Monday, June 24, 2024

Crosby, Stills & Nash - Songs for Beginners (1970)

Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young released their second studio album, Deja Vu, on March 11, 1970, through Atlantic Records. Mostly recorded during the latter half of 1969, it came as the successor to the highly successful Crosby, Stills & Nash album, which they had toured with the addition of leader Stills' former Buffalo Springfield bandmate Neil Young on guitar and keyboards. It became an even bigger success than its predecessor, with Nash's "Teach Your Children" becoming a hit that summer and the supergroup performing a very successful tour through July 1970. During that tour, they debuted and performed many songs that would later appear on their solo albums, in order to fill out the early acoustic sets and showcase the individual members' talents. It was also probably due to the internal issues the band was facing at the time, with their group spirit giving way to infighting, drug use, and egotism. It was really no surprise when, following the end of the Deja Vu tour, the individual members decided to simply carry on with their solo careers instead of regrouping later in the year to start work on a third LP. It would be three years before the next time CSNY would perform together as a group again.

We will collect the best then-unreleased songs CSN played during their 1970 tour and turn them into a new album, the follow-up to Deja Vu. That way, we have an objective way of selecting the songs, and a way to avoid this turning into a "my favorites" playlist, which has always annoyed me. The reason I chose to exclude Neil Young from this was because I figured the only way CSN could carry on in the 70s would be to leave Neil alone. It seems clear that they could resolve their issues as a three-piece, but not as a foursome, it being no coincidence that when they finally managed to reunite in 1977, Young was nowhere to be seen. When it comes to their quotas, four Stills songs and three each for Nash and Crosby seems fair enough, as Stills was always the domineering one in the group, and he's the one who had the most material available. It would be ten songs long, just like the previous two, and as no high-quality live performances of this tour are available to us, we will have to make do with their solo studio versions. We operate under the assumption they wouldn't save their best songs for their solo albums, so that we can put together the best possible album here. With that out of the way, here's our album:

Love the One You're With (Stephen Stills)
Simple Man (Songs for Beginners)
The Lee Shore (Four Way Street)
Black Queen (Stephen Stills)
Laughing (If I Could Only Remember My Name)
Chicago (Songs for Beginners)
So Begins the Task (Manassas)
Man in the Mirror (Songs for Beginners)
Song With No Words (If I Could Only Remember My Name)
As I Come of Age (Illegal Stills)

Young, Crosby, Nash & Stills performing at the Fillmore East, 1970.

Of the ten songs selected for the album, nine were mainstays of the 1970 CSNY tour. The exception is "Song With No Words", which was only performed during the early 1969 tour. As we're short on Crosby songs for the album, we'll allow it, making it the only outlier in the reconstruction. In "The Lee Shore" we have our only de facto CSN recording, as the only studio version of it available is a Deja Vu outtake. However, given there are plenty of harmonies in the rest of the songs, it's easy to imagine the trademark Crosby, Stills & Nash vocals in most of these songs. The exception is "Black Queen", which would take "Almost Cut My Hair"'s spot as the harmony-less song on the record. "Chicago" incorporates the "We Can Change the World" coda, as it doesn't feel quite complete without it, bringing its runtime to four minutes. Outtakes include Nash's "Sleep Song" and Stills' "We Are Not Helpless". There's nothing wrong with those two, other than the fact that they were played live only once in 1970. Given that the others were played semi-frequently, I thought it was fair to give them preference. With three songwriters in the band, there are always a few outtakes to their albums, and this one would be no different.

In terms of sequencing, this album opens with its probable lead single, "Love the One You're With", with the second side starting with "Chicago", its probable follow-up. Side one ends with Crosby's magnificent "Laughing", and the album ends with one of the best songs on the album, Stills' "As I Come of Age". Other than that, I simply tried to not have two songs by the same member in a row, and put the songs where I thought they fit best. The result was a 41-minute album with roughly equal sides, which is what we were aiming for. Since they'd already released a self-titled album before, I decided to steal the Songs for Beginners title from Nash's album, as it's a nice name and fits this material well, them starting over after Neil's chaotic passage. I also made a nice album cover to go along with it, them rehearsing backstage at a CSNY gig with Young carefully cropped out. This album, which ideally would come out right before Christmas 1970, is a very good record, a better and more focused album than Deja Vu, but without reaching the heights of the debut, somewhat a compromise between the two. It would be nice to see what they would've done during the 70s, their sound and image evolving as they came of age.

- Peter Doggett - CSNY: Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young

Saturday, June 08, 2024

The Rolling Stones - Come On! (1963)

The Rolling Stones released their first single, a cover of Chuck Berry's "Come On", on June 7, 1963, through Decca Records. Backed by a version of Willie Dixon's "I Want to Be Loved", it reached number 21, a minor hit and an impressive result for their first-ever release. The Stones were signed to Decca through the recommendation of George Harrison, the label still reeling from their infamous rejection of the Beatles the year before. And so, after some demo sessions in March 1963 where they stepped into a recording studio for the first time, they recorded on and off for the rest of the year, releasing another single before the year's end, the Lennon/McCartney original "I Wanna Be Your Man". It became a big hit, and showed the label that the Stones had the potential to become a big act in the UK, and their first hit wasn't a fluke. However, Decca was still afraid to commit to a full LP by the band so early, even though they had already recorded enough material to fill one. So, they decided to release an EP instead, a compromise while they decided when and how to make the Stones' first album. The self-titled EP came out in the first week of 1964, featuring the highlights of their 1963 recording sessions, with songs such as "You Better Move On" and "Bye Bye Johnny". With its success, the first Stones album was finally greenlit, and they entered the studio to record it in February 1964.

But what if the Rolling Stones had released their first album in 1963? To answer that question, we will have to collect everything the Stones recorded before their first album, and turn it into a cohesive and feasible record, given the way the record industry worked in 1963. It will feature fourteen songs instead of twelve, just like your average Beatles album of the period. Singles weren't included in albums in the UK at the time, under the premise that the album needed to be worth the money, without songs you've already bought on singles, but we will have to make an exception at this time as we wouldn't be able to fill out a record otherwise, and even if we did, it wouldn't be of the quality we have come to expect of a Stones album. The Beatles' debut album also featured their singles, and so we will use it as a template, having the two songs off the single as either side closers or openers. Along with their early studio recordings, some live recordings of songs from their live set such as "Roll Over Beethoven" made for the BBC are also available, but won't be used here as their sound quality is much too poor. Studio outtakes that weren't officially released are fair game as well, as long as they are in decent enough sound quality. It will only feature a single original, the instrumental "Stoned", a fair cry from the six on Please Please Me, but it will have to do. With that out of the way, here's what our album looks like:

Bye Bye Johnny (Singles Collection)
Money (Singles Collection)
Baby, What's Wrong? (GRRR!)
Go Home Girl (Genuine Black Box)
Bright Lights, Big City (GRRR!)
I Want to Be Loved (Singles Collection)
Come On! (Singles Collection)
I Wanna Be Your Man (Singles Collection)
Stoned (Singles Collection)
Road Runner (GRRR!)
Fortune Teller (More Hot Rocks)
Diddley Daddy (GRRR!)
Poison Ivy (Singles Collection)
You Better Move On (Singles Collection)

Download link:
The Rolling Stones - Come On! (1963)

Jones, Watts, Richards, Jagger & Wyman at ATV Studios, late 1963.

Our first inclusions are from the Stones' first proper studio session, in March 1963 at IBC Studios. With Glyn Johns on the producer's chair, they cut their versions of Rn'B staples "Baby What's Wrong", "Bright Lights, Big City", "Diddley Daddy" and "Road Runner". These recordings are very rough-sounding, for obvious reasons, but are more than good enough to help fill out the album, so we can include them without issue. Their next session, that May at Olympic, produced by Andrew Oldham, they cut their first single, "Come On" and "I Want to Be Loved". Oldham produced another session in August, this time at Decca, where "Fortune Teller" was recorded. Meant for a single, it was left unreleased until it made its way into a compilation a few years afterward by Decca. In October, they reconvened at De Lane Lea to record their next single, "I Wanna Be Your Man" and "Stoned". With it, gifted by the Beatles' Lennon and McCartney, they had their first real hit and were well on their way to stardom. Shortly thereafter in November, they returned and recorded "Poison Ivy", "Money", and "Go Home Girl", with the first two being paired with the leftover recordings from August to form their first EP, and the latter surfacing only through bootlegs. By including all of those songs, we managed to reach our goal of having fourteen songs, and all that's left for us to do is sequence this into a real record.

To sequence these songs into an album, we will have all the songs released either on the EP or on singles open and close the sides, and the lower quality studio outtakes and IBC demos will fill out the middle of the sides, thus burying them deep onto the record and making their lackluster quality less apparent to first-time listeners. Clocking in at 32 minutes with two even sides, Come On! is your typical early '60s album, inessential but fun, giving us a glimpse of the Stones' early stage act. This album would've been released instead of the EP, which only came out because Decca wasn't sure the Stones could release an album and wanted to test the waters first. Coming out hot on the heels of the "I Wanna Be Your Man" single, and right in time for the Christmas season of 1963, I see no reason for this album to fail to sell well. Would it have topped the charts? Who knows, but I'm sure it wouldn't have been a failure, and the Decca executives had no reason to worry. With the EP songs coming out for the first time here, we would have ten out of the fourteen songs on the album being released for the first time here, not up to British standards, but still pretty solid. I've taken both the cover and the title from the great AndrewskyDE from the Steve Hoffman Forums, who put this together a few years back. While their real-life debut album is no doubt much better, it's interesting to see the Stones in this early stage of their long career, just six blues and Rn'B fanatics who wanted to be loved.


Tuesday, May 21, 2024

John Lennon - Now and Then (1977)

John Lennon released Rock and Roll, his sixth studio album, on February 17, 1975, through Apple Records. It was his last until 1980's Double Fantasy, giving way to a period during which he stayed at home, did no recording, and very little songwriting, his "house-husband" period. It came after a period of considerable personal turmoil for Lennon, who had been separated from his wife Yoko Ono for a nearly two-year period between 1973 and 1975, during the so-called Lost Weekend. He spent most of that period getting drunk with his buddy Harry Nilsson, mingling with other stars in Los Angeles, and getting into trouble. During this period, he had also become increasingly disillusioned with his career and the recording industry, after a series of issues that plagued him throughout this period. Those of course included the Beatles' official legal breakup in 1974, his firing of Allen Klein as a manager, the plagiarism lawsuit involving his "Come Together" and Chuck Berry's "You Can't Catch Me", as well as the troubled production of Rock and Roll, which saw producer Phil Spector stealing the master tapes and only returning them a year later. By early 1975, John was tired, discouraged, and ready to move on from those wilder times, and even though he made plans to record a follow-up to Rock and Roll later that year, the idea of taking some time off was certainly already in his mind by then.

Making his decision that much easier was a surprise reconciliation with Yoko in early 1975, followed by her becoming pregnant. It was a very high-risk pregnancy, as she and John had already lost a baby in 1969, and if they were to have a kid, this would most likely be their last chance. Thankfully, Sean was born healthy in October 1975, and a week later, a compilation of non-album tracks called Shaved Fish came out, fulfilling John's contract and freeing him from Apple/EMI. The fact that he had no obligations and plenty to preoccupy himself with at home meant he stopped working, and from there, it was radio silence for the remainder of the 1970s. He wrote and demoed the occasional song, but his only major creative project in those five years was the Ballad of John and Yoko musical, which still ended up unfinished. He only attended a single recording session through this period, to give Ringo a helping hand, but other than that he stayed home, baked bread, took care of Sean, traveled to Japan, and kept music low on his list of priorities. When the odd idea came about, he would take a boombox that was placed near his piano, turn it on (usually with a rhythm box), and tape a few takes of whatever he was working on. He sometimes finished them, sometimes didn't, but they ended up unreleased, relics of the Dakota Years, before a trip to Bermuda in 1980 reenergized him and had him working again.

But what if John had released an album during his five-year hiatus? If we think creatively, we might be able to make an album out of the first two years of it, collecting all the demos he recorded. Of course, to do so we need to set some rules first. Nothing that was on Double Fantasy is to be considered, as this album is meant to bridge the gap between it and 1975's Rock and Roll, not to change the timeline in any significant manner. Also, our cutoff date for this album is 1977, so any song that was begun after that is left for a separate reconstruction. Maybe something for the future! Why 1977, you ask? I decided on it because it was the first year where enough songs for an album were available, and it's the exact middle point between his last two LPs of originals, 1974's Walls and Bridges and 1980's Double Fantasy. This will be twelve songs long, just like his final few albums before Sean was born, and we will be using exclusively John's demos here, to make this as faithful as possible to what he recorded. That means no Threetles overdubs, no fan mixes, and no AI, just John, his guitar/piano, and his boombox. Unfinished songs are fair game, as John really didn't record a lot for the first four years of his House Husband period, and we aren't able to be very picky when it comes to the songs' state of completion because of that. With that out of the way, here's what our reconstruction looks like:

Real Love (Between the Lines)
Everybody (Between the Lines)
She is a Friend of Dorothy's (Between the Lines)
Whatever Happened To? (Between the Lines)
Mucho Mungo (Between the Lines)
Tennessee (Between the Lines)
Free as a Bird (Between the Lines)
One of the Boys (Between the Lines)
Mirror, Mirror (Between the Lines)
Cookin' in the Kitchen of Love (Between the Lines)
Sally and Billy (Between the Lines)
Now and Then (Between the Lines)

John and his son Sean at their home's kitchen, in late 1977.

According to both his mistress May Pang and Apple vice-president Tony King, John already had plans for his follow-up to Rock and Roll in early 1975. He planned to record with David Bowie guitarist Carlos Alomar serving as his musical director, and he had already written two songs for the new album: "Tennessee" and "Everybody". He had even chosen a name for the album, calling it Between the Lines. However, as you probably know, life got in the way, Sean was conceived, and John ended up moving back with Yoko and entering his house-husband years, music ceasing to be one of his priorities. He didn't write any other songs for the whole of 1975, and 1976 saw him write only three new songs: "Cookin' in the Kitchen of Love", written on demand for Ringo, "Sally and Billy", and "She is a Friend of Dorothy's", probably the least productive period of his whole life. Although John had already given it away, "Mucho Mungo" was still seemingly in his head by the time 1976 rolled around, as he could be heard demoing the song at the time. We'll consider that a sign that John wasn't done with this tune yet, either due to dissatisfaction or writer's block, and so had he recorded an album back then, it would have been a serious contender. The same goes for Ringo's song, as it's one of the few songs Lennon actually managed to finish for the whole of this 1975-1977 period, we can't waste it.

John's inspiration seemingly returned to him by the time 1977 rolled around, however, as the bulk of this reconstruction comes from that year. From it, we have "Free as a Bird", "Now and Then", "One of the Boys", "Mirror, Mirror" and "Whatever Happened To?", five songs that could've made for the backbone of a very strong record. Finally, although it wasn't finished until 1980, "Real Love" was begun in late 1977, making it the last song to be written for the album, arriving just in time for us to be able to include it. When it comes to sequencing, I tried to take all of the most finished/strongest songs on the record and use them to open and close the sides, with the more unfinished and low-quality songs hidden away in the middle of the record. I was also trying to avoid having too many ballads in a row, as many of these demos are on the slower side, but the album doesn't seem to drag at any moment. An interesting detail to note is that half the album's songs were released commercially: Nilsson recorded "Mucho Mungo" for his Pussy Cats album in 1974, Ringo recorded "Cookin'" in 1976, and John himself re-did "Everybody" as "Nobody Told Me" in late 1980. Finally, the trilogy of "Free as a Bird", "Real Love" and "Now and Then" was finished by none other than The Beatles, during the Anthology project in the 90s. Not bad for something that's just supposed to be a collection of demos!

Clocking in at 40 minutes with two 20-minute sides, Now and Then is the lost link between two distinct periods of John's life, showing us what he'd been up to all those years. As an album, there's clearly no denying that these songs are very rough and unfinished, but with a little bit of work and the right producer being used (and I'm not convinced Alomar would be the right man for the job), it could've easily been as good as Walls and Bridges. The seeds for a good record are all there, and all that it would take for it to come out is some editing and tinkering. Our album cover is a repurposed pannel by his friend and occasional bass player Klaus Voormann, making for a very strong image. "Real Love" would probably be the lead single off the album, as it's one of the strongest, most finished-sounding songs on it and one of the poppiest ones too, with something lighter such as "Mucho Mungo" serving as its b-side. Although it would be fun to reuse the title, this album cannot be called Between the Lines because it is completely different in concept and in song choice, coming out two years after BTL would have, which means we'll have to settle for a different title. I went for Now and Then, which not only is one of the best songs here, but is also a fitting description of where John was at in 1977: dedicated to raising his son and watching the wheels, music relegated to a hobby he picked up every now and then.

- Between the Lines: Complete Home Demo Recordings 1975-1980

Sunday, May 05, 2024

Van Morrison - Not Supposed to Break Down (1973)

Van Morrison released his seventh studio album, Hard Nose the Highway, in October 1973 through Warner Bros Records. His first fully self-produced album, it was the product of two batches of sessions, one during August and the other during October 1972. Well received critically, it saw the release of fan favorites such as "Warm Love", "Wild Children" and "Snow in San Anselmo", and odd song choices such as a cover of Kermit the Frog's "Bein' Green" and the traditional "Purple Heather". It didn't sell as well as some of its predecessors, as it didn't feature a clear-cut hit single as something like Moondance did, but it charted relatively well and kept Morrison on the good run of albums he was on in the mid-70s. However, immediately after finishing Hard Nose the Highway, he returned to the studio in November 1972, staying until March 1973 and recording seven new songs, nearly enough for a brand new studio album. With those songs in the can, he then spent most of 1973 touring the United States and Europe with the Caledonia Soul Orchestra, something immortalized on the It's Too Late to Stop Now live album. By the time October 1973 rolled around, those songs hadn't yet been released and Van already had a brand new batch of songs, inspired by a trip to his native Ireland. Feeling that it was the strongest collection of songs of the two, he scrapped the late '72 material and released what became known as Veedon Fleece instead, ending up with one of his most revered albums in the process. 

Van recorded an entire album's worth of songs in between the sessions for Hard Nose the Highway and Veedon Fleece which never saw the light of day. These "lost" November 1972/March 1973 sessions carried the same high quality as the great albums Van released during the 1970s, with several of their songs becoming live staples of his, which makes us wonder: why did he not release this album? To right this wrong, we will take all seven songs he recorded in those sessions, alongside others from other sessions in the same time period, and make a brand new album. Hard Nose the Highway outtakes are fair game, as they hail from only a couple of months prior, but anything before that is too early for inclusion. That, unfortunately, means "Wonderful Remark", from the Tupelo Honey sessions of 1971, won't make this reconstruction, but there are three other songs in the compilation that qualify, coming from September 1972. As far as what doesn't make the cut, the great "Sweet Sixteen" cannot be included, as it comes from a standalone April 1973 session after the parameters of this reconstruction, and features Jackie DeShannon on lead vocals, with songwriter Van relegated to backup. The same goes for two songs that were only performed live between May/June 1973: "I Paid the Price" and "No Way", from the It's Too Late to Stop Now box set, two very good songs but that came much too late for us, and thus cannot be included. With that out of the way, here's what our album looks like:

Not Supposed to Break Down (The Philosopher's Stone)
Laughing in the Wind (The Philosopher's Stone)
Madame Joy (The Philosopher's Stone)
Contemplation Rose (The Philosopher's Stone)
Don't Worry About Tomorrow (The Philosopher's Stone)
Try for Sleep (The Philosopher's Stone)
Lover's Prayer (The Philosopher's Stone)
Drumshanbo Hustle (The Philosopher's Stone)
Tell Me About Your Love (Back on Top Single)
There, There Child (The Philosopher's Stone)

Van Morrison performing live, sometime in early 1973.

The seven songs Van recorded between November 1972 and March 1973 are "Not Supposed to Break Down", "Contemplation Rose", "Don't Worry About Tomorrow", "Try for Sleep", "Lover's Prayer", and "Drumshanbo Hustle" from the Philosopher's Stone box set and "Tell Me About Your Love", released in the Back on Top CD single in 1999. Together, they clock in at a measly 37 minutes. Normally, that would be ok, but given that Van's albums in the 70s would be somewhere around the 40+ minute mark, that means we're a couple of songs short. What do we do now? Given that Morrison had a history of including outtakes on his albums ("Listen to the Lion" was recorded during the Tupelo Honey sessions, but became the centerpiece of St. Dominic's Preview), it would be an interesting idea to add leftovers from Hard Nose the Highway to our reconstruction. Luckily, there are three outtakes available to us: "There, There Child", "Laughing in the Wind" and "Madame Joy", all three fantastic songs that would make sensible inclusions to the album. "There There Child" was a setlist staple and "Laughing in the Wind" made occasional appearances during the Caledonia Soul Orchestra tour, which goes to show that even though Van shelved them, he still thought them worthy. Together, they would bring the album to ten songs and 48 minutes, a bit on the longer side but almost identical to Veedon Fleece, which means Van could at least consider doing something similar. With that, all that's left to do is sequencing.

Generally, we'll follow The Philosopher's Stone's sequence of these songs, as they were mostly put together on its sequence, and it was everybody's (myself included) first exposure to these songs, and it's hard to hear them any other way now. We'll only add "Tell Me About Your Love" in-between "Drumshanbo Hustle" and lead single "There, There Child", as there were other songs in between those two, and "Tell Me" manages to fill the gap nicely. When it comes to the album itself, it probably didn't come out because Van's hectic release schedule with Hard Nose the Highway, It's Too Late to Stop Now and Veedon Fleece coming out within six months of each other probably didn't allow space for another studio album to be released in between. If it did, this album would have probably come out in late 1973, four months after Hard Nose and two before Too Late, which only goes to show the insane pace with which Morrison was working at the time. The regular release cycle of album/tour/album simply couldn't keep up with him. As an album, this is every bit the equal of his other 70s release, fitting right in as if it was always meant to be there, being as essential as his other unreleased album, Mechanical Bliss. The cover was my own creation, just the title of one of the best songs on the record accompanied by a picture of him in 1973. It's a shame we couldn't get this extra chapter of Van's discography until much later, but here he again shows how reliable he is as an artist, not prone to failing or breaking down.


Saturday, April 20, 2024

Bob Dylan - Wallflowers (1971)

Bob Dylan released his eleventh studio album, New Morning, on October 21, 1970, through Columbia Records. Considered a return to form after the controversial Self Portrait, it was moderately successful both critically and commercially, setting detractors from the former significantly at ease. 1969 and 1970 were busy years for Bob, where he recorded and released three albums in 18 months, one of them a double. He had done quite a lot of recording, and so he spent the following year of 1971 working under a far less productive rhythm, tracking the occasional song or two without an album in mind. The first example of that came in March, when with Leon Russell in the producer's chair, "Watching the River Flow" and "When I Paint My Masterpiece" were made, with the former getting released as a single in June. From there, his next spurt of activity came a few months later that August, when he performed live at George Harrison's Concert for Bangladesh at Madison Square Garden, his first concert in the United States in six years and one of the greatest performances of his career, as you can see in the film.

Hot from the Bangladesh performance, he made four recordings that September with folkie Happy Traum on banjo and backup vocals. They were all re-recordings of older songs of his that he never got around to releasing on an album, there of them dating back to the Basement Tapes. These recordings were meant to enhance his Greatest Hits, Vol. II compilation, one Dylan had unusually agreed to cooperate with. At year's end in November, he was reunited with Leon Russell, taping two versions of the protest song "George Jackson", and another song that would remain unreleased for the time being. As 1972 rolled around, he performed at The Band's New Year's gig at the Academy of Music, debuting "When I Paint My Masterpiece" and ending with a rousing version of "Like a Rolling Stone". It might've seemed like the beginning of a busy year, but Dylan didn't do anything at all in 1972, going further and further into semi-retirement before being brought back to play a cowboy in a movie. It marked the end of a three-year hiatus between his albums that was nearly unheard of at the time.

But what if Bob Dylan had released a new studio album in 1971? To create this missing link between New Morning and Pat Garrett & Billy the Kid, we will take all the songs Bob recorded throughout the year and piece them together in the best manner we possibly can. Since "George Jackson" was released in two different versions in the same single, it shows that Bob considered both of them worthwhile, meaning we can include either of them on the record. As for the others, we will use the more common studio versions of them, one of each to avoid (too much) repetition. We will also not include any outtakes from either Self Portrait or New Morning, even though an abundance of them exist out there. It would dilute too much the purpose of our reconstruction, and Dylan didn't have the habit of putting things from the vault on new records. Older songs re-recorded during these sessions are fair game, as long as they were unreleased. This record is also studio-only, so even though he performed live twice that year, nothing from those can be included. With that, here's our album:

Watching the River Flow (Greatest Hits Vol. II)
Wallflower (The Bootleg Series Vol. I-III)
Only a Hobo (Another Self Portrait)
George Jackson (Side Tracks)
George Jackson (Side Tracks)
When I Paint My Masterpiece (Greatest Hits Vol. II)
I Shall Be Released (Greatest Hits Vol. II)
You Ain't Goin' Nowhere (Greatest Hits Vol. II)
Down in the Flood (Greatest Hits Vol. II)

Download link:

Dylan and the Band performing live, December 1971.

Our choices for this album are quite simple: every single song Bob recorded in 1971. From the March sessions produced by Leon Russell, we have "When I Paint My Masterpiece" and "Watching the River Flow". From the September session with Happy Traum we have re-recordings of "Only a Hobo", "You Ain't Goin' Nowhere", "Down in the Flood" and "I Shall Be Released". And finally, from the November sessions, we have both the solo acoustic and "Big Band" versions of "George Jackson" and "Wallflower". With that, we have eight songs and nine versions, clocking in at 31 minutes. That might not seem like much, but it's already longer than Nashville Skyline, meaning it's well within the realm of possibility. We could have included some New Morning outtakes such as "Tomorrow is a Long Time", which was featured on Greatest Hits in a live version from 1963, or his cover of "Spanish is the Loving Tongue", which was the b-side to "Watching the River Flow", but the fact that we've managed to break the 30-minute barrier tells us to keep well enough alone.

Including two versions of "George Jackson" might seem like cheating on our part, but the fact that Dylan later did the same thing with "Forever Young" on Planet Waves sets a precedent that we'll be happy to indulge in, given the dearth of material available to us. When it comes to sequencing, I mostly followed the track listing to Greatest Hits Vol. II, as that's where the vast majority of the songs here were released, and shows us how Dylan might have dealt with that material, as well as giving us a nice framework from which to start. With that in mind, we also kick things off with "Watching the River Flow", and side two has the four last songs on GH2 in the very same order they were featured there, making "Down in the Flood" the album closer. The big band version of "George Jackson" closes off side one, and the acoustic version opens side two, again taking a cue from "Forever Young"'s placement on Planet Waves. With that, all we need to do is fill out the first side with "Wallflower" and Greatest Hits Vol. II outtake "Only a Hobo", which only saw release twenty years later, and our work is mostly done.

Wallflowers is a transitional album, his first not to be produced by Bob Johnston since Bringing it All Back Home and part of a move away from straight country music started on New Morning the previous year. The fact that this album features four re-recordings of older material, which weren't released in any other Dylan studio album before this one but were already widely known through other artists' recordings. For that reason, I can see contemporary critics labeling it as lazy or uninspired, which is a fair criticism, even though all four of those versions are quite good. You could even make the argument that this is a sequel to Self Portrait, only this time he's paying homage to his own past work and not other people's. It was titled after what I think is the best song on the album, a gentle country ballad that was inexplicably the only 1971 original composition Bob didn't release at the time. It would surely be interesting to see this coming out instead of Greatest Hits Vol. II, filling a pretty big hole in Bob's life where he had become reclusive and unproductive, himself a Wallflower.