Dylan’s lost album track 5 – but who wrote it and what’s it called?

by Aaron Galbraith and Tony Attwood

Just recently we’ve been engaged in a project listening back to some of the outtakes from the 1986 and 1987 sessions that produced the majority of Bob Dylan’s “Down In The Groove” album, as well as some of the live shows from the era.

And between us we reached the conclusion that, as many people said at the time, the album is, to be fair, not very good. Robert Christgau called the album “horrendous product”.

So we decided to see if we could compile a better album ourselves from the outtakes and live shows from the period. Just in case the guys upstairs fancy issuing a new version when they run out of materials for the Bootleg series.  The tracks we have selected so far are listed with links at the end of this review.

But now, the track we have chosen to end side 1 of the vinyl edition is Dylan’s take of “Uranium Rock”.  At least that is what Aaron calls it.   Or it might be “Rock ’em dead” which is how Tony has referred to it on this site.

This version was recorded in Philadelphia in 1986 backed by Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers. The feeling here is that this would make for a suitably rocking ending to side 1, making you want to get up and turn over for more on side 2.

But now if you are a real aficionado of Untold Dylan you will know this song under another name because in December 2016 we reviewed another performance of  the song under the name “Rock em Dead.”   Indeed Tony has listed the song as a Dylan composition and it is placed at number 400 in the alphabetical index of all Dylan’s songs.

The view at that point was that “Dylan’s song owes something to ‘Uranium Rock’ by Warren Smith.   Dylan keeps the ‘Money, money honey’ line and the basic riff, but ups the tempo until it becomes truly frenetic.”

And of course Dylan knows Smith’s work for he also performed Smith’s “Red Cadillac and black moustache” at three of the gigs.

Either way this really is great fun, and should not be put down as in some obscure and unexplained way “messing with the minds of his fans” as Heylin suggested.  Most Dylan fans that I know are far more knowledgeable and far more sophisticated than that.

So let’s track back to the song written by Warren Smith and listening to his original it’s easy to see why he was recognized by the Rockabilly Hall Of Fame.  But whether Dylan is arranging his song or creating a new one, you’ll have to judge.

Dylan is a big fan of Smith’s work, he repeatedly featured his work on his Theme Time Radio Hour show, playing Smith’s records, “Red Cadillac And A Black Mustache”, “So Long, I’m Gone”, “Ubangi Stomp” as well as “Uranium Rock”. Dylan himself also went on to record “Red Cadillac And A Black Mustache” himself in 2001, for a Sun Records Tribute album (we wrote about that previously in the “Why does Dylan like” series). He also returned to quote the title in the recently released “I Contain Multitudes”.

The lost Dylan album – the tracks so far

(PS We are currently contemplating issue two versions of the LP, one with this track labelled Rock em Dead and one where it is called Uranium Rock.  That way everyone should be satisfied).

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2 Responses to Dylan’s lost album track 5 – but who wrote it and what’s it called?

  1. Richard Ettinger says:

    I was at that show. You can hear applauding.

  2. Jumprightin says:

    There are two performances of “Rock’em Dead/Uranium Rock” from the 1986 Sydney, Australia shows with Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers, one performance with Mark Knopfler on lead guitar.

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