By Tony Attwood
By 1972 we were getting used to Dylan’s stuttering output.
1967 was the last year of the mass production of music of amazing brilliance.
1968 was a year of retreat with a song for a film, delivered late.
1969 did bring eight songs but one was a hardly ever performed retro of a 1950s song, and two from the album were almost universally disliked. It was not up to Dylan’s normal level.
1970 brought us what I have called a “stuttering return” – a phrase based on the fact that for many people New Morning is an uneven album with few moments of classic Dylan brilliance as a composer. It is noticeable that Dylan used virtually everything he wrote in the album – there was no luxury of picking the best songs from a list of 20 compositions. This is all that he had.
1971 gave us two Dylan songs of magic and quality reflecting on the nature of art, and one political piece that seems to have been rushed. But that was all.
Now add all that together and we have got fewer songs in four years than Dylan used to write in a single year. Indeed in some of those years in the 60s, he wrote more classic songs than he wrote in total across these four years.
In short, Dylan’s “pause” (or as many have said, his “writer’s block”) had now lasted four whole years. And for anyone who hoped for 1972 to be a year when he suddenly emerged again, they were to be disappointed.
What we got was a loving song to his son (Forever Young) which is, I think most would agree, a real beauty, no matter than some of us feel Bob could never make the best of it in performance. And the theme music for Billy the Kid – which is largely forgotten but is really worth going back to if you have a copy. You might be surprised. It has some wonderful moments.
But that was it. The fifth year of very limited output. Five years in which he wrote in total fewer songs than he wrote in each of 1962, 1963, 1964, 1965, 1966 and 1967.
And remember this wasn’t anything to do with a motorbike crash – because he wrote a whole range of brilliant pieces after that incident, whatever it was. This was Dylan, hiding away, and not writing either because he didn’t want to, didn’t need to, or had forgotten how to.
In a sense the quality of the instrumental pieces for Billy the Kid should have told us (if we had had the chance to hear them) that there was still musical magic inside Bob’s head. But in reality it wasn’t until 1973 that the first signs of re-emergence occurred, and even then we had to wait for 1974 for the most amazing unexpected explosion of musical brilliance.
- Forever Young – Tony’s review (Love and hope for a child)
- Forever Young – Dearbhla’s thoughts
- Billy 1, 4, and 7 and the Main title theme – Billy the Kid
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The Chronology Files
- Dylan songs of the 21st century
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- Dylan songs of the 1970s
- Dylan songs of the 1960s