Twenty-five years ago, on February 28, 1989, Bob Dylan began work with producer Daniel Lanois at a Victorian Mansion on Soniat Street in New Orleans that Lanois had turned into a recording studio. Dylan sets the scene in “Chronicles”: “parlor windows, louvered shutters, high Gothic ceiling, walled-in courtyard, bungalows and garages in the back.”
Dylan writes about how much he likes New Orleans in “Chronicles”: “There are a lot of places I like, but I like New Orleans better. There’s a thousand different angles at any moment. At any time you could run into a ritual honoring some vaguely known queen. Bluebloods, titled persons like crazy drunks, lean weakly against the walls and drag themselve through the gutter. Even they seem to have insights you might want to listen to. No action seems inappropriate here. The city is one very long poem. Gardens full of pansies, pink petunias, opiates. Flower-bedecked shrines, white myrtles, bougainvillea and purple oleander stimulate your senses, make you feel cool and clear inside.”
The first session took place on February 28, 1989, according to Michael Krogsgaard, who has examined Columbia’s documentation of Dylan recording sessions. “Born In Time” was recorded.
The musicians: Bob Dylan (piano, guitar and dobro), Malcolm Burns (guitar), Daniel Lanois (electric and 12-string guitars, dobro, harpsichord, drums and bass), Darryl Johnson (bass and glockenspiel).
Krogsgaard writes that Dylan recorded new vocals on March 7 and April 13, 1989, and Lanois and Dylan recorded guitar overdubs at additional sessions.
Who knows why Dylan didn’t include this song on Oh Mercy. It’s for sure a keeper.
The first version I have included is very beautiful, and when Clinton Heylin calls the song “magnificent” in his book “Bob Dylan The Recording Sessions [1960 – 1994]” and says it has a “timeless quality,” this is the version he must be talking about. It has not been officially released, and only appears on bootlegs as far as I know.
I bet this is the first take of the song. It has that spontaneous feel.
I have also included an alternate take from Under the Red Sky and the released version from that album for comparison, plus two live versions.
“Born In Time,” Oh Mercy sessions:
“Born In Time,” alternate take 1, Oh Mercy sessions (appears on Tell Tale Signs):
“Born In Time,” alternate take 2, Oh Mercy sessions (appears on Tell Tale Signs):
“Born In Time,” Oh Mercy sessions:
“Born In Time,” Under the Red Sky sessions (alternate take):
“Born In Time,” Under the Red Sky sessions (versions used on album):
“Born in Time,” April 13, 1997, live, Recreation Center, Wayne, New Jersey, USA
“Born in Time,” 1998, live, Jersey City, New Jersey:
Bob Dylan was used to recording at Columbia Records’ Studio A in New York, so it was natural that when he began recording the album that would become Blonde On Blonde, he would return to the studio where he’d worked previously.
This time he went in with his touring band, The Hawks. But the onstage fireworks mostly didn’t translate into studio recordings that satisfied Dylan.
Six sessions were held in New York, but they were frustrating for Dylan. He wasn’t getting the sound he wanted, and only one song from all those sessions, “One Of Us Must Know (Sooner Or Later),” would end up on the album.
Dylan’s producer, Bob Johnston, had suggested a change of scene during the Highway 61 Revisited sessions: Columbia Music Row Studios in Nashville. Now Dylan decided to take Johnston’s advice.
On February 14, 1966, Dylan showed up in Nashville for sessions that would produce the bulk of the recordings that would be used on Blonde On Blonde, which I think is Dylan’s true masterpiece.
Sean Wilentz wrote in a 2007 issue of the Oxford American about the making of Blonde On Blonde:
Nashville had been ascending as a major recording center since the 1940s. By 1963, it boasted 1,100 musicians and fifteen recording studios. After Steve Sholes’s and Chet Atkins’s pioneering work in the 1950s with Elvis Presley, Nashville also proved it could produce superb rock & roll as well as country & western, r&b, and Brenda Lee pop. That held especially true for the session crew Johnston assembled for Dylan’s Nashville dates. Trying to plug songs for Presley’s movies, Johnston had hooked up for demo recordings with younger players, many of whom, like McCoy, had moved to Nashville from other parts of the South. Charlie McCoy and the Escorts, in fact, were reputed to be Nashville’s tightest and busiest weekend rock band in the mid-1960s; the members included the guitarist Wayne Moss and the drummer Kenneth Buttrey who, along with McCoy, would be vital to Blonde on Blonde.
Johnston’s choices (also including Jerry Kennedy, Hargus “Pig” Robbins, Henry Strzelecki, and the great Joseph Souter, Jr.—aka Joe South, who would hit it big nationally in three years with “Games People Play”) were certainly among Nashville’s top session men. Some of them had worked with stars ranging from Patsy Cline, Elvis Presley, and Roy Orbison to Ann-Margret. But apart from the A-list regular McCoy (whose harmonica skills were in special demand), they were still up-and-coming members of the Nashville elite, roughly Dylan’s age. (Robbins, at twenty-eight, was a relative old-timer; McCoy, at twenty-four, was only two months older than Dylan; Buttrey was just turning twenty-one.) Although too professional to be starstruck, McCoy says, they knew Dylan, if at all, as the songwriter from “Blowin’ in the Wind” or simply as a guy from New York, an interloper. But they were much more in touch with what Dylan was up to on Blonde on Blonde than is allowed by the stereotype of long-haired New York hipsters colliding with well-scrubbed Nashville good ol’ boys. One of Dylan’s biographers reports that Robbie Robertson found the Nashville musicians “standoffish.” But the outgoing Al Kooper, who had more recording experience, recalls the scene differently: “Those guys welcomed us in, respected us, and played better than any other studio guys I had ever played with previously.”