Wolfgang Niedecken Is Coming Full Circle On New Solo Album “Dylanreise”

Following Bob Dylan’s journey, German singer-songwriter revisits important chapters his own life and career

After coincidentally learning that prominent German singer-songwriter Wolfgang Niedecken was about to release a new solo album featuring English and Kölsch (a German dialect spoken in West Germany’s Cologne region) interpretations of Bob Dylan songs, I wasn’t planning to explore it. While BAP (Niedeckens BAP since September 2014), the band he founded in Cologne in 1976, has been my favorite German-singing rock group since the early ’80s, I haven’t paid much attention to Niedecken’s solo work. Still, curiosity prompted me to check out Dylanreise (Dylan journey), which dropped last Friday, March 25. To my pleasant surprise, I find Niedecken’s sixth solo album quite engaging.

Of course, I realize for non-German readers and more specifically for folks who don’t understand the Kölsch dialect, Wolfgang Niedecken is likely going to be a challenging proposition. I’m not sure whether liking Dylan’s music helps a great deal; in fact, I could see the opposite since Niedecken sounds very different from Dylan, no matter in which language he sings the maestro’s songs. The renditions are fine, but what I find most intriguing about Dylanreise are the anecdotes Niedecken shares throughout the album. In fact, it’s really more a narrated audiobook than a traditional music album.

Dylanreise is available as a 3-CD set, on vinyl as a double LP and on streaming platforms

As reported by German entertainment outlet Kulturnews, Dylanreise’s origin goes back to 2017 when Wolfgang Niedecken starred in the 5-part docu-series Bob Dylans Amerika (Bob Dylan’s America) produced for French-German cultural TV channel ARTE. In this docu-series, Niedecken traveled to the U.S. to trace key places in Dylan’s life, such as the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C. where Dylan had performed in August 1963 during the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, or Big Pink, a house in the Woodstock, N.Y. area where the so-called basement tapes sessions had taken place in the summer of 1967.

In turn, the TV series inspired Niedecken to write a book, Wolfgang Niedecken über Bob Dylan (Wolfgang Niedecken about Bob Dylan), which appeared in March 2021. Two months earlier, the German version of the audiobook of Bob Dylan’s 2016 autobiography Chronicles had come out, narrated by Niedecken. Last but not least, Niedecken teamed up with his friend and jazz pianist, Mike Herting, for a series of concerts in German-speaking countries, billed as Niedecken liesst und singt Dylan (Niedecken reads and sings Dylan). The tour has had 40-plus shows to date and is still going on.

Wolfgang Niedecken in front of the Lincoln Memorial, Washington, D.C., 2017, one of the shoot locations for the ARTE TV docu-series about Bob Dylan

So what’s behind Niedecken’s obvious infatuation with Robert Zimmerman? “To me, he’s the greatest among the American songwriters,” Niedecken said in the above ARTE docu-series. “No other musician has given me a deeper insight into America’s soul, and no one else knows how to express Americans’ troubles and hopes. To many, he’s the polar star, guiding the way. Undoubtedly, without him, I wouldn’t have become a musician, and many of my songs probably wouldn’t have materialized without Dylan’s work.”

In a recent interview with regional German radio channel SR3, Niedecken framed his new album as follows: “It’s actually three journeys…The journey through my life, the journey through Dylan’s life and the 2017 journey throughout the U.S. And the tour, btw – four journeys [laughs].” Dylanreise’s 32 tracks feature 16, mostly Dylan songs and 16 narrated anecdotes, which translate into a total running time of two hours and 14 minutes. That’s pretty heavy, but I found it a worthwhile listening experience. Niedecken is a decent narrator.

Throughout his entire career, in addition to his own tunes, Niedecken has performed Dylan songs. In fact, before founding BAP in 1976, he had gained some local popularity in Cologne as “Bob Dylan of the South Town.” Typically, his versions were performed in the Kölsch dialect, something he continued with BAP. On Dylanreise, there’s a mix of all-English, all-Kölsch and mixed English-Kölsch renditions. The Times They Are a-Changin’ is one of five all-English versions. It’s the title track of Dylan’s third studio album from January 1964.

“I used to play bass in a student band since I adored Paul McCartney,” Niedecken told SR3 during the above interview. “The vocalist of our band needed to pass high school graduation. So he showed up to his final gig…and brought along the single ‘Like a Rolling Stone’. He had also already written down the lyrics. And we listened to it and this was something quite different (from The Beatles)…And suddenly, it was like lightning had struck. What the hell is he writing about? What do all these words mean? And all these metaphors, ‘Napoleon in rags’…All I knew is that was something I found much more exciting than playing bass and singing harmless lyrics. That same night, I told my friend Heiden, ‘ Heiden, you know what, you have to play bass now. I’m going to sing and write lyrics, just like the dude with the sunglasses.”

From Niedecken’s website: When we got to Woodstock as part of our Dylan journey, among others, we paid a visit to “Big Pink” in the forests of West-Saugerties. A nondescript wooden house painted in pick where rock & roll history was written when Dylan and his band [The BandCMM] recorded countless demos there in 1967, some of which subsequently appeared under the title “Basement Tapes”. There I met with guitarist and vocalist Happy Traum, who four years later had assisted Dylan to re-record “Goin Nowhere” for his second greatest hits album, to record this song for our documentary. Here’s Du Jehs Nirjendwo Hin (You Ain’t Goin’ Nowhere), a song Dylan wrote in Woodstock in 1967, which first appeared on the aforementioned compilation Bob Dylan’s Greatest Hits Vol. II

Before wrapping up this review with another rendition of a Dylan song, I’d like to recap one of my favorite anecdotes Niedecken tells: his eye-to-eye encounter with the maestro. In April 2009, on behalf of German guitar maker Duisenberg, Niedecken was invited to hand Dylan a lap steel he had ordered from the company. After a show in the German city of Saarbruecken, Niedecken was brought backstage and told to wait for Dylan there, all by himself. Finally, Dylan showed up, all by himself as well. He approached Niedecken smiling and with one fist raised.

“‘What’s that supposed to mean?,’ I was asking myself before realizing at the last second it evidently was meant to be a ghetto fist,” Niedecken recalls. “Apparently, I had not been the only person who had shaken his hand too firmly when Wim Wenders [the film director – CMM] who had known Dylan from the ’70s introduced me to him, and obviously I had grabbed his hand a little bit too firmly, leading him to wince…When I mentioned Wim’s name, he was like, ‘yeah, sure.’ And then the time had already come to hand over the guitar.”

“I can no longer remember what he was saying. I only recall how fascinated he was when removing the instrument from the case and looking at it from all sides. Like a small boy who finds an engine underneath the Christmas tree for his toy train – a moving moment I didn’t want to ruin under any circumstances with an unnecessary question or any sentence he presumably had heard a million times. Sure, I’d like to let him know he has significantly impacted my life and thank him for that. But, as I said, I would have ruined this moment and it wasn’t worth it. Eventually, he told me he had a small guitar amp on his tour bus where he would hook up the instrument right away. That same night they would travel to Paris. As such, he would have enough time to spend with the lap steel. Okay, one last ghetto fist, ‘thanks, take care,’ and that was it.”

Here’s Fuer Immer Jung (Forever Young). Recorded in 1973, the tune first appeared in two versions (one slow, one fast) on Dylan’s 14th studio album Planet Waves from January 1974.

Here’s the link to Dylanreise on Spotify.

Sources: Wikipedia; Kulturnews; SR3; Niedeckens BAP website; YouTube; Spotify

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The Sunday Six

Celebrating music with six random tracks at a time

A Sunday morning (at least in my neck of the woods in lovely central New Jersey, U.S.A.) means another Sunday Six is in store. I’m also introducing a new technical feature. Alternatively, you could call it catching up with 21st century technology: Embedded Spotify playlists. Admittedly, I shamefully stole the idea from fellow bloggers like Music Enthusiast, Aphoristic Album Reviews and Eclectic Music Lover, who have been using embedded Spotify playlists forever. With that being said, let’s get to the six random tunes I picked for this installment. Hope you enjoy – and look for the paylist at the end!

Tangerine Dream/Para Guy

I’d like to kick it off with some electronic music, a genre that with a few exceptions like Jean-Michel Jarre and Klaus Schulze I’ve pretty much ignored in the past. That being said, I’ve always liked spacy music. That’s part of the reason Pink Floyd’s Wish You Were and The Dark Side of the Moon are among my all-time favorite albums. This brings me to electronic music pioneers Tangerine Dream, founded by Edgar Froese in 1967 in Berlin, Germany. According to their website, the group’s fifth studio album Phaedra from February 1974 became a milestone in electronic music and one of more than 100 studio albums they have released over the past 50-plus years. Para Guy is a from Tangerine Dream’s most recent EP Probe 6-8 that appeared a few weeks ago on November 26. The track is credited to band leader Thorsten Quaeschning, co-members Hoshiko Yamane and Paul Frick, as well as Froese who passed away in January 2015. Another current member of Tangerine Dream’s current line-up, which has been in place since Froese’s death, is Ulrich Schnauss.

Bob Dylan/Ballad of a Thin Man

If you asked me about my favorite Bob Dylan record, I’d pick Highway 61 Revisited, his sixth studio album from August 1965. Admittedly, the big caveat is my knowledge of Mr. Zimmerman’s catalog continues to have significant gaps. Regardless, I can’t imagine Dylan connoisseurs would argue over an album packed with gems, such as Like a Rolling Stone, Tombstone Blues, Desolation Row and Ballad of a Thin Man. According to Songfacts, While speculation remains rampant as to who “Mr. Jones” is and what exactly this song is supposed to mean, there is no definitive answer at this time. Shockingly, Dylan hasn’t hepled to clarify things. Asked about Mr. Jones at a press conference in 1965, he reportedly said, “I’m not going to tell you his first name. I’d get sued.” When prompted what the man does for a living, Zimmi answered, “He’s a pinboy. He also wears suspenders.” Frankly, I don’t really care much about any deeper meaning here, I just love everything about this tune: Dylan’s cynically sounding voice; the music, especially the keyboard; and the song’s dark feel!

Blind Melon/No Rain

Next let’s turn to the ’90s and a tune I’ve always found cool: No Rain by Blind Melon. The song is from the American rock band’s eponymous debut album that appeared in September 1992. It became their breakthrough single and biggest hit, climbing to no. 20 on the Billboard Hot 100; topping the charts in Canada; reaching no. 8 and no. 15 in Australia and New Zealand, respectively; and charting in various European countries. The tune is credited to all members of the band at the time: Shannon Hoon (lead vocals, acoustic guitar, percussion), Rogers Stevens (lead guitar), Christopher Thorn (rhythm guitar), Brad Smith (bass, backing vocals) and Glen Graham (drums), as well as producer Rick Parashar. Blind Mellon are still around, though they were inactive between 1999 and 2006 and 2008 and 2010. I guess in part this explains their modest catalog, which to date only includes three studio albums, a live record and a few compilations. That said, Blind Mellon have released four singles since 2019. The band’s current members include Stevens, Thorn and Graham, along with Travis Warren (lead vocals, acoustic guitar) and Nathan Towne (bass, backing vocals).

Pete Townshend/Give Blood

While the massive and monotonous drums on Face the Face, the lead single off Pete Townshend’s White City: A Novel, took a few listens before I found them cool, I immediately dug his fourth solo album when it came out in November 1985. I still do and wrote about it here back in February. Give Blood is the album’s excellent opener and also became its second single. Asked about the tune, following is what Townshend said, according to Wikipedia: Give Blood was one of the tracks I didn’t even play on. I brought in Simon Phillips [dums – CMM], Pino Palladino [bass -CMM] and David Gilmour [guitar – CMM] simply because I wanted to see my three favourite musicians of the time playing on something and, in fact, I didn’t have a song for them to work on, and sat down very, very quickly and rifled threw [sic] a box of stuff, said to Dave, “Do one of those kind of ricky-ticky-ricky-ticky things, and I’ll shout ‘Give Blood!’ in the microphone every five minutes and let’s see what happens.” And that’s what happened. Then I constructed the song around what they did.

Boz Scaggs/I’ve Got Your Love

When my streaming music provider served up I’ve Got Your Love by Boz Scaggs the other day, I immediately loved the tune’s soulful feel. Written solely by Scaggs, this song is from Come On Home, a studio album he released in April 1997. Even though Scaggs has put out records since 1965, sadly, the only tunes I can name are his two biggest hits Lowdown and Lido Shuffle, which were both included on his best-selling album Silk Degrees that came out in February 1976. Scaggs, who also played on the first two albums of Steve Miller Band in 1968, apparently remains active to this day. Damn, I’ve Got Your Love is such a great tune – so glad it was brought to me!

Elton John/Funeral for a Friend/Love Lies Bleeding

For the sixth and final tune of this week’s zig-zag music journey, I picked a real classic off my favorite Elton John album Goodbye Yellow Brick Road from October 1973: Funeral for a Friend/Love Lies Bleeding. Borrowing from a previous post I did in December 2020, here’s what I said about the album’s magnificent opener: The first part is an instrumental of music John felt he’d like to be played at his funeral – one wonders a bit in what state of mind he was! It’s followed by Love Lies Bleeding, which Songfacts describes as an angry song about a broken relationship. Had it not been fused together with Funeral, something producer Gus Dudgeon had come up with, I would have included Love Lies Bleeding in my previous post about great Elton John rockers. While due to the total length of over just 11 minutes the track initially wasn’t released as a single, it became a fan favorite and staple of John’s live set lists. It’s easy to understand why!

And here it is…drum roll…Christian’s Music Musings is embracing 21st-century technology…my first embedded Spotify list. Take that Apple Music, despite my brilliant computer skills, I couldn’t figure out how to embed playlists using your platform so I won’t, at least not for playlist embeds!

Sources: Wikipedia; Tangerine Dream website; Songfacts; YouTube

Happy Birthday, Bob Dylan

A song list to celebrate the music poet’s 80th birthday

Bob Dylan’s 80th birthday kind of sneaked up on me. While as I have noted before my sentiments are mixed about his music, there is no doubt Robert Zimmerman is one of the most significant artists of our time. I feel Dylan’s life has been extensively covered, so instead of putting together yet another biographical write-up, I’d like to celebrate the music poet’s birthday with a list of songs I dig.

It’s hard to believe Dylan has had a close to 60-year recording career. That’s just mind-boggling! I’m generally more drawn to his early work. I will also admit I’m much less familiar with his post mid-’70s catalog. This playlist starts with the first Dylan song I ever heard many moons ago: Blowin’ in the Wind. I still think it’s great. The post wraps up with a tune from his last album Rough and Rowdy Ways, a true late career gem that really surprised me!

Blowin’ in the WindThe Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan (May 1963)

The Times They Are a-Changin’The Times They Are a-Changin’ (January 1964)

It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue Bringing It All Back Home (March 1965)

Like a Rolling StoneHighway 61 Revisited (August 1965)

Just Like a WomanBlonde on Blonde (June 1966)

Lay Lady LayNashville Skyline (April 1969)

Knockin’ on Heaven’s DoorPat Garrett & Billy the Kid (July 1973)

Tangled Up in BlueBlood on the Tracks (January 1975)

HurricaneDesire (January 1976)

Goodbye Jimmy ReedRough and Rowdy Ways (June 2020)

Sources: Wikipedia; YouTube

When Covers Are Just As Much Fun As Originals

A playlist of some of my favorite covers part II

Recently, I remembered a post from July 2017, which featured some of my favorite cover versions of songs I dig. This triggered the idea to put together a second part. Rather than focusing on covers I already knew, this time, I decided to take a slightly different approach. Except for one instance, I picked some of my all-time favorite songs and checked whether they have been covered and, if yes, by whom. Not only did I find some intriguing renditions, but there were also a couple of real surprises.

Ella Fitzgerald/Sunshine of Your Love

Did you know that one of the greatest voices in jazz, Ella Fitzgerald, covered Cream? I had absolutely no idea! Not only did she do so, but she even named a live album after the tune: Sunshine of Your Love, released in 1969. Composed by Jack Bruce and Eric Clapton with lyrics by Pete Brown, the original was included on Cream’s sophomore album Disraeli Gears from November 1967. Fitzgerald’s orchestral version is really cool. Obviously her singing is amazing. Check it out!

Richie Havens/Won’t Get Fooled Again

Richie Havens performing The Who’s Won’t Get Fooled Again was another unexpected find. He recorded the tune for his final studio album Nobody Left to Crown that appeared in March 2008. The original, written by Pete Townshend, was included on my favorite album by The Who, Who’s Next, their fifth studio release from August 1971. Haven’s acoustic guitar-driven taken is great. I also like the violin. He really made the epic rocker his own.

Townes Van Zandt/Dead Flowers

Townes Van Zandt wrote almost all tunes that are on his 10 studio albums, and many of them have been recorded by the likes of Bob Dylan, Willie Nelson, Emmylou Harris, Steve Earle and Gillian Welch. One exception is the live album Roadsongs, a collection of live covers from the mid-’70s through the early ’80s, which was released in 1994. It includes a fantastic take of Dead Flowers, which has become my favorite song by The Rolling Stones, at least on most days! Co-written by Mick Jagger and Keith Richards, Dead Flowers was included on Sticky Fingers, which also happens to believe is the best Stones album that appeared in April 1971. It’s almost a bit painful to listen to Van Zandt’s version, considering he had struggled with drug addiction for most of his short life.

Noah Guthrie/Whipping Post

Noah Guthrie is a 27-year-old South Carolina-based singer-songwriter. According to his website, he taught himself to play guitar and began writing songs at 14. Here’s a “quarantine” cover version of Whipping Post Guthrie recorded with his band Good Trouble in April 2020. Written by Gregg Allman, Whipping Post appeared on the eponymous debut album of The Allman Brothers Band from November 1969. While this cover stays close to the original, these guys are doing a great job, giving this classic a nice build.

Heart/Stairway to Heaven

This cover of the Led Zeppelin gem is the exception I noted above. In other words, I had known about it. Just the other day, I watched this footage again from the 2012 Kennedy Center Honors, during which Heart with Jon Bonham’s son Jason Bonham on drums honored the surviving members of Led Zeppelin. This is one of the most amazing renditions of Stairway to Heaven, co-written by Jimmy Page, Robert Plant (and Randy California of Spirit!), and included on Led Zeppelin IV from November 1971. Messrs. Page, John Paul Jones and Plant were visibly touched. Yes, it’s a bit bombastic but still so good!

Kenny Lattimore/While My Guitar Gently Weeps

Here’s a great soulful version of While My Guitar Gently Weeps by Kenny Lattimore, an R&B and gospel singer-songwriter who has released seven studio albums to date. This cover of the George Harrison tune – one of his best during his period with The Beatles, IMO – is included on his sophomore album From the Soul of Man that came out in October 1998. While My Guitar Gently Weeps was first recorded for the White Album from November 1968. Thank goodness John Lennon and Paul McCartney didn’t reject all of Harrison’s songs!

Green Day/Like a Rolling Stone

In case you’ve ever asked yourself how Bob Dylan would sound grunge style, here’s one possible answer. Green Day’s eighth studio album 21st Century Breakdown from May 2009 includes this version of Like a Rolling Stone as a bonus track. The maestro first recorded the tune for his sixth studio album Highway 61 Revisited released in August 1965.

Willie Nelson/Have You Ever Seen the Rain (feat. Paula Nelson)

The last cover I’d like to call out is a breathtakingly beautiful rendition of my favorite Creedence Clearwater Revival song: Have You Ever Seen the Rain, written by John Fogerty and included on CCR’s sixth studio album Pendulum from December 1970. Willie Nelson recorded this rendition with his daughter Paula Nelson for his 62nd studio album To All the Girls…, which appeared in October 2013. Nelson, who at age 87 remains active, has a new album coming out on February 26, his 71st! In April 2019, Nelson told Rolling Stone weed had “saved his life,” adding, “I wouldn’t have lived 85 years if I’d have kept drinking and smoking like I was when I was 30, 40 years old.”

Sources: Wikipedia; Noah Guthrie website; Rolling Stone; YouTube

Best of What’s New

A selection of newly released music that caught my attention

New music never stops, even on Christmas. I almost would have forgotten today is Friday, meaning it’s time again for Best of What’s New. BTW, this is the 40th installment of the recurring feature. Let’s get to it!

Eddie Vedder/Matter of Time

Matter of Time is the title track of a new solo EP released by Eddie Vedder today. Initially, the Pearl Jam frontman had put out the tune as a single on November 18. The EP features four additional tracks, including a cover of Bruce Springsteen’s Growin’ Up. As reported by Blabbermouth.net, Vedder premiered Matter of Time and Say Hi, another tune from the EP, during Venture Into Cures, a digital event presented by EB Research Partnership. Co-founded by Vedder and his wife Jill, the non-profit organization funds research for epidermolysis bullosa, a group of devastating and life-threatening skin disorders that affect children from birth. I salute music artists taking on such noble causes. It’s also quite a powerful tune and video clip!

Slaughter Beach, Dog/Are You There

The first thing that struck me about Slaughter Beach, Dog is “Slaughter Beach, Dog.” Who comes up with such a weird name? It turns out singer-songwriter Jake Ewald, who initially started this indie rock outfit in 2014 as a side project to Modern Baseball, his then primary indie rock band from Philadelphia. In October 2017, Ewald confirmed Modern Baseball is on indefinite hiatus. Slaughter Beach, Dog has since become his main focus. In addition to Ewald (vocals, guitar), the group’s regular line-up also features Nick Harris (guitar), Ian Farmer (bass) and Zack Robbins (drums). Slaughter Beach, Dog put out their debut album Welcome in 2016. Since Modern Baseball’s hiatus, three other albums have appeared, including At the Moonbase released December 24. According to this review in Consequence of Sound, Ewald wrote and recorded the album alone at his house and recording studio. Here’s the opener Are You There.

CMON/Blue-ray Saturday

CMON is a project by Josh Da Costa and Jamen Whitelock who initially started Regal Degal in 2009, a band Apple Music noted dabbled in everything from distorted synth punk to repetitive Krautrock-styled jamming over the next several years. After Regal Degal disbanded, Da Costa and Whitelock formed CMON and released their eponymous EP in 2018. According to Apple Music, The duo kept some of the textural atmospheres of their previous band but leaned heavily into programmed rhythm and disco-pop grooves on their 2020 debut Confusing Mix of Nations. Blue-ray Saturday is CMON’s new single that appeared December 10. The melodic mid-tempo tune doesn’t sound at all like disco-pop. If anything, the melody of the laid-back tune reminds me a bit of Bob Dylan’s Like a Rolling Stone. In any case, I like the feel of it. Plus, it’s quite catchy!

Sea Girls/This Is The End

Sea Girls are an indie rock band from England I first featured in an August Best of What’s New installment. They were founded in London in 2015 and include Henry Camamile (vocals, guitar), Rory Young (lead guitar), Andrew Noswad (bass) and Oli Khan (drums). Following their June 2017 debut single Call Me Out and a series of additional self-released singles and three EPs, the band secured a deal with Polydor Records in 2019 and released their full-length debut album Open Up Your Head on August 14 this year. This Is The End is their new single that came out on December 4. Back in August, I called the band’s guitar-driven sound catchy. I still stand behind that statement. The title also makes the song an appropriate choice to wrap up this installment.

Sources: Wikipedia; Blabbermouth.net; Consequence of Sound; Apple Music; YouTube

Dylan by Others

A playlist of great Bob Dylan covers

The idea of putting together a playlist of great Bob Dylan covers came when I listened to Them and their fantastic version of It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue. I have to give credit where credit is due. The impetus to revisit the Northern Irish garage rockers who launched the musical career of Van Morrison came from Max at PowerPop and his post about Them tune Mighty Like a Rose.

With so many artists having covered Dylan tunes, finding examples was very easy. The hard part was to limit the list to ten tracks, even though I deliberately focused on his ’60s albums for all but one track. I just couldn’t help it – Dylan’s early phase is the one I know and like the best!

Stevie Wonder/Blowin’ in the Wind

Kicking off this playlist is the great Stevie Wonder who included Blowin’ in the Wind on his studio album Up-Tight released in May 1966. His cover also came out separately as a single, yielding a No. 9 hit on the Billboard Hot 100. Originally, Dylan recorded the track for his second studio album The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan from May 1963. I love how Wonder took a folk song and turned it into a beautiful soul tune.

Leon Russell/It’s a Hard Rain’s a Gonna Fall

When Leon Russell covers a tune, you just know you gonna get something great. It’s a Hard Rain’s a Gonna Fall was included on his sophomore solo album Leon Russell and the Shelter People that came out in May 1971. The tune is another track from The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan.

Tracy Chapman/The Times They Are a-Changin’

Tracy Chapman’s version of the title track from Dylan’s third studio album The Times They Are a-Changin’ is one of my favorite renditions in this playlist. This is from a special concert at New York’s Madison Square Garden that took place on October 16, 1992 to celebrate Bob Dylan’s 30th anniversary as a recording artist. It was captured on a live double album appropriately titled The 30th Anniversary Concert Celebration and released in August 1993. Dylan’s original recording first appeared in January 1964.

Johnny Cash & June Carter Cash/It Ain’t Me, Babe

I simply couldn’t leave out The Man in Black from this collection. Here’s Johnny Cash’s version of It Ain’t Me, Babe featuring June Carter Cash. It was included on The Essential Johnny Cash, a compilation that appeared in February 2002 to commemorate Cash’s 70th birthday. The original was part of Another Side of Bob Dylan, his fourth studio album from August 1964.

The Byrds/Mr. Tambourine Man

Not many other things get me as excited as the beautiful jingle-jangle sound of a Rickenbacker electric guitar. I also couldn’t think of anyone better in this context than Roger McGuinn and The Byrds who covered various Dylan tunes. My favorite remains Mr. Tambourine Man, their first single released in April 1965. The tune also was the title track of their debut album that came out in June of the same year. Dylan’s original was included on Bringing It All Back Home, his fifth studio album from March 1965.

Them/It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue

Now on to the tune that trigged the idea for the entire list. Them’s rendition of It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue has to be one of the best Dylan covers of all time. They included it on their second album Them Again from January 1966, the last to feature Van Morrison who subsequently launched a solo career and remains active to this day. Dylan’s original is another track from Bringing It All Back Home.

Mick Ronson & David Bowie/Like a Rolling Stone

Until today, I had never heard of this version of Like a Rolling Stone, which appeared on Mick Ronson’s final solo album Heaven and Hull from May 1994. For this tune, the ex-Spiders From Mars guitarist teamed up with the former band’s frontman David Bowie. What a cool rendition! Dylan first recorded the track for Highway 61 Revisited released in August 1965. The maestro’s sixth studio album remains my favorite.

Joe Cocker/Just Like a Woman

A covers playlist definitely has to feature who perhaps is the ultimate master of the cover: Joe Cocker. His take of Just Like a Woman was included on his debut With a Little Help From My from My Friends released in May 1969. That album’s title track may well be the ultimate rock cover. As for Dylan, he first recorded the tune for his seventh studio album Blonde on Blonde from June 1966.

Jimi Hendrix/All Along the Watchtower

This next tune was another must to feature. Jimi Hendrix’s version of All Along the Watchtower, which appeared on Electric Ladyland, the third and final studio album by the Jimi Hendrix Experience, just is absolutely killer! No disrespect to Bob Dylan, who after all penned the song, but after listening to Hendrix, one could be forgiven to forget about the original. Admittedly, I had known this cover for many years before I first heard Dylan’s rendition, which he included on his eighth studio album John Wesley Harding released in December 1967.

Indigo Girls/Tangled Up in Blue

I’d like to wrap things up with a beautiful cover of one of my favorite Bob Dylan songs, Tangled Up in Blue. It first appeared on his 15th studio album Blood on the Tracks from January 1975. In October 1995, Atlanta folk rock duo Indigo Girls released a live album titled 1200 Curfews, which features this incredible eight-minute version of the Dylan gem.

Sources: Wikipedia; YouTube

My Playlist: Jackson Browne

“…The Pretender, These Days, For Every Man, I’m Alive, Fountain of Sorrow, Running On Empty, For a Dancer, Before the Deluge. Now, I know the Eagles got in first; but let’s face it it – and I think Don Henley would agree with me – these are the songs they wish they had written. I wish I had written them myself, along with Like a Rolling Stone and Satisfaction…”

The above words were spoken by Bruce Springsteen in 2004 as part of his Rock & Roll Hall of Fame induction speech for Jackson Browne. Springsteen also recalled when he first met Browne in New York City at The Bitter End, a storied Greenwich Village performance venue, he knew the singer-songwriter from California was “simply one of the best”. Coming from somebody who has written so many great songs himself and during that same speech also admitted to be “a little competitive”, I think these remarks speak volumes.

The first Jackson Browne record I listened to in its entirety was what I still consider a true ’70s gem: Running On Empty. If I recall it correctly, my brother-in-law had it on vinyl, and I initially copied it on music cassette. I was spending countless hours at the time taping music from records, CDs and certain radio programs. I still have hundreds of tapes floating around. While it’s safe to assume the quality of most is less than stellar at this time, I just cannot throw them out!

Back to Browne with whom I happen to share one fun fact: We were both born in Heidelberg, Germany, though close to 18 years apart. Browne’s dad was stationed in Germany, working for American military newspaper Stars and Stripes. Two of his three siblings were born there as well. In 1951 when Browne was three years old, his family relocated to Los Angeles.

During his teenage years, Browne started performing folk songs at local L.A. venues like The Ash Grove and The Troubador Club. After graduating from high school in 1966, he joined country rockers Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, which would later record some of his songs. After a few months, Browne left and moved to New York City where he became a staff writer for Elektra Records’ publishing company Nina Music.

In 1967, Browne met and became romantically involved with singer Nico of The Velvet Underground. He became a significant contributor to her debut solo album Chelsea Girl. After they broke up in 1968, Browne returned to Los Angeles where he met Glenn Frey soon thereafter. Before he started recording his own songs, Browne’s music was recorded by other artists such as Tom Rush, Gregg Allman, Eagles, Linda Ronstadt and of course the aforementioned Nico and Nitty Gritty Dirt Band.

In 1971, Browne finally managed to get a deal with Asylum Records, and in January 1972, he released his eponymous debut album. Thirteen additional studio records have since appeared, as well as seven compilation and live albums and more than 40 singles. And this brings us to the most fun part of the post: Some of Browne’s music he has released during his close to 50-year recording career.

I’d like to kick things off with Song for Adam from Brown’s above noted eponymous debut album. The mournful memory of Adam Saylor, a friend of Browne who died in 1968 – possibly by suicide – was covered by various other artists, including Gregg Allman, who included a moving rendition with Browne singing harmony vocals on his final studio album Southern Blood from September 2017.

By the time Browne recorded Take It Easy for his sophomore album For Everyman, which appeared in October 1973, the Eagles had released the tune as their first single in May 1972. It gave them their first hit peaking at no. 12 on the Billboard Hot 100 and one of their signature songs. Originally, Browne began writing the tune for his eponymous debut album. But he got stuck with it, so played it to his friend Glenn Frey, who ended up finishing it. When Browne finally recorded the song, he also released it as a single, but it didn’t chart – perhaps it sounds pretty similar to the Eagles‘ version.

Fountain of Sorrow is a great track from Browne’s third studio Late for the Sky. Released in September 1974, it was his first top 20 record in the U.S., climbing to no. 14 on the Billboard 200. Like Take It Easy, the tune also appeared separately as a single but did not chart either.

In November 1976, Browne released The Pretender, his fourth studio album. It was his first major album chart success, climbing to no. 5 on the Billboard 200, and marking his first record to chart in the U.K., where it reached no. 26. Here’s the title track, which also became the second single. It did moderately well, reaching no. 58 on the Billboard Hot 100 – love that tune!

Next is the album that started my Jackson Browne journey: The amazing Running on Empty from December 1977. Frankly, I could list each tune on that record, so let’s go with one that is a less obvious choice: The Road, written by American singer-songwriter Danny O’Keefe. Themed around life on the road as a touring musician, Running on Empty was an unusual record featuring live recordings on stage and in other locations associated with touring, such as hotel rooms, tour buses or backstage. The first 2:28 minutes of The Road were captured in a hotel room in Columbia, Md., while the remainder was recorded live at Garden State Arts Center in Holmdel, N.J., which nowadays is known as PNC Bank Arts Center and a venue where I’ve seen many great shows.

In June 1980, Browne released Hold Out, his sixth studio album. While the record received poor reviews from music critics, ironically, it became his only no. 1 album in the U.S. It also was Browne’s second record to chart in the U.K. Here’s Of Missing Persons, a beautiful tribute to Little Feat co-founder Lowell George, a collaborator and longtime friend of Browne’s who had passed away the year before. The tune was specifically written for George’s then six-year-old daughter Inara George who since became a music artist as well.

For many years, Jackson Browne has been a political activist, e.g., speaking up against the use of nuclear power and supporting environmental causes. But it wasn’t until the ’80s that political themes starting to play a more dominant role in Browne’s lyrics. The album that comes to my mind first in that context is Lives in the Balance, which came out in February 1986. Here’s the catchy opener For America. It also became the lead single and reached no. 30 on the Billboard Hot 100.

For the next tune, I’m jumping to the ’90s, specifically to February 1996 and Browne’s 11th studio album Looking East. Like many of his previous records, it featured various notable guests, such as Bonnie Raitt, David Crosby, Ry Cooder and Mike Campbell. Here is Baby How Long, for which Cooder provided a great slide guitar part and Raitt sang harmony vocals, together with Australian singer Renée Geyer.

Let’s do two more from the current millennium. First up: The title track from The Naked Ride Home, Browne’s 12th studio album from September 2002, which my streaming music provider served up as a listening suggestion that in turn triggered the idea to do this post.

The final song I’d like to highlight is from Browne’s most recent 14th studio album Standing in the Breach, which was released in October 2014. Here is the nice opener The Birds of St. Marks. Originally, Browne wrote that tune in 1967 after his breakup with Nico and return from New York to California. While first released on his 2005 live album Solo Acoustic, Vol. 1., it wasn’t until this 2014 studio album that Browne properly recorded the tune. “This is a song I always heard as a Byrds song, and that was even part of the writing of the song,” Brown told Rolling Stone in an August 2014 interview. Standing in the Breach became a remarkable late-stage career chart success, reaching no. 15 on the Billboard 200 and no. 31 in the U.K.

Earlier this year, in the wake of testing positive for COVID-19 (though luckily with relatively light symptoms), Browne released A Little Soon to Say, a song from his next studio album scheduled for October 9, which I featured in this previous Best of What’s New installment. To date Browne has sold more than 18 million albums in the U.S. alone. Apart from the above mentioned Rock & Roll Hall of Fame induction, Browne has also been inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame in June 2007. He is ranked at no. 37 in Rolling Stone’s 2015 list of 100 Greatest Songwriters of All Time.

Sources: Wikipedia; Rolling Stone; YouTube

Best of “Bobfest”

Sometimes one beautiful thing leads to another. In my previous post, I wrote about Tom Petty’s affection for The Byrds and how he covered some of their tunes. One of the clips I included was a performance of Mr. Tambourine Man, the Bob Dylan tune popularized by The Byrds with their beautiful jingle-jangle version in the mid-’60s. The footage came from a concert that celebrated the 30th anniversary of Dylan’s eponymous debut album. This prompted me to further check out that tribute show and boy, do I love what I found!

The four-hour concert took place at Madison Square Garden in New York City on October 16, 1992. Regardless of what you think of Dylan, the fact that he is revered by so many top-notch artists speaks for itself. It was certainly reflected in the concert’s line-up, which featured John Mellencamp, Stevie Wonder, Lou Reed, Willie Nelson, Johnny Cash, Neil Young, Johnny Winter, Eric Clapton, George Harrison, Tom Petty and Roger McGuinn, among others.

The house band for the show included Booker T. Jones (organ) and other former members of the MG’s Donald “Duck” Dunn (bass) and Steve Cropper (guitar), along with Anton Fig and Jim Keltner (each on drums). And there were countless other musicians in different capacities I haven’t even mentioned. This was possibly a one-of-a-kind concert!

Let’s kick off the music with Like a Rolling Stone performed by John Mellencamp and special guest Al Kooper on the organ – great way to open the night! Dylan first recorded the classic tune for his sixth studio album Highway 61 Revisited from August 1965.

Among the show’s true gems was Stevie Wonder’s performance of Blowin’ in the Wind. One of the defining protest songs of the ’60s, it was the opener to Dylan’s sophomore album The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan released in May 1963. As Wonder eloquently said, it’s a tune that “will always be relevant to something that is going on in this world of ours.” I’m afraid his words still ring true today.

Next up: Tracy Chapman and her beautiful version of The Times They Are A-Changin’. Recently, I’ve gained new appreciation of the singer-songwriter thanks to badfinger20, who covered Chapman the other day on his great PowerPop blog. The Times They Are A-Changin’ is the title track of Dylan’s third studio album that appeared in January 1964.

Ready for some hardcore blues? Enter Johnny Winter and his scorching version of Highway 61 Revisited, the title track of the above-noted album from August 1965. Ohhh, wham bam thank you man, to borrow creatively from David Bowie. Unfortunately, I could only find the audio version, but I think you can still picture it.

Just Like Tom Thumb’s Blues is yet another tune from the Highway 61 Revisited album. If I would have to name my favorite Dylan record, I think this would be it. Of course, the caveat is I haven’t listened to all of his records, not even close! The artist who got to perform the tune during the concert was Neil Young, who did a great job. BTW, he dubbed the concert “Bobfest,” according to Wikipedia.

Here’s a great cover of I Shall Be Released by Chrissie Hynde. The first officially released version of the song was on the July 1968 debut album by The Band, Music From Big Pink. Dylan’s first recording occurred during the so-called Basement Tapes sessions with The Band in 1967, which was released on The Bootleg Series 1-3 in 1991. In 1971, Dylan recorded a second version that appeared on Bob Dylan’s Greatest Hits Vol. II from November that year.

Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right is one of my favorite Dylan tunes, so I faithfully followed his advice and didn’t hesitate to call it out. It’s another song from The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan. Eric Clapton did a beautiful job making it his own. Don’t think twice, check it out!

George Harrison’s appearance at the show was remarkable. It marked his first U.S. concert performance in 18 years. Sadly, it would also be his last time performing in public, as Rolling Stone noted in a January 2014 story previewing the March 2014 super deluxe reissue of the concert. Harrison covered Absolutely Sweet Marie, a tune from Blonde on Blonde, Dylan’s seventh studio album from June 1966.

Of course, I couldn’t write about the bloody concert without including Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, who performed Rainy Day Women #12 & 35, another track from Blonde on Blonde. Love it!

For the final clip in this post, it’s about time to get to the man himself and My Back Pages. He first recorded the tune for his fourth studio album Another Side of Bob Dylan, which appeared in August 1964. For his rendition at the show, he got a little help from his friends Roger McGuinn, Tom Petty, Neil Young, Eric Clapton and George Harrison. That’s what friends are for, and they did a great job!

The last word shall belong to guitarist and the show’s musical director G.E. Smith, who is quoted in the above Rolling Stone story: “That gig was one of the highlights of my career… There aren’t a lot of people that can attract a lineup like that, and everyone was on their best behavior. Lou Reed and Neil Young can be prickly, but not in the three days we were prepping that show. I also got to talk to Johnny Cash. What’s cooler than that?”

Sources: Wikipedia; Rolling Stone; YouTube

On This Day In Rock & Roll History: August 28

1964: The Beatles performed the first of two gigs at Forest Hills Tennis Stadium in Queens, New York during the U.S. leg of their world tour that year. They played their standard 12-song set of original tunes largely drawing from the A Hard Day’s Night album, as well as rock & roll covers. The tunes included Twist And ShoutYou Can’t Do ThatAll My LovingShe Loves YouThings We Said TodayRoll Over BeethovenCan’t Buy Me LoveIf I FellI Want To Hold Your HandBoysA Hard Day’s Night and Long Tall Sally. After the show, The Fab Four met Bob Dylan who visited them in their suite at the Delmonico Hotel in New York City. Beatles biographer Jonathan Gould noted the musical and cultural significance of the meeting, saying within six months, “Lennon would be making records on which he openly imitated Dylan’s nasal drone, brittle strum, and introspective vocal persona”; and six months after that, Dylan began performing with a backing band and electric instrumentation, and “dressed in the height of Mod fashion.” While the fact that great music artists influence each other isn’t exactly surprising, based on The Beatles Bible’s account of that night, it seems to me John, Paul, George and Ringo primarily got stoned with Dylan who brought along some grass to smoke. Not really sure how much their condition allowed them to have meaningful conversations about music. Here’s some footage from the Forest Hills show, a great illustration of Beatlemania, which makes me wonder why The Beatles didn’t stop touring earlier.

1965: Exactly one year after The Beatles, Bob Dylan took the stage at Forest Hills Tennis Stadium, marking the first night of a 40-date North American tour. Following a solo section, Dylan played an electric set. This all happened only about a month after he had rattled the “folkies” at the Newport Folk Festival. On that night in Forest Hills, Dylan’s electric backing band featured guitarist Robbie Robertson and drummer Levon Helm, who were then associated with a band called The Hawks, a predecessor to The BandHarvey Brooks (bass) and Al Kooper (organ) rounded out the line-up. After the first two shows of the tour, Robertson and Helm insisted that their mates from The Hawks join Dylan’s backing band: Rick Danko (bass), Garth Hudson (keyboards) and Richard Manuel (drums). Dylan agreed, and until May 1966, they would be billed as Bob Dylan and the Band. Here’s a clip of Like A Rolling Stone, which supposedly was captured from the Forest Hills gig. The sound quality is horrible, but, hey, it’s mighty Dylan and it’s historical!

1968: Simon and Garfunkel’s fourth and second-to-last studio album Bookends hit no. 1 on the UK Official Albums Chart Top 100, starting a five-week run in the top spot there. Apart from the title track, the record featured gems like America and the no. 1 U.S. single Mrs. Robinson. Written by Paul Simon, the tune had become famous the previous year when it had been included in the American motion picture The Graduate. I’ve always loved the bluesy touch of that song.

1972: Alice Cooper topped the British singles chart with School’s Out, scoring his only no. 1 hit anywhere in the world. Credited to Cooper (lead vocals) and the members of his band at the time, Michael Bruce (rhythm guitar, keyboards, backing vocals), Glen Buxton (lead guitar), Dennis Dunaway (bass, backing vocals) and Neal Smith (drums, backing vocals), the tune was the title track of the band’s fifth studio album released in June 1972. School’s Out also became Cooper’s biggest chart success in the U.S., peaking at no. 7 on the Billboard Hot 100. According to Songfacts, Cooper during a 2008 interview with Esquire said, “When we did ‘School’s Out,’ I knew we had just done the national anthem. I’ve become the Francis Scott Key of the last day of school.” It’s also safe to assume, Cooper shocked some school principals and parents.

1981: British DJ, producer and band manager Guy Stevens passed away at the age of 38 years from an overdose of prescription drugs he was taking to reduce his alcohol dependency – yikes! Among others, Stevens gave Procol Harum and Mott the Hoople their distinct names. He also co-produced The Clash’s fifth studio album London Calling from December 1979, together with Mick Jones, the band’s co-founder, lead guitarist and co-lead vocalist. Stevens also brought Chuck Berry to the U.K. for his first tour there in 1963. He also was the president of the Chuck Berry Appreciation Society. According to Wikipedia, Stevens introduced lyricist Keith Reid to keyboarder Gary Brooker and told Reid at a party that a friend had turned “a whiter shade of pale”. Supposedly, these words inspired the song with the same title that was subsequently recorded by Brooker’s newly formed band Procol Harum and became a major international hit in 1967.

Sources: Wikipedia, This Day In Music, The Beatles Bible, Songfacts, YouTube

Rolling Stones Can’t Get No Satisfaction And Release New Live Concert Film/Album

I suppose after more than 25 predecessors, it’s fair to ask whether we really need another live album from The Rolling Stones, especially knowing there will never be a repeat of Get Yer Ya-Ya’s Out. As somebody who has enjoyed listening to the Stones for some 40 years, I don’t have a problem with it; while I don’t necessarily love each and every new Stones record, I always find it cool when they release new albums, though it’s safe to assume I’m biased here.

Bridges To Bremen first and foremost is a concert film that’s also available in audio-only formats. It captures the Stones’ full show at Weserstadium in Bremen, Germany on September 2, 1998 during what was the fifth and final leg of their Bridges To Babylon tour. For the most part, it is a collection of the band’s greatest hits, combined with some songs from their then-new album Bridges To Babylon.

Rolling Stones Bridges To Bremen Concert Shot
The Stones in action at Bremen’s Weserstadium (from left): Ronnie Wood, Keith Richards and Mick Jagger

According to the Stones’ website, Ever the innovators, Bridges To Babylon was a tour of firsts – the first time the band went on the road with a permanent B-stage, and also the first time where fans could vote on the band’s website for a track they wanted to hear on the setlist – Memory Motel in the case of the Bremen fans. This concert film has been meticulously restored from the original masters, and the audio remixed and remastered from the live multitrack recordings.

Interestingly, the Stones opted to kick off the show with their best known song that is oftentimes reserved until the end of their concerts: (I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction. The tune was first released as a single in the U.S. in June 1965 and was also included on the band’s U.S. version of Out Of Our Heads, their fourth studio release in America. I wouldn’t have called it out, would it not have been for the fact that there are currently only two clips on YouTube from the concert film and I didn’t want to settle for audio clips only. Plus, let’s be honest here, while I must have listened to the friggin’ tune more than one thousand times, I still get a kick watching Keith Richards launch into the song’s signature riff.

The other clip I’d like to highlight is a nice cover of Like A Rolling Stone. Obviously, the band’s formation predates the Bob Dylan tune, so there’s no connection between the song and Stones’ name. In fact, the latter was inspired by a 1950 Muddy Waters track called Rollin’ Stone. Dylan first released Like A Rolling Stone as a single in July 1965. The tune also was included on his fifth studio album Highway 61 Revisited that came out in August that year.

Bridges To Bremen came out today. Here’s the complete track list:

1. (I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction
2. Let’s Spend The Night Together
3. Flip The Switch
4. Gimme Shelter
5. Anybody Seen My Baby?
6. Paint It Black
7. Saint Of Me
8. Out Of Control
9. Memory Motel
10. Miss You
11. Thief In The Night
12. Wanna Hold You
13. Its Only Rock ‘n’ Roll (But I Like It)
14. You Got Me Rocking
15. Like A Rolling Stone
16. Sympathy For The Devil
17. Tumbling Dice
18. Honky Tonk Women
19. Start Me Up
20. Jumpin’ Jack Flash
21. You Can’t Always Get What You Want
22. Brown Sugar

In addition, the concert film comes with four bonus tracks that were captured in Chicago during the same tour:

1. Rock And A Hard Place
2. Under My Thumb
3. All About You
4. Let It Bleed

Sources: Wikipedia, Rolling Stones website, setlist.fm, YouTube