On my short list of the best albums ever made (one that’s admittedly getting longer and longer as I dig up material for this blog), Bob Dylan has no fewer than six strong contenders for the uppermost slots. And tops among those six would have to be Blood on the Tracks, the greatest breakup album ever recorded.
Every song is a perfectly polished gem, and the opening quartet of ‘Tangled Up in Blue,’ ‘Simple Twist of Fate,’ ‘You’re a Big Girl Now’ and ‘Idiot Wind’ has to be the best opening of any album, ever. It’s hard to believe the record could be any better.
So imagine my surprise when alternate cuts of ‘Tangled Up in Blue’ and ‘Idiot Wind’ surfaced on the Bootleg Series and proved equal to if not greater than their official counterparts.
As the story goes, Dylan’s brother heard these early versions and expressed concern that they were too stripped down without a full band treatment. Dylan agreed and returned to the studio, where he cut the versions we all know and love. ‘Tangled Up in Blue’ became a rollicking ditty and ‘Idiot Wind’ a hard-driving screed fueled with anger.
The bootleg ‘Tangled Up in Blue’ is not all that different from the official one, apart from the instrumentation. But ‘Idiot Wind’ is a complete reversal… restrained and aching where the other is explosive and confrontational. The lyrics are different throughout as well, underscoring Dylan’s tendency to let his songs evolve. The song is a living, breathing thing… a record just captures it in a moment, the way a photograph doesn’t truly capture the essence of a human being.
What I’ve always loved the most about this recording, as well as its partner ‘Tangled Up in Blue,’ is that it’s just Bob Dylan, his guitar and harmonica and a noodling little bass line. There aren’t any fancy production techniques to juice the emotional content. It’s just the song, naked before the world, and it’s absolutely riveting.