This week’s Bob Backwards feature lands on a big year for me. 1980.
In a weird way we pass like ships in the night. Bob found Evangelical fundamentalism just as I was losing it.I remember the atmosphere at that time. I had graduated in June of 1980 and spent that summer commencing work for the first time. Except that it wasn’t really like work at all. I had decided not to take the teaching post offered to me and work as a volunteer for a city centre church in Dundee. It was a brilliant summer spent getting involved in various pieces of youth work, renovating a flat where I would be based along with a couple of pals and falling in and out of love with a girl. Oh yes, and there would be some time spent in an odd band I had become involved in who were mainly based in Edinburgh. (I know!)
The reason I probably never bought a copy of Saved by Bob Dylan was that I probably couldn’t afford it. I was on a volunteer wage and many of the records I did have were stolen or scratched to bits by various folk who came calling around our place at that time. I also (half- heartedly) joined in with my cousin Laura’s post punk year zero approach and started flogging off anything pre 1977….but that’s another story.
However there is another reason that I’ve never listened to ‘Saved’ until this week. Bob was going where I’d been and, if I’m honest, I’ve never really wanted to go back to that place. I’m not a good fundamentalist at anything. I think, however, it doesn’t agree with many of us when it snakes its way into religion. I was enjoying uncertainty for the first time in a long time. Living where I was and meeting the people I met meant the answers I’d trotted out for years came over as a little glib. Bob was singing about ‘salvation’ and having found it. What does it mean to be saved and still live below the bread-line, what does it matter to be told Jesus loves you if the reality you experience is that no one loves you enough to give you a job? I’m guessing I never listened to the album as I found the triumphalism of the sleeve too off-putting. It would be 9 years before I found myself enjoying a Dylan album, a lot of things happened in those 9 years and I felt happier when he started asking questions again and allowing the answers to blow in the wind a little.
I listened to the record for the first time from beginning to end today finally. I’ll tell you my full thoughts on the record tomorrow – not that it matters a jot what I think – safe to say there are some great things to play.
We have no guest artist tomorrow and it’s a good thing. I have a pile of records I want to play and gigs I want to tell you about. Look out for some fine old things from Emmylou Harris, Diana Jones and Neil Young. New things from Gregory Alan Isakov,Nathaniel Rateliff and the great Matraca Berg and some lovely new music from Scotland in the shape of Starwheel Press.
And …….I’m going to tell you about the night I didn’t have and the one I did have in this great building…
It all starts at five past eight on Friday evening. BBC Radio Scotland.
I have to disagree on one thing, Ricky: that it doesn’t matter a jot what you think of “Saved” or any other album. I know we all have a unique and personal relationship with the music we let into our lives, but I always enjoy hearing your perspectives as they are never less than insightful and engaging.
Thanks for sharing this blog too, a personal retrospective of a certain time and place. I’ve found myself looking back at a comparable time in my life this week (unearthing all kinds of boxed memories thanks to a clear-out) and I can’t help but think how my taste in music has evolved too over the intervening years.
Another Country is an integral weekly part of that continuing journey for me these days, so I look forward to no guest artist and two hours of revelatory radio…
An interesting review by Rolling Stone magazine of Saved: http://www.rollingstone.com/music/albumreviews/saved-19800918
The album itself is a disappointment. recorded 9 months after “Slow Train Coming” in the same studio and with the same producers as its predecessor large chunks of the album fail to sparkle, even though the songs have a lot more warmth and devotion to them than most of the Slow Train Coming album. Paul Williams wrote 2 short books on the gospel tours in 1979 and 1980 and loved the Saved songs in concert but was gutted when he herd the final Lp. He suspects that Saved ended up sounding tired and flat as it was the only time in his career where Bob had previewed his new album in full on the road, night after night, for a few months, and they already had the arrangements fixed in their minds before the tapes began rolling… many of Bob’s albums had been recorded in situations where the studio band weren’t familiar with his methods of recording mostly live in the studio and often without getting time to learn the songs or work on the arrangements much before the red light came on. When Saved came to be recorded the musicians had been playing the songs for months and they had nothing left to discover in the songs and were tired at the end of the tour and wanting to get home!
Saved has some great songs which are let down by Bob and the band not managing to inject the same passion, fire and sensitivity into them in the recording studio as they had in front of a live audience: Saving Grace, Covenant Woman, What Can I Do For You, Solid Rock and In The Garden all sounded routinely better live late 1979 – spring 1980 than they do on the LP… they are great gospel songs and thankfully Pressing On still sounds amazing today.
Some of the songs from Saved were re-worked by some leading gospel artists in 2003 on the “Gotta Serve Somebody” various artists compilation which featured a crazy duet between Bob and Mavis Staples on a barmy re-written version of “Gonna Change My Way Of Thinking” where Bob stops the band mid-song and offers to go out and kill some chickens to fry up since Mavis as arrived and he’s feeling hungry! In the hands of Sounds Of Blackness, Aaron Neville, Helen Baylor, Chicago Mass Choir and Mighty Clouds of Joy the tunes from Saved come out sounding a lot better than they are usually given credit for.