Oh Mercy

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Oh Mercy
A painting of a woman leaning against a brick wall and a man in a suit and sunglasses next to her snapping his fingers
Studio album by
ReleasedSeptember 18, 1989 (1989-09-18)
RecordedFebruary–April 1989
StudioMobile studio at 1305 Soniat St., New Orleans
GenreRock
Length38:46
LabelColumbia
ProducerDaniel Lanois
Bob Dylan chronology
Dylan & the Dead
(1989)
Oh Mercy
(1989)
Under the Red Sky
(1990)
Singles from Oh Mercy
  1. "Everything is Broken"
    Released: October 1989

Oh Mercy is the 26th studio album by American singer-songwriter Bob Dylan, released on September 18, 1989, by Columbia Records. Produced by Daniel Lanois, it was hailed by critics as a triumph for Dylan, after a string of poorly reviewed albums. Oh Mercy gave Dylan his best chart showing in years, reaching No.  30 on the Billboard charts in the United States and No.  6 in the UK.

Background and Recording[edit]

The composition of the songs at Dylan's home in Malibu and the recording of the album in New Orleans are described by Dylan in detail in the "Oh Mercy" chapter of his memoir Chronicles: Volume One.[1] Engineer Mark Howard noted that Dylan had previously attempted to record the songs with Ronnie Wood but was dissatisfied with the results: "There’s a whole version of Oh Mercy that was recorded with Ron Wood already. But I think Dylan had maybe decided he didn’t like what had happened".[2] In the spring or summer of 1988, U2 singer Bono put Dylan in touch with producer Daniel Lanois and the two agreed to work together although the recording sessions would not commence until early 1989.[3] Dylan biographer Clinton Heylin notes that Dylan finished recording the basic tracks for the album on March 29, 1989 but added new vocals (and other overdubs) for almost all the tracks the following month.[4]

In their book Bob Dylan - All the Songs: The Story Behind Every Track, authors Philippe Margotin and Jean-Michel Guesdon call Oh Mercy "a renaissance" for Dylan and write of the recording sessions: "The arrangements are very reminiscent of Yellow Moon by the Neville Brothers, and Dylan eventually got familiar with this particular atmosphere. Lanois claimed Oh Mercy was a record you listen to at night because it was 'designed at night': 'Bob had a rule, we only recorded at night. I think he's right about that: the body is ready to accommodate a certain tempo at nighttime. I think it's something to do with the pushing and pulling of the moon. At nighttime we're ready to be more mysterious and dark. Oh Mercy is about that'. He added that if there was one lesson he learned from Dylan, it was working relentlessly while searching first and foremost for efficiency and speed. And he concluded, 'Oh Mercy was two guys on a back porch, that kind of vibe'. As for the songwriter, he recognized "There's something magical about this record" and felt sincere admiration for the work of the Canadian producer'".[5]

Outtakes[edit]

During a Sound Opinions interview broadcast on Chicago FM radio, Lanois told Chicago Tribune critic Greg Kot that "Series of Dreams" was his pick for the opening track, but ultimately, the final decision was Dylan's.[6] Music critic Tim Riley would echo these sentiments, writing that ""Series of Dreams" should have been the working title song to Oh Mercy, not a leftover pendant."[7] "Series of Dreams" would become the final track on The Bootleg Series Volumes 1–3 (Rare & Unreleased) 1961–1991, and was later included on 1994's Bob Dylan's Greatest Hits Volume 3.

"Dignity", another outtake, was performed live during a 1994 appearance on MTV Unplugged, and the same performance was later issued on the accompanying album. A remixed version of "Dignity" featuring new overdubs by Bruce Springsteen's producer Brendan O'Brien was also released on Bob Dylan's Greatest Hits Volume 3, while the original Lanois production would not see release until the soundtrack album of the television show Touched by an Angel.

Listed as "Broken Days/Three of Us" on the track sheets, the original version of "Everything Is Broken" was briefly issued on-line as an exclusive download on Apple Computer's iTunes music store.[8] In 2008, it was remastered from a better source and reissued on The Bootleg Series Vol. 8: Tell Tale Signs. Described by Heylin as an "evocation of a fragmented relationship", the lyrics were later rewritten and overdubbed with new vocals and an additional guitar part.[citation needed]

Two more outtakes, "Born in Time" and "God Knows", were set aside and later re-written and re-recorded for Dylan's next album, Under the Red Sky. Versions of both songs from the Oh Mercy sessions were also included on The Bootleg Series Vol. 8: Tell Tale Signs. "The Oh Mercy outtake of 'Born In Time' was one of those Dylan performances that so surrendered itself to the moment that to decry the lyrical slips would be to mock sincerity itself", wrote author Clinton Heylin.[9]

Cover art[edit]

The photo on the cover of the album shows a mural that Dylan came across on a wall of a Chinese restaurant in Manhattan’s Hell’s Kitchen on 9th Avenue and 53rd Street. The artist, Trotsky, who created the image of two people dancing was located (he lived near the mural) and permission was granted.[10][11]

Reception[edit]

Professional ratings
Review scores
SourceRating
AllMusic3.5/5 stars[12]
Robert ChristgauB[13]
Entertainment WeeklyA–[14]
MusicHound3/5 stars[15]
Rolling Stone4/5 stars[16]
Encyclopedia of Popular Music5/5 stars[17]

After disappointing sales with Knocked Out Loaded and Down in the Groove, Oh Mercy was hailed as a comeback.[18] Consensus was strong enough to place Oh Mercy at No.  15 in The Village Voice's Pazz & Jop Critics Poll for 1989.[19] Also in 1989, Oh Mercy was ranked No.  44 on Rolling Stone magazine's list of the 100 greatest albums of the 1980s.[20]

Oh Mercy's production drew praise from a majority of critics. Robert Christgau of The Village Voice wrote, "Daniel Lanois's understated care and easy beat suit [Dylan's] casual ways, and three or four songs might sound like something late at night on the radio, or after the great flood. All are modest and tuneful enough to make you forgive 'Disease of Conceit,' which is neither." But as Heylin notes, "Though many a critic who had despaired at the sound of Dylan's more recent albums enthused about the sound on Oh Mercy, it was evident that rock music's foremost lyric writer had also rediscovered his previous flair with words."[21]

Rock critic Bill Wyman criticized the production but praised the songs. "Taken over by Daniel Lanois, master of a shimmering and distinctive electronically processed guitar sound...[the album] is overdone", writes Wyman. "It's irritating to hear Dylan's songs so manipulated, but there are sufficient nice tracks—"Most of the Time", "Shooting Star", both simple and direct, among them—to make this by far the most coherent and listenable collection of his own songs Dylan has released since Desire."[22]

Though it did not enter Billboard's Top 20, Oh Mercy remained a consistent seller, enough to be considered a modest commercial success.

To celebrate the album's 20th anniversary, Montague Street Journal: The Art of Bob Dylan dedicated roughly half of its debut issue (published in 2009) to a roundtable discussion on Oh Mercy.

It was voted number 438 in Colin Larkin's All Time Top 1000 Albums 3rd Edition (2000).[23] In 2006, Q magazine placed the album at No.  33 in its list of "40 Best Albums of the '80s".[24] During that same year, "Political World" appeared in the film Man of the Year. Michael Azerrad in a Rolling Stone article felt that "it would be unfair to compare Oh Mercy to Dylan's landmark Sixties recordings".[20]

Lou Reed selected "Disease of Conceit" as one of his favorite songs of 1989.[25]

Track listing[edit]

All tracks are written by Bob Dylan.

Side one
No.TitleRecordedLength
1."Political World"March 8, 1989 (overdubbed March 21 and April 8, 1989)3:43
2."Where Teardrops Fall"March 21 and 22, 1989 (overdubbed April 15–16, 1989)2:30
3."Everything Is Broken"March 14 or 15, 1989 (overdubbed April 1 and 3, 1989)3:12
4."Ring Them Bells"March 7, 1989 (overdubbed April 6, 1989)3:00
5."Man in the Long Black Coat"March 29, 1989 (overdubbed April 4, 1989)4:30
Side two
No.TitleRecordedLength
1."Most of the Time"March 12, 1989 (overdubbed April 19, 1989)5:02
2."What Good Am I?"March 7, 1989 (overdubbed April 7, 1989)4:45
3."Disease of Conceit"March 8, 1989 (overdubbed April 1989)3:41
4."What Was It You Wanted"March 21, 1989 (overdubbed March 24 and April 3, 4 & 10, 1989)5:02
5."Shooting Star"March 14 or 15, 1989 (overdubbed April 1–3, 1989)3:12

Personnel[edit]

Additional musicians:

  • Malcolm Burn – tambourine, keyboards, on "Everything Is Broken", "Ring Them Bells", "Man in the Long Black Coat", "Most of the Time", "What Good Am I?", "What Was It You Wanted"
  • Rockin' Dopsie – accordion on "Where Teardrops Fall"
  • Willie Green – drums on "Political World", "Everything Is Broken", "Most of the Time", "Disease of Conceit", "What Was It You Wanted", and "Shooting Star"
  • Tony Hall – bass guitar on "Political World", "Everything Is Broken", "Most of the Time", "Disease of Conceit", and "Shooting Star"
  • John Hart – saxophone on "Where Teardrops Fall"
  • Daryl Johnson  – percussion on "Everything Is Broken"
  • Larry Jolivet – bass guitar on "Where Teardrops Fall"
  • Daniel Lanois – production, mixing, Dobro, lap steel guitar, guitar, omnichord, bass guitar (performs on all tracks except "Disease of Conceit")
  • Cyril Neville – percussion on "Political World", "Most of the Time", and "What Was It You Wanted"
  • Alton Rubin, Jr. – scrub board on "Where Teardrops Fall"
  • Mason Ruffner – guitar on "Political World", "Disease of Conceit", and "What Was It You Wanted"
  • Brian Stoltz – guitar on "Political World", "Everything Is Broken", "Disease of Conceit", and "Shooting Star"
  • Paul Synegal – guitar on "Where Teardrops Fall"

Production:

See also[edit]

Certifications[edit]

Region Certification Certified units/sales
Switzerland (IFPI Switzerland)[26] Gold 25,000^
United Kingdom (BPI)[27] Gold 100,000^

^ Shipments figures based on certification alone.

References[edit]

  1. ^ Dylan, Bob (2004). Chronicles: Volume One. New York: Simon & Schuster Paperbacks. ISBN 0743272587.
  2. ^ "Bob Dylan: Tell Tale Signs Special - Mark Howard!". UNCUT. 2008-10-08. Retrieved 2021-03-05.
  3. ^ Margotin, Philippe; Jean-Michel Guesdon (2015). Bob Dylan: all the songs: the story behind every track (First ed.). New York. p. 562. ISBN 1-57912-985-4. OCLC 869908038.
  4. ^ Heylin, Clinton. Still on the Road: The Songs of Bob Dylan, 1974-2006. Chicago Review Press. pp. 370–371. ISBN 9781613736760.
  5. ^ Margotin, Philippe; Jean-Michel Guesdon (2015). Bob Dylan: all the songs: the story behind every track (First ed.). New York. p. 565. ISBN 1-57912-985-4. OCLC 869908038.
  6. ^ Kot, Greg (host) (22 April 2003). "Daniel Lanois interview". Sound Opinions. WXRT-FM 93.1.
  7. ^ Riley, Tim. Hard Rain: A Dylan Commentary. Da Capo Press. p. 284. ISBN 9780306809071.
  8. ^ Evan Marshall (12 February 2008). "Dylan Rarities". Record Collector. Retrieved 18 February 2021.
  9. ^ Heylin, Clinton. Behind the Shades: The 20th Anniversary Edition. Faber and Faber Press. p. 705. ISBN 9780571272419.
  10. ^ Editor, People Magazine. “Trotsky, Whose Lively Street Art Became An Off-the-Wall Album Cover for Bob Dylan”. People Magazine. V. 32. No. 17. 23 October 1989 [1]
  11. ^ Spencer, Lauren. “Off the Record: Positively 53rd Street”. New York Magazine. 25 September 1989 [2]
  12. ^ Oh Mercy at AllMusic
  13. ^ Christgau, Robert (2011). "Robert Christgau: CG: Artist 169". robertchristgau.com. Retrieved 10 September 2011.
  14. ^ Entertainment Weekly review
  15. ^ Graff, Gary; Durchholz, Daniel, eds. (1999). MusicHound Rock: The Essential Album Guide (2nd ed.). Farmington Hills, MI: Visible Ink Press. p. 371. ISBN 1-57859-061-2.
  16. ^ DeCurtis, Anthony (1989-09-21). "Rolling Stone : Bob Dylan: Oh Mercy : Music Reviews". web.archive.org. Archived from the original on 2006-07-02. Retrieved 10 September 2011.
  17. ^ Larkin, Colin (2007). Encyclopedia of Popular Music (5th ed.). Omnibus Press. ISBN 978-0857125958.
  18. ^ Oh Mercy at AllMusic
  19. ^ "The 1989 Pazz & Jop Critics Poll". The Village Voice. New York. February 27, 1990. Retrieved February 15, 2021.
  20. ^ a b Michael Azerrad, Anthony DeCurtis (16 November 1989). "The 100 best albums of the eighties". Rolling Stone. p. 102. Retrieved 3 June 2017.
  21. ^ Heylin, Clinton (2003) Bob Dylan: Behind the Shades Revisited, p. 631.
  22. ^ Wyman, Bill. (May 22, 2001) "Bob Dylan" Salon Retrieved 11 December 2012.
  23. ^ Colin Larkin, ed. (2000). All Time Top 1000 Albums (3rd ed.). Virgin Books. p. 160. ISBN 0-7535-0493-6.
  24. ^ Q August 2006, Issue 241
  25. ^ Rolling Stone, March 8, 1990
  26. ^ "The Official Swiss Charts and Music Community: Awards (Bob Dylan; 'Oh Mercy')". IFPI Switzerland. Hung Medien.
  27. ^ "British album certifications – Bob Dylan – Oh mercy". British Phonographic Industry.Select albums in the Format field. Select Gold in the Certification field. Type Oh mercy in the "Search BPI Awards" field and then press Enter.

External links[edit]