The Best of The Bootleg Series
Columbia / Legacy
We used to talk about Bob’s Never Ending Tour 10 years, 20 years, 30 years, only Covid could postpone it. And somewhere in there another anniversary started to pile up. The Bootleg Series. A three volume set of rarities was boxed-up to blow minds back in 1991 – it covered 30 years and unearthed gems like Blind Willie McTell; songs so good your jaw dropped. How could this artist leave it off the album? I mean, sure, it was Bob Dylan. But also: Blind Willie McTell! There was room on Infidels for it. But apparently there wasn’t. Lord knows there was plenty of room on Empire Burlesque. But if we didn’t already know that Bob’s bootleg files were big we sure got to understand that with the official release of the Bootleg Series.
And since then we’ve had complete shows (the infamous “Judas” catcall, publishing demos (Whitmark), alternate takes of whole albums (Blood On The Tracks) and reappraisals of allegedly difficult eras (country crooner and covers artist in the late 60s/early 70s, reborn gospel singer in the late 70s/early 80s). There are many, many Bob Dylans. As well there should be since this rolling stone ain’t there to gather moss and was born under quite another name (also, in another lifetime, one of toil and blood…)
The Best of The Bootleg Series is, of course, no such thing. But it is a double disc-equivalent sampler for the digital streaming platforms. ‘Tis but a surface-scratch. But the very best thing about Compilation Bob is having A Hard Rain’s A Gonna Fall rub shoulders with Series of Dreams, is having Most of The Time heard as an acoustic strum-chum to Seven Days, is having Wanted Man all but drunken-crooned in duet with Johnny Cash after marveling at the stinging lead lines on Maggie’s Farm or the quiet contemplation of Mississippi when still in outtake mode; Visions of Johanna might be stripped of its crawling menace in upbeat mode but you can’t ever dull the fire of those lyrics. Same with a languid, almost fucking Doors-like rehearsal take of Just Like Tom Thumb’s Blues.
And just what is the best version of Tangled Up In Blue? Well right now it’s Take 3, Remake 3 because that’s the one that’s here and the one I’ve just heard and god what a song eh!
Here you’ll hear an outtake (Up To Me) and wonder why it wasn’t the world’s biggest hit. You’ll hear an also ran (Baby, Let Me Follow You Down) and marvel at how together it is, or a live version that just absolutely kills (The Groom’s Still Waiting At The Altar, Slow Train).
My enthusiasm for the Bootleg Series is there every time a new one is announced. What’s going to be next? They say it’s going to be Infidels. Of course I am there for that. Won’t matter if it’s something else altogether. I bet there’s a good story to tell around Time Out of Mind – more than we heard on the actual record (which to many would seem like enough of course). I want more Wilburys but I doubt we’ll get any. But I don’t always want more full concerts – but that’s probably only because I regularly go to YouTube and get my fill.
Oh, and it ends with Every Grain of Sand, the 1980 demo version that was jammed in the middle of the original 3-vol. Bootleg Series back 30 years ago. That was one of the songs that just melted my face back then as a teen. One of the songs that made me know I’d be on this journey for life.
So, if you never got it you won’t ever need this. But if you’re bitten by the bug you will save this in your playlists or access it in whatever way you do on whatever platform. And it might make you head back to individual volumes – many of them have been fleshed out to full on the streaming services, having just been represented by flimsy single-disc allocations. I don’t know every Bootleg Series volume like I know every original album release by Bob. But there’s time. Still. And while there is I know I’ll be making the effort. This sampler compilation just lit another new fire.