Under the Red Sky

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Under the Red Sky
A black-and-white photograph of Dylan sitting in a rocky field
Studio album by Bob Dylan
Released September 10, 1990 (1990-09-10)
Recorded January 1990, March–May 1990
Genre Rock
Length 35:21
Label Columbia
Producer "Jack Frost" (Bob Dylan), Don Was, and David Was
Bob Dylan chronology
Oh Mercy
(1989)
Under the Red Sky
(1990)
The Bootleg Series Volumes 1–3 (Rare & Unreleased) 1961–1991
(1991)

Under the Red Sky is the twenty-seventh studio album by American singer-songwriter Bob Dylan, released on September 10, 1990 by Columbia Records.

The album was largely greeted as a strange and disappointing follow-up to 1989's critically acclaimed Oh Mercy. Most of the criticism was directed at the slick sound of pop producer Don Was, as well as a handful of tracks that seem rooted in children's nursery rhymes. It is a rarity in Dylan's catalog for its inclusion of celebrity cameos by Jimmie Vaughan, Slash, Elton John, George Harrison, David Crosby, Stevie Ray Vaughan and Bruce Hornsby.

Dedication[edit]

The album is dedicated to "Gabby Goo Goo", later explained to be a nickname for Dylan's four-year-old daughter. This has led to the popular assumption that the album's more childlike songs were for her entertainment, something that has never been confirmed nor denied by Dylan.

Reception[edit]

Professional ratings
Review scores
Source Rating
AllMusic 2/5 stars[1]
Robert Christgau A−[2]
Entertainment Weekly C[3]
MusicHound 0.5/5 stars[4]
Rolling Stone 2/5 stars[5]

Dylan has echoed most critics' complaints, telling Rolling Stone in a 2006 interview that the album's shortcomings resulted from hurried and unfocused recording sessions, due in part to his activity with the Traveling Wilburys at the time. He also claimed that there were too many people working on the album, and that he was very disillusioned with the recording industry during this period of his career.

Dylan critic Patrick Humphries, author of The Complete Guide to the Music of Bob Dylan, was particularly harsh in his assessment of Under the Red Sky, stating the album "was everything Oh Mercy wasn't—sloppily written songs, lazily performed and unimaginatively produced. The first bridge of "2 X 2" ("How much poison did they inhale?") was reminiscent of the menace which pervaded Oh Mercy, but otherwise, where before there had been certainty and sureness, here was confusion and indecision."[6]

Humphries saved his harshest attack for the album's opening song, "Wiggle Wiggle":

The album did have some critical support, particularly from Robert Christgau of The Village Voice, who wrote: "To my astonishment, I think Under the Red Sky is Dylan's best album in 15 years, a record that may even signal a ridiculously belated if not totally meaningless return to form … It's fabulistic, biblical … the tempos are postpunk like it oughta be, with [Kenny] Aronoff's sprints and shuffles grooving ahead like '60s folk-rock never did." And Paul Nelson, writing for Musician, called the album "a deliberately throwaway masterpiece". When the Voice held its Pazz & Jop Critics Poll for 1990, Under the Red Sky placed at #39.

In the end, album sales were disappointing, peaking at #38 on the US charts and #13 in the UK. According to the book Down The Highway: The Life Of Bob Dylan, the disappointing record sales of this album made him depressed. On top of that, Dylan's second wife had just signed for divorce in August 1990.

The songs[edit]

Four songs from the album, "Handy Dandy", "10,000 Men", "God Knows", and "Cat's In The Well", were recorded in a single session in Los Angeles on 6 January 1990, before Dylan commenced a four-week tour. ("Handy Dandy" received overdubs subsequently.)[7]

Dylan biographer Clinton Heylin writes that Dylan finished recording the basic tracks for the album in mid-March 1990, but added new vocals to some tracks the following month, with instrumental overdub sessions extending into May 1990.[8]

In 2005, Q magazine included the lead-off track "Wiggle Wiggle" in a list of "Ten Terrible Records by Great Artists". Time Magazine placed "Wiggle Wiggle" on the list of The 10 Worst Bob Dylan Songs, noting that it "sounds like the theme song to one of those tripped-out television shows beloved by toddlers and drug users".[9] The song was covered on the 2014 tribute album Bob Dylan in the 80s: Volume One by Slash and Aaron Freeman.[10] Its lyrics were also the namesake for the Danish pop/rock band Big Fat Snake.

Heylin has called the title track an "important song" (with a "fine guitar solo" by guest George Harrison), noting that it has been a staple of Dylan's live performances.[11]

Two songs, "Born in Time" and "God Knows", are reworkings of material originally recorded at the previous year's Oh Mercy sessions. Versions of these songs from the Oh Mercy sessions are included on The Bootleg Series Vol. 8: Tell Tale Signs.

The intro to "Unbelievable" (which was released as a single, with an accompanying promotional video) is very similar to the intro on Carl Perkins's "Honey Don't", as sung by The Beatles on Beatles for Sale.

According to producer Don Was, there were two outtakes from the album: "Shirley Temple Doesn't Live Here Anymore" (which Dylan co-wrote with Was and David Weiss) and "Heartland" (which Dylan later sang with Willie Nelson on Nelson's 1993 album Across the Borderline).[12] "Shirley Temple Doesn't Live Here Anymore" was later recorded by Don Was's group Was (Not Was) for their 2008 album Boo! as "Mr. Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore".

Aftermath[edit]

Dylan recorded and released the nursery rhyme song, "This Old Man", on the Disney charity album, For Our Children, in 1991, a year after this album was released.

Dylan's follow-up effort Good As I Been to You would be released two years later.

Track listing[edit]

All songs written by Bob Dylan.

No. Title Length
1. "Wiggle Wiggle"   2:09
2. "Under the Red Sky"   4:09
3. "Unbelievable"   4:06
4. "Born in Time"   3:39
5. "T.V. Talkin' Song"   3:02
No. Title Length
6. "10,000 Men"   4:21
7. "2 × 2"   3:36
8. "God Knows"   3:02
9. "Handy Dandy"   4:03
10. "Cat's in the Well"   3:21

Personnel[edit]

Additional musicians
Technical personnel

References[edit]

  1. ^ Erlewine, Stephen Thomas. Under the Red Sky at AllMusic
  2. ^ Christgau, Robert. "Robert Christgau: CG: Artist 169". robertchristgau.com. Retrieved 10 September 2011. 
  3. ^ Entertainment Weekly review
  4. ^ 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. 
  5. ^ Evans, Paul (1990-10-04). "Rolling Stone : Bob Dylan: Under The Red Sky : Music Reviews". web.archive.org. Archived from the original on 2007-06-29. Retrieved 10 September 2011. 
  6. ^ a b Humphries, Patrick (1995). The Complete Guide to the Music of Bob Dylan. London, England: Omnibus Press. pp. 125–127. ISBN 0-7119-4868-2. 
  7. ^ Heylin, C., (2010), Still on the Road: The Songs of Bob Dylan, 1974-2006. Chicago Review Press. p. 374
  8. ^ Heylin, C., (2010), Still on the Road: The Songs of Bob Dylan, 1974-2006. Chicago Review Press. pp. 391-392, 502
  9. ^ "The 10 Worst Bob Dylan Songs". Time. 2011-05-23. 
  10. ^ http://www.jambands.com/news/2014/01/22/widespread-panic-marco-benevento-slash-tea-leaf-green-deer-tick-gene-ween-craig-finn-built-to-spill-and-members-of-my-morning-jacket-confirmed-for-80s-dylan#.UuAAp3bTnnD
  11. ^ Heylin, C., (2010), Still on the Road: The Songs of Bob Dylan, 1974-2006. Chicago Review Press. pp. 383-385
  12. ^ Hughs, Rob (2008-10-09). "Bob Dylan: Online Exclusives - Under The Red Sky with Don Was". Uncut. Retrieved 2012-09-29.