Graham Reid | | 2 min read
There's plenty of evidence to support the view that when Bob Dylan considers “popular music” (as opposed to pop music) he thinks of the songs before Elvis.
And his idea of rock music is formed by the notion of electric country music more than Led Zeppelin.
It's also noticeable that after he retreats into the past to find inspiration he re-emerges with somethings special and unique.
In 1978 he wasn't in the best place: he didn't want to tour playing all the songs the same way; his marriage had fallen apart and one of his earliest inspirations Elvis Presley (acknowledged in Went to See the Gypsy on New Morning in 1970) had died.
He put together a big band like the kind Presley had in Las Vegas (horns, backing singers) and went on tour reshaping the songs for stadia or even the Vegas lounge.
So treasured songs like Blowing in the Wind were no longer acoustic folk but more akin to a singer on the stage at the Westgate Las Vegas Resort and Casino, milked for the emotion by the singer and the backing vocalists.
A Hard Rain's Gonna Fall which opened his two-hours shows at Japan's famed martial arts Budokan Hall (where traditionalists had protested the Beatles playing there in 1966) was an instrumental and you could imagine Dylan coming on in an American Eagle cape of diamantés and sparkle.
Just Like a Woman lost all its pathos in the arrangement, All Along the Watchtower was now peeling off from Hendrix's version (with saxophonist Steve Douglas on flute, searing guitar by Billy Cox and David Mansfield's violin channeling Scarlett Rivera).
The tour – which came to New Zealand's Western Springs – was controversial: thousands were just glad to see Dylan live (and he spoke to the audience) but others railed against how he had repurposed so many of his song and so unsuccessfully.
The double live Budokan album – initially only available in Japan but given worldwide release due to public demand – divided critics and the most generous said that the album was uneven, full of failed exercises alongside some decent results (like the quiet and slow I Want You).
The four CD box set The Complete Budokan 1978 – not part of the Bootleg Series – is probably too much of a patchy thing for most.
But as expected there are some interesting versions of familiar songs: All I Really Want To Do is a kind of barroom stomper; a furious It's Alright Ma like a Spector production which shifts between Dylan's desperate delivery and the punchy vocal group and horns; I Threw it All Away and The Man in Me come on like gospel songs, which anticipated his next move into Biblically inspired music and his rock'n'soul review.
At he Budokan and on this tour he'd gone back into his past to reinvent himself once again. Not that the “Christian trilogy” that followed was greeted with much acclaim.
His next retreat was into covers of folk and blues songs in the early Nineties before coming back with Time Out of Mind and his remarkable career ever since.
But scrolling back to this big box set, it is uneven but selective listening through the 62 songs allows for some really great interpretations.
Patience, a rare quality in listeners these days, will reveal them.
You can hear this collection at Spotify here