I first heard about Bob Dylan in Broadside Magazine, a small mimeographed publication founded in 1962. Even with its small circulation, Broadside was noteworthy for introducing topical songwriters like Dylan, Phil Ochs, Eric Andersen, and other Greenwich Village performers to a wider public. A few months later my friend (later a successful record producer) Jim Mason received a promotional copy of Bob Dylan, his eponymous debut LP, at the local Battle Creek radio station where he hosted a weekly folk music program. I helped him select and pull records from the shelves so we could honor listener requests. When the new Dylan record arrived, we were immediately taken by its cover, which showed a photograph of the very young Dylan looking like what New York Times reviewer Robert Shelton described as “A cross between a choir boy and a beatnik.”
The songs were mostly traditional folk music and blues with only two originals, including “Song to Woody,” which paid tribute to Woody Guthrie, one of the first performers to bridge the distance between folk music and new songs written in the folk tradition. The listeners who heard the record flooded the station’s switchboard with calls asking who was this hillbilly we were playing. They thought folk music meant songs like The Kingston Trio’s “Tom Dooley,” Peter, Paul & Mary’s “Lemon Tree,” or the Limelighters (a favorite of my parents’) “There’s a Meetin’ Here Tonight” or The Weavers’ version of Lead Belly’s “Good Night Irene,” which was a little closer to the real thing.
Seeing the cover of the LP and hearing the record played on a turntable was a true vinyl experience. I can’t imagine how different it would have been if it had been released on CD or streamed on an electronic device and I had heard it in a digital medium instead.
Dylan’s first album was a bust. Columbia Records execs called it “Hammond’s Folly” after its legendary producer, John Hammond. His eye for finding talent that would make music history hadn’t failed him. It sold few copies, but Dylan’s second LP, The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan, gained him a solid base of hardcore fans that meant Jim and I could play his songs without getting angry calls at the radio station.
Time Out of Mind, Dylan's 30th album, released in 1997, made me understand how important listening to records on vinyl was. I had purchased the CD earlier, but as soon as I had the LP, I only enjoyed hearing it on a turntable. As Dylan put it in an interview in Guitar World Magazine, [the main goal was] "to make a record that sounds like a record played on a record player."
The record included two of the best ballads Dylan ever wrote, "Standing in the Doorway" and "Not Dark Yet." After a fallow period in the 80s, Dylan had recorded two acoustic folk and blues albums (Good as I Been to You and World Gone Wrong) that helped him find his way back to the charts by reminding him of where he came from.
After the album was finished, Dylan contracted a near-fatal illness. An upcoming tour was canceled, he was in excruciating pain and It made his breathing very difficult.
"It was something called histoplasmosis that came from just accidentally inhaling a bunch of stuff that was out on one of the rivers by where I live," Dylan said to Guitar World Magazine. "Maybe one month, or two to three days out of the year, the banks around the river get all mucky, and then the wind blows and a bunch of swirling mess is in the air. I happened to inhale a bunch of that. That's what made me sick. It went into my heart area, but it wasn't anything really attacking my heart."
Time out of mind is now considered a masterpiece. It was ranked no. 1 in the "Village Voice" 1997 Critics' Poll and won a Grammy for Best Album of the Year. It ranks no. 408 in the Rolling Stone 500 Greatest Albums of All Time list. My first pressing copy of Dylan’s debut album (I still have the copy I bought in 1962), and my vinyl copy of Time Out of Mind are among my most prized items of music memorabilia.
One song, "Red River Shore," which didn’t make the album’s final cut was considered by many who heard it as the best song recorded at the TOOM sessions. It is included on Tell Tale Signs, a multi-disc collection of rare and unreleased songs that contains outtakes that were not on Time Out of Mind. It is available on vinyl and has been a mainstay of my vinyl collection. Unlike on many of the unofficial bootlegs, the sound quality is extraordinary and adds a rich sonic element that is much better than what I could hear on the CD discs.
On past albums, some fans have criticized Dylan for some of the creative decisions made with his albums, particularly with song selection. Time Out of Mind was no different, except this time the criticism came from colleagues who were disappointed to see their personal favorites left on the shelf. When Dylan accepted the Grammy Award for Album of the Year, he mentioned Columbia Records chairman Don Ienner, who "convinced me to put [the album] out, although his favorite songs aren't on it."
Time Out of Mind was a commercial success for Dylan. It was widely hailed as Dylan's return to form and went platinum in the US, remaining on the charts for 29 weeks. UK sales achieved gold status. In other countries, it also remained a best seller for several weeks.
In April 2014, a reissue of “Time Out of Mind” (MOVLP1049) was released in Europe on 180g vinyl by Music on Vinyl, a Dutch company specializing in vinyl reissues. The eleven songs were divided up over three discs. There are four songs on side 1, three on sides 2 and 3, and “Highlands” is the only song on side 4, with a playing time of 16:31. “Sad Eyed Lady of The Lowlands” had similarly taken up the entire fourth side of Blonde on Blonde, rock’s first double album, according to Rolling Stone Magazine.
You have never really heard these albums until you have heard them on vinyl with a good turntable, 180g stylus, and a good sound system. To become a serious collector of music memorabilia, those three elements are necessary to access the best sound available on the records you love.