The middle of the 1960s was a turbulent time culturally. Collars were loosening, hair was growing and music was changing at a rapid rate as rock ’n’ roll began to explore its possibilities aided by free thinking and stimulants. Dylan was the poster boy, the artist out front pushing the limits with a wild surrealistic imagination and desire to loosen the traditions of song and blend styles.
The Bootleg Series Vol 12 is perhaps the most fascinating of all of them. Spanning the sessions for Bringing It All Back Home, Highway 61 Revisited and Blonde on Blonde in a hot streak of creativity from January 1965 to February 1966, Dylan used the studio and some of the finest musicians to investigate all kinds of arrangements, tempos and lyric variations for his songs. The wealth of material on the 2 disc version (let alone the 6 and 18 disc versions) is a firsthand insight into the working methods of Dylan, very much on the fly and open to his musicians’ input as he shapes songs like Like A Rolling Stone, Subterranean Homesick Blues and Just Like A Woman, looking for what would come to be referred to as that ‘wild mercury sound’.
Expanded album sessions can often be boring archival trawls for completists only but this is an extraordinary study in the de-construction and exploration of many iconic songs. Each alternate take could easily have become those immortalised on these albums. That shows the importance of Dylan’s original authorship of the songs, regardless of the final recorded form they found.