Bob Dylan – The 1985 Rehearsal Tape (Rattlesnake RS 289/90)

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Bob Dylan, ‘The 1985 Rehearsal Tape’ (Rattlesnake RS 289/90)

I Shall Be Released (I) / Gotta Serve Somebody / Across The Borderline (I) / Senor (Fragment) / Trouble / Clean Cut Kid / I’ll Remember You / That Lucky Old Sun / Maggie’s Farm / In The Garden (I) / Shot Of Love / Sing Me Back Home / Union Sundown / Come Together (Long Version) / This Was My Love (I) / Lonesome Town / License To Kill / I Shall Be Released (II)
Lenny Bruce / Rocky Road Blues / Never Gonna Be The Same Again / Baby Please Stop Crying (Fragment) (73:42)

Shake / Across The Borderline (II) / Tight Connection To My Heart / Dead Man Dead Man (I) / Heart Of Mine (I) / Baby Please Stop Crying / Come Together (Short Version) / This Was My Love (II) / Red Cadillac & A Black Moustache (I) / Under The Boardwalk / Seeing The Real You At Last / Dead Man Dead Man (II) / Emotionally Yours / I And I (I) / Heart Of Mine (II) / In The Garden (II) Under The Boardwalk – Save The Last Dance For Me / Heart Of Mine (Instrumental) / I And I (II) / Trust Yourself / This Was My Love (III) / Red Cadillac & A Black Moustache (II) / Red Cadillac & A Black Moustache (III) / I Shall Be Released (III) (74:38)

Bob Dylan’s ‘True Confessions’ tour with Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers was launched at the Athletic Park in Wellington, New Zealand on the 5th of February, 1986. Rehearsals for the tour commenced at Soundstage 41, Universal Studios, Hollywood in December, 1985 and ran through to the following January (Though Olaf’s suggest that these rehearsals were actually for ‘Farm Aid’ and were recorded as early as September ’85) – Mostly known as a movie set, Dylan, Petty and his band and the Queens of Rhythm converged to begin working on a set list. There were around 60 songs set for inclusion, some would end up on the tours setlist, as usual, most of the others would be rehearsed but would be left out.

The Rattlesnake label – who have a great track record of releasing other Dylan rehearsal tapes, most specifically on their Moonlight sub-label as the titles, ‘Dancing In The Dark” (ML 9632/9633) and “Never Ending Tour Rehearsals” (ML 9623/9624) – have once again brought us a great selection of rehearsal tracks – Over two hours of tunes between the two disks on this set and as Dylan is playing to amuse rather than seriously set up a track list, he goes horse-wild over his choices steering through tin-pan alley classics, country songs, a selection of his older recordings amongst a few of the tracks that he had never otherwise played live, a few tracks old and new by his contemporaries – Nothing that he possibly hadn’t just picked up from off of the radio that week and decided to from to the studios.

Of course, you’ll see from the cover that some of these pieces are brief diversions and snippets of the full rehearsals – Maybe the tapes have been edited by the person who sold the recordings, it’s also possible that the machines were switched off from time to time to conserve tape where required – these were only references after all – recordings in studio quality though rather than some tin can tapings through the wall of the studios,

The set begins with a warm up of the third and final verse of, ‘I Will Be Released’ with the Queens at the front of a cascading harmony as Dylan strums on electric. It starts gently, raising to a brilliant crescendo of scattered voices. As most of the internet has pointed out, it’s a shame that it never grew wings as it’s a beautiful thing. We return to the track another couple of times, the first real attempt at the track loses some of it’s linear quality, as Stan Lynch’s drums are pushed just a little too loudly making the track too jumbled and bottom heavy, the final attempt sounds like a complete alternate to the first, sounding more ’80’s polished as opposed to ernest and pleading, it does tend to redeem itself as it gets to the chorus however. Secondly comes a brief attempt at ‘Gotta Serve Somebody’, short and groovy, Dylan is slightly off of mic, slotting in his words rather than pacing, it’s a punchy rendition with a bite. Other notable highlights include a snippet of a languid and breezy ‘Señor’, a rapid fire and wriggling, ‘Clean Cut Kid’ – One of the highlights from the future tour in fact.

‘That Lucky Old Sun’ seems to have stuck with Dylan over this period and it’s appearance here cements his love for it – Similar in effect to ‘I Will Be Released’, the Queens harmonies fountain against each other and build towards the end, Stan Lynch’s drums build heavily, his fills getting more excitable towards the end. The same excitement fills ‘Maggies Farm’, driven and keen, the solo towards the end feels like it could really go somewhere but unfortunately, just before it takes off, it falls down again.

A cover of Merle Haggard’s, ‘Sing Me Back Home’, a track that Dylan wouldn’t return to again until quite a few years later, begins quietly as Bob plays with a sparse backing, allowing for his voice to be heard clearly, slowly building in to something rather tranquil. It must have been on his mind heavily however though as he sounds impassioned enough to really sing it, the only two things that let it down is an echoing mic in the middle and an out of tune solo towards the end. This is followed by ‘Union Sundown’ another track that wouldn’t be played live for another few years. There are a few passes at this, one take mainly complete with two attempts at warming up the intro – Electric and forceful, rollocking and driven, you wish this could have been written in to ’86’s sets as the Heartbreakers would have made an incredible fist of this.

One of the biggest surprises when this set was announced was the inclusion of two takes of the Beatles tune, ‘Come Together’. A long and a short version are included, the first (Long) version, darkly bruising and drum heavy utilises Stan and Benmont perfectly, the marching crack of the drums and breezy gust of keyboard the perfect backing to Dylan’s (half remembered) singing and the Queen’s gorgeous harmonies. The second version, finds Dylan landing on his feet with it and feeling even more enthused, he cries out his pleasure at one point, it’s another cover that would have been interesting for Dylan to take to the stage.

‘Rocky Road Blues’, A Bill Monroe cover, is crunchy but smooths out after the first minute, bawdy and loose, it’s impassioned but looses some of it’s love along the way, becoming a tenable rocker at least. The version of ‘Baby Please Stop Crying’ that rounds up disk one has a great swathe of soul to it, building up quickly, it also loses itself just as fast and so this brief rendition skids to a halt.

The short version of, ‘Baby, Please Stop Crying’ that leads off the first disk is more of a warm up take as the band run around the idea, the later, longer version, suffers from too many guitars and buckles against itself from time to time. It folds after a short while as the band try to bring it together but it’s not a runner.

Dylan’s discarded original, ‘Shake’ sparks up disk two, keeping in line with the rest of his output from the era, it’s message is slight but is giddy enough to groove to, ‘Tight Connection To My Heart’ attempts to go the same way until it’s rhythm corrects itself.

‘Dead Man, Dead Man’, another short performance gets around one verse through before folding, it’s choppy reggae skank exemplified by Benmont’s organ stabs and the barbed guitar. The second pass is more successful, sounding bouncier and much more confident in tone.

‘Heart Of Mine’, one of the great overlooked of Dylans tracks from the era is well served here, Dylan is quite impassioned, the queens raise the notch a little with their harmonies and bring on a little more force. The second take of this version is largely instrumental until the vocalists join in a little way later, things build strongly enough but slowly dissipate and fall beneath their own weight. The third pass at the song folds quickly and becomes almost a solo rendition until Dylan decides he wants to hear the playbacks.

Three versions of ‘A Red Cadillac and A Black Moustache’ are rehearsed. The first, a short warm up, Dylan begins off mic then drifts in and out, it’s hardly inspired stuff, the second attempt is better as it features a breakdown for the Queen’s harmonies but still there’s some working to be be done over all while Dylan thinks over the lyrics. The final takes are captured while already in motion, a little better built.

Possibly even less inspiring is Dylan’s take on ‘Under The Boardwalk’. Big at the time thanks to Bruce Willis’ version, this is one of the songs that highlights out Bob’s limitations as he’s certainly not one for the high notes. By the end everybody knows that things are a write off and the song tails off with a thud. By the second pass, they’re much more comfortable with the track (despite Dylan’s attempts at those highnotes) and decide to shunt it together with a rendition of ‘Save The Last Dance For Me’. Things start to take a wrong turn as Benmont plays a suitable solo while Dylan loses his way on the guitar and things get a little hairy. The transition in to ‘Save .. ‘ is more cut and shut as opposed to deft glide but the way back out is a little more steady .. That is until we hit the guitar solo again. It’s no small mercy when the tape cuts.

‘Trust Yourself’ sounds better for being on the rehearsal stage as opposed to the rather tacky conditioning on the album, there’s a little crunch on the tape at parts and a lovely slice of guitar by Campbell, it ends pleasingly gracefully.

More or less pleasing than, ‘After The Empire’, I’ll leave it to you – Personally, I was impressed by some of the none Dylan tracks that I heard, ‘Come Together’ especially but also how Dylan brought out some of his own. The main justification for purchasing the set should be the brilliant sound quality of these rehearsals and the brand new discovery of tracks that even scholars of Dylan’ works never knew of before. The packaging is standard Rattlesnake, silkscreened colour disks and a full colour 12 page booklet with notes by the Treasurer. Essential.

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  1. I always enjoyed his other work with Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers. The two older releases by Rattlesnake on True Confessions for Carol and The Final Night and More are long time favorites at my place. The latest release to feature Petty and the Heartbreakers was from Godfather on the Flames on the Italian Streets. All these releases from 1986 and 1987. In fact those recordings between themselves pretty clearly shows how Dylan started mixing up the medicine with new and invigorated setlists compared to the tour in 1984. In this context this latest rehearsal tape makes perfect sense, even though the song choices are even more eclectic. In short this is a wonderful release featuring some real gems.

  2. RS released another Bob rehearsal from 1985 featuring Keith and Ronnie prepping for Live Aid July 13, 1985 here in Philly. Interesting stuff. Thanks for the review Stuart and staying on top of things for the group.

    • Good point Solly, I’d forgotten about that one even though I scoured the internet for a silver copy for years. I think it’s due a review here when I get a bit of time – I wonder if Rattlesnake might consider a repress of the disk as it’s so sought after ..


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