Dylan: the released and unreleased duets

by Aaron Galbraith in the USA and Tony Attwood in the UK

A list of earlier articles from this series is given at the end.

Aaron: I thought it would be fun to have Tony take a listen to some obscure, esoteric Dylan duets from over the years. I’m really looking forward to reading his opinions!

First up it’s a cover of Eric Von Schmidt’s Acne. This was recorded live with Ramblin’ Jack Elliott in 1961. The audio was released on the soundtrack to the movie “The Ballad of Ramblin’ Jack”

Tony: Even the beginning is wonderful – “Looks like we have another dramatic…” [long pause then softly] “entrance”.   What a shame we don’t have a film of this.

I don’t know what the silliest part of this is; the recording or Aaron asking me to review it!   For once I am lost for words!!   Except right at the end there is a lovely moment where one of the people on stage says “All good things….” and leaves it hanging.  Which is actually very funny in the context of what has just happened.  But then another speaker says “comes to an end” which totally destroys the moment.   Hey ho!

Aaron: Next up we have two completely unreleased tracks.

First a duet with Ringo Starr called “Wish I Knew Now What I Knew Then”. This was recorded for an unreleased Ringo album in 1987, there is no word as to who the writer is.

Tony: A bit of background I just looked up.   Our friends at the Bob Dylan Project have this listed as “Composed by: Charlie Craig, Vince Gill (?)”  Charlie Craig wrote for such luminaries as Dolly Parton, Kenny Rogers, Alan Jackson, Travis Tritt, Johnny Cash, Aaron Tippin and George Strait.  Vince Gill, according to Wiki “has recorded more than 20 studio albums, charted over 40 singles on the U.S. Billboard charts as Hot Country Songs, and has sold more than 26 million albums.”

The one thing that hits me is the unusual musical construction at “what I knew then” which is known in classical music as an interrupted cadence.  What actually happens is that one expects to return to the major chord that the song is based around, known as the tonic, and written with the Roman numeral I, but instead we get the chord built on the sixth note of the scale, which is a minor.  So the music is never resolved – we are left hanging.

The song is performed in E flat so those final two chords are B flat major and C minor.  It is not that uncommon a cadence in the music of the classical romantic era but in rock – I can’t remember ever hearing it before, and it doesn’t quite sound right.

Listening and knowing that the album was not released despite having such luminaries on it, I think I can feel why.  With such luminaries, it ought to sparkle a bit more than it does.

Aaron: Next we have The Spirit Of Rock and Roll. An unreleased duet with Brian Wilson, recorded for his unreleased album Sweet Insanity. It also has some input from Jeff Lynne. A version without Dylan and Lynne was released on a Beach Boys compilation “Songs From Here and Back”


Tony: I am not sure about having Bob Dylan associated with a song that has the line “every boy and girl” in it, nor come to that “the spirit the spirit the spirit of rock and roll”.

There is also an attempt, it seems to me, to be the Beachboys but without the material.  Indeed the reason there is so much backing with bass singer, female chorus and all the instruments pounding out is probably because there is nothing much there in the first place and they are trying to cover it all up.

And sadly the lyrics don’t really help either….

Once it's in your blood
You won't be the same no more
Reaching every land
From L.A. to Tokyo
It's in the heart of every boy and girl
Everywhere all around the world

Aaron: Last up, for now, is a duet with Ralph Stanley of The Lonesome River. Originally released on Stanley’s “Clinch Mountain County” album it was eventually included on Bob’s Bootleg Series 8: Tell Tale Signs.

Tony: Just listen to that instrumental opening.  It is only about 20 seconds but it is perfection in terms of musicianship and setting the scene.  And all done in 20 seconds.  Really, I mean, just go back and listen again.  And then compare with the songs we have heard prior to this.  This really is great music and brilliant musicians.

Bob’s voice is slightly cracked and aged as becomes the song.  And then the harmonies in the chorus are perfect; in short a dead-simple song but it is performed to perfection.  The accompaniment is held in check, with all the players understanding the essence of the song, and no one trying to out do the other.  The fiddle comes in, during the instrumental break, but not at once.  It is all so underplayed, with everyone understanding the meaning of the lyrics and the tradition of the music.

This is what I search for in the archives – the lesser known Dylan tracks where his amazing historical knowledge and understanding shines through an exquisite performance.

Wonderful Aaron.  All previous sins are forgiven when you deliver a recording like this.

Dylan released and unreleased: the series


Untold Dylan was created in 2008 and is currently published twice a day –  sometimes more, sometimes less.  Details of some of our series are given at the top of the page and in the Recent Posts list, which appears both on the right side of the page and at the very foot of the page (helpful if you are reading on a phone).  Some of our past articles which form part of a series are also included on the home page.

Articles are written by a variety of volunteers and you can read more about them here    If you would like to write for Untold Dylan, do email with your idea or article to Tony@schools.co.uk.  Our readership is rather large (many thanks to Rolling Stone for help in that regard). Details of some of our past articles are also included on the home page.

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  1. “Acne” could be listened to in 1974 on the TMQ vinyl bootleg “Early Sixties Revisited” (side one)

  2. In his rendition of Wildwood Flower, Dylan sings:

    I’ll play with my maiden with the raven black hair
    In the valleys so free, and the vales so fair
    And the pale amolita is gone with the hour
    And my pale virgin with my gay wildwood flower

    But there are no printed lyrics thereof that even come close.

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