Bob Dylan in 1979: When He Returns

By Tony Attwood

As we have seen Bob Dylan had one of his occasional pauses in 1976 (his first since the prolonged drought of 1971/2) but in 1977 and 1978 he had returned with a new vigour and vitality.  Then as one of the last songs of 1978 he wrote what may be seen as the first of his Christian songs Slow Train.   Now in 1979 he entered the full-blown period of Christian songs with a vengeance.

18 songs survive from this year, and many of them must still qualify as exceptional pieces of music – songs which in many ways took us into a new form of Christian song writing (which I am not sure the Christian church – at least in my country) has ever really valued as it should have done.

From early in the year we have the incredibly plaintive I believe in You and looking at this again I’ve found an interesting concert recording of this which is not mentioned in the original but is most certainly worth a listen


Precious Angel certainly stands out as a remarkable song but if you have read my ramblings through these songs you will know already where I am going to go for the absolute, amazing standout moment of the year: it is the live version of  When He Returns

Coming to write this resume of the year I was horrified to find that the link to the live recording I raved about in the review was no longer working.  So I’ve put up two more links to the concerts in that review, and one to an acoustic version.

As I said in the subject line for that review it is “The one Dylan performance that could convert a sinner such as me”.   Just checking on Google I see that headline comes up third on page one of a search for that song, after the official site and A-Z lyrics – at least where I live (it will vary in other places of course).  But it suggests at least some people found the headline worthy of a click!  I hope the readers enjoy the article too.

What really strikes me in listening again to the songs from this year in the order they were written is that Dylan really did get some incredibly good work out of this period.  Blessed is the Name is a great piece of music no matter how you analyse it, and Solid Rock is written in a completely different way from any other Dylan song I know, and it also is most certainly still worth exploring the live recordings we have.

But still, in working through the year again, nothing to my mind surpasses the live version of “I believe in You”.  And I write that as one who does not believe.

The question we faced at the end of this year was would Dylan keep the productivity up? He had paused in 1968 and taken a while to return to full-blown genius in his writing, and as I mention above he had done the same again in 1971/2.  But now here he was with 18 songs in one year and still going strong.  It may not have been the subject matter I would have asked for, but the musical quality was sublime.

  1. Gotta Serve Somebody
  2. I believe in You
  3. Ye Shall be Changed
  4. Trouble in mind
  5. Man gave names to all the animals
  6. No Man Righteous
  7. Gonna change my Way of Thinking
  8. Precious Angel
  9. When you gonna wake up
  10. When He Returns
  11. Saving Grace
  12. Blessed is the Name
  13. Covenant Woman
  14. In the Garden
  15. Pressing On
  16. Saved
  17. Solid Rock
  18. What can I do for you?

What else is on this site

1: Over 360 reviews of Dylan songs. 

2: The Dylan Chronologies.  

3: Bob Dylan’s themes.  .

4:   The Discussion Group    Just type the phrase “Untold Dylan” in, on your Facebook page or follow this link 

5:  Bob Dylan’s creativity.

6: A classification of Bob Dylan’s songs and partial Index to Dylan’s Best Opening Lines


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