Today: Bob Dylan released Down In The Groove 25 years ago


“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?).

Rick Griffin Down in the Groove
Rick Griffin was asked by Dylan’s management to come up with a cover design for what was to be the ‘Down In The Groove’ album. Rick produced many designs and, apparently, became somewhat exasperated as his ideas were rejected and changed. This seems to have reflected the overall situation surrounding the album at the time (bonhams)

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.

Let’s also include a fine live version from Wembley 1997:

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?


From searchingforagem:

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 ItImportant 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.

You decide…

Got Love If You Want It instead of Had A Dream About You Baby?

Yes from me on that one.

Important Words instead of Death Is Not The End?

A clear no on this from me, I prefer Death Is Not The End.

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.

Other 30 May:

Benjamin David “Benny” Goodman (May 30, 1909 – June 13, 1986) was an American jazz and swing musician, clarinetist and bandleader; widely known as the “King of Swing”.

In the mid-1930s, Benny Goodman led one of the most popular musical groups in America. His January 16, 1938 concert at Carnegie Hall in New York City is described by critic Bruce Eder as “the single most important jazz or popular music concert in history: jazz’s ‘coming out’ party to the world of ‘respectable’ music.”

Goodman’s bands launched the careers of many major names in jazz, and during an era of segregation, he also led one of the first well-known racially-integrated jazz groups. Goodman continued to perform to nearly the end of his life, including exploring his interest in classical music.

Nicholas Bowen “Topper” Headon (born 30 May 1955), known as “Topper” due to his resemblance to Mickey the Monkey from the Topper comic, is a British rock and roll drummer, best known for his membership in the punk rock band The Clash. He is commonly recognised as the most inspirational and technically inventive punk rock drummer of the late 1970s and early 1980s. Writing for Allmusic Greg Pato stated that record producer Sandy Pearlman dubbed Headon as “The Human Drum Machine”, due to his impeccable timing and drumming skills.

– Hallgeir

Sources: Wikipedia, Rolling Stone Magazine, Allmusic, Serchingforagem, Clinton Heylin’s Bob Dylan Behind The Shades, Robert Christgaus webpage, Bonhams Auctions webpage, Olof’s files

14 thoughts on “Today: Bob Dylan released Down In The Groove 25 years ago”

  1. It certainly is a different animal, and one of his best. He was clearing his throat with DITG.

  2. I too have always enjoyed DITG and thought of it as Self- Portrait, vol 2. Think of it as a warm up for Oh, Mercy.

    1. Well, Oh Mercy is in a completely different league, and a s a warm-up DITG works for me as well

      Thanks for the feedback

      – Hallgeir

  3. Know what ? i like it, and i love dylan in the 80s, every period in bob´s journey has gems and masterpieces, this album get bad reviews like some others, i think that´s because bob is always changin and you don´t get what you expect, sure has great songs in this one, but yes it is one of bob´s weakest albums, but that doesen´t make it a bad one. During the 80s bob release : saved, yes i love it, and what a tour that was; shot of love & infidels & amazing songs didn´t cut the final releases; empire burlesque is another great album & and the tour with tom petty & heart., its just great ; and what about oh mercy…c´mon the guy is the greatest artist ever, from 60s to this day…

  4. Yes, Dylan made wrong song selections. The album is no masterpiece, but it woud have been better with “Got love”, “Important words” and “The usual”. Death is not the End is a good song, but it didn`t fit with the rest.

    1. I completely agree, It is no masterpiece, and yes it would have been better with at least two out of the three songs 😉

      Thanks for the feedback

      – Hallgeir

  5. Self Portrait, Dylan, DITG, have always been great listens for me. I totally commiserate with your regrets about The Usual; a song perfect for Bob’s 80’s voice. His work as a cover artist, on vinyl and live, is a fascinating chapter in Dylanology. Unfortunately, Sony will never release much of that material as there is no market. Fortunately, as you mention, some of it can by found by the curious.

    1. Thanks for the insightful comment.

      We can only urge people to use their search engines and seek out those hidden gems.

      – hallgeir

  6. Well you’re right, we are setting the bar too high for Dylan, giving him little space (failures and mistakes pave the way to revelation, and his ramshackle way of expressing his genius is part of his unique art, by evading perfection he reaches a higher level than that of the rationally good). And I am enjoying your reviews and your personal way of looking at Dylan, sure don’t want to deny your enjoyment of this album (Rank Strangers is beautiful indeed, whatever the circumstances, it’s sung undeniably good, as if he touches on what was best in him still)… It’s just that for me it’s a remembrance of the terrible eighties, a period that sucked not only for Dylan but most of his and my generation (I am a little younger)

    1. 🙂

      I can fully understand your views

      Thanks for interesting feedback, and I must say I was expecting to hear some of the arguments that you state.
      I do agree that this time-frame is the weakest of Dylan’s many periods.

      – Hallgeir

  7. Please, the less said about this dark period, the better. Dylan covered (pun intended) it himself quite nicely and honestly in his Chronicles. I am not against him doing covers (I like some on Self Portrait and Dylan, and I think his first record is pretty good, while World gone wrong is a masterpiece that led him into his great period of Time out of mind and what followed, until Tempes once more started a new phase of his genius. The man was really down and out in those days and it hurts to hear him go to pieces…

    1. I don’t think it is as bad as you do, obviously, but I see your point.

      I think the bar is set so high for Dylan, that when he goes under it we see it as a failure. And maybe it is, but I think there are some fine songs burried in his failures.

      Thanks for your comment.

      – Hallgeir

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