Dylan released and unreleased part 6: Quest

By Aaron Galbraith and Tony Attwood

This series involves Aaron looking back to recordings of Dylan songs from unusual formats or situations, and then, having dug them out, handing over to Tony to write a commentary.  Tony in the UK has no say in what is chosen, Aaron in the USA has no say in what Tony writes.

Aaron: Some background… Quest was a Canadian TV series which ran for 4 series between 1961 and 1964. It was an anthology series showcasing documentaries, dramas and musical performances.  The very last episode starred Dylan, who at the time was promoting the Times They Are A-Changin’ album.

The show normally had a host but for Bob’s episode, they presented Bob on his own. He performed six tracks, however, the fourth (Girl From The North Country) is not available on YouTube; it is however included on the No Direction Home DVD.

I’ll present the remaining five performances in the order from the show.

The times they are a changin’

Tony: Two things always take me by surprise with early recordings of this song: how simple the guitar part is, and how fast Dylan takes the song.   I haven’t gone back and checked that these are real effects – it is just how it appears to me suddenly hearing recordings like this for the first time.

I wonder if the director said, “Right we can give you two minutes 20 seconds Bob, no more for that song,” (I haven’t timed it) – but whatever the cause some of these live recordings of this song do feel far too fast.   Of course, part of this could be me just getting old and wanting things to proceed more slowly – I can remember my grandparents always telling me to slow down in my speech because they couldn’t understand me.  (Whereas now of course people don’t tell me to slow down, but the reverse).

I also wonder how much Bob had already written since “Times” and how he wanted to perform these new songs, not get stuck in the past.  Bob wrote 31 songs in 1963, with Times coming near the end of the sequence, and another 20 in 1964, so it really is possible that he wanted to get the past out of the way.

And maybe he was also fed up with the way people didn’t listen to the lyrics, and took them to be a call to the young to get up and change the world.  Whereas (and forgive me for repeating the thought yet again) the song says that times change, whatever we do and whatever we try.

Talkin’ World War III Blues

The writing of these songs must have been very fast – and what we have here is a collection of songs from the end of 1963, with just one song written the year before.

The film is really strange – one or two guys look interested and find it amusing, but not all.  Bob seems to be enjoying it – and of course his memory of the lyrics is faultless.  But really it is so strange this set up. I just can’t get over what a weird concept it all is.

The lonesome death of Hattie Carrol

So in terms of compositions we are still in 1963, and this setting is striking me as more and more surreal…

I imagine these songs were all recorded in one take – and for the first time there are slight variations in the lyrics and the rhythm of delivery – Dylan is slightly taking the rhythm of the guitar away from the lyrics, and extending certain lines.  I get the feeling that he has settled down now (assuming that the songs were recorded in the order that they are presented here – which certainly would be the normal case for such recordings at the time).

There are very slightly changes of time throughout this song, which we don’t hear at all in the recordings of Times from this era.   In fact this is a much more relaxed performance all round; talent surpassing awareness of the setting.

Indeed of the recordings so far, this is first one I would like to go back to and hear again – the changes are subtle but certainly worth considering.  They don’t change the meaning but are just interesting in seeing how Bob was becoming an accomplished performer for whom each performance could be nuanced in a different way.

A Hard Rains A Gonna Fall

This is the one song in the sequence that is slightly out of time, in terms of composition.  It comes from the middle of the sequence of 36 songs written in 1962.   And again if my feeling that the songs here are presented in the order in which they were recorded, Bob is now fully settled down, with a perfect performance.   By which I don’t mean to say there is anything imperfect in the recollection of the music or lyrics before, but there is something more certain about this delivery.

Actually, I find this recording utterly compelling.  Of course, like you, I know the song inside out and upside down, but I still need to listen for there is something slightly different here from other recordings.  Goodness, what an incredible historic document this is – and (showing my ignorance here) I didn’t know about it.   Deeply indebted to you Aaron for introducing it to me.

Some of the close ups of Dylan’s face are revealing too – he is the music, the music is inside him, he is thinking every line as he performs it.  Extraordinary.

Restless Farewell 

I really want to try and stress the fact that these are not a “greatest hits” selection from across a number of years but a performance of a set of songs written that had been written in quick succession.   Before “Talking World War III Blues”, in 1963 alone Bob had already written 19 songs (as well as another 36 the year before, including Hard Rain).

And the songs presented here, other than Hard Rain, come from a sequence of 13 compositions written toward the end of the year.   Here is the list in the order of presentation – the links take you to the original Untold reviews, just in case you are interested.

That is an utterly amazing era of compositional activity.

So what we have, apart from Hard Rain, are four amazing works written in a short space of time and which of course are still remembered, and not just by Dylan fans.  And just think – staying in this short period Bob could also have picked Only a pawn, When the Ship, One too many…  And North Country (which was performed in the film, as Aaron noted above) also comes from  this same period.   I don’t think even Iriving Berlin was this prolific in such a short space of time.

If I have to be critical of any part of this amazing recording, it would be with this performance of Restless Farewell – but really this is being very churlish.  And I suppose the problem is that for me, personally, one of the absolute top five highlights of Dylan’s performing career involves this extraordinary song.    So I’ll add the version I love, with the connection that what we have been listening to above is Early Bob, and here is Bob paying tribute to the end of the career of one of his heroes…  What a journey he has taken…

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2 Responses to Dylan released and unreleased part 6: Quest

  1. Larry fyffe says:

    The CBC Quest TV show featuring Bob with Canadian actors like Michael Zenon (The Forest Rangers ) in an isolated (fake) lumberjack cabin is not unusual in that it’s one of Dylan’s earliest TV performances ..,,,unusual compared to what?

    Entertainer from the big city escapes back to wilderness country to avoid censorship by reactionary American TV networks.

  2. Larry fyffe says:

    See:

    Untold: Zenon, Zanzinger, Zimmerman In The North Country

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