"Another Side of Bob Dylan" Sounding Better Than Ever

Bob Dylan cracks himself up performing some of these songs. Producer Tom Wilson must have gotten it, but recording engineers Roy Halee and Fred Catero might have been ready to stop the tape. After all, this was staid, but still pre-corporate Columbia Records. It was “straight” and at that point Halee was more experienced recording Percy Faith than Bob.

Columbia had never signed anyone like Dylan. Not that anyone else had, either; the closest being signings by Folkways or Vanguard, but those were obscure, record company blips. Compared to what Columbia usually released Dylan was coarse and unpolished. He sang in a sandpaper voice and accompanied himself on guitar. It was primitive by Columbia Records standards and nothing Mitch Miller could abide by. Dylan was “John Hammond’s folly.” Yet by the fourth album, his cultural impact, if not his record sales (this album made it to the mid 40s on Billboard’s Top 100), was significant.

Dylan recorded this entire album of original songs in one day in June of 1964. He sounds slightly toasted—in the zone between effervescence and inebriation— and having taken the weight of the world’s problems off his shoulders, sounded as if he was enjoying every second of his performance even when he wasn’t cracking himself up.

One can imagine Roger McGuinn listening to this album of off-kilter love songs and envisioning the opening to a new musical genre called “Folk-Rock.” Byrds covers abound: “All I Really Want to Do,” the “gypsy girl” exotic “Spanish Harlem Incident,” “Chimes of Freedom” and “My Back Pages.” The Turtles covered “It Ain’t Me Babe” and of course Sonny Bono grabbed “I Got You Babe” from this album’s exhaust pipe: the “babe” from “It Ain’t Me Babe” and the lilt of the poetry from “All I Really Want to Do.”

The album’s transformative lyrical brilliance remains as astonishing today as it was then. Had anyone written a “like” song before about “being friends”—even if that wasn’t the ultimate goal? Had anyone in a pop song so defined a relationship between a girl and boy? Had anyone before so clearly defined the complex, competitive, domineering boy/girl, man/woman relationship by so deftly deconstructing it?

Even Dylan’s throwaways like his “farmer’s daughter” joke “Motorpsycho Nitemare,” filled with then contemporary cultural allusions hasn’t lost its wry luster.

Asked in 1985 about “Ballad In Plain D,” a bitter song about his breakup with then girlfriend the late Suzie Rotolo (seen on the cover of Freewheelin’), Dylan said "I must have been a real schmuck to write that." It’s a vengeful, self-indulgent song—a rarity in Dylan’s songwriting career, but decades later, given Dylan’s iconic status it retains interest.

When Columbia decided to issue an SACD Dylan box set, archivists discovered that a master tape—or even a good useable copy—didn’t exist. So Michael Bauer and my old friend and long time Sony/Legacy producer Steve Berkowitz went back to the source tape, which I assume was a three-track and re-mixed it down to two track analog at Quad Recording Studios in Nashville (where Elliot Mazer recorded Neil Young’s Harvest and the recording site of many classic ‘60s albums).

So, while Mobile Fidelity says they used “the original master tape,” that is only true with as asterisk but it’s also true that under the circumstances anyone who has a problem with the labeling is an idiot in my book.

Bauer and Berkowitz remixed with care, trying to remain true to the original though they made a few improvements. The tack piano on “Black Crow Blues” sounds far cleaner on the remix and Dylan’s left and right hands are better separated. By the way, the sonic contest between the SACD and this new double 45 is no contest and I don’t have to tell you which wins.

No audiophile “chills and thrills” here. It’s just Bob, guitar, harmonica and occasional piano. The vocal recording is kind of raw and sometimes harsh as Bob occasionally bellowed loudly. The verisimilitude of the guitar sound, from the correctness of the string transient to the sound emanating from the body is impressive. Compared to an early “360 Sound” pressing (1AC), this double 45 is far more transparent and the sense that you’re witness to Bob staring into the barrel of the microphone and delivering up these words that still astonish is palpable.

You even hear some technical and/or editing shenanigans heretofore buried in the original vinyl. For instance on “I Don’t Believe In You” at one point Bob laughs and it sounds as if he bumps into the microphone stand. In that instant there’s sort a hiccup effect that could be a punch in or a tape edit that I’ve never before heard (not that it really matters).

Mobile Fidelity’s gatefold packaging incorporates photos in the gatefold SACD package along with others, though sized so that you can really appreciate them and the quality of the black and white and color reproduction. A first-class job all around including the RTI pressing, though one side was more eccentric than I like to see on such a costly LP.

We all know that the legend of Bob Dylan only grows over time. With these releases, we get to own Bob’s work sounding as close to the master tapes as possible. What a treat!

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mauidj's picture

Michael, how does this compare to the Columbia Mono Vinyl Box? Not sure if I want to spend again on this album when I have the Mono vinyl and SACD versions.


Michael Fremer's picture

Pick a track or two and I'll tell let you know.

AndyPrice44's picture

I own the MOFI double 45 of the free wheelin bob dylan. It is one of the best sounding albums I own. It's pretty amazing what one guy can do with just his voice, harmonica and guitar. A rare talent and great to listen to on these wonderful pressings.

Smafdy Assmilk's picture

I assume your use of "eccentric" means off center.

Michael Fremer's picture

Yes. "Eccentric" as opposed to concentric. "Off Center," "out of round," or "makes my tonearm look inebriated". 

mauidj's picture

Michael, how about Ballad in Plain D and Black Crow Blues.

For my 2 cents..........There is quite a difference between the monos and the SACD's regardless of the stereo or mono mixes themselves.

The monos are more natural. Less mechanical. Far deeper soundstage...set further back. You can really hear each piano note or guitar pick as a seperate instance. Dylan's voice is still characteristically strident but with a warmth not present on the silver disc. The harp has a much more breathy sound while retaining the attack and edginess of the instrument. 

Not that the SACD is bad. It's very listenable IMO, but it's just not as real as the mono vinyl. They sound very different but are both enjoyable..just one more so than the other.

So Michael, what's with the new 45's?

Smill1929's picture

I really do not know what Bob Dylan means to this generation of music lovers. Bob Dylan's word and songs soothed me when I was despairing and maybe provided some way of grieving when I hated life and everyone in it and helped me understand some things in life.

Manuela D. Thomas

Tarlow Design

Marom1990's picture

This album contains many great songs and a few losers. All I Really Want To Do is almost unlistenable while Chimes of Freedom, My Back Pages and It Ain't Me Babe are Dylan classics. Overall a little boring but a good listen, too bad there a few clunkers that really take it down.

Tim N. Hill

Tarlow Design Complaint

Javier Rippes's picture

Bonnes nouvelles pour les gens qui aiment les jeux. Nous sommes ici pour vous dire que nous avons trouvé un

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