Following the amphetamine-paced frenzy of his 1966 European tour, Bob Dylan retreated to his home in Woodstock, NY. It was there that, on July 29th, the artist crashed his Triumph 500 motorcycle. While the details of the crash, and subsequent injuries, remain somewhat of a mystery, Dylan, reflecting on the pivotal event, later stated in an interview that “When I had that motorcycle accident…I woke up and caught my senses, and realized that I was just workin’ for all these leeches. And I really didn’t want to do that.” Following 1966, the Dylan timeline would forever be altered, adding another era; “before” and “after” the crash. Below, we reflect on the three immediate albums following Dylan’s convalescence in Woodstock, NY: John Wesley Harding, Nashville Skyline, and New Morning.
Before we begin, let’s put some of the obvious nuggets that make these records incredible on the table, so we can admire them and move on. 1. New Morning and Nashville Skyline heavily feature none other than Charlie “Devil Went Down to Georgia” Daniels on bass. 2. All three records (and additionally, the often forgotten covers record Self-Portrait) were released in a less than three-year span. 3. Nashville Skyline features a duet between Johnny Cash and Bob Dylan – only one out of what is described as “an album’s worth” of duets; the demos of which have been posted on AD in the past.
There’s a reason that these three records are over looked. Aside from the fact that they lack singles, lack protest songs, and lack the things which define Dylan Hits to non Dylan fanatics: they were released in-between two of the most beloved Dylan iterations. Before them is the Dylan of old, the 60’s — Blonde on Blonde directly precedes them. Following New Morning, in 1970, came Pat Garrett & Billy the Kid (a movie soundtrack mostly remembered for ““Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door”) and the not-so-authorized Dylan. After this Dylan again teamed up with the Band.
This mini-period of Dylan work often tends to not stand out — it slinks behind. It’s forgotten for no reason other than the fact that it wasn’t a golden era. But maybe, instead of being something left by the wayside because it doesn’t fit into the Dylan that most know and love – it’s actually a period of time in which he released what could arguably be called some of his best records. There are not singles, there are not concert staples, but what there are, are three records that tie-together seamlessly and capture Dylan at a moment of extraordinary song writing, of a different language and mentality. Suffice it to say, this is easily packaged as country music, and Dylan nailed it.
Note that this is not the country Dylan of now, with the suits and the countrified versions of old classics. No, this is a Dylan taking the folk medium on the road to a meeting with Johnny Cash and country music – literally exchanging verses with the Man in Black. A true meeting of two rebels who met, recorded, and were both tremendously changed/challenged by the experience.
Starting with John Wesley Harding, in 1967, Dylan’s story-telling loses the abstractness of his thin wild mercury period and instead tells individual stories and autobiographies. This music harks more to the unreleased 1963 song “John Brown” than to anything recorded by Dylan between that and Harding. What goes unnoticed on this record is that there is not a single chorus. Not one. The closest is the verse ending line “I’ll Be Your Baby Tonight” from the song of the same name. Consequently, it is the only song that feels out of place on any of these three records.
What Nashville Skyline proves is that these three records do not necessarily share enough elements that they could be intermixed. Skyline is a much more country record, not least because of the Cash collaboration on “Girl From North County.” The record is marked by a vocal styling not often thought of when speaking of Dylan: sleepy. He almost waltzes through the entire album, save the Cash, the Earl-Scruggs-featuring “Nashville Skyline Rag” (a rare Dylan instrumental) and the playful but short “Country Pie.” There’s a melodic sleepiness to this record, not least because of the voice mentioned earlier. The music is country, and yet lush with light organ and pedal steel; the drumming is rarely heavy and never inappropriate.
Upon examining these albums as a microcosm, New Morning seems like a vast departure. Though, what becomes clear is that this particular record is almost a hybrid of the prior two. This is story-telling Dylan with a country-tint; not rocking with The Band, yet, not monotone. How does Dylan’s first jazz song, “If Dogs Run Free,” a combination of beat-poetry, skat singing and a piano, manage to fit into this record? Varied as it is, the record is incredibly strong and the standout tracks share a common musicality. “Sign on the Window,” “The Man in Me” (which gained a second life via The Big Lebowski), “If Not For You” and the title track range more in terms of sheer loudness than most all Dylan songs. Part rollicking, part ballad – they are obvious love songs, and much more straight forward than we’re used to with Dylan.
An overused word for any musician is that a work is “introspective” – these records seem far from that. They are outward expressions…reactions…culminations. New thoughts. New ways of expressing oneself. A small moment in Dylan’s career, introverted both musically and socially, the artist managed to create three powerhouse melodic and captivating records. words/ b kramer
Comments: What’s your favorite Dylan period? Hit up the comments below.
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47 thoughts on “Bob Dylan :: After The Crash (1967-1970)”
pat garrett and billy the kid did not feature “forever young” that was planet waves. you’re thinking of “knockin on heaven’s door.” simple mistake i’m sure. love the site.
yup, that be it.
yup, my bust! I think i was thinking about a sentence about that record being the true beginning of the mid-70’s Dylan and crossed two thoughts in my head. Great catch.
don’t forget that dylan made his feature film debut in pat garrett and billy the kid!
new morning was actually my first dylan album (a story in itself). it’s absolutely lovely to me.
i recently met an old dylan fan and he confessed that ‘if dogs run free’ is his favorite dylan tune. i gained a new fondness for him following this revelation.
Great piece, i’ve always thought New Morning one of Dylan’s most interesting albums and Nashville Skyline one of his most enjoyable. The (rare)instrumental you mention from that album, Nashville Skyline Rag, is superb too.
I always equate the Basements Tapes as “after the crash”. All those amazing songs and outtakes were all recorded before John Wesley Harding. They just were “officially” released until 1975. But like minded artists were covering those Basement tape tunes before 1970. The Basement tapes as bootlegs got out to the world after the crash.
Great write-up. That is, indeed, a slept-on period of Dylan’s career for many people. A shame, really. Perhaps not as glamorous as some of his other work, but genius nonetheless. Thanks.
Thoughtful and well written. Correction, however, to the mp3’s posted for download: “I Threw It All Away” is on Nashville Skyline and “The Ballad of Frankie Lee and Judas Priest” is on John Wesley Harding (you have them reversed).
Nice piece. One of my favourite Dylan periods is the late seventies early eighties born again period. A perfect mix of lunacy, great songs and one of the best backing bands in the world ever. Look up Gotta Serve Somebody from The Grammy Awards 1980 at Youtube, or that woderful Toronto concert the same year.
For the John Wesley Harding and Nashville skyline I know that the man quit smoking. That is what leads to the best vocal delivery of his career.
Really a great look at this era. I think you did a great job. Now someone has to talk about why Planet Waves is so often written off as being a throw away album
Nice piece. This has always been my favorite era. I think maybe because the cover of Nashville Skyline says, “We’re gonna have a good time.” New Morning is especially underrated. I’ve also an affinity for Self Portrait. I’m gonna go dig up these albums. Thanks.
What a coincidence. It’s like this site is monitoring my iTunes. I had just finished relistening to all three of those albums and Basements Tapes and pondering what a deep period that was musically for him. Also, for those who haven’t read Chronicles yet, do so…immediately. Has a marvelous, digressive On the Road quality to it. It’s a new morning, indeed…
JWH definitely belongs among Dylan’s best albums – not a weak song on there, plus it was obviously a huge influence on Hendrix
My personal favorite song off of it is Dear Landlord – probably in my top 10 Dylan songs
They’re all great albums but I gotta say, Nashville Skyline is the standout. It shifts from mindless bliss to tragic beauty and back and forth over and over again in just 27 minutes. It’s criminally under appreciated. When ever I play it for friends who only know Dylan’s 60’s vocal styles, it usually gets a big reaction. People just don’t really know it exists. I still have to say I prefer his earlier records but Nashville Skyline is undoubtedly brilliant.
Excellent fucking piece.
i am an ardent supporter of the argument that you’ve provided here. these 3 (along with the stuff the did in woodstock and self portrait) are some of his most interesting albums.
i’ll say it again…if this stuff interests you, GO TO A LEVON HELM MIDNIGHT RAMBLE. levon (drummer, The band) lives in woodstock and being in that place brings all this stuff to life.
we stayed at a bed & breakfast called “the grouse house”. besides being a great place to stay (i’m gay for B&B’s, sorry), the inn keeper Gilbert is a dylan-ophile. he lives a short bike ride from Big Pink where the band lived and the basement tapes were made. he gave us a map and we rode bikes he lent us up there.
he also took us around, showed us the two spots where the crash likely took place, showed us dylan’s house (donald fagan now lives there), etc.
to describe it as magical does no justice. oh yeah, the ramble was pretty awesome too!
here is a link to the grouse house.
also, the person who took the photo you featured is also from woodstock and has a gallery. worth the visit alone.
and eat at Oriole 9 for an incredible meal.
seriously, this was a lifechanging experience. email me with questions
Great article. I stopped by a friend’s house last week and he was playing some fantastic Dylan tunes. But they didn’t sound very familiar so I asked what it was…turned out to be the new Bootleg Series Vol. 8 “Tell Tale Signs.” I was very impressed, great sound, very thoughtful songwriting. I have definitely overlooked Dylan’s “late” period.
After being soaked in the classic pre-crash stuff during my formative music-listening years, its only recently that I’ve developed a love for these records. JWH less than the other two, with New Morning as my unlikely favorite. To me, it’s of a piece with the “until then unreleased” tracks that went onto Greatest Hits II (circa 1971 I believe). A couple of those are ones familiar to Basement Tapes listeners (“Down in the Flood,” “You Aint Goin Nowhere”), but (IMHO) even better versions, and overall they show Dylan in a strangely relaxed, at-peace-with-the-world mindest. From GH2, I love how “Watching the River Flow” seems almost like the flipside of “Blowin in the Wind” — no longer restlessly lamenting the world’s shortcomings, but accepting the world in its complexity and learning to love it anyway. There’s a verse that I’ll botch here from NM’s Sign in the Window, about life being all about finding a quiet place to catch rainbow trout and have some kids that’ll call you “pa”. I think that you’re right to identify this as an overlooked period, and I think part of it is that it doesn’t have the romantic anger of Highway 61 Revisited, or the scars of Blood on the Tracks. I still love those parts of Dylan’s career of course, but there’s something to be said for this era as well.
Fuck, 23, now 24 comments. Excellent, excellent writeup, holmes.
A wonderful post. It would be nice if some material from Planet Waves and Dylan’s most recent album, Tell Tale Signs, were posted.
Nice article, I really love your site too.
That picture you have posted with the article is beautiful
Would anyone know where I could buy a poster size or larger photo of that Dylan picture above? Maybe a website that sells this sort of thing? I love it and I think it would look great on my son’s wall. His middle name is Dylan!
sorry, that’s the link to the gallery i referenced above. Photographer is Elliott Landy. follow the links for “sale”
Great post. I love 1967-70. I think JWH is one of Dylan’s greatest albums. However, you cannot get to JWH without going through the basement sessions (and I don’t just mean the handful of songs released on the original acetate or the remixed and phony 1975 release). To truly understand how extreme Dylan’s transformation from, say March 1966 through December 1967, you need to work your way through the 100+ recordings of the tapes. And the many covers of the sessions – spanning the gamut of American and British folk, country, trad, bluegrass, blues, soul and more – are the key to understanding the transformational journey Dylan and the Band took in 1967 which allowed them to walk out of the basement and share with the world albums such as JWH and Music From Big Pink. The covers also give weight and meaning to the otherwise confounding basement originals.
I always thought JWH and New Morning were underrated…
especially “Three Angels” – an incredible song/poem/hymn unlike anything else Dylan’s done…
went to woodstock at the end of the summer and took my gf to Levon’s Midnight Ramble with the Terry Adams Rock n Roll Quartet. Wonderful music, awesomely intimate atmosphere, and the best horn section I’ve ever seen. Levon doesn’t try to sing like he used to, really allows his band (includes his daughter and Larry Campbell of Dylan’s old band) to shine. He also has 80-year-old blues pioneer Little Sammy Davis blowing harp and adding old Chi-town style vocals. John Sebastian showed up but only played harmonica, I was a little disappointed he didn’t sing something from Woodstock.
We also caught Dylan (and Levon, Gillian Welch, Steve Earle, Conor Oberst, Swell Season, etc.) at the Saratoga Springs Fest. It was a great day with Welch, Swell Season, and Oberst highlighting, but Dylan was definitely off. I didn’t expect his voice to be good, but it was really hard to follow the tunes. It took a while to figure out what he was singing and it wasn’t like he was doing anything obscure; the arrangements were just wrong and the band was totally out of synch. Lots of people, some who had come just for him, walked out.
That being said, this era of Dylan is probably my favorite — my dad introduced me to John Wesley Harding when we used to shop for old cheap records at the Record Castle in NE Phila. I Dreamed I Saw Saint Augustine, Dear Landlord, All Along the Watchtower, and Judas & Frankie just brought chills…. can’t remember my age or where the hell I was the last time I heard it. It was a much different place.
Thanks for this site, and go to Woodstock for Levon’s Ramble — it’s pricey, but you won’t regret it.
yeah the last two times i’ve seen dylan i went in with llooowwww expectations…and he didn’t even come close to meeting them.
i took my gf the second time (it was ACL) and told her not to get too excited. she said “but its dylan, i mean know matter how bad it coudl be, its still dylan right?”
4 songs in she said “let’s go”
i just don’t get it. he couldn’t possibly have bills to pay. reading his autobiography he is hyper-critical of his performances, so he couldn’t “get off” on the performance. the disappointment oozes from the crowd, so he couldn’t be getting off on that either.
i won’t command him to stop because of his legacy or anything like that. that’s his business. personally i just don’t get it.
couldn’t agree with you more jon.
That is my favorite period – nice summary of it. I call it the “Country Gentleman” era. JWH is my favorite Dylan record – it hits me on the deepest of levels, especially “Dear Landlord.” I would also include the Basement Tapes in that era as well. Great post.
I’ve seen Dylan twice in the 2000s (once in 2002 and again in 2006) and found him engaging both times. Not in the way you normally think of it – the man does not talk on stage – but in the way his performances are always really interesting reworkings of his catalogue. Think about it in the way Whitman constantly reworked Leaves of Grass until his death. You don’t always like the changes, but you can’t deny the man is an inventive and restless performance artist.
My personal favorite Dylan era is 65-66 when Dylan was the amphetamine powered, LSD taking, androgynous poet. His lyrics on Blonde on Blonde are the most amazing writings I have ever heard and Highway 61 Revisited is my favorite album of all time. Dylan was a wreck at the end of this era and after his crash he wrote songs a more personal meaning to himself. A great example is Blood on the Tracks which is about the brutal divorce he went through. But Dylan is music. He can write a song in any genre and it would win some sort of award or get some sort of critical acclaim. Bob Dylan is the greatest songwriter that has ever lived!
Great article. I’ve always been one of the weirdos who loved “Self-Portrait” (he called it “Self-Portrait” for Christ’s Sake!) and also the much-maligned “Dylan”. Of course, in my opinion, Dylan “was never known to make a foolish move”.
Is the Little Joy Bar still in LA?
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I have been listening to Slow Train, Saved, and Shot of Love a lot lately. His singing on these albums is great, his songwritingis focused, and he had a crackerjack band playing behind him. I won’t say this is my favorite period, but it is often overloked
ahhh, just so good to soak in Dylan-ness at the end of a long day. brilliant write up dude. I love this part of Dylans life, we all have our ‘bike crashes’ in lifeNashville is one of my favourites. Singing North Country Girl to my north country girl helped me in my wooing,and now we are married,Thanks Bob! Theres a Dylan album for every mood and occasion, i guess thats because thats what created them. I will listen to, sing, wonder over, and get confused by Dylan forever. So keep writing!
I’ve always loved JWH. JWH along with Sgt. Peppers were the first records I remember listening to. I thought everyone thought JWH was as much of a classic as I thought it was as a kid.
Favorite Dylan periods? That’s easy. The first few years, before he went electric at Newport (which I was there to see), the first three years or so after that, before he went country, and the Rolling Thunder Revue era. Otherwise, it’s one song at a time, and most of them I’d skip over.
All 3 of these albums are hidden gems! Have been a Dylan fan since early 90’s, but I fell upon John Wesley Harding/Nashville Skyline by dumb-luck (a CD Club). I actually got into New Morning after watching the movie Big Lubowski featuring “The Man in Me”. Although I like these albums (as well as Self Portrait/Basement), I have to say the Desire/Blood On The Tracks (Blood on the Tapes) era is my favorite!
Just found your site, nice find.
I’ve been listening to Dylan for years and always just assumed that NM was one of his great classic albums. NS however took some effort admittedly to truly embrace but It is impossible to overlook possibly Dylan greatest song which to me is like walking into the future and that is Lay Lady Lay .I speak of the future as my evocation and not as a reference to his later catalogue. I certainly agree that this is a peaceful Dylan finally on a road to contentment possibly due to his disuse of amphetamines but when did Dylan actually stop using them completely or did he ever and is there any connection to this copious pastime and his seemingly obvious decline. Is the man a burnout or what? As much as I love his work it hurts me to hear accounts of this ghost of his former self ruining his own credibility. What is wrong with him .
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