Song of the Day #89: ‘Idiot Wind (Demo)’ – Bob Dylan

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.

3 thoughts on “Song of the Day #89: ‘Idiot Wind (Demo)’ – Bob Dylan

  1. Dana says:

    Okay, first of all, you are being placed on pretentious vocabulary probation. We will now be adding “screed” to other terms like “tome” on the watchlist. You’ve been warned!:)

    Now, on to the song….I couldn’t agree more that, among the albums I have heard from Dylan, Blood on the Tracks is simply the best. And I also agree that this acoustic track actually improves on the original, mostly because I prefer the way he under-sings the chorus (idiot Wind….). The instrumentation of the original seems to force Dylan to oversing those words a bit. I suppose “idiot” is a hard word to sing in a stretched out and oulder format as he does on the studio album. Here, he takes it down a few notches and keeps the tone and mood of the chorus more in line with the verses.

    I have also heard the Tangled Up in Blue acoustic on XM cafe and love that as well, but in that case, i can’t really say I love one more than the other–they are both simply different and great.

  2. Clay says:

    First Alex gives me crap for using the word “outro” … now you’re jumping on me for “screed” — what gives? Have eight years of G.W. Bush devolved the English vocabulary to the point where anything not found in a junior high grammar text is considered pretentious?!

    I said good day, sir!

  3. Amy says:

    šŸ™‚ I find the multifarious vocabulary employed on this blog to be one of its many charms. Don’t stop. Force us to our dictionaries.

    Now, on to Dylan. I was excited, after a loooooong day of grading, to see that Idiot Wind would be the song I got to listen to and write about, and, I must confess, a bit disappointed when I realized it wouldn’t be the version I know and love. Unlike Dana, I have no problem with the way Dylan sings the chorus of the studio version. Quite the contrary, it’s one of the aspects of the song that I love the most.

    However, I am pleased to hear that this version is also quite wonderful. What a talented singer and songwriter Dylan is. Absolutely riveting indeed.

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