"Blonde on Blonde" 47 Years Later On 45rpm Triple LP Box Set Sounds Better Than Ever!

How to follow up Highway 61 Revisited released in the summer of 1965? Dylan had an impending nine-month world tour to deal with and a band to assemble. He hooked up with an outfit called Levon and the Hawks and after a few weeks of rehearsing and well-received live performances in Texas, he took the group to Columbia Studios in New York.

Between October and January Dylan recorded with the Hawks, over time swapping out a few musicians and taking time in December to tour, but after yet more time spent recording with various group iterations, he called it quits having produced but one acceptable song, “One of Us Must Know (Sooner or Later)”, which was issued as a single and included in the double album that finally emerged after producer Bob Johnston suggested a move to Nashville.

There, an unlikely brew of Jews, blues and Nashville cats took Dylan from despair to exultation.

In a total of seven days—four in February of 1966 and three that March (Al Kooper swears it was all cut in one block, not two)—Dylan and the assembled band recorded all but one of the album’s songs. So productive were the sessions (and was Dylan) that a double LP set was required to contain it all—arguably the first double rock album.

The Dylan industry that has grown up around his recordings constructs historical timelines of his touring schedules and recording sessions and interprets and parses his every belch. If you wish to get into the weeds of what Dylan has accomplished since moving to New York in 1961, you can spend the rest of your life there.

You can read the minutiae chronicling every one of the Nashville sessions that produced this album if you wish and trace the time from the sessions to the album’s release though even that is subject to debate and depending upon whom you ask it’s either May or July.

Forget all of that. What’s most interesting is considering the album from a fan’s perspective in 1966 when none of this backdrop was known and there was no internet or 24 hour publicity machine. Come to think of it, despite the rise of all of that Dylan remains remarkably hidden from view and self-contained. What does he do in his spare time? Play tennis? We never see him in "real life" though just last week in a New York Times story we found out he's big into welding metal sculptures. He remains as enigmatic and mysterious today as he was back then. He's one celeb not suffering from over exposure.

For most listeners, all they knew was that the last they heard from Dylan was the haunting “Desolation Row”, the final tune on the hard blues/rock album Highway 61 Revisited. Or maybe they heard the unlikely single “One of Us Must Know (Sooner or Later)”, a sadder more mournful single you’re not likely to hear.

So while examining the gatefold jacket just to make sure that the guy in the out of focus shot really was Bob Dylan (since nothing on the jacket said it was) it was time to put the record on the turntable and listen. For starters, this guy didn’t look all that much like the punk motorcycle guy on the last album’s cover and the out of focus picture made you wonder if maybe this was the Pickwick International budget album by Bog Dilon or something.

So the stylus drops and you hear this marching band “thunka-thunka” and then a foghorn blast that has some listeners thinking for a half a phrase “Mickey Katz freilach???? until Dylan enters singing in a new voice for him —and for singing in general. He’s swapped a lot of monotone road gravel for a peaky “surprised” sounding voice that has more bass end resonance and less rasp. Listen to how he phrases “Jeez I can’t find my knees!” There’s not a hint of that kind of bemused, sometimes playful vocalizing on the previous album but it’s all over this one.

The opening tune’s double-entendre victimized riff, the raucous not entirely convincing party atmosphere, the horn section all added up to a major head scratcher. It kind of sounded forced at first, especially in context of the last album.

“Pledging My Time” plunges the album into dark territory and then comes one of Dylan’s most perfectly realized songs, “Visions of Johanna”. You can feel the chill, the pocket of heat, the late night lonliness, the voyeurism and the stark contrast between the sex and the vision of Johanna. “One of Us Must Know (Sooner or Later)” ends the side and the first listen was enough for fans to realize Dylan has moved well beyond the third person, sometimes wise-ass commentary on Highway 61 Revisited into a new far more personal realm. Dylan has hit the reset button and re-invented himself physically, vocally and lyrically.

No point in doing a “play by play” other than to note that some songs like “Just Like a Woman” produced some truly ridiculous analyses, like the ones that claimed the song was about Dylan’s tryste with a transvestite or transsexual. That is ridiculous and indicative of the “Dylanworld industrial complex”'s excesses.

“Absolutely Sweet Marie” is the album’s most “bouncy” tracks and it contains one of Dylan’s most oft quoted and quotable lines often adopted by drug dealers: “But to live outside the law you must be honest”. And of course “but then, now again not too many can be like you, fortunately” stings pleasingly.

That’s followed by Dylan’s “Rubber Soul” “answer song” and if by then back in 1966 you weren’t floored, you just weren’t really listening. The album ends with the "Good Mornin' Little School Girl"-like “Obviously 5 Believers” containing Robbie Robertson’s stinging guitar, which could have been on Highway 61 Revisited while “Sad Eyed Lady of the Lowland”—said to be about his wife Sarah— provides the long, long somber denouement. Quite a contrast with the opening hilarity.

The album was the third in the unprecedented and probably unequaled trilogy that was preceded by Bringing it All Back Home andHighway 61 Revisited.

According to Dylan reissue producer Steve Berkowitz, who oversaw this Mo-Fi reissue and who visited here a few days before this reissue arrived, Bob Johnston told him that in Los Angeles (not Nashville) he and Dylan spent three or four days on the mono mix. Dylan split and Johnston then spent about four hours doing the stereo mix. Yes, despite the fact that the mono mix was a short lived release and actually fairly rare, it, not the stereo mix was the document of record for both Dylan and Johnston.

Apparently a 1A stereo pressing does not exist. I’ve never seen one. I bought my copy soon after the album was released and it’s a 3A. I’ve heard stories about remixes and alternative mixes and takes being on certain originals but I’ve not been able to confirm any of that.

At some point the original stereo mix disappeared. A remix produced for the “long box” Columbia gold CD was poorly received and not particularly well-executed. Berkowitz and Michael Braeuer later went back to the multi-track tape and mixed down to two-track analog for the Columbia SACD, obviously taking more than a few hours to accomplish what sounds like a meticulous recreation of the original stereo mix. That mix tape was also used for this Mobile Fidelity 45 rpm reissue.

The reissue is packaged in a box set similar to the label’s Patricia Barber reissues. The records and full-sized booklet are held tight by a piece of black foam. All of the graphics are carefully reproduced and well-presented and there are bonus photographs from cover photo photographer Jerry Schatzberg including one of a cross-legged Dylan holding what looks like a giant Zippo lighter. Another shot from that session was used as a UK-only “Greatest Hits” package. The original gatefold center spread contained an unauthorized shot of the actress Claudia Cardinale, removed shortly after the original release, has not been restored for this reissue. Perhaps the Cardinale estate is still holding out for a payoff?

So how did Mobile Fidelity do here? The sound and overall presentation are simply astonishing. I don’t care how many time you’ve heard this album in stereo, you will hear musically significant details in every track. The instrumental separation and subsequent release of inner detail boggles the mind and ear. The release of information and textures on, for example, the late Kenny Buttrey’s kick drum alone (he died in 2004 at age 59, which means he was but 21 when he drummed on this record) will have you shaking your head. Same for the rhythm guitar fills and the keyboard parts.

Instrumental separation, dynamics, rhythmic drive, textural complexity, bass clarity, placement in space, every aspect of what makes a recording compelling are ramped way up compared to the 3 3A pressings I have, two of which include the Claudia Cardinale photo so I assume them to be early pressings. Dylan’s voice remains somewhat caustic and harsh as intended.

The originals sound soft and mushy by comparison even though I used to think the 3A pressing sounded more than fine.

This 3 45rpm LPs reissue is simply better than the original in every way without showing any kind of revisionist disrespect to the original and that goes for the remix from the multi-track.

Yes, the box is costly, but this is the best stereo version I’ve heard of this absolutely classic and essential Dylan record. I’ve been playing it since 1966. It’s in my DNA. It’s been shaken and stirred by this reissue. It’s better than my most optimistic expectations.

Also recommended: the Sony/Legacy mono box set or the individual monos from Sundazed (though the Sony box’s sound is superior), neither of which sound as good as an original mono pressing but both get you most of the way there.

Music Direct Buy It Now

COMMENTS
mraudioguru's picture

I've had my MOFI copy for several days now and have listened to it twice through.  It is a marvelous reissue!  One of the best from the current incarnation of Mobile Fidelity and they have had some wonderful ones.

Highly recommended!!!

Paul Boudreau's picture

...to this & ordered one from Elusive yesterday evening.  I think I have that SACD around here somewhere, too.  An interesting comparison since both are sourced from the same tape mix?

iyke's picture

Love everything about this record, everything but the stupid-looking knock off of Mosaic's record box. Why couldn't Mofi just stick with the tip-on jacket? It's just inexplicable chose this tacky black box that Mosaic uses. If they wanted to 

Michael Fremer's picture

Since there were three records, a Tip On jacket would have been very difficult. The best they could have done would be a triple gatefold but that would have had to be a "Shorepak" type I think. Has anyone seen an example of a triple-gatefold Tip On jacket? And it would have made the set even more expensive. 

iyke's picture

I have yet to see a shorepak, but I've seen a triple-gatefold that's cheaply done. I know it's academic now but I think an M-pak type box set would have been just fine. Of all the avenues they could have pursued I'm just stunned that they went in the direction of Mosaic. Don't get me wrong I love mosaic, just not their packaging. It's B.O.B. why not go big.

Paul Boudreau's picture

I don't know what "Shorepak" or "Tip On" mean but I do know that a 3LP set with one in the middle of the tryptych is very awkward packaging.  I'd much rather have a box.

Michael Fremer's picture

I use the term to describe jackets where the artwork is directly printed to the paper, which is then folded and glued and in no time, breaks free and begins to come apart. I believe Shorepak was the first company to manufacture this style. I remember when Elektra switched from Tip On to Shorepak and thinking I was witnessing the cheapening of the LP and I was correct! 

Michael Fremer's picture

As a reader pointed out to me in an email, "Rock of Ages" was a triple gatefold "Tip on" reissue from Mo-Fi. In that case though, it reproduced the original. Here it would have required "inventing" new artwork. Since all of these reissues are tightly controlled by and subject to the approval of Dylan's management, perhaps the box was their choice.

Billf's picture

Couldn't agree more with your review. I ordered this when it was announced long ago and it has exceeded my expectations.Superlative.

J. Carter's picture

I couldn't justify $80 for the LP when the SACD version is $30, especially when I can't tell the difference on my system besides the extra noise that vinyl brings to the table (although admittedly its much less with Mofi releases).

 

Having said that it sounds great and I'm very happy with my purchase. Highly recomended!

Michael Fremer's picture

You need to upgrade your analog system and add a record cleaner!

Garbia's picture

I have Sundazed MONO reissue which's pressed at QRP. Sounds great. May consider also this stereo version from MoFi.

Paul Boudreau's picture

How can you tell which Sundazeds are pressed at QRP?  Thanks.

Garbia's picture

Just go to Acoustic Sounds web page and search Dylan vinyl. QRP pressed are marked ASUNQ. I think AS is the only store where you can buy these?

Paul Boudreau's picture

I think Michael commented at some point that the Sundazed Byrds LPs would be pressed by QRP.  I was actually wondering how to distinguish those from previous SD pressings. 

Michael Fremer's picture

I think Sundazed will distribute these QRP pressings to all of their wholesale customers. They made a good decision to move much of the pressing production to QRP.

dhyman's picture

how many versions of these albums i like can i buy?  honestly, it gets depressing. you buy a mono version because you're told "this is the one" and then a new one comes out a year later and you're told "this is the one"  i think i'm sticking to original releases for now on. they'll probably appreciate better too.

Michael Fremer's picture

An original mono will be expensive but that's the mono to have. Comparing 3 original 3A pressings to this new triple 45, I'd get it over any of the originals I have. Choice is not depressing! It's liberating!

AQ Shane's picture

Why would a GREAT reissue be the one that scares you away from the entire market?? I've found a little wine goes better with these reissues than whine ...

As far as stereo pressings go this isn't a record I've seen as being done over and over again. I have just one other stereo copy a 2-eye, and mine must be way rarer than Mikey's- eat your heart out, all four sides are 2A and 2D. (Unless someone poached a later pressing into a Claudia Cardinale jacket ...)

Having so many great reissues is a problem I've always wanted to have. It's a golden age and I for one am enjoying being neck deep in it, not quitting and looking in from the sidelines ...

Depressed? I'm stoked!

Martin's picture

As always, great review. Though I think I'll pass on this one... 

The Sundazed mono is so good it's starting to look obsessive if I go for this one too ;-)

That said, I did get the MoFi SACD of this issue. 

A Question:  Will you be reviewing the recent Bootleg series volume 10, Another self portrait??   I have it, it's great!!!!   I really like it. 

Michael Fremer's picture

I haven't yet bought a copy but I will...

Jeffczar's picture

Just got mine today.  I have bought all of these MoFi Dylan albums and have to say these are beautiful, classy releases in every way.  The packaging, the sound, all very very well done.  I have the original sony SACD's and have been very happy with those on the digital front for years but these albums are really must have items.  Something you can keep and enjoy the rest of your life.  I wish they would do every one of them ( I guess they could leave out Under The Red Sky and Good As I've Been To You).  Highly recommend all of them.  I wish all of the mofi releases were this good, although most are quite good.   Though for some reason I have been disappointed with their SACD,s.  I bought the Billy Joel and the James Taylor ones and frankly have not been blown away with them. I wish I would have gone with the albums instead, perhaps they are better.  Now bring on Kind Of Blue Mobile Fidelity as the Miles albums have been equally impressive.

rakalm's picture

Just cleaned up my 1966 copy.  Very clean by appearance (haven't played it yet).  Marked XSM371165-3A SIDE 1

xsm371166-2d SIDE2

SIDES 3&4 END IN 2D AND 2J.

Is that the designation Michael is referring to with the 1A ect,..

Thanks,

Will update when I play this.  I have the  Sony Mono as well but this would be a real splurge for the MF.  Should sound nice on my new VPI Traveler (1st generation), ABSOLUTELY LOVE IT!!!

Michael Fremer's picture

Yes. The -1A  -1B -1C are all 'first pressings'. One each went to the NJ , Indiana and CA pressing plants. The D, E, F. Not sure how high it went but when it reached the end it went to 1AA, 1AB, 1AC. etc. Eventually it got to 2A etc. then 3A etc. 

cplyons's picture

Duplicate post

cplyons's picture

I have long been in search of a good quality example of the mix of BoB I grew up with, namely the one featuring the original mix of Fourth Time Around. It features what has been variously described as a harmonium, or an organ, or a bass harmonica in the left channel. Very early on that mix was replaced with one minus this "coloration" but with louder drums.

Tell me please that this mix is found on the MoFi!

sanchezj4's picture

I can't believe how amazing this sounds! I know this may sound blasphemous but I actually prefer these Mofi stereo reissues to the sony mono box set. Freewheelin and this title are must haves!

vinyl_lady's picture

Great review! 

I bought the mono the first week the album was released and the stereo about a year later. The mono is definitely better. Since I'm in Denver for RMAF I'm not able to look at the dead wax to determine the pressings. I love this record and can't count the number of times I have played it. I also have the Dylan first 8 studio albums in mono box set and that version is pretty good, but not as good as my original mono IMO. The MoFi 45 rpm is definitely a must buy for any Dylan fan. The detail, clarity, separation, dynamics are terrific. I agree that this one is better than my stereo pressing--much, much better!

Laura

Chemguy's picture

It is as amazing as Michael says. I love it. This is the one to have, so save up and splurge...you will have no regrets.

X