Heralding Bob Dylan's Return to Secular Music with "Jokerman"
I didn't become a disciple of Bob Dylan until 1983, when he released "Infidels." Until then, I was simply a devoted fan.
I heard "Jokerman" on the local FM radio station and I was hooked. Three of his four previous albums, "Shot of Love," "Saved," and "Slow Train Coming," had been a trip down gospel lane. I wasn't the least bit interested. I'm still not, but I do like "Gotta Serve Somebody."
Between "Slow Train Coming" and "Saved" he snuck in "At Budokan," a double-live album that also remains one of my
Before, "Infidels," I had the essential "Greatest Hits," and "Greatest Hits Vol. II." Who didn't?
As a result, I began to collect his entire catalog in chronological order, like I'd done with a number of artists I'd admired since college. The love of music had led me to pursue a degree in radio broadcasting.
Artists such as Tom Petty and the Hearbreakers, whom he would later tour with and join Petty, George Harrison, Roy Orbison, and Jeff Lynn as part of the Traveling Wilburys.
It took a while to complete the 23-album collection, but at least most of his catalog was being sold for the "Nice Price." I couldn't afford to run out and buy the entire collection in one fell swoop. After all, I was married with children. As of today, Dylan's released 37 studio albums, 11 live albums, 12 albums comprising the "Bootleg Series," and numerous compilation albums. My collection consists of all but a few of the obscure compilations.
In the midst of backtracking, "Real Live" and "Empire Burlesque" were released, each with its Dylanesque appeal. "Real Live," as the title suggests, is also a live album. However, I didn't find it very appealing.
However, I couldn't wait for the five-album deluxe edition of "Biograph" to be released in 1985, It didn't disappoint. It remains one of my favorites, too. It's a mixture of released and unreleased recordings, which would be the predecessor of the "Bootleg Series," which stands at 12 volumes and counting.These sets should be reserved for the deeply devoted disciples only.
I read all the pre-release literature I could for "Biograph."
At the time, I was still a subscripted and religious reader of "Rolling Stone Magazine," which, for me, was as close to The Bible for music lovers as you could get.
I wouldn't be caught dead with one today.
I had every issue from 1976 until 1996, in addition to a few original issues from 1960s that I'd discovered in a campus head shop. My first ex-wife disposed of them -- without telling me -- when she sold our house after the divorce.
Then, compact discs arrived on the scene and I was pissed. I was a traditionalist. Nothing could replace vinyl, even if you could run the little jewel-cased bastards over with a truck without ruining them. Remember that line of bullshit?
Well, after nearly two years, I converted, finding it nearly impossible to buy anything other than CDs. I still find them to sound rather sterile, although the quality has improved.
So, I sold an article and a sidebar to a local magazine and bought a Phillips CD player..
At least I didn't have to get up and flip the album over to side two. Now, armed with a pair of remotes, I can switch from the television to the stereo, featuring a five-SACD changer, without leaving the couch. As a result, my exercise regimen consists of potty breaks and beer runs.
Nonetheless, I can't blame that on Bob.
But, I digress. What else is new, right?
"Infidels," was not critically acclaimed at the time. Hell, even Dylan's admitted to not being very fond of the song "Jokerman" or the album. I must agree to disagree.
"Lots of songs on that album got away from me," says Dylan. "They were better before they were tampered with. Of course, it was me who tampered with them. Yeah. That could have been a great song. It could have been."
In hindsight, critics have suggested that the 33-year-old album is one of his masterpieces. With that, I can agree.
The production value alone is worth the price, having been co-produced by Mark Knopfler, the driving force behind Dire Straits. It also features the talents of Sly Dunbar, Robbie Shakespeare, Alan Clark, and ex-Rolling Stone's guitarist, Mick Taylor.
Perhaps, because it was Dylan's return to secular music, fans and critics alike held extremely high expectations. Not me, I was just glad to hear Bob was back-in-the-saddle, again. And, not on his high horse.
The fact that I was bowled over by the title song and, eventually, the entire album, was simply a very welcomed bonus.
Christopher Connelly of "Rolling Stone" called Dylan's 22nd album his best since "Blood on the Tracks" and gave it 41/2 stars.
There's only eight songs on the album, but, as far as I'm concerned, there's not a throw-away in the bunch. But, I'm obviously biased. I find the lyrics to each to be outstanding, even for Dylan.
There are moving ballads, such as "Sweetheart Like You" and "Don't Fall Apart on Me Tonight."
There are also songs targeted at the state of the world at the time, which could easily reflect today's societal and political climates. They rock, too.
"Neighborhood Bully," "License to Kill," "Man of Peace," and "Union Sundown" are as representative of today as they were of the 1980s, perhaps, more.
I'm not that fond of "I and I," which kind of drags on musically, but the lyrics are still relevant and well-conceived.
Ironically, the album is also noted for the songs that didn't make the cut.
"Blind Willie McTell" and "Foot of Pride," which later appeared on "The Bootleg Series Vol. 1-3," received critical acclaim, as did "Someone's Got A Hold of My Heart," which popped up on his following release, "Empire Burlesque."
All-in-all, "Infidels" is a solid album worth a listen to by anyone and everyone. I'd have to give it 5 stars, but, that's partially because it led me to not only rekindle the fire that Dylan ignited in 1962, but to keep the fire burning.
By the way, stay tuned, there may be more to this story.