By Tony Attwood
“Baby coming back from the dead” is a song that doesn’t get a listing in Heylin at all, but is reported as being recorded in 1985. It turned up on the bootleg album “After the Empire” in full glorious engineered sound.
Those who know about such things suggest (as the bootleg name indeed says) this was made after Empire Burlesque, and recorded at Cherokee Studios in May 1985.
This recording shows Dylan doing what most rock bands do (or at least the ones I have known – and I should add none of them mega famous) – working on ideas simply by playing them over and over and seeing where it all goes. It is the sort of song that many a band would have loved to use as an opener at a gig just to get the audience warmed up and bopping away. And the sort of sound many of them would have died to get.
Certainly the sound production is excellent, and Dylan clearly liked the notion of this 12 bar blues as they kept it going for eight minutes and even managed to end all together.
Despite the fact that the main lyrics are just two lines, the moment where the band takes it really low (Dylan saying the classic “easy now” at one point) and then rebounds near the end of the piece, is truly exciting. It shows exactly what can be got from one simple idea when you have the best musicians behind you who will do exactly what their leader says.
Although it has been hinted at, no one really knew (before the release of this collection) what Dylan was really doing in the studio around this time. As the listing below shows, the recording of songs for his two albums was mixed up (rather than just recording one album, going on tour, and then recording the next). And looking at the songs composed by Dylan around this time it is clear that he was seeking new directions all the way through.
The fashion of music crticis (for such people did exist in 1985, generally coming out at night and skulking around in the shadows before writing negative reviews of whatever gig they could get a free ticket for) was to suggest that Dylan was yesteryear’s news, a man struggling to regain his cutting edge. But as everyone realised after the internet was invented, it was the critics themselves who were yesterday’s news.
Certainly when we look at the new songs that can be placed as being written in 1985, being “past it” was anything but the truth in terms of Dylan, and I think for quite a few of us, the rejection of Dylan as having any relevance to the 1980s by the media was a major factor in alienating us from that media. Thus it was, it turned out, the media that was increasingly irrelevant not Bob Dylan.
Others who know far more than me about such matters have suggested that Bob Dylan was (rather obviously) on vocal and guitar, along with Vito San Filippo (bass), Raymond Lee Pounds (drums), Carolyn Dennis, Madelyn Quebec, Elisecia Wright (backup vocals). Who was on keyboards is not known – or at least I haven’t seen anything that looks like more than pure speculation on the issue.
It is also said in some reviews that Dylan lacked judgement in not taking some of the ideas from this collection forward – and indeed it is a tragedy that we never got to hear this particular song live at gigs, or indeed have a chance to hear it before the bootleg version came out.
But I would argue that when you are being panned by the critics as Dylan was, it is very hard to know what to do next even for an absolute genius like Dylan. For this was not the only song that was given a knock out performance just once (in this case in the studio) – we might also think back to “I once knew a man” which was performed on TV the once in 1984, and then left. He was creating them, playing them, and moving on.
It is also possible to forget what a varied collection of songs Dylan wrote or co-wrote that year. Here’s the list that I have for the year – with this song to placed somewhere within.
- Maybe Someday (Knocked out loaded)
- Seeing the real you at last (Empire Burlesque)
- I’ll remember you (Empire Burlesque)
- Trust Yourself (Empire Burlesque)
- Emotionally Yours (Empire Burlesque)
- Steel Bars
- Well well well
- Howlin at your window
- Tragedy of the trade
- Time to end this masquerade
- Worth The Waiting For (date uncertain)
- Straight A’s in Love
- The Very Thought of You
- Waiting to get beat (Empire Burlesque outtake)
- When the night comes falling from the sky (Empire Burlesque)
- Never gonna be the same again (Empire Burlesque)
- Dark Eyes (Empire Burlesque)
- Shake (Farm Aid)
- Under your spell (Knocked out loaded)
Now not all of these are great works of art at all, but it does contain what is for me one of the great Dylan compositions (“Dark Eyes”) and also one of the very greatest co-compositions (“Well Well Well”).
Those two alone would be enough to make any other writer remembered – for Dylan they tend to be forgotten because the media has decided this was a bad Dylan year.
I’ve no idea when in the year this song was written, so when I update the Dylan compositions in the 80s file I will just have to place it somewhere that feels about right in 1985 and mark it as a guess. But guess or no, this is certainly a load of fun which any singer songwriter could be very proud of indeed, and most would make a regular fixture as a song in their eternal come back tours.
Fortunately for us Dylan never had comeback tours as he simply never went away.
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