Self Portrait (Bob Dylan album)

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to navigation Jump to search
Self Portrait
Bob Dylan - Self Portrait.jpg
Studio album by
ReleasedJune 8, 1970 (1970-06-08)
RecordedApril 24, 1969 – March 30, 1970
GenreFolk rock, blues rock, country rock
ProducerBob Johnston
Bob Dylan chronology
Nashville Skyline
Self Portrait
New Morning
Singles from Self Portrait
  1. "Wigwam"
    Released: March 1970

Self Portrait is the tenth studio album by American singer-songwriter Bob Dylan, released on June 8, 1970, by Columbia Records.

Self Portrait was Dylan's second double album (after Blonde on Blonde), and features many cover versions of well-known pop and folk songs. Also included are a handful of instrumentals and original compositions. Most of the album is sung in the affected country crooning voice that Dylan had introduced a year earlier on Nashville Skyline. Seen by some as intentionally surreal and even satirical at times, Self Portrait received extremely poor reviews upon release; Greil Marcus' opening sentence in his Rolling Stone Magazine review was: "What is this shit?"[1]

Dylan has claimed in interviews that Self Portrait was something of a joke, far below the standards he set in the 1960s, and was made to get people off his back and end the "spokesman of a generation" tags.

Despite the negative reception, the album quickly went gold in the US, where it hit No. 4, and was also a UK No. 1 hit. The album has since built a cult following and saw a retrospective positive re-evaluation with the release of The Bootleg Series Vol. 10: Another Self Portrait (1969–1971) in 2013.[2]


The motives behind Self Portrait have been subject to wild speculation and great debate. Over the years, a few credible theories have emerged from those familiar with the project.

Critic Robert Shelton was under the impression that Self Portrait was intended as a serious release. "I told Dylan that Self Portrait confused me," Shelton wrote in 1986. "Why had he recorded 'Blue Moon'? He wouldn't be drawn out, although obviously he had been stung by the criticism. 'It was an expression,' he said. He indicated that if the album had come from Presley or the Everly Brothers, who veered toward the middle of the road, it wouldn't have shocked so many."[3]

However, in a Rolling Stone interview taken in 1984, Dylan gave a different reason for the album's release:

As to why he chose to release a double album, Dylan replied, "Well, it wouldn't have held up as a single album—then it really would've been bad, you know. I mean, if you're gonna put a lot of crap on it, you might as well load it up!"

Later, Cameron Crowe interviewed Dylan for his liner notes to 1985's Biograph, a boxed-set retrospective of Dylan's career. When asked about Self Portrait, Dylan added more details to the story:

Later interviews only echoed the sentiments expressed to Crowe.


Self Portrait was heavily criticized for its performances and overall production, with many critics singling out various songs as poor cover choices.

However, one track has managed to draw consistent praise over the years. Written by Alfred Frank Beddoe (who was "discovered" by Pete Seeger after applying for work at People’s Songs, Inc. in 1946), "Copper Kettle" captures an idyllic backwoods existence, where moonshine is equated not only with pleasure but with tax resistance. Appalachian farmers who struggled to make their living off the land would routinely siphon off a percentage of their corn in order to distill whiskey. Everything produced would then be hidden from the government in order to avoid the whiskey tax of 1791.

Clinton Heylin writes, "'Copper Kettle'...strike[s] all the right chords...being one of the most affecting performances in Dylan's entire official canon."[4] Music critic Tim Riley called it "an ingenious Appalachian zygote for rock attitudes, the hidden source of John Wesley Harding's shadows."[5]

"Copper Kettle" was popularised by Joan Baez and appeared on her best-selling 1962 LP Joan Baez in Concert.

Among the original songs written for the album, the instrumental "Wigwam" later achieved recognition for its use in the 2001 Wes Anderson film The Royal Tenenbaums. "Living the Blues" was later covered by Leon Redbone. "Living the Blues" was also covered by the Jamie Saft Trio with Antony Hegarty on the album Trouble: The Jamie Saft Trio Plays Bob Dylan, in 2006. "All the Tired Horses" only features two lines, and is sung only by a female backing group. The song featured in the 2001 film Blow.

The only song on the album that can be considered psychedelic is the party-friendly romp "The Mighty Quinn (Quinn the Eskimo)," originally recorded at the 1967 Basement Tapes sessions and covered to great success by Manfred Mann in 1968. For live venues, the Grateful Dead and Phish made the song an iconic favorite. The version on Self Portrait, however, is a soundboard-sourced live performance from Dylan and the Band's Isle of Wight Festival concert (as are three other tracks on the album).


Professional ratings
Review scores
AllMusic2/5 stars[6]
Entertainment WeeklyC–[7]
The Rolling Stone Album Guide1/5 stars[9]
The Village VoiceC+[10]

Self Portrait received negative reviews by critics and consumers alike. Dylan had his share of negative criticism before Self Portrait. At worst, his 1962 debut was met with quiet indifference. In 1966, his tour with the Hawks was met with open hostility from some fans, but the burgeoning rock press countered that reaction with their enthusiastic praise.

With Self Portrait, there were few admirers and far more detractors. Critical disdain seemed universal. At best, a number of journalists, including Robert Christgau, felt there was a concept behind Self Portrait that had some merit.

"Conceptually, this is a brilliant album," wrote Christgau, "which is organized, I think, by two central ideas. First, that 'self' is most accurately defined (and depicted) in terms of the artifacts—in this case, pop tunes and folk songs claimed as personal property and semispontaneous renderings of past creations frozen for posterity on a piece of tape and (perhaps) even a couple of songs one has written oneself—to which one responds. Second, that the people's music is the music people like, Mantovani strings and all."[11]

However, few critics expressed any interest in the music itself. "[I]n order for a concept to work it has to be supported musically—that is, you have to listen," Christgau admitted. "I don't know anyone, even vociferous supporters of this album, who plays more than one side at a time. I don't listen to it at all. The singing is not consistently good, though it has its moments, and the production—for which I blame Bob Johnston, though Dylan has to be listed as a coconspirator—ranges from indifferent to awful. It is possible to use strings and soprano choruses well, but Johnston has never demonstrated the knack. Other points: it's overpriced, the cover art is lousy, and it sounds good on WMCA."[11]

In his Rolling Stone review (with its memorably vitriolic opening line, "What is this shit?"), Greil Marcus warned, "Unless [Dylan] returns to the marketplace, with a sense of vocation and the ambition to keep up with his own gifts, the music of [the mid-sixties] will continue to dominate his records, whether he releases them or not."[12] He also commented, "I once said I'd buy an album of Dylan breathing heavily. I still would. But not an album of Dylan breathing softly."[13] In a 1971 telephone interview with journalist A.J. Weberman, Dylan can be heard responding angrily to the Marcus review, while attempting to defend larger accusations of perceived non-committal politics.

A rare dissenting positive voice about the album was Marc Bolan, soon to become a star as lead singer/guitarist of English glam rock band T.Rex, at this point in its earlier incarnation as hippy acoustic duo Tyrannosaurus Rex. Appalled at the negative reviews directed at the album, Bolan wrote a letter in its defence to the 11 July 1970 edition of Melody Maker:

Rock critics Jimmy Guterman and Owen O'Donnell, in their 1991 book The Worst Rock and Roll Records of All Time, listed Self-Portrait as the third worst rock album ever, with only Lou Reed's experimental Metal Machine Music and Elvis Presley's concert byplay album Having Fun with Elvis on Stage faring worse. "The breakup of the Beatles shortly before this album's release," they wrote, "signaled the end of the sixties; Self-Portrait suggested the end of Bob Dylan."

In 1973, Knopf published Dylan's song lyrics, sketches, and album notes as Writings and Drawings, with updated versions called Lyrics appearing in 1985 and 2000. In all three editions, the original lyrics from Self Portrait are never acknowledged, suggesting Dylan's disavowal of the whole album to that time. However, the lyrics to "Living the Blues" and "Minstrel Boy" are included, listed as extra songs from the Nashville Skyline sessions; the 2004 edition includes them under their own entry[15] and Dylan's current website includes the release together with lyrics and download links.[16]

Dylan revisited Self Portrait on The Bootleg Series Vol. 10: Another Self Portrait (1969–1971) in 2013.

Track listing[edit]

Side one
1."All the Tired Horses"Bob Dylan3:12
2."Alberta #1"Traditional2:57
3."I Forgot More Than You'll Ever Know"Cecil A. Null2:23
4."Days of 49"Alan Lomax, John Lomax, Frank Warner5:27
5."Early Mornin' Rain"Gordon Lightfoot3:34
6."In Search of Little Sadie"Traditional2:28
Side two
1."Let It Be Me"Gilbert Bécaud, Mann Curtis, Pierre Delanoë3:00
2."Little Sadie"Traditional2:00
3."Woogie Boogie"Bob Dylan2:06
4."Belle Isle"Traditional2:30
5."Living the Blues"Bob Dylan2:42
6."Like a Rolling Stone" (Recorded live August 31, 1969 at the Isle of Wight Festival)Bob Dylan5:18
Side three
1."Copper Kettle"Albert Frank Beddoe3:34
2."Gotta Travel On"Paul Clayton, Larry Ehrlich, David Lazar, Tom Six3:08
3."Blue Moon"Lorenz Hart, Richard Rodgers2:29
4."The Boxer"Paul Simon2:48
5."The Mighty Quinn (Quinn the Eskimo)" (Recorded live August 31, 1969 at the Isle of Wight Festival)Bob Dylan2:48
6."Take Me as I Am (Or Let Me Go)"Boudleaux Bryant3:03
Side four
1."Take a Message to Mary"Felice Bryant, Boudleaux Bryant2:46
2."It Hurts Me Too"Traditional3:15
3."Minstrel Boy" (Recorded live August 31, 1969 at the Isle of Wight Festival)Bob Dylan3:33
4."She Belongs to Me" (Recorded live August 31, 1969 at the Isle of Wight Festival)Bob Dylan2:44
5."Wigwam"Bob Dylan3:09
6."Alberta #2"Traditional3:12



Weekly charts[edit]

Year Chart Position
1970 Billboard 200 4
1970 Record World Album Chart 1
1970 Cash Box Album Chart 1
1970 UK Top 75[17] 1


Year Single Chart Position
1970 "Wigwam" Billboard Hot 100 41[citation needed]


Country Certification $ Sales
United States Gold $1,000,000


  1. ^ Greil Marcus, "Self Portrait No. 25", in Studio A: The Bob Dylan Reader (1970), p. 74 (Benjamin Hedin, ed., 2004)
  2. ^ Ray Foulk, 2015 Stealing Dylan from Woodstock, Medina Publishing, London, ISBN 9781909339507.
  3. ^ Shelton, Robert (2003 reprint). No Direction Home: The Life and Music of Bob Dylan, p. 418. Da Capo Press. ISBN 0-306-81287-8.
  4. ^ Heylin, Clinton (2003 reprint). Bob Dylan: Behind the Shades Revisited, p. 314. HarperCollins. ISBN 0-06-052569-X.
  5. ^ Riley, Tim (rev. ed. 1999). Hard Rain: A Dylan Commentary, p. 195. Da Capo Press. ISBN 0-306-80907-9.
  6. ^ link
  7. ^ "Bob Dylan's discography". 29 March 1991.
  8. ^ 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.CS1 maint: extra text: authors list (link)
  9. ^ Brackett, Nathan; with Hoard, Christian (eds) (2004). The New Rolling Stone Album Guide. New York, NY: Fireside. p. 262. ISBN 0-7432-0169-8. Retrieved August 22, 2015.CS1 maint: extra text: authors list (link)
  10. ^ Christgau, Robert (July 30, 1970). "Consumer Guide (12)". The Village Voice. New York. Retrieved 14 April 2013.
  11. ^ a b Christgau, Robert (1990 reprint). Rock Albums of the '70s: A Critical Guide, p. 116. Da Capo Press. ISBN 0-306-80409-3.
  12. ^ Marcus (in Hedin, ed., 2004), p. 79.
  13. ^ Marcus (in Hedin, ed., 2004), p. 82.
  14. ^ Marc Bolan: The Rise And Fall Of A 20th Century Superstar Mark Paytress, Omnibus Press, 2009, p215
  15. ^ Dylan, Bob (2004). Lyrics : 1962–2001. New York: Simon & Schuster. ISBN 0-7432-2827-8.
  16. ^ "Self Portrait (1972) [sic]". Retrieved 16 June 2012.
  17. ^ "Number 1 Albums – 1970s". The Official Charts Company. Archived from the original on 9 February 2008. Retrieved 8 June 2011.
  • Guterman, Jimmy and O'Donnell, Owen, The Worst Rock and Roll Records of All Time, Citadel, 1991.

External links[edit]