleg Series 1-3 (Rare & Unreleased) 1961-1991 (1991)
  • My Fav:  Alt version2: (organ version): Columbia Studio A, New York – 09/16/74 –  overdubbed Oct 8
    similar to Bootleg Series vol 2 but different take – softer with subtle organ
    Not released – New York Sessions bootleg
  • Rolling Thunder Revue II version (1976)
    Live at Hughes Stadium, Colorado State University, Fort Collins, Colorado – 05/23/76
    Hard Rain (1976)
“.. he recast it the following month as the centerpiece of the 1976 Revue, ready to twist the blade on his ‘sweet lady’”
– Clinton Heylin (Still On The Road)
lyrics:

Someone’s got it in for me, they’re planting stories in the press
Whoever it is I wish they’d cut it out but when they will I can only guess
They say I shot a man named Gray and took his wife to Italy
She inherited a million bucks and when she died it came to me
I can’t help it if I’m lucky

People see me all the time and they just can’t remember how to act
Their minds are filled with big ideas, images and distorted facts
Even you, yesterday you had to ask me where it was at
I couldn’t believe after all these years, you didn’t know me better than that
Sweet lady

Idiot wind, blowing every time you move your mouth
Blowing down the backroads headin’ south
Idiot wind, blowing every time you move your teeth
You’re an idiot, babe
It’s a wonder that you still know how to breathe

I ran into the fortune-teller, who said beware of lightning that might strike
I haven’t known peace and quiet for so long I can’t remember what it’s like
There’s a lone soldier on the cross, smoke pourin’ out of a boxcar door
You didn’t know it, you didn’t think it could be done, in the final end he won the wars
After losin’ every battle

I woke up on the roadside, daydreamin’ ’bout the way things sometimes are
Visions of your chestnut mare shoot through my head and are makin’ me see stars
You hurt the ones that I love best and cover up the truth with lies
One day you’ll be in the ditch, flies buzzin’ around your eyes
Blood on your saddle

Idiot wind, blowing through the flowers on your tomb
Blowing through the curtains in your room
Idiot wind, blowing every time you move your teeth
You’re an idiot, babe
It’s a wonder that you still know how to breathe

It was gravity which pulled us down and destiny which broke us apart
You tamed the lion in my cage but it just wasn’t enough to change my heart
Now everything’s a little upside down, as a matter of fact the wheels have stopped
What’s good is bad, what’s bad is good, you’ll find out when you reach the top
You’re on the bottom

I noticed at the ceremony, your corrupt ways had finally made you blind
I can’t remember your face anymore, your mouth has changed, your eyes
don’t look into mine
The priest wore black on the seventh day and sat stone-faced while the
building burned
I waited for you on the running boards, near the cypress trees, while the
springtime turned
Slowly into Autumn

Idiot wind, blowing like a circle around my skull
From the Grand Coulee Dam to the Capitol
Idiot wind, blowing every time you move your teeth
You’re an idiot, babe
It’s a wonder that you still know how to breathe

I can’t feel you anymore, I can’t even touch the books you’ve read
Every time I crawl past your door, I been wishin’ I was somebody else instead
Down the highway, down the tracks, down the road to ecstasy
I followed you beneath the stars, hounded by your memory
And all your ragin’ glory

I been double-crossed now for the very last time and now I’m finally free
I kissed goodbye the howling beast on the borderline which separated you from me
You’ll never know the hurt I suffered nor the pain I rise above
And I’ll never know the same about you, your holiness or your kind of love
And it makes me feel so sorry

Idiot wind, blowing through the buttons of our coats
Blowing through the letters that we wrote
Idiot wind, blowing through the dust upon our shelves
We’re idiots, babe
It’s a wonder we can even feed ourselves

Alt version 1:

Alt version 2:

 

3. She’s Your Lover Now

Pain sure brings out the best in people, doesn’t it?
– Dylan,  She’s Your Lover Now

This one is many “Blonde On Blonder’s” fav Dylan outtake..

On January 21, 1966 @ Studio A, Columbia Recording Studios, NYC Dylan tried this song 19 times. It was the only song he tried this day, he would never return to it..

None of the 19 cuts were complete… he never nailed it.. but the one on “The Bootleg Seriers 1-3″ came close…

Lyrics:

The pawnbroker roared
Also, so, so did the landlord
The scene was so crazy, wasn’t it?
Both were so glad
To watch me destroy what I had
Pain sure brings out the best in people, doesn’t it?
Why didn’t you just leave me if you didn’t want to stay?
Why’d you have to treat me so bad?
Did it have to be that way?
Now you stand here expectin’ me to remember somethin’ you forgot to say
Yes, and you, I see you’re still with her, well
That’s fine ’cause she’s comin’ on so strange, can’t you tell?
Somebody had better explain
She’s got her iron chain
I’d do it, but I, I just can’t remember how
You talk to her
She’s your lover now

I already assumed
That we’re in the felony room
But I ain’t a judge, you don’t have to be nice to me
But please tell that
To your friend in the cowboy hat
You know he keeps on sayin’ ev’rythin’ twice to me
You know I was straight with you
You know I’ve never tried to change you in any way
You know if you didn’t want to be with me
That you could . . . didn’t have to stay
Now you stand here sayin’ you forgive and forget. Honey, what can I say?
Yes, you, you just sit around and ask for ashtrays, can’t you reach?
I see you kiss her on the cheek ev’rytime she gives a speech
With her picture books of the pyramid
And her postcards of Billy the Kid (why must everybody bow?)
You better talk to her ’bout it
You’re her lover now

Oh, ev’rybody that cares
Is goin’ up the castle stairs
But I’m not up in your castle, honey
It’s true, I just can’t recall
San Francisco at all
I can’t even remember El Paso, uh, honey
You never had to be faithful
I didn’t want you to grieve
Oh, why was it so hard for you
If you didn’t want to be with me, just to leave?
Now you stand here while your finger’s goin’ up my sleeve
An’ you, just what do you do anyway? Ain’t there nothin’ you can say?
She’ll be standin’ on the bar soon
With a fish head an’ a harpoon
An’ a fake beard plastered on her brow
You’d better do somethin’ quick
She’s your lover now

from youtube:

and Spotify:

 

4. Red River Shore

Jim Dickinson (one of  my many Memphis heroes) always claimed “Red River Shore” was the best song they cut on the Time Out Of Mind Sessions, and was glad to see it finally released on Tell Tale Signs

Also according to Dickinson Dylan said: “Well, We’ve done everything on that one except call the symphony orchestra…..”

Recorded @ Criteria Studios, Miami, Florida, January 1997

Finally released on: The Bootleg Series Vol. 8 – Tell Tale Signs: Rare and Unreleased 1989–2006 (2008)

Lyrics:

Some of us turn off the lights and we live
In the moonlight shooting by
Some of us scare ourselves to death in the dark
To be where the angels fly
Pretty maids all in a row lined up
Outside my cabin door
I’ve never wanted any of them wanting me
‘Cept the girl from the Red River shore

Well, I sat by her side and for a while I tried
To make that girl my wife
She gave me her best advice and she said
“Go home and lead a quiet life.”
Well, I’ve been to the east and I’ve been to the west
And I’ve been out where the black winds roar
Somehow, though, I never did get that far
With the girl from the Red River shore

Well, I knew when I first laid eyes on her
I could never be free
One look at her and I knew right away
She should always be with me
Well, the dream dried up a long time ago
Don’t know where it is anymore
True to life, true to me
Was the girl from the Red River shore

Now I’m wearing the cloak of misery
And I’ve tasted jilted love
And the frozen smile upon my face
Fits me like a glove
But I can’t escape from the memory
Of the one that I’ll always adore
All those nights when I lay in the arms
Of the girl from the Red River shore

Well, we’re living in the shadows of a fading past
Trapped in the fires of time
I’ve tried not to ever hurt anybody
And to stay out of a life of crime
And when it’s all been said and done
I never did know the score
One more day is another day away
From the girl from the Red River shore

Well, I’m a stranger here in a strange land
But I know this is where I belong
I’ll ramble and gamble for the one I love
And the hills will give me a song
Though nothing looks familiar to me
I know I’ve stayed here before
Once, a thousand nights ago
With the girl from the Red River shore

Well, I went back to see about it once
Went back to straighten it out
Everybody that I talked to had seen us there
Said they didn’t know who I was talking about
Well, the sun went down on me a long time ago
I’ve had to fall back from the door
I wish I could have spent every hour of my life
With the girl from the Red River shore

Now, I’ve heard of a guy who lived a long time ago
A man full of sorrow and strife
Whenever someone around him died and was dead
He knew how to bring ‘em on back to life
Well, I don’t know what kind of language he used
Or if they do that kind of thing anymore
Sometimes I think nobody ever saw me here at all
‘Cept the girl from the Red River shore

Cannot find any clip on youtube or google video search.. have to do with Spotify only:

 

5. Caribbean Wind

“I couldn’t quite grasp what [‘Caribbean Wind’] was about, after I finished it. Sometimes you write something to be very inspired, and you won’t quite finish it for one reason or another. Then you’ll go back and try and pick it up, and the inspiration is just gone. Either you get it all, and you can leave a few little pieces to fill in, or you’re trying always to finish it off. Then it’s a struggle. The inspiration’s gone and you can’t remember why you started it in the first place. Frustration sets in.”
– Dylan, to Cameron Crowe

It is a song that both musically and lyrics wise went through considerable changes… for the worse…

Available versions:

  • Rundown Studios, Santa Monica, CA – April 7, 1981
    Released on “Biograph” boxset in 1985
    Good version.
  • Studio 55, LA – March 31, 1981
    circulating and available on many bootlegs (Genuine Bootleg series vol.1, Hard To Find, Vol1, ..)
    Great version.
  • Fox Warfield Theatre, San Francisco November 12, 1980
    The only live version he ever did… and it is phenomenal.
    Please seek out the concert recording (audience recording)
    BEST version..

(Official) Lyrics:

She was the rose of Sharon from paradise lost
From the city of seven hills near the place of the cross
I was playing a show in Miami in the theater of divine comedy
Told about Jesus, told about the rain
She told me about the jungle where her brothers were slain
By a man who danced on the roof of the embassy

Was she a child or a woman, I can’t say which
From one to another she could easily switch
We went into the wall to where the long arm of the law could not reach
Could I been used and played as a pawn?
It certainly was possible as the gay night wore on
Where men bathed in perfume and celebrated free speech

And them Caribbean winds still blow from Nassau to Mexico
Fanning the flames in the furnace of desire
And them distant ships of liberty on them iron waves so bold and free
Bringing everything that’s near to me nearer to the fire

She looked into my soul through the clothes that I wore
She said, “We got a mutual friend over by the door
And you know he’s got our best interest in mind”
He was well connected but her heart was a snare
And she had left him to die in there
There were payments due and he was a little behind

The cry of the peacock, flies buzz my head
Ceiling fan broken, there’s a heat in my bed
Street band playing “Nearer My God to Thee”
We met at the steeple where the mission bells ring
She said, “I know what you’re thinking, but there ain’t a thing
You can do about it, so let us just agree to agree”

And them Caribbean winds still blow from Nassau to Mexico
Fanning the flames in the furnace of desire
And them distant ships of liberty on them iron waves so bold and free
Bringing everything that’s near to me nearer to the fire

Atlantic City by the cold grey sea
I hear a voice crying, “Daddy,” I always think it’s for me
But it’s only the silence in the buttermilk hills that call
Every new messenger brings evil report
’Bout armies on the march and time that is short
And famines and earthquakes and hatred written upon walls

Would I have married her? I don’t know, I suppose
She had bells in her braids and they hung to her toes
But I kept hearing my name and had to be movin’ on
I saw screws break loose, saw the devil pound tin
I saw a house in the country being torn from within
I heard my ancestors calling from the land far beyond

And them Caribbean winds still blow from Nassau to Mexico
Fanning the flames in the furnace of desire
And them distant ships of liberty on them iron waves so bold and free
Bringing everything that’s near to me nearer to the fire

Studio 55 version:

and… there used to be a youtube upload of the Fox Warfield live version.. but it’s gone… again: please seek it out.. it’s amazing!

UPDATE

AND…many thanks to James (comment) for uploading it!

BTW…

6. Series of Dreams
7.  If You See Her Say Hello – New York version
8.  Lay Down Your Weary Tune
9.  I’ll Keep It With Mine
10. Dignity
11. Angelina
12. Call Letter Blues
13. I Wanne Be Your Lover
14. Foot Of Pride
15. Golden Loom

 

-Egil

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28 Comments

  1. “Sign On the Cross”

    • Hi,

      Thanks for feedback!

      “Sign On the Cross” is a beautiful song… but has not been officially released in any form.. as far as I know.. thus ruled out of my list :-)

  2. If you can incorporate it into the article, the live version of Caribbean Wind, complete with introductory Ledbelly story.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CmgvKgScXLU

  3. Mississippi??!!

    • Thanks for the feedback Tim,

      I didn’t really consider Mississippi. Contrary to the other songs here.. He did a wise thing leaving it of Time Out Of Mind… and he picket it up for Love & Theft.. and nailed a far better version then the others I have heard from TOOM sessions.

      .. and it was released on a oridinary studio album…

      good point anyway..

  4. Solid list, but …. for me, at least, one absolutely glaring omission: no “Up To Me.”

    I mean, not even in your top fifteen? Egads!

    • Thanks for the feedback Cory!

      It didn’t make top 15.
      I’m listening to it while I write this… and it is fantastic song!
      Maybe I should have squeezed it in.. When I write about the songs from 6-15 (or 20)… things could change. top 5 will not change.. but further down things change all the time.. :-)

  5. My “top” Dylan songs change all the time, so I know what you mean. I agree with all of your Top 11 being what I would call Tier-1 songs (a designation I obviously apply to ‘Up To Me’ as well). Just for fun, I’ll suggest one of my own Tier-two songs: Abandoned love. Technically the live version he test drove but one single time (I’ll post the link below if it’ll let me), but nonetheless perhaps qualifies due to the lesser studio version released on Biograph.

    Thanks for the post – fun stuff to talk about!

    • On my top 200 Dylan songs list.. Abandoned love is no. 94.. and Golden Loom is 93.. som it would have been 16 on this list :-)

      I also prefer the “the other end” version.
      Thanks for the link.

      We all love lists… don’t we :-)

  6. Nice List,
    I don’t know whether it’s against your rules for songs to make the list, but surely the likes of Tears of Rage, I Shall be Released and When I Paint my Masterpiece are worth consideration.
    BTW a very enjoyable read, thanks!
    Dave

    • However in my opinion, the best versions of all of these songs are the Band originals!

      • .. I Love The Band… but I disagree.
        Only Tears of Rage.. maybee, but the other two are clean Dylan for me.

    • Thanks for the feedback Dave!

      In fact I didn’t consider any of them for this list.
      If I had, When I paint My Masterpiece & I Shall Be Released would have made top 10! Tears of Rage.. not top 15.. but top 20.

  7. Someone’s got a hold of my heart
    from the Infidels sessions, available on the rough cuts bootleg. Much beter version than the one released on Bootleg series vol 3

    • Thank you for the feedback Henk,

      I agree that this is a better version. Didn’t consider it.. maybe I should have although it was later released on an ordinary album (contrary to Mississippi, in a far worse version).

  8. Abandoned Love will always be not only my fav Dylan outtake, but my fav Dylan song, full stop. Number two is Up To Me, number three is Blind Willie McTell.

  9. Thumbs up for #9, “I’ll Keep It With Mine.” It was great to finally have Dylan’s fine version after Nico’s, Fairport Convention’s, Judy Collins’ and the others.

    Regarding “Blind Willie McTell,” it doesn’t have to be about any one blues singer once you decide it’s not strictly about McTell. Charlie Patton, Tommy Johnson, Willie Brown, (choose your own), all fit it one way or another. Blind Willie Johnson left the most astonishing performances, but being religious, probably didn’t consider himself to be singing the blues back when the sacred and profane were such separate paths.

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  11. I agree with “Up to me” Including it on BOTT would have pushed that to the point of being so far and away the best ever. It and Blonde on Blonde have always been my favorites and I don’t feel anything will ever compare to those 2.

  12. I guess I have a soft spot for BonB because it was the 1st album I ever bought at age 13 or14. I’m now almost 60 and I still recall being blown away by Bobby D and that album. Highway 61 is great also and along with Desire is in my top 5. The order changes from day to day as does my top 10 songs . I ‘m new to your site but I like it.

  13. Pingback: Today: Bob Dylan released “Infidels” in 1983 – 29 years ago | Johanna's Visions

  14. Pingback: Today: Bob Dylan recorded “She’s Your Lover Now” in 1966 – 47 years ago | Johanna's Visions

  15. Pingback: Today: Bob Dylan released Infidels in 1983 30 years ago | Johanna's Visions

  16. Hello Egil, What about I´m Not There (1956)?, from the Big Pink sessions, released only in the movie´s soundtrack, forty years later.

    Are you going to Milano next Saturday?

    Ramón

    • Thanks for the input Ramon,

      Great Song… but I don’t feel that he “left it in the studio”…. anyway a post about all the great songs from those summer days in Big Pink would be real fun to write… I’ve logged in my “Coming projects” list :-)

      -Egil