Re-evaluating Dylan's weirdest and most controversial decade: the Eighties

Following the momentous news of Bob Dylan’s Nobel Prize for Literature, here’s the second installment of two part feature exploring Dylan’s weirdest and most controversial decade: the Eighties. This originally appeared in Uncut Take 207 from August 2014.

You can read Part One by clicking here.


What Good Am I?

The years of turmoil. In the second part of our Dylan In The ’80s epic, we re-evaluate Bob Dylan’s most confounding decade. From the travesty of Live Aid, via hook-ups with the Grateful Dead, the Heartbreakers and the Traveling Wilburys, to the start of the Never Ending Tour, we enlist some of Dylan’s key collaborators to uncover the riches hidden in an oft-vilified body of work. “I literally had to sort the human from the myth,” says one associate – and so, perhaps, did Dylan.

‘‘Some artists’ work speaks for itself. Some artists’ work speaks for a generation. It’s my deep personal pleasure to present for you one of America’s great voices of freedom. It can only be one man. The transcendent Bob Dylan…”

June 13, 1985. Live Aid is in its umpteenth conscience-stricken hour when Jack Nicholson excitedly introduces Dylan as the closing act at Philadelphia’s RFK Stadium, where he appears with Keith Richards and Ronnie Wood, looking flabby and distressed. In the opinion of the millions who witness it, he delivers a performance of shocking ineptitude, made worse when he dares mention the fact that people are starving in America as well as Ethiopia and maybe some of the money being raised by Live Aid could, you know, be used to pay off the debt of American farmers to US banks. This apparently gormless insensitivity confirms him in the eyes of most of the watching world as a raddled old twerp whose grasp of reality has fatally loosened. But some people are listening to what he has to say. Within two months, Farm Aid is underway at the University Of Illinois, organised by Willie Nelson with the support of Neil Young. Dylan appears with Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers as his band, and if they’d been playing under a roof, they would have blown it off.

It’s the start of a two-year touring alliance with the Heartbreakers, the True Confessions tour opening in Australasia in February 1986. There are US dates scheduled for June and July, and Columbia prompt Dylan for a new album to coincide with them. Dylan duly obliges with his sixth studio album in seven years. Knocked Out Loaded is assembled – haphazardly, even desperately, in subsequent opinion – from sessions going back as far as November 1984 at Cherokee Studios in LA, where many of the basic tracks that Arthur Baker turns into Empire Burlesque are recorded.

Empire Burlesque and Knocked Out Loaded are essentially one album,” says guitarist Ira Ingber, younger brother of Elliot Ingber, who was in the original Mothers Of Invention but is perhaps better known as Winged Eel Fingerling in Captain Beefheart’s Magic Band. Ira, a veteran of the LA music scene who’s played with JD Souther, Jennifer Warnes and Van Dyke Parks, gets a call in late 1984 from an old schoolfriend, Gary Shafner, who’s now working for Dylan. According to Shafner, Dylan’s putting a band together for an unspecified project, perhaps a new album. Would Ira be interested in being part of whatever might happen next?


“They had just done Infidels,” Ingber tells Uncut, “and Bob was back pretty much living at his place in Malibu. There was some new-found interest to go in another direction, but it wasn’t clear what it was.” Ingber is duly summoned to Dylan’s Point Dume compound in Malibu.

“Bob was an idol, just huge. The first thing I had to do was get over my schoolgirl crush. We talked for a minute or two, then he pulled out three or four pages of typewritten song lists, and he said, ‘D’you know any of these?’ I said, ‘…yeah.’ So we started playing. He’s playing acoustic, I’m playing acoustic, and one voice in my head is saying, ‘I’m playing “It’s All Over Now Baby Blue” with Bob Dylan. Right now.’ And the other part of my head is saying, ‘You’re playing with Bob Dylan but don’t think about it.’ I had to sort the human from the myth. But it worked out fine. We got on, and then we started talking about a band.”

Ingber calls some friends: Vince Melamed, a keyboard player he’s worked with in JD Souther’s band, bass player Carl Sealove and drummer Charlie Quintana, who is eventually replaced by Don Heffington from Lone Justice. “This core group came together in late 1984,” Ingber goes on. “The three of us went up to Bob’s house, on a daily basis for some weeks. There were a number of houses on the property and this one was empty, except for a bunch of equipment he had in there. We would play some of his old stuff, or he’d bring a tape, or he’d start playing a song and we wouldn’t know what it was – sometimes an old classic, sometimes even a demo that someone had sent him. Not all of it was his material, which I thought was interesting. He came to me one day and he told me he wanted to learn to play Ray Charles’ ‘Come Rain Or Come Shine’ on guitar. Because it’s arranged for an orchestra, not a guitar, there are some very complex chords. ‘I said, “Wouldn’t it be easier if we just did it and you could sing it and not bother playing?” He was insistent – so I did an arrangement and I don’t even know if we got as far as trying to play it, because the chords involved were a little beyond his comfort level on the guitar, so the whole thing kind of went away. But the scope of this work we were doing up in Malibu was very far ranging, that’s the best way I can describe it.

“Dylan taped everything on this boom box he had. It was funny, there was a PA set up in this house we were rehearsing in. But he’d never sing into the PA. He would sing either into one of our ears – like, stand next to me, and sing straight into my ear – or he’d sing into the boom box. I kept saying, ‘You know, if you sang into the mic, it might sound…’ And he’d be, ‘No. No. I donwanna do that.’”


After several weeks of rehearsals, the band is assembled at Cherokee Studios in Hollywood, where among the tracks recorded is “New Danville Girl”, which Dylan re-writes and re-records subsequently as “Brownsville Girl”. Sessions continue at Cherokee through November, before Dylan completes what has become Empire Burlesque in New York, with Arthur Baker producing. When the album comes out, Ingber is not impressed by what he hears.

“I was disappointed based on what I had heard at the original recordings,” he says. “Charitably, I think Empire Burlesque and to a lesser degree Knocked Out Loaded were victims of what I call ‘’80s-itis’. Both those albums had some really wonderful performances, but the production obscured a lot of it, because back then the overuse of things like digital reverb was really prevalent. The records suffered because of it – I suspect that if somebody went back into the master tapes and had another look, I bet that these would be amazing recordings.”

The True Confessions tour of Australia and Japan with Petty and the Heartbreakers finishes on March 10, at Tokyo’s Budokan Hall. In mid-April, Dylan’s in Skyline Studios in Topanga Canyon. He’s tried to accommodate modern recording methods with Mark Knopfler and Arthur Baker on Infidels and Empire Burlesque and been frustrated and dismayed by the process. He now wants to return to the way he made records in the ’60s – live in the studio, quickly and intuitively. He thinks he can record a new album in a week to meet the deadline for the upcoming US dates with the Heartbreakers. A large cast of musicians are invited to Skyline for sessions that seem to have no coherent direction, including Los Lobos, T Bone Burnett, Al Kooper, Steve Douglas, the saxophonist with the Wrecking Crew, Stevie Wonder’s drummer Raymond Pounds, bassist James Jamerson Jr and Blasters guitarist Dave Alvin. Ira Ingber is also present and like Kooper is dismayed by Dylan’s startling lack of confidence in what he’s doing.

“His inclination to add more and more musicians, certainly in the latter set of recordings I did with him – as opposed to that small core group we started out with in 1984 – I think that indicates that he did lose confidence in the songs themselves, and his place in the songs,” Inbger says. “I think he thought it could be made up by just obscuring it, with more instruments, background singers, whatever. It happened a lot even during his vocal recordings. I think he’s one of the world’s greatest singers, period. I believe everything he says when he sings. There’s a complete credibility. But a lot of times back then, the vocal take wouldn’t show that.


“There was a moment early on in working with him at Cherokee Studios, when I found myself in the recording booth, and, again, there was no producer. It was just me and an engineer, George Tutko. Bob was singing and he blew a line. He said from out in the recording room, ‘How was that?’ I said George, ‘Do I tell him or do you tell him?’ George said, ‘I’m not gonna tell him.’ I’m thinking, if I tell him that this isn’t working and he gets pissed off, then that’s the end of that. But if I don’t tell him, then I haven’t done my job. So I push the talkback and I say, ‘It sounded good, Bob, but I think you’ve probably got a better end part to that than the one you got there…’ There was this looooong pause. I’m thinking, oh, here we go. But finally, he said, ‘OK. Let’s do it again.’ This wave of relief came over me, because at that moment he started trusting me. Somebody had to drive the bus, there was no producer, and for someone like Bob out there singing and playing, it’s very difficult to know when you’re on target. That’s one of the jobs of a producer to, hopefully, gently, guide without interfering.

“So that’s what I started doing in that early set of recordings. Then in the second set, a lot of that was gone. Bob was hearing from a lot of other people, sometimes too many people. That lack of confidence was surprising to me. It would vary from day to day, song to song, and it didn’t feel to me as though there was a singular focus, of ‘This is what I’m doing. This is the record I’m making. This is my point of view.’ It seemed very scattershot.”

Reviews of the album are unilaterally hostile, as derisive as anything written about Saved or Shot Of Love. In another opinion, the opening version of Junior Parker’s “You Wanna Ramble” is a gas. Take away the backing vocals, toughen up the guitars, thicken up the sound and it could be something you might hear on Modern Times or Together Through Life. “Maybe Someday” and “Got My Mind Made Up” are good-humoured loose-limbed lopes. The version of the country gospel standard “Precious Memories”, meanwhile, has an appealing end-of-the-trail feel to it and an affecting vocal. The steel drums are an eccentric if lovely touch that make the thing sound somewhat like the Carter Family via the Caribbean. Carole Bayer Sager gets a co-writing credit on the creepy “Under Your Spell”, which has echoes of Planet Waves’ “Wedding Song” and the fevered desperation of “Where Are You Tonight? (Journey Through Dark Heat)” from Street-Legal.

Best of all is “Brownsville Girl”. It’s a song, one of the finest in his pantheon, about memory, identity, legend, loyalty, death and love across 11 action-packed minutes, Dylan throwing everything at this version, where the original was spare, acoustic and drifting. The KOL take is almost frantic, with Dylan often delivering its many great lines in a kind of delirium, the song revolving around half-remembered scenes from a Gregory Peck Western about an ageing gunfighter shot in the back by a craven young gunslinger. With Dylan’s Queens Of Rhythm, hollering like a cross between the Ikettes and the chorus in a classical Greek drama, the song follows two young lovers on a roadtrip across Texas and Mexico, and back to New Orleans, Dylan singing his ass off in one of his most audacious vocal performances ever. The album doesn’t even make it into the US Top 50.

The US True Confessions tour ends in Paso Robles on August 6. By the end of the month, Dylan’s in England
for Hearts Of Fire, a movie so dire it’s barely shown in UK cinemas and goes straight to video in the US, Bob playing a washed-up rock star a bit too close to the bone for many.

The only good thing to come out of the experience is the BBC Omnibus documentary, Getting To Dylan, in which he gives an interview in Ontario in his trailer, during which he draws director Christopher Sykes, sniffs a lot and appears quite lost.

In May 1987, Dylan goes out with the Grateful Dead for a six-date stadium tour that makes him a lot of money (he insists on a 70-30 split of the profits) but is considered otherwise worthless, a view reinforced when the Dylan & The Dead live album is released in February 1989. Whatever turned out to be the incompatibilities that prevented Dylan and the Dead from sounding at any given point like they were actually playing the same songs, Dylan, so jaded by now and adrift of himself and who he has been, digs the way the Dead make music. As strained as the short tour is, he feels by his later admission in Chronicles the beginning of a personal revival.


In September, he’s back with Petty and the Heartbreakers for the start of the Temples In Flames tour, the first shows of which are in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem and not well-received, things picking up somewhat when they reach Europe. On stage at the Piazza Grande in Locarno, Switzerland, on October 5, nine days before I see him at Wembley, Dylan is consumed by rejuvenation and a new sense of mission.

“It’s almost as if I heard it as a voice,” he later recalls. “It wasn’t like it was even me thinking it: ‘I’m determined to stand, whether God will deliver me or not.’ And all of a sudden everything just exploded every which way. I sort of knew – I’ve got to go out and play these songs. That’s just what I must do.”

Let’s say this about Bob Dylan in the ’80s, those years of turmoil. He stands his ground, even when it’s shifting beneath him. Whatever the ferocity of critical opinion, self-doubt, the vilification of his deepest beliefs, he keeps going. You have to hand him that. And here he is in early 1988, with George Harrison, Roy Orbison, Tom Petty and Jeff Lynne in The Traveling Wilburys. The group comes together when Harrison, Orbison, Petty and Lynne fetch up at Dylan’s Point Dume compound to record a B-side for “This Is Love”, a single from Harrison’s Cloud Nine album. When the chums are assembled, they bash out a song called “Handle With Care” and have so much fun apparently they decide to make an album together. Bill Bottrell, who engineers the session and has worked extensively with Lynne, remembers, however, that Dylan, prior to the recording, summons Lynne, who he doesn’t know, over to Malibu for a kind of audition.


“Jeff called me one day,” he recalls, “and said, ‘We have to go to Bob Dylan’s house…’ At that point, Bob was the only one of those guys Jeff hadn’t worked with. George had made the phone calls to get everybody together, I think, but before anything else happened, Bob wanted to check out Jeff. So Jeff and I went to Bob’s house one day and they sat down with two acoustic guitars and recorded a version of ‘I’m In The Mood For Love’ together.

“It may have been a couple of months, maybe more, that the guys got together at Dylan’s house to record. I drove Jeff down there and we started setting up in the garage. There was all this gear Dylan had bought from Dave Stewart sitting there, not really working. Jeff and I had to quickly plug it all together and make it work as much as possible. It was hilarious.

It was a real garage. You know, like Sheetrock, plasterboard walls, a metal garage door, the kind that rolls up. There may even have been lawnmowers in there. But when you’ve got Roy Orbison singing, the room doesn’t matter. It’s still going to sound like Roy.”

The album’s charming, just about, with Dylan’s affectionate “Tweeter And The Monkey Man” a terrific highlight, and puts Bob back in the charts, which is more than can be said for his own new album, Down In The Groove, which has again been assembled from a sprawl of sessions, Dylan drawing on a lot of cover versions. Melody Maker exclusively announces the album in January 1988. Columbia seem in no hurry to put it out, however, and it’s anyway damned before release when in February, The Observer carries a story about it under the dramatic headline, ‘Dylan’s disaster’, that claims the album – full of “unsavoury boogie” – has been indefinitely postponed, which seems like a euphemistic way of telling us it’s been unceremoniously dumped from their schedules. When I call Columbia in New York for an update, I’m told by someone who sounds like she’s chewing gum and balancing a small balloon on her nose that it will eventually come out, but is currently “unassigned”, which makes it sound like it’s languishing in some shadowy netherworld, unreachable by man.

When it’s finally released in June, Dylan again is largely criticised for not being the Dylan people want him to be (which is to say, the last Dylan he would himself want to be). It’s another album mostly of covers of R’n’B, folk, country and rock’n’roll standards. The most notable of the Dylan originals is the hilariously bleak “Death Is Not The End”, originally written for Infidels. The album’s another resounding flop, although we wouldn’t end up arguing if you told me you were a fan of its rowdy clatter and enjoyed it as a passing insight into the kind of music Dylan grew up listening to, like a harder rocking Self Portrait, Paul Simonon of The Clash and former Sex Pistols guitarist Steve Jones helping things along on a booting version of “Sally Sue Brown”, which by presumable coincidence had just worked its way into sets by Elvis Costello, then touring with The Confederates. Elsewhere, The Stanley Brothers’ “Rank Strangers To Me” is eerily covered, the traditional “Shenandoah” is a shimmering hallucination and “Ninety Miles An Hour Down A Dead End Street” gloriously sombre.


A tour’s announced for June to coincide with the album’s release, something Bob calls Interstate 88. No-one’s in a rush to buy tickets to see what they imagine will be a dead horse being flogged on another tour to promote an album they’re not going to buy. Interstate 88, however, is the start of something else. Dylan’s been rehearsing with guitarist GE Smith, bassist Kenny Aaronson and drummer Chris Parker who – with Neil Young in tow – make their debut at the Concord Pavilion in California. Their first number is “Subterranean Homesick Blues”. It’s never been played live before, an indication that something’s afoot. The show is in many respects chaotic, with Neil and GE Smith screaming chord changes at each other behind an oblivious Dylan. Not many people there realise they are witness to a historic moment. It’s the first night, of course, of what becomes known as the Never Ending Tour, which comes sensationally to London in June 1989, Dylan looking trim in a gambler’s black frock coat where two years earlier he’d looked like a bedraggled derelict.

There are terrific takes on hallowed songs from his back catalogue, played with a ferocious intensity, scalding versions of “Subterranean Homesick Blues” and “Stuck Inside Of Mobile With The Memphis Blues Again” still livid in the memory. There’s a marvellous acoustic interlude, too, featuring just Dylan and GE Smith on lovely versions of “It Ain’t Me Babe”, “The Lonesome Death Of Hattie Carroll” and an exquisite “Boots Of Spanish Leather”.

Dylan that unforgettable night at Wembley Arena is rejuvenated, born-again if you like. He’s been writing, too, although by 1988, according to his own version of things, he no longer even thinks of himself as a songwriter. In Chronicles, Dylan alludes to a hand injury that leaves him in a cast. During his recovery from this vague injury and unable to play guitar, paint or draw, he writes, adding little more about this apparently miraculous creative recovery. The songs aren’t coming quite as fast or easily as they once did. But there are enough of them eventually – more than 20, he reckons later – for a new album he’s soon making in New Orleans with Daniel Lanois. The Canadian producer’s worked successfully with Robbie Robertson and Peter Gabriel and more recently with U2 bringing the kind of atmospheric textures to The Joshua Tree that Bono tells Bob over dinner will be perfect for the new songs Dylan has played him.

Back in September 1988, the Interstate 88 tour hits New Orleans and Dylan turns up at Lanois’ studio on St Charles Street, where Lanois is working with The Neville Brothers on their Yellow Moon album. Lanois’ recording methods appeal immediately to Dylan. For all his studio expertise, Lanois favours the feel and atmosphere of spontaneous performance over technical perfection. The Interstate 88 tour climaxes in October with a barnstorming four-night run at New York’s Radio City Music Hall. In March 1989, he’s back in New Orleans to start working with Lanois on what becomes Oh Mercy. Perhaps mindful of the disarray Dylan has recently brought to recording sessions by inviting all and sundry to call in and play on whatever he’s doing, Lanois insists that Oh Mercy will feature only his own hand-picked crew of engineers and musicians, people who can work quickly and intuitively to accommodate Dylan’s whims. The hot little band he assembles includes Lanois himself on guitar, dobro and Omnichord, engineer Malcolm Burn on guitar and keyboards, supplemented by guitarist Mason Ruffner, percussionist Cyril Neville and The Neville Brothers’ rhythm section of drummer Willie Green, bassist Tony Hall and guitarist Brian Stoltz.

“We had a party one night here in New Orleans,” Stoltz tells Uncut. “The Grateful Dead were coming to town. I was playing with The Neville Brothers at the time and they threw a party for the Dead. They rented a fishing camp out on Lake Pontchartrain and just had a big crab-boil. During the party Dan asked me, ‘Brian, if you had the opportunity to produce either Stevie Ray Vaughan or Bob Dylan – which one would you do?’ I busted out laughing. ‘Man, do you even have to ask? You already know the answer to that. You gotta do Bob.’ Dan started laughing, that was his way of asking if I’d play on the album. There was no further discussion until I got the call and went to the studio.

“The Neville Brothers had worked in a big room on St Charles Street but by then Dan had moved everything over to Soniat Street, uptown. It was a big, old Victorian house. The whole place was set up for Bob – Dan really likes to set things up geared toward the artist. Bob had already been over to the house on St Charles Street, to listen to some songs and he really liked the set-up. He liked the idea that it was in a house, he liked that it wasn’t some sterile, generic studio.”

The first song Stoltz works on is “Political World”, one of the first Dylan writes for the new album. Dylan’s already had one stab at recording it, but is unable to find the right arrangement. Lanois now thinks he can make the song work with a new one he’s come up with.

“Dan had an idea for a little groove,” Stoltz recalls, “kind of a funkier groove. I remember we ran through it a few times before Bob got there. Bob came walking in the room when we were playing. He said, ‘What’s that?’ Dan said, ‘It’s a little something we’re working up for “Political World”.’ And Bob said, ‘“Political World”? It don’t go like that! It goes like this.’ He picked up a guitar and started playing it and we all jumped in – and my memory is that’s the track you hear on the record. If you listen to ‘Political World’, you can hear how Willie [Green] doesn’t even come in with the beat because he was jumping in after Bob.

“There wasn’t a lot of time getting to know each other. It was immediately getting to work: here are the songs. Bob would show us something and if it didn’t work, we’d try it again. If it still didn’t work, we’d move on. When we were tracking, there wasn’t a whole lot of time spent trying to rework tracks. It was either happening or it wasn’t.

“For the most part, it seemed like he had a lot of lyrics and he had melodies for some of them, but for many he didn’t and it seemed like he was just working them out. He’d sit down and show us what he had and we took it from there. I think he had a really good idea what the songs were, he knew where they were going lyrically – obviously, because he would come in with, jeez, just unbelievable amounts of lyrics, verses and verses. ‘Political World’ must have had, like, 25 verses. I remember he would come in every night and head straight to the kitchen, pour a coffee and start working on his lyrics, editing, rewriting. When we were working on ‘Political World’, he had a sheet in front of him that he was singing off, but then there were all these other sheets lying on the floor. I’ve never seen anybody who could fit so many verses on one page – and it was just amazing to watch how he’d rework them and then get it down to how it ended up. In most instances he knew what the song was, the spirit of the song, the essence of it. The way they got interpreted was another thing.”

Dylan offers his own account of the making of Oh Mercy in Chronicles that hints at an inner turmoil that makes the initial sessions unexpectedly fraught and brings him into conflict with Lanois. Nothing seems to satisfy Bob at this point. He rejects the producer’s ideas and the arrangements cooked up by the band, despite the enormous patience Lanois displays as he attempts to accommodate Dylan’s indecision, constant revisions and general stubbornness. At times, it must have seemed like an impossible task, like hammering a nail into a plank with a feather. An album, however, is eventually made.

There is a further confrontation between Dylan and Lanois, however, over what will be on the final version. Chuck Plotkin, Mark Knopfler, Ira Ingber and Arthur Baker have all been left aghast at Dylan’s perverse omission of key tracks from Shot Of Love (“Caribbean Wind”, “Angelina”), Infidels (“Blind Willie McTell”, “Foot Of Pride”) and Empire Burlesque (the E Street Band version of “When The Night Comes Falling From The Sky”, “New Danville Girl”). Lanois is now appalled when Dylan drops the miasmic “Series Of Dreams”, a fantastic track unlike anything Dylan’s previously essayed, and decides also to ditch one of the first songs written for the album, “Dignity”. Lanois argues for the inclusion of both, risking Dylan’s wrath. It’s another tense moment in their relationship.


For the best of the decade, Dylan has been mostly vilified by fans who have felt betrayed by his perverse waywardness. They have perhaps not fully grasped what possibly can be seen as a protracted attempt in these years by Dylan to strip away the mystique that has attached itself to him, to deny the predictive powers attributed to him by fans convinced of his far-sightedness to shed himself of the burden of unreasonable expectation, to always be the Dylan his fans expect him to be. This is the Dylan who in their presumption he has lost sight of, the Dylan of cascading visions, infallible.

If it has indeed been Dylan’s intention to turn himself into a journeyman musician, he has all too often in the recent past succeeded. But these fans listen to Oh Mercy and there are glimpses of the Dylan they have missed on the churning rockers “Political World” and “Everything Is Broken”, jittery litanies of woe, anxiety, terror and dread. There are echoes of his earlier militant evangelism on “Where Teardrops Fall” and “Ring Them Bells”, but even at its most oratorical, Oh Mercy is largely free of the scalding sermons of Saved and Shot Of Love. There is appreciation, too, of “Man In The Long Black Cloak”, whose chilling narrative can be traced back to the traditional “House Carpenter” but owes perhaps as much to the Southern Gothic of the Robert Mitchum movie The Night Of The Hunter.

The stark nocturnal blues and self-examination of “What Good Am I?” and the lacerating “Disease Of Conceit” are regarded as highlights, too. Better yet, though, is the deep-hewn regret of “Most Of The Time”, Dylan sounding both wry and vulnerable over the low rolling thunder of guitar feedback, fractured harmonics, cloudbursts of melting dissonance. The two songs that close the album, meanwhile, seem to directly address his audience and their demands of him. “What Was It You Wanted” is chiding, “Shooting Star” elegiac.

There is some dissent over the sonic landscape Lanois contrives for the album, but on the whole Oh Mercy on its release in September 1989 is hailed as a great return in a year that also sees major comeback albums from Neil Young with Freedom and Lou Reed with New York. Dylan’s back, the headlines proclaim, although as ever no-one is quite specific about which Dylan they’re talking about. Whatever, hallelujahs generally abound.

The euphoria doesn’t last, of course. Dylan’s next album is panned, Under The Red Sky dismissed as a sorry follow-up to Oh Mercy, largely misunderstood. There will be no new original songs for seven long years, until he returns in 1997 with Time Out Of Mind, when the last great act of his career begins.

The November 2016 issue of Uncut is now on sale in the UK – featuring our cover story on The Specials, plus Bon Iver, Bob Weir, Shirley Collins, Conor Oberst, Peter Hook, Bad Company, Leonard Cohen, Muscle Shoals, Will Oldham, Oasis, Lou Reed, Otis Redding, Nina Simone, Frank Ocean, Michael Kiwanuka and more plus 140 reviews and our free 15-track CD

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