“Bob’s bad stuff is better than other musicians’ best”
Down in the Groove is singer-songwriter Bob Dylan‘s 25th studio album, released by Columbia Records 30 May 1988. Egil here at Johannasvisions rate it as maybe Dylan’s lowest point. Me? I’m not so sure anymore…
It got pretty terrible reviews upon it’s release. Many reviewers compared it to his previous album, Knocked Out Loaded, and not in a favourable way.
“A highly collaborative effort, it was Dylan’s second consecutive album to receive almost unanimous negative reviews. Released during a period when his recording career was experiencing a slump, sales were disappointing, reaching only #61 in the US and #32 in the UK.”
How is it in hindsight? Was it unfairly slated? I think it’s better than reported and as usual Dylan’s standards were expected to be higher than anybody else’s. We cannot expect a masterpiece every time. Can we?
The album was delayed for more than six months and the track listing changed at least three times. The tracks that made the final album come from many different recording sessions spread out over a long time (six years?).
I’ve always thought of it as a strangely confusing album, but it gets less confusing with each listen session. It has some very good cover songs. Let’s Stick together opens the record in an energetic way, I would love to hear it live!
The comes the song I think is not very good at all, the cover When did you leave heaven. Very eighties drum sound, strange production, it just sounds a bit off, I don’t think the song suits Dylan, and it ends kind of funny.
Sally Sue Brown, the third track is another rockn’roll/soul standard that gets a good run through. I prefer Arthur Alexanders classic, but it is not bad at all.
The last three songs on the album are also cover songs (Ninety Miles an Hour (Down a dead end street), Shenandoah and Rank Strangers To Me, and they are all quite good actually.
I like Rank Strangers To Me best (the closing track). Dylan sings beautifully.
In between all this there are some terrific originals, Silvio and Death Is Not The End being the best, I think.
Silvio has been part of Bob Dylan ‘s set list many times and deservedly so, written in collaboration with Grateful Dead’s Robert Hunter, as was The Ugliest Girl In The World a more rock’n roll number.
“And yet, and yet, there’s a glimmer–the Dylan-Hunter throwaway “Ugliest Girl in the World,” guaranteed to remind the faithful how much fun the one-take ethos used to be.” – Robert Christgau
“…sort of “Subterranean Homesick Blues” meets American Beauty “
– Rolling Stone Magazine on Silvio
A very fine version of Silvio (1996?) :
Other artists have also seen the quality in Death Is Not The End (which reminds me of Blur’s Tender by the way, especially the background vocals).
Let’s hear two fine cover versions.
Nick Cave, Kylie Minogue, Blixa Bargeld, Mick Harvey and Shane MacGowan – Death is not the end:
The Waterboys – Death is not the end (audio):
Bob Dylan’s great original:
Allmusic starts of by saying it is not so good, but ends on rather positive note:
“…at best hoping to capture the mellow roots rock of the Grateful Dead (which it does, on Dylan’s irresistible collaborations with Robert Hunter, “Ugliest Girl in the World” and “Silvio”). The rest of the record strolls through covers with amiable ease, whether he’s backed by ex-punks or lifetime pros. That may not make for a great record by any stretch, but it’s a rather ingratiating one, a little more focused than Knocked Out Loaded and a little looser and funkier than Empire Burlesque. Actually, not as heavy on great moments as either (especially Burlesque), but it’s still rather nice in its low-key way.”
There is one more song on the album, the bluesy shuffle, Had A Dream About You Baby taken from the soundtrack of Hearts of Fire. Nice enough rock’n roller but not very special.
Could it have been a better album if the original track listing was kept?
The rumour at the time was that Down In The Groove was intended by Bob to be a double album but was cut down to a single album by Columbia. Certainly promos were released with these two alternative track listings before the final track list was decided and the album was eventually released in Jun 1988. Got Love If You Want It, Important Words and The Usual (see below) were replaced, and there are several unreleased covers from the sessions in circulation which may have been planned for inclusion on a two disc set. However, I have yet to see any physical evidence of anything other than a single album, so any “culling” must have been done before masters were created.
R-0191-3 The Usual (John Hiatt) – from the album Hearts Of Fire: Original Motion Picture Soundtrack , this replaced Important Words from the first promo version
Also appeared on singles and the 1993 Japanese promo CD Mr. D’s Collection # 3
The second promo release track listing was:
Side 1 – Let’s Stick Together; When Did You Leave Heaven?; Got Love If You Want It; Ninety Miles An Hour; Sally Sue Brown.
Side 2 – Ugliest Girl In The World; Silvio; The Usual; Shenandoah; Rank Strangers.
The Usual instead of Had A Dream About You Baby?
I really like the song and would have liked to see it on the album along with Got Love if You Want It.
And yes I think the album would have been better with those two songs included.
There are several more outtakes mostly covers of old rock’n roll songs and available for those who seek on the internet.
Listen to Down In The Groove again, give it another chance, it might surprise you.
Sources: Wikipedia, Rolling Stone Magazine, Allmusic, Serchingforagem, Clinton Heylin’s Bob Dylan Behind The Shades, Robert Christgaus webpage, Bonhams Auctions webpage, Olof’s files
6 thoughts on “May 30: Bob Dylan released Down In The Groove in 1988”
If The Bootleg Series can revitalise Self Portrait, then it can do the same for Down In The Groove.
See you in 15 years !
I think you could be right 🙂
I’ve always liked it, would rather put it on than Empire Burlesque or KOL and there are great performances – Shenandoah, 90mph, Rank Strangers, Sally Sue Brown. The problem with it is the cut & pasting, which I can’t imagine was Bob’s intention when he recorded the covers and semi-originals. Death Is Not The End is the most out of place and should go on an expanded Infidels instead. The HOF tracks are mostly terrible – I’d ditch them all and instead finish Side 1 with Got Love If You Want It, Important Words and Sidewalks Fences & Walls which is an incredible track. There are around 20 more songs recorded, so the album could certainly be expanded further (even some of the Dylan / Dead rehearsal recordings, such as the wonderful The French Girl, would make better additions than the HOF songs). And that cover illustration looks great too – very funny!
“Silvio” rises to the level of being one of Bob’s better mid ’80’s efforts. “Ugliest Girl” is one of the funniest songs Dylan (or anyone else) has ever done. (Over the years, I have been amazed at the number of people who take offense at the song by failing to see it as satire of the whole love song genre…) IMO, “The Usual” is a criminally overlooked gem. My guess is that it doesn’t get the props it deserves because it was featured in a really horrible movie that not many people saw and was never released on a “proper” Dylan album. Definitely would have made the final album better. DITG is not as awful as ’73’s “Dylan” album, but ultimately it’s just another middling product from this fallow Dylan period.
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