We finally know how he did it; how Bob Dylan captured brilliance and put it down on wax recording one of the best songs ever – “Like A Rolling Stone.” Well, sort of.
The 12th volume in Bob Dylan’s The Bootleg Series “The Cutting Edge 1965-1966,” was released Friday, Nov. 6 on Columba/Legacy Records. The six-disc set brings fans into the recording studio as some of the pivotal albums in modern music were being made: “Bringing It All Back Home,” “Highway 61 Revisited” and “Blonde on Blonde.” “The Cutting Edge 1965-1966: The Bootleg Series Vol. 12” includes a vault of unreleased songs, outtakes, rehearsals and alternate versions of some of the best songs Dylan has ever recorded.
The Bootleg Series has been a favorite among Dylanolgists who will search for meaning of songs and uncover clues scattered between Bob Dylan’s notes and lyrics. But “The Cutting Edge” is more than another wormhole of Dylan greatness for fans to dive into; although there is plenty of that. “The Cutting Edge” is a documentation of the creative process of one of the best musicians that has ever lived producing some of his best work in a prolific period of creativity and production.
“Another Side of Bob Dylan,” released in 1964, saw a transition of the lyrical Dylan incorporating surrealism and stream-of-conscieness in his writing – a popular theme amongst the Beat poets. After releasing “Bringing It All Back Home” earlier that year, Dylan retuned to the recording studio from England in the summer of 1965. It was there in New York City that he began recording songs for “Highway 61 Revisited,” including the first take of “Like a Rolling Stone.” Before Dylan had created the finished polished version that is regarded as one of the best songs ever recorded, he stopped by the Newport Folk Festival to make history by playing with electric instruments to a shocked crowd. Much of “The Cutting Edge” is devoted to “Like a Rolling Stone,” with 20 recordings of the song included in the collection. False starts, rehearsal takes, breakdowns, individual instrument tracking; it’s all here.
The individual pieces that are included in “The Cutting Edge 1965-1966: The Bootleg Series Vol. 12” are like beach glass – each unique and beautiful telling a different story. Besides the evolution of “Like a Rolling Stone,” we hear upbeat, rock ’n’ roll version of “Visions of Johanna,” and “I Want You,” which are two of the best alternate takes on the collection. “Subterranean Homesick Blues,” has changes of phrase and experimental rhythms. Since one of my favorite Dylan songs is “Stuck Inside of Mobile with the Memphis Blues Again,” I was delighted at the alternate versions included; there are 14 total.
My favorite of the three albums is “Blonde On Blonde” featuring members of The Band. Including songs like “Stuck Inside of Mobile with the Memphis Blues Again,” “I Want You” and “Rainy Day Women #12 & 35,” “Visions of Johanna” and “Leopard-Skin Pill-Box Hat” the album is incredibly unique and crisp. It’s the final part in a trilogy that was never planned. These loose and rollicking recording sessions are all exposed here and some of the alternate versions of these tracks are no less enjoyable than the ones that made the final cut.
As the songs were all recorded live in the studio, their evolution is clear and sometimes not so clear. It is a clear documentation of Dylan’s creative process and his persistence to continue until he found the exact right sound. Often he didn’t know exactly what he was looking for and allowed the musicians to explore while other times they struggled to keep up with Dylan’s quick changes. Listening to the fragments and complete alternate versions included in “The Cutting Edge” shows how spontaneous creativity can lead to genius. It’s not just Bob Dylan writing “Like A Rolling Stone,” but Al Kooper played around on the Hammond B3 organ until he found a groove that they could jam to. But why Dylan chose the tracks he did, picked the timing and turned the phrases – we’ll never know and he probably never will either.
An interactive component of the The Cutting Edge can be found online – where fans can create their own mixes of their favorite songs using the different versions and takes. The Studio A Revisited website includes two live sections – a Jam Session and a Listening Session – the Singing Session is coming soon. In the Jam Session, individual parts of the song, or stems, are identified and can be mixed together to create new remixes of “Like A Rolling Stone.” In the Listening Session an interactive timeline of Dylan’s recording sessions showing the evolution of the albums and explanations of the importance of each session.
The multiple versions of “The Cutting Edge 1965-1966: The Bootleg Series Vol. 12” including a collector’s edition limited to 5,000 copies, a 6-CD deluxe edition and a 2-CD or 3-LP best of version are available at bobdylan.com. Listen to a sampler on Spotify.