by Stuart Penney
1978 was an unusually busy year for Bob Dylan. In January he re-signed a long-term contract with CBS and embarked on a 114-date world tour which ran (with breaks) from February through to December.
Along with the albums Street Legal (June) and Bob Dylan at Budokan (August), we also got a trio of singles, two of which (“Is Your Love In Vain” and “Baby Stop Crying”) appeared on the new-fangled 12” format, a first for Bob.
On the movie front the four-hour arse-numbing marathon that was Renaldo & Clara arrived in cinemas to mixed reviews in January, followed in April by his show-stealing appearance in The Band’s concert film The Last Waltz.
And as if that weren’t enough Bob action, 1978 also saw the release of another significant Dylan record, one which many fans in Europe and America were blissfully unaware of at the time.
Continuing our trawl through Dylan’s Australian catalogue, we arrive at the triple compilation album Masterpieces (CBS S3BP 220502). Released March 1978 exclusively in Australia, New Zealand and Japan, presumably to tie-in with the Oceania leg of his World Tour, it represents arguably the finest overview of his 60s and 70s work this side of Biograph. Alongside the big hits and familiar classics, it also contained quite a few surprises, which we will examine below.
I acquired my first vinyl copy of Masterpieces in the early 80s when a girlfriend brought one back from a visit to Australia. It was an extremely desirable item in those pre-internet days with import record shops in London charging huge prices for it. Although containing only one genuinely rare cut (“Mixed Up Confusion”) there are several other obscure and unusual tracks, plus singles and B-sides which were either difficult to find, or unavailable on album at the time, making it an important piece of the Dylan discography. In Australia the triple vinyl set was immediately well received, selling well enough to reach #2 in the album chart and it was certified gold within four weeks of release, despite retailing at more than twice the price of a regular LP.
With 39 selections spread over six sides and practically no sleeve information other than the track listing, buyers were left to figure out for themselves where the songs originated. Most were obvious enough but tracks such as “Like A Rolling Stone” and “The Mighty Quinn,” for example, unexpectedly turned out to be the live Self Portrait versions from the 1969 Isle of Wight festival. It wasn’t until we played the records that this, and a whole lot more, was revealed.
Although not credited anywhere on the sleeve the front cover image is a tightly cropped head shot photo of Bob by Ken Regan (1939-2012) who was the official photographer on the Rolling Thunder Revue tour of 1975 / 76. A wider shot is shown below. Another photo from the same session later turned up in the booklet of the 2003 SACD release of Desire.
The hat Dylan is wearing shows up in countless photos from that period and is the same one seen throughout the movie Renaldo & Clara and on the sleeves of Desire and The Bootleg Series Vol.5 – Bob Dylan Live 1975 which were also photographed by Regan.
Ken Regan’s photos appeared on many Dylan albums, including Empire Burlesque, Biograph and several volumes of The Bootleg Series. His work can also be seen on records by David Bowie, the Rolling Stones and countless others.
Despite the paucity of liner notes, the tri-fold sleeve of Masterpieces was nonetheless impressive, featuring several full-page photos of Dylan from the Rolling Thunder Revue period. Three showed him wearing the distinctive loose-fitting bandana or middle eastern headgear adopted by virtually all band members onstage during the tour.
In Sid Griffin’s book Shelter From The Storm: Bob Dylan's Rolling Thunder Years (2010), T.Bone Burnett insists the bandana style head coverings were inspired by bricklayers who were building a wall at Dylan’s house around that time. The workers wore rags around their heads “to stop them getting concrete and various bits of plaster or whatever in their hair.” Dylan picked up on this look and, naturally, where Bob went so did those around him.
On the back cover, together with the track listing, we see a picture of Bob onstage at the Starlight Ballroom in the Belleview Biltmore Hotel, Clearwater, Florida. The Rolling Thunder Revue played two shows there on April 22, 1976, both of which were filmed for a possible one-hour TV special. The film was never broadcast but with a little judicious searching the footage can be found online.
In the photo Dylan is wearing a bandana with a distinctive Om (or Aum) Hindu symbol and playing a small body Martin 00-21 acoustic with slotted headstock. This is the guitar he used throughout the 1974 Before the Flood tour with The Band, and it was later seen onstage in September 1975 at the Tribute to John Hammond show in Chicago. Perhaps more importantly, we are assured this is the very same instrument Dylan used to record “Tangled Up in Blue” in late 1974.
Although the Australian pressing was nicely presented in a triple fold-out sleeve, the Japanese, predictably, went one better with their deluxe version (CBS/Sony 57AP-875/6/7) which boasted all manner of extras including an impressive 40-page lyric/photo/discography book, an individually numbered "Fan Certificate" card, a poster and an obi (paper title strip), none of which were included with the Aussie or New Zealand versions.
Some of the eight Tokyo concerts from February and March were recorded and released in August 1978 as the double album Bob Dylan at Budokan (CBS/Sony 40AP 1100-1). This was initially available only in Japan, until huge demand forced a worldwide release in April 1979.
Meanwhile, back in Australia there is a story that in 1978 a beer company ran a special promotion whereby purchasers of a 24-can carton of grog could get a free copy of Masterpieces! The story may well be apocryphal, but I feel it really ought to be true. It is Australia, after all.
Dylan opened the 1978 world tour with 23 concerts in Japan (his first ever shows there), New Zealand and Australia. These dates ran from late February, through March and into early April, making the March 1978 release of Masterpieces perfect timing, for Australian and New Zealand fans, at least.
The Compact Discs:
The CD version of Masterpieces was released only in Australia, and it appeared in three distinctly different variations. First in 1987 came a cruelly truncated two CD version with only 35 tracks (instead of 39 on the vinyl version). The four missing tracks on this first CD pressing (CBS 462448 2) are “Idiot Wind,” “I Want You,” “Song To Woody” and “Love Minus Zero: No Limit”. Meanwhile, “Rita May” and "George Jackson,” although included, suffered the indignity of early fade-outs.
In 1991 Masterpieces was restored to its full 3 CD/39 track glory (Columbia 462448 9) and unbelievably, it appears just a single complaint to the record company brought about the change.
John Lattanzio, a Dylan fan based in Melbourne has claimed sole credit for the corporate U-turn. He told me: “I wrote to Sony and complained about the fact that they'd edited songs by making them fade more quickly so they could fit on 2 CDs. I said this was artistically reprehensible and it was like cutting pieces off the Mona Lisa to make it fit in the new frame. I got a reply from someone who said they agreed with me, and they would immediately remaster it for a 3 CD set. I was surprised! I asked how many people complained and he said, ‘Only you, but we thought about it, and we agreed with you.’”It seemed like a major win for the fans except, unfortunately, at this point Sony also changed the front cover to the rather unflattering close-up sepia photo of Dylan, taken from the inside centre panel of the LP gatefold sleeve. Later CD pressings from 1992 mercifully reverted to Ken Regan’s original “blue sky” cover photo.
Masterpieces was also released as a double cassette in Australia with both CD cover variations.
The Track Listing:
Record 1, Side 1/CD 1:
1: Knockin' On Heaven's Door (from Pat Garrett & Billy the Kid 1973)
2: Mr. Tambourine Man (from Bringing It All Back Home 1965)
3: Just Like A Woman (from Blonde on Blonde 1966)
4: I Shall Be Released (acoustic duet with Happy Traum from Greatest Hits Vol. II [aka More Bob Dylan Greatest Hits] 1971)
5: Tears Of Rage (from The Basement Tapes 1975)
6: All Along The Watchtower (from John Wesley Harding 1967)
7: One More Cup Of Coffee (from Desire 1975)
Record 1, Side 2:
8: Like A Rolling Stone (live 1969 Isle of Wight version from Self Portrait 1970)
9: The Mighty Quinn (Quinn the Eskimo) (live 1969 Isle of Wight version from Self Portrait 1970)
10: Tomorrow Is A Long Time (April 1963 live recording at Town Hall, New York City - from Greatest Hits Vol. II [aka More Bob Dylan Greatest Hits] 1971)
11: Lay, Lady Lay (live version from Hard Rain 1976)
12: Idiot Wind (live version from Hard Rain 1976)
Record 2, Side 1/CD 2:
1: Mixed Up Confusion (mono alternate take of the 1962 single with later overdubs. A stereo remix of this version was later included on the Biograph box set)
2: Positively 4th Street (single version 1965)
3: Can You Please Crawl Out Your Window? (fast version from the 1965 single)
4: Just Like Tom Thumb's Blues (recorded live in Liverpool, May 1966 and originally released as the B side of the June 1966 single “I Want You”)
5: Spanish Is the Loving Tongue (mono B side of the 1971 single “Watching the River Flow.” A different version, recorded in 1969, appears on the Dylan album 1973)
6: George Jackson (Big Band Version) (B-side of the 1971 single)
7: Rita May (B-side of “Stuck Inside of Mobile with the Memphis Blues Again” live single. From the Desire sessions 1975. In some territories “Rita May” was the A-side)
Record 2, Side 2
8: Blowin' In The Wind (from The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan 1963)
9: Hard Rain's A-Gonna Fall (from The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan 1963)
10: The Times They Are A Changin' (from The Times They Are A-Changin’ 1964)
11: Masters Of War (from The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan 1963)
12: Hurricane (from Desire 1975)
Record 3, Side 1/CD 3:
1: Maggie's Farm (live version from Hard Rain 1976)
2: Subterranean Homesick Blues (from Bringing It All Back Home 1965)
3: Ballad of A Thin Man (from Highway 61 Revisited 1965)
4: Mozambique (from Desire 1975)
5: This Wheel's On Fire (from The Basement Tapes 1975)
6: I Want You (from Blonde on Blonde 1966)
7: Rainy Day Women #12 & 35 (from Blonde on Blonde 1966)
Record 3, Side 2
8: Don't Think Twice, It's All Right (from The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan 1963)
9: Song To Woody (from Bob Dylan 1962)
10: It Ain't Me Babe (from Another Side Of Bob Dylan 1964)
11: Love Minus Zero: No Limit (from Bringing It All Back Home 1965)
12: I'll Be Your Baby Tonight (from John Wesley Harding 1967)
13: If Not For You (from New Morning 1970)
14: If You See Her, Say Hello (from Blood On The Tracks 1975)
15: Sara (from Desire 1975)
1978 Australian Tour Dates:
March 9, 12, 13, 14, 15 - Brisbane Festival Hall
March 18 - Adelaide Westlake Stadium
March 20, 21, 22 - Melbourne Myer Music Bowl
March 25, 27, 28 - Perth Entertainment Centre
April 1 - Sydney Sportsground
CBS or Columbia?
As every Dylan fan knows, until 1991 Bob’s records appeared on the Columbia label in North America and on CBS in the UK and elsewhere. Although the two labels were part of the same parent company it often seemed like they operated independently of each other. But why was this?
The story of how the music world ended up with two very different and competing record labels named Columbia is a long and complex one involving endless mergers, takeovers and bankruptcies dating back more than a century. Here’s a quick and (hopefully) relatively simple explanation:
It all started in 1889 in the District of Columbia (which is the “DC” in Washington DC) where the Columbia Phonograph Company had a monopoly on sales and service of phonograph players in DC and the surrounding states. The company also manufactured commercial recordings of its own and by 1908 it had jettisoned the cylinder format in favour of the new flat disc records.
In 1925 the Columbia Phonograph Company was bought out by its UK subsidiary the Columbia Graphophone Company (“Graphophone” was the name and trademark of an “improved” version of the phonograph).
In 1931 the UK Columbia Graphophone Company merged with the Gramophone Company, which sold records under the name His Master’s Voice (HMV), to form Electrical and Musical Industries (EMI).
At this point EMI sold off the US arm of the Columbia Graphophone Company which was absorbed by Columbia Broadcasting System (CBS) in 1938. From then on CBS/Columbia (US) and EMI/Columbia (UK) parted ways and operated as entirely separate companies. The UK branch kept the Columbia “magic notes” logo which had originated with the US company in the early 1900s. This logo continued to be used on British pressings until relatively recently.
The CBS label was launched in Europe in 1962 (until then their releases had appeared in the UK via the Philips group of labels). Consequently, from 1962 to 1991 all US Columbia Records were released outside of North America on the CBS label to avoid conflict/confusion with EMI’s Columbia Gramophone Company.
EMI guarded their own Columbia copyright fiercely and whenever the US made records were exported into the UK/Europe any mention of “Columbia” had to be painstakingly blacked out (some might say "redacted") by hand on the labels and sleeves. Anyone who frequented the London import record stores in the 70s will surely have noticed this puzzling phenomenon, sometimes known as the "doughnut labels" because of the black rings covering the Columbia name and details. Sometimes CBS stickers were added to these Columbia export copies but more often than not they were left with no label identity at all.UK Columbia had once been arguably the most powerful and successful British label in the EMI group (certainly in the pre-Beatles era), but it was gradually overtaken by its erstwhile poor relation Parlophone. During the late 70s it was gradually wound down, releasing its last single in 1989, after which the UK Columbia name and trademark were sold to the Japanese company Sony Music.
Conveniently, Sony had already acquired Columbia Records in the US and Canada in 1988 and since it now owned the rights to both the US and UK labels, this left the door open for the American Columbia name to finally be used worldwide.
The CBS label identity was then quickly phased out and since 1991 all Dylan’s releases have appeared on the Columbia label regardless of country (including the second CD version of Masterpieces). Sometimes we saw a nod to the old EMI imprint, such as when Time Out Of Mind used the Columbia “magic notes” logo on the disc, presumably to add a retro feel.
We live in an age where record labels have disappeared to the point where just two or three multi-national entertainment companies now own virtually everything there is to own in the music business. So, it’s worth remembering that Columbia, the flagship label of Sony Music, remains as the oldest surviving brand name in recorded music.
Just The Facts:
Of the 39 tracks on Masterpieces, 32 are drawn from 16 different Dylan albums. The other seven tracks, all of them located on side two of record two (or at the start of disc two of the three CD set), are singles and B-sides, including the alternate take of “Mixed Up Confusion.”
Every CBS/Columbia album released up to 1976 is represented, with the exception of Nashville Skyline and (perhaps unsurprisingly) Dylan. Obviously, there is also nothing from the two 1974 breakaway albums Planet Waves and Before the Flood which were first released on Asylum (US) and Island (UK).
Desire and Freewheelin’ fare best with four tracks each, followed by Hard Rain, Bringing It All Back Home and Blonde on Blonde with three apiece. Greatest Hits Vol.II, The Basement Tapes, John Wesley Harding and Self Portrait get two tracks each, leaving seven albums represented by just a solitary track.
With the benefit of hindsight, it was clearly a mistake to use live versions of “Like A Rolling Stone” and “Lay Lady Lay” in preference to the far superior and more popular studio recordings. In 2023 the Spotify streaming figures tells us that the original versions of these songs are the second and ninth most popular Dylan tracks with 294 million and 82 million streams respectively. On the other hand, side one, track one of Masterpieces leads off with “Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door” the most popular Dylan song of all with almost 300 million Spotify streams, so they got that one right.
Masterpieces includes six of the top ten most popular Dylan songs on Spotify today, with a further two represented by live versions. Not a bad strike rate for an album compiled 45 years ago. It also helps that there is nothing more recent than “Hurricane” (1976) in the Spotify Dylan top ten, I suppose.
At least seven different Australian vinyl pressings of Masterpieces have been identified dating from 1978 to the mid-80s. All of them used the yellow/orange CBS label and the only differences appear to involve publishing credits, label typesetting, matrix number variations and the like. Today, copies in top condition can be picked up for around AUD$50 - $70 (US$30 - $50 approx.) regardless of pressing.
The Japanese vinyl version, complete with all inserts, is much harder to find and prices exceeding AUD$300 (US$200 approx.) are not uncommon. The CDs were only released in Australia, and all versions regularly turn up for around AUD$50 (US$30 approx.) or less.
This is a heavily revised and expanded version of a feature which first appeared in “It - The Australian Record Collectors Magazine” issue #29, dated December 1998 – January 1999. At that point Bob Dylan’s current album was Time Out Of Mind. Since this article was first published, several of the obscure tracks on Masterpieces have been officially released as downloads or as physical records/CDs.
Many thanks to John Lattanzio.
Thank you, I have two x vinyl & 1 cd version of this. All purchased second hand. It was my introduction to Dylan when I was 16. My collection now fills a room! A great set!ReplyDelete