This is an unusual collection. It’s not strictly “greatest hits” as it includes several songs not even on albums. I’m not sure what the think was, greater representation of material? Lost gems?
I’ll review the collection and then offer an alternative single CD set of Dylan tunes from the same period. I’m not a Dylan expert, but I have most of his albums from the 1970s and 1980s. For the Dylan completest, there is a ton of material available from this period – live recordings, demos and alternative versions. For this collection, I am going to stick with the original releases including the live albums.
Dylan was one of Columbia Records most successful artist, but they did not always consult him on releases like this. I was available, but they did not call. I’m in the book.
This set covered the period 1973-1990, which is a huge time frame. His two previous greatest hits sets covered only a few years each. By 1973, Dylan had been into his recording career for a decade. The material on his two previous greatest hits collects is simply incredible, a big chunk of the songbook of the 1960s.
The third greatest volume of material is more eclectic, fewer songs from the radio. Dylan’s music, and like many similar artists, no longer fit the popular radio format.
“Tangled Up in Blue” from Blood on the Tracks, 1975. The best known song from the album, a top forty hit. Smart lyrics and an inviting melody. It is certainly deserving of being on a greatest hits collection, as are couple of other songs from that collection.
“Changing of the Guards” from Street Legal, 1978. Dylan and God. The gospel chorus takes a bit of getting used to, it gets a bit annoying, given the nearly seven minute length of the song. It has a catchy melody, I’ll give him that.
“The Groom’s Still Waiting at the Alter” a b-side from several singles, a pounding blues song. Honestly, there are better songs for a greatest hits collection.
“Hurricane” from Desire, 1975. The epic song about Ruben “Hurricane” Carter. Desire is a favorite of mine. There are equally good songs on the album but “Hurricane” was the showcase.
“Forever Young” from Planet Waves, 1974. Recorded with members of the Band. Great song, this version conveys a very different feeling than the various cover versions. Dylan’s creative talent was so immense, that thankfully artists like Jimi Hendrix, Manfred Mann and Rod Stewart found gems like this and exploited the genius in those songs.
“Jokerman” from Infidels, 1983. Infidels is one of my favorite Dylan albums. He made a great choice of asking Mark Knopfler to co-produce the album. Among the musicians is Mick Taylor (Rolling Stones). Knopfler livens it up with the rhythm section of Sly and Robbie. The production gives the song a very clean, un-muddled sound.
“Dignity” unreleased song, recorded during the Oh Mercy sessions. I don’t know if this is truly “greatest” since the song never made an official album. It is a good song. Released as a single from this collection after some extensive reworking.
“Silvio” from Down in the Groove (1988). I am less familiar with Down in the Groove, because the recent albums by Dylan weren’t that good. “Silvio” is bouncy song co-written with Robert Hunter (The Greatful Dead).
“Ring Them Bells” from Oh Mercy (1989). A basic arrangement showcases this poignant song. It is a very moving song.
“Gotta Serve Somebody” from Long Train Coming. One of the best songs from the album, the single, but I would trade it for another song on that disc. Recorded at Muscle Shoals by Jerry Wexler and Barry Beckett. Lead guitar by Mark Knopfler.
“Series of Dreams” unreleased song Sounds like Dire Straits, from the Oh Mercy sessions (1989). Produced by Daniel Lanois (U2). It is a very solid song, although it goes on a bit too long in the same style (nearly six minutes in length).
“Brownsville Girl” from Knocked Out Loaded (1986) Written by Dylan and actor/playwright Sam Shepard, produced by Dylan, the song is over eleven minutes long. The Knocked Out Loaded was a weak album, and there is nothing really notable about this song. It’s okay, just not special.
“Under the Red Sky” from Under the Red Sky (1990) Bouncy, very slick production (the Was brothers). Pleasant song, slide guitar from George Harrison. I have never heard this song before. Not really a keeper, but it is okay.
“Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door” from Pat Garrett & Billy the Kid Soundtrack, 1973. Number 12 hit. One of Dylan’s most iconic hits. It you’ve seen the film, you know where the song is placed and its significance. It is interesting to end the album with this song because it points out the weird journey Dylan was on over the next 20 years.
“You’re a Big Girl Now” from Blood on the Tracks. My favorite track on the album. A serious, heart-felt song, with a lovely melody.
“Simple a Twist of Fate” from Blood on the Tracks. Another song richly deserving to be included. This song has been covered by numerous other artists including Joan Baez.
“Black Diamond Bay” from Desire. Written by Dylan and Jacques Levy, it is a song of an mysterious woman. It has one of the best musical structures of songs on the album, and lyrically, it rivals Al Stewart and “Year of the Cat.”
“Shelter From the Storm” from Hard Rain. Originally included on the Blood on the Tracks album, this was included in Dylan’s live set. Hard Rain was a live album released in 1976, from his Rolling Thunder Revue tour. I like this version rather than the studio track, it has more feeling.
“Baby Stop Crying” from Street Legal. I like it better than “Changing of the Guard.” Released as a single but did not chart.
“Covenant Woman” from Saved. A bit overly religious in its lyrics, but that does not ruin the song being quite nice. Saved was from Dylan’s trilogy of Christianity albums period. The only version I could find that wasn’t blocked by Columbia Records is a live version.
“When You Gonna Wake Up” Slow Train Coming. The message of the song is pretty clear, but I never take Dylan too literally in his songs, rather I enjoy the wordplay and creative imagery of his songs. I like the driving beat of the song. Is it better than “Gotta Serve Somebody”? Not really, but I tend to like this song.
“Watered-Down Love” from Shot of Love. This album is underrated and contains some of Dylan’s best lyrics about love. Love is never simple for Dylan and this song is not.
“Don’t Fall Apart on Me Tonight” from Infidels. A love song and one of the nicest melodies on the album. I would include it because it one of Dylans’ more accessible songs.
“Sweetheart Like You” from Infidels. The album had a number of very melodic and memorable songs. This song was released as a single but did not make the top 40. Lyrically, it received criticism for what could be perceived as a backward view of women. I did not delve that deeply into the lyrics.