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.
Best of the outtakes is Caribbean Wind & Angelina…follow the links to listen to some fantastic versions and read about those two gems!
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:
12 thoughts on “August 10: Bob Dylan released Shot of Love in 1981”
“In the Summertime” followed by “Trouble” has always been, since the record was released, a pairing that gets to me.
I think Shot of Love is a masterpiece, only second behind Street-Legal and Blood OTT (sorry, that’s third) and the song ‘Property of Jesus’ is the best track. X
totally agree with your choices !
Have always loved this album, far more than the previous two. Might be my favorite Bob voice. With everything going on in his life in the late 70’s I think Bob spent a lot of the eighties confused about things. This was shown by the great songs he left out. Groom wasn’t originally here and Angelina is an incredible song. He then left Blind Willie and Foot of Pride off Infidels, Series of Dreams off Oh Mercy and put the inferior cut of When the Night on Empire Burlesque.
I’m not Born Again but I love Property of Jesus. It’s one of my air guitar songs and I play a wicked air guitar.
I like most critics at the time cried out “Judas” during Dylan’s Christian period. Ah, but I was so much older then…..
I bought the record when it first came out, and I thought it was good. I loved all the songs, especially Heart of mine and In the summertime. In my opinion it was good, but not as great as Saved, which will always be one of my favourite records. I do like 99% of Bob Dylan records, as most of them are highly spiritual and God does speak to me through many of his songs, especially on his Street Legal and Blood on the Tracks albums. Shot of Love is a album that I listen to occasionally but do appreciate it and also the outtakes that never made it on the album. Bob is truly a communicator of inspirational comfort and musical satisfaction.
This album is so diverse-I think that’s why he says it’s one of his favorites. Reggae, Chicago blues, ballads. Lot of similarities to Blonde on Blonde. Extremely creative period for Dylan. Easy Top Ten pick
In my opinion, “Every Grain” is as great a song as Dylan ever wrote and “Groom’s Still Waiting” is terrific. I think part of the problem with SOL is the production. I remember reading at the time that Dylan was shooting for a mid-60’s vibe with the sound. He seemed relatively pleased with the sound he got for SOL, but in comparison to the warmth of the production on “Slow Train Coming” and “Saved,” I think the sound of most of SOL is brittle and sterile. “Trouble” and “Property of Jesus” make Dylan sound like a cranky old man–the very opposite of “Every Grain.” And “Heart of Mine” and “Lenny Bruce” are both perfectly dreadful songs that should have been deep-sixed in favor of “Carribean Wind” and maybe “Angelina.” It is one of those Dylan albums that I rarely listen to anymore in its entirety.
Thank you for the comments, I think I like more of he songs than you do, but I have issues with the production as well
“Shot of Love” is one of favorite Dylan albums. It contains a great narrative line about the difficulties of adhering to a pure Christian faith in world dominated by the secular. At its core is a back-and-forth struggle between opposites: secular love and spiritual love, violence and peace, greed and benevolence, and so forth.
Hearing the outtakes show Dylan was not off track at all in this period, just so unsure of his best material, that he left the real lyrical stuff on the floor of the studio, except for the very good Shot of Love and Grain of Sand. Had he dared to face the critics with a double album he would have been slaughtered just the same but have given us a masterpiece in the vein of Blonde on Blonde. The unjust damnation of his two gospel albums, which if made by Bob Marley in a Rasta vein would have been hailed, has hurt his judgement of his own songs… The only real bad song on this in my opinion unfinished album is the childish Watered Down Love.
Thanks for interesting comments on the album, and I agree.
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