Monday, March 26, 2007

Twelve Best...Dylan Albums of the 70s (#7)

#7. Self Portrait

-I actually enjoy this album. While it’s not the greatest thing Dylan ever recorded, there are some prime cuts on it that get overshadowed by reviews like Greil Marcus’ famous Rolling Stone review and tracks like the dreadful “The Boxer.”

Self Portrait can be best split up into three categories: originals, covers and live songs.

The worst of those categories are the live tracks taken from Dylan’s concert with The Band at the Isle of Wight in 1969.These include “Like a Rolling Stone,” “The Mighty Quinn (Quinn the Eskimo),” “Minstrel Boy” and “She Belongs to Me.” The only one worth even the slightest listen to is “The Mighty Quinn,” because the version of “Like a Rolling Stone” is pretty terrible.

As for the Dylan originals, it ranges from the great (“Living the Blues”) to the good (“All the Tired Horses”) to the weird (“Wigwam”) to the pointless (“Woogie Boogie,” a title gotten from a Marx Brothers skit.)

Most of the album’s shining points come from Dylan’s cover—some of which get an Arranged by Bob Dylan attached to them because of deeply rooted they are in the folk tradition. The grandest example of that is “Alberta” and “Alberta, No.2.” The song is the first and last thing we hear Dylan singing and it’s a fun, catchy little song.

The two best songs on the album would have to be “Days of ‘49” and “Copper Kettle (The Pale Moonlight.)” Attributed to the Alan and John Lomax and Frank Warner, “Days of ‘49” was originally a song sung to gold diggers in California in the 40s, while “Copper Kettle,” written by Alfred Frank Beddoe, is the song critics give the most praise to. Personally, I think “Days” is much, much stronger than “Copper Kettle” because Dylan puts a lot of heart into his singing and it sounds much more contemporary…and this coming from a 19-year-old living in New York City.

The rest of the album contains a classic (“In Search of Little Sadie”), a smattering of good songs (“Early Mornin’ Rain,” “Let It Be Me,” “I Forgot More Than You’ll Ever Know,” “Belle Isle,” “Gotta Travel On,” the Hank Williams-esque “Take Me As I Am (Or Let Me Go” and “It Hurts Me Too” ) and some absolute junk (“The Boxer,” “Blue Moon” and to a lesser extent, “Take a Message to Mary”)

Of all the songs on Self Portrait that aren’t named “Like a Rolling Stone” or “She Belongs to Me,” Dylan has performed “I Forgot More Than You’ll Ever Know” the most (55 times), followed by “Gotta Travel On” (17 times and a song that I’d think be a blast to hear live) then “Early Mornin’ Rain,” with 8 times. Oddly enough, “Quinn the Eskimo” has only shown up in concert 6 times.

Sadly, “All the Tired Horses” has never been played.

Recap: An album that people, to quote bodgieman, believe the negative “hype” and don’t bother giving a listen to, even though there’s some pretty good stuff here.

1 comment:

Bodgieman said...

self portrait , i think, was ,made in attempt to make a commercial version of the great white wonder bootleg -1969 , which incidenatally sold so many copies that if it had been a legal release would have been a best seller.
- so there is some stuff with the band (isle of white) - some covers ( more covers- (funny how he began and ended the decade with lps made of predominately covers) - some alt takes - some homages to fellow writers -i.e.- a mixed bag
it is one of the rare times when bob seemed to have lost nerve after a bad review
actually sp is a really modern lp in a post-modern way
- if nick cave had done it for example it wopuld have been lauded in the 1990's or 2000's
there is whole book on self portrait i think
ps
woogie boogie is a throw-away no. i agree but it is a bit like some of the feel of the basement tape recordings
love the cover sp painting by bob too