Blood on the Tracks

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Blood on the Tracks
A drawing of Dylan's face in profile facing a burgundy stripe with the album's name in white
Studio album by
ReleasedJanuary 20, 1975 (1975-01-20)
RecordedSeptember 16–19 and December 27–30, 1974
GenreFolk rock
ProducerBob Dylan
Bob Dylan chronology
Before the Flood
Blood on the Tracks
The Basement Tapes
Singles from Blood on the Tracks
  1. "Tangled Up in Blue" / "If You See Her, Say Hello"
    Released: January 17, 1975

Blood on the Tracks is the fifteenth studio album by American singer-songwriter Bob Dylan, released on January 20, 1975,[1][2] by Columbia Records. The album marked Dylan's return to Columbia Records after a two-album stint with Asylum Records. Dylan began recording the album in New York City in September 1974. In December, shortly before Columbia was due to release the album, Dylan abruptly re-recorded much of the material in a studio in Minneapolis. The final album contains five tracks recorded in New York and five from Minneapolis.

Blood on the Tracks initially received mixed reviews, but has subsequently been acclaimed as one of Dylan's greatest albums by both critics and fans. The songs have been linked to tensions in Dylan's personal life, including his estrangement from his then-wife Sara. One of their children, Jakob Dylan, has described the songs as "my parents talking".[3] In interviews, Dylan has denied that the songs on the album are autobiographical.[4]

The album reached No. 1 on the Billboard 200 charts and No. 4 on the UK Albums Chart, with the single "Tangled Up in Blue" peaking at No. 31 on the Billboard Hot 100 singles chart. The album remains one of Dylan's best-selling studio releases, with a double-platinum U.S. certification by the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA).[5] In 2015, it was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame.[6] It was voted number 7 in the third edition of Colin Larkin's book All Time Top 1000 Albums (2000),[7] in 2003, the album was ranked No. 16 on Rolling Stone's list of The 500 Greatest Albums of All Time, rising to the No. 9 spot in the 2020 revision of that same list. In 2004, it was placed at No. 5 on Pitchfork's list of the top 100 albums of the 1970s.[8]

A high-definition 5.1 surround sound edition of the album was released on SACD by Columbia in 2003.[9]



At the conclusion of his 1974 tour with the Band, Dylan began a relationship with a Columbia Records employee, Ellen Bernstein, which Dylan biographer Clinton Heylin has described as the beginning of the end of Dylan's marriage to his wife Sara.[10] In spring 1974, Dylan was in New York for several weeks while he attended art classes with the painter Norman Raeben.[11] Dylan subsequently gave Raeben credit in interviews for transforming his understanding of time, and during the summer of 1974 Dylan began to write a series of songs in a series of three small notebooks[12] which used his new knowledge:

[Raeben] taught me how to see ... in a way that allowed me to do consciously what I unconsciously felt ... when I started doing it, the first album I made was Blood on the Tracks. Everybody agrees that was pretty different, and what's different about it is there's a code in the lyrics, and also there's no sense of time.[11]

Dylan subsequently spent time with Bernstein on his farm in Minnesota and there he completed the 17 songs from which Blood on the Tracks was formed—songs which Heylin has described as "perhaps the finest collection of love songs of the twentieth century, songs filled with the full spectrum of emotions a marriage on the rocks can engender".[13]

Before recording the songs that would constitute Blood on the Tracks, Dylan previewed them for a number of friends in the music world, including David Crosby, Graham Nash, Stephen Stills, Tim Drummond and Peter Rowan.[14] Nash recalled that Stills disliked Dylan's private performance of his new songs; immediately after Dylan left the room, Stills remarked to Nash, "He's a good songwriter ... but he's no musician."[14]

Initially, Dylan considered recording Blood on the Tracks with an electric backing group, and contacted Mike Bloomfield who had played lead guitar on Dylan's Highway 61 Revisited album. When the two met, Dylan ran through the songs he was planning to record, but he played them too quickly for Bloomfield to learn.[15] Bloomfield later recalled the experience: "They all began to sound the same to me; they were all in the same key; they were all long. It was one of the strangest experiences of my life. He was sort of pissed off that I didn't pick it up." In the end, Dylan rejected the idea of recording the album with a band, and instead substituted stripped-down acoustic arrangements for all of his songs.[15] On August 2, 1974, Dylan signed a contract with Columbia Records. After releasing his two previous albums, Planet Waves and Before the Flood, on Asylum Records, Dylan decided his new album would benefit from the commercial muscle of the record label that had made him famous, and his new contract gave him increased control over his own masters.[16]

Recording sessions[edit]

Dylan commenced recording at A & R Recording Studios in New York City on September 16, 1974. Bernstein has stated "the theme of returning ran through the sessions", so "it made a lot of sense to do it at A&R".[16] A & R Studios was the former Columbia Records "Studio A", where Dylan had recorded six albums in the 1960s.[16] The musicians quickly realized that Dylan was taking a "spontaneous" approach to recording.[15] The session engineer, Phil Ramone, later said that Dylan transitioned from one song to another as if they were part of a medley. Ramone noted:

Sometimes he will have several bars, and in the next version, he will change his mind about how many bars there should be in between a verse. Or eliminate a verse. Or add a chorus when you don't expect.

Eric Weissberg and his band, Deliverance, originally recruited as session men, were rejected after two days of recording because they could not keep up with Dylan's pace.[15] Dylan retained bassist Tony Brown from the band, and soon added organist Paul Griffin (who had also worked on Highway 61 Revisited and Blonde on Blonde) and steel guitarist Buddy Cage.[15] After ten days[15] and four sessions[17] with the current lineup, Dylan had finished recording and mixing, and, by November, had cut a test pressing of the album. Columbia began to prepare to release the album before Christmas.[18]

Dylan played the test pressing for his brother, David Zimmerman, who persuaded Dylan the album would not sell because the overall sound was too stark. Robert Christgau also heard the early version of the album and called it "a sellout to the memory of Dylan's pre-electric period".[19] At his brother's urging, Dylan agreed to re-record five of the album's songs in Sound 80 in Minneapolis, with backing musicians recruited by David. The new takes were accomplished in two days at the end of December 1974. Blood on the Tracks was released into stores on January 20, 1975.[20] The version on the original test pressing was given a limited release in 2019 for Record Store Day.[21]

Autobiographical interpretation[edit]

The songs that constitute Blood on the Tracks have been described by many Dylan critics as stemming from his personal turmoil at the time, particularly his estrangement from his then-wife Sara Dylan.[22] One of Bob and Sara Dylan's children, Jakob Dylan, has said, "When I'm listening to Blood On The Tracks, that's about my parents."[23]

Dylan has denied this autobiographical interpretation, stating in a 1985 interview with Bill Flanagan, "A lot of people thought that album pertained to me. It didn't pertain to me ... I'm not going to make an album and lean on a marriage relationship."[24] Informed of the album's popularity, Dylan told Mary Travers in a radio interview in April 1975: "A lot of people tell me they enjoy that album. It's hard for me to relate to that. I mean ... people enjoying that type of pain, you know?" Addressing whether the album described his own personal pain, Dylan replied that he didn't write "confessional songs".[15] However, on the live At Budokan album, Dylan seems to acknowledge the autobiographical nature of the song "Simple Twist of Fate" by introducing it as "Here's a simple love story. Happened to me." And in a 1978 interview, he responded to an observation that the album was confessional and that "Tangled Up in Blue" drew on his relationship with Sara by saying, "There might be some little part of me which is confessing something which I've experienced and I know, but is not definitely the total me confessing anything."[25]

According to Rolling Stone, in Dylan's lyric notebook, the working title of Simple Twist of Fate was 4th Street Affair; Dylan and Suze Rotolo lived at 161 W. 4th St. The narrator of the song memorializes an affair of ten years ago instead of singing about Dylan's marriage.[26] In "Hot Press," writing about the three known lyric notebooks for the songs, Anne Margaret Daniel noted that "Simple Twist of Fate" was first entitled "Snowbound," and set in part, like "Tangled Up In Blue," in a New York City apartment.[27]

In his 2004 memoir, Chronicles, Vol. 1, Dylan stated that the songs have nothing to do with his personal life, and that they were inspired by the short stories of Anton Chekhov.[28]

Critical reception[edit]

Professional ratings
Review scores
Chicago Tribune[30]
Encyclopedia of Popular Music[31]
Music Story[32]
MusicHound Rock5/5[33]
The Rolling Stone Album Guide[36]
The Village VoiceA[19]

Released in early 1975, Blood on the Tracks initially received mixed reviews from critics.[38] Rolling Stone published two assessments. The first, by Jonathan Cott, called it "Dylan's magnificent new album". The second reviewer, Jon Landau, wrote that "the record has been made with typical shoddiness."[39] In NME, Nick Kent described "the accompaniments [as] often so trashy they sound like mere practice takes",[39] while Crawdaddy magazine's Jim Cusimano found the instrumentation incompetent.[38]

An influential review of the album was written by Dylan critic Michael Gray for the magazine Let It Rock. Gray argued that it transformed the cultural perception of Dylan, and that he was no longer defined as "the major artist of the sixties. Instead, Dylan has legitimized his claim to a creative prowess as vital now as then—a power not bounded by the one decade he so affected."[40] This view was amplified by Clinton Heylin, who wrote: "Ten years after he turned the rock & roll brand of pop into rock ... [Dylan] renewed its legitimacy as a form capable of containing the work of a mature artist."[40] In The Village Voice, Robert Christgau wrote that although the lyrics occasionally evoke romantic naiveté and bitterness, Blood on the Tracks is altogether Dylan's "most mature and assured record".[19]

Since its initial reception, Blood on the Tracks has been viewed by critics as one of Dylan's best albums.[38] In, Wyman wrote: "Blood on the Tracks is his only flawless album and his best produced; the songs, each of them, are constructed in disciplined fashion. It is his kindest album and most dismayed, and seems in hindsight to have achieved a sublime balance between the logorrhea-plagued excesses of his mid-1960s output and the self-consciously simple compositions of his post-accident years."[41] Bell, in his critical biography of Dylan, wrote that Blood on the Tracks was proof that "Dylan had won the argument over his refusal to argue about politics. In this, he began to seem prescient."[42] Bell concluded the album "might well count as one of the best things Dylan ever did".[43] Novelist Rick Moody called it "the truest, most honest account of a love affair from tip to stern ever put down on magnetic tape".[44]

A result of the acclaim surrounding the album has been that when critics have praised one of Dylan's subsequent albums, they have often described it as "his best since Blood on the Tracks".[45][46] According to music journalist Rob Sheffield, Blood on the Tracks became a benchmark album for Dylan in the years that followed because it was "such a stunning comeback".[36]

The album was also included in the book 1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die.[47]

Hip hop group Public Enemy reference it in their 2007 Dylan tribute song "Long and Whining Road": "It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back / You bet there's blood on them Bomb Squad tracks".[48]

A film adaptation of the album is currently in pre-production, under the direction of Luca Guadagnino.[49]

Track listing[edit]

All tracks are written by Bob Dylan.

Side one
1."Tangled Up in Blue"December 30, 1974, in Minneapolis5:42
2."Simple Twist of Fate"September 19, 1974, in New York City4:19
3."You're a Big Girl Now"December 27, 1974, in Minneapolis4:36
4."Idiot Wind"December 27, 1974, in Minneapolis7:48
5."You're Gonna Make Me Lonesome When You Go"September 17, 1974, in New York City2:55
Total length:25:20
Side two
1."Meet Me in the Morning"September 16, 1974, in New York City4:22
2."Lily, Rosemary and the Jack of Hearts"December 30, 1974, in Minneapolis8:51
3."If You See Her, Say Hello"December 30, 1974, in Minneapolis4:49
4."Shelter from the Storm"September 17, 1974, in New York City5:02
5."Buckets of Rain"September 19, 1974, in New York City3:22
Total length:26:26 51:46


Until 1991, only one of the five New York acetate recordings that were subsequently replaced on the official album was officially released: "You're a Big Girl Now", released on 1985's Biograph. The acetate takes of "Tangled Up in Blue", "Idiot Wind", and "If You See Her, Say Hello" were released on The Bootleg Series, Vol. 1–3. That collection also includes "Call Letter Blues", an outtake/early version of "Meet Me in the Morning" with alternate lyrics. "Up to Me", another outtake from these sessions, was also released on 1985's Biograph. An alternate take of the song "Shelter from the Storm" is featured in the original soundtrack album for Jerry Maguire (1996). An alternate take of "Meet Me in the Morning" was released on the B-side of the Record Store Day 2012 release of "Duquesne Whistle". "Lily, Rosemary and the Jack of Hearts" was, until 2018, the only song from the New York sessions that had not been officially released in any form.[50] Now all of these, as well as more than 70 previously unreleased recordings, are available on the 6-disc deluxe edition of More Blood, More Tracks, volume 14 of Dylan's ongoing archival Bootleg Series.[51]


For personnel details, see Heylin, 1996[50] and Björner, 2014.[52] Track numbers refer to CD and digital releases of the album.





Year Single Peak position
1975 "Tangled Up in Blue" 31


Region Certification Certified units/sales
Canada (Music Canada)[66] Platinum 100,000^
United Kingdom (BPI)[67] Platinum 300,000^
United States (RIAA)[68] 2× Platinum 2,000,000^

^ Shipments figures based on certification alone.

Explanatory notes[edit]

  • A ^ Denotes personnel performing at the Minneapolis recording sessions.
  • B ^ Denotes personnel performing at the New York recording sessions.



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External links[edit]