#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.