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)Oh Mercy1989
Under the Red Sky
The Bootleg Series Volumes 1–3 (Rare & Unreleased) 1961–1991
(1991)The Bootleg Series Volumes 1–3 (Rare & Unreleased) 1961–19911991

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 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. The cover pictures Dylan in the Mojave desert in California, in a very similar pose to that on the inside cover of 1983's "Infidels".


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.


At the time 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 supposed 'slick sound' of pop producer Don Was, as well as a handful of tracks that seem rooted in children's nursery rhymes. However, the sound of many tracks is similar to the then-current grunge genre, and the use of children's songs goes all the way back to Dylan's folk days.

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 himself echoed most of the critics' original complaints about the album, telling Rolling Stone in a 2006 interview that the album's shortcomings resulted from hurried and unfocused recording sessions, due in part to his concurrent 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 also commented on the critical consensus regarding the album's provocative opening song: "Wiggle Wiggle", he said, "was the one the critics jumped on, particularly the line "Wiggle wiggle wiggle like a bowl of soup", which was taken as proof positive that Dylan had lost it, definitely, permanently, irrevocably. It was hard to disagree—it is hard to reconcile such a line with the man who wrote "Desolation Row" (from Highway 61 Revisited). Of course, you can't get Hamlet or "Like a Rolling Stone" every time out of the traps, but "Wiggle Wiggle"?"[6]

The album did have some critical support, particularly from Robert Christgau of The Village Voice, who wrote:

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, though the album made it to #13 in the UK. According to the book Down The Highway: The Life Of Bob Dylan, the disappointing record sales of this album (in the US) made Dylan depressed. On top of that, Dylan's second wife had just signed for divorce in August 1990.[citation needed] It is possible, however, to see the album as one of Dylan's many cult classics.

Song information[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]

The song "10,000 Men" , an oblique comment on the ubiquity of war in human history and the stereotypical nature of male and female gender roles, is based on the English nursery rhyme 'The Grand Old Duke Of York"!

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 extended instrumental overdub sessions by noted celebrity guests extending into May 1990.[8]

In 2005, Q magazine included the lead-off track "Wiggle Wiggle", Dylan's diatribe about sexuality out of control, 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 spuriously 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 (who contributed the closing guitar solo to the original song) and Aaron Freeman.[10] Its lyrics were also the namesake for the Danish pop/rock band Big Fat Snake.

Clinton Heylin has stated that the album's nusery-rhyme inspired title track is an "important song" in Dylan's oevre (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, borrowing something from that albums remarkable mood of poetic romance and spiritual rumination. Versions of these songs from the Oh Mercy sessions are included on The Bootleg Series Vol. 8: Tell Tale Signs.

The grungy guitar 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". Don Was commented at the time that he "knew exactly how Bob Dylan ought to sound". He said, “I was thinking like a fan. ‘Man, I loved Highway 61, it’d be great if he did something else like Highway 61!’ So, I’m trying to get him back to something..."[13]


Continuing his obvious interest in children's songs signaled on the album, 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.

The negative critical reaction to the album may have contributed to Dylan's radical return to stripped-down acoustic folk on the follow-up Good As I Been to You, which would be released two years later.

Track listing[edit]

All tracks 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


Additional musicians[edit]



Region Certification Certified units/Sales
Switzerland (IFPI Switzerland)[14] Gold 25,000^
United Kingdom (BPI)[15] Silver 60,000^

*sales figures based on certification alone
^shipments figures based on certification alone


  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. ^ 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
  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. 
  13. ^ {{cite web |url=http://somethingelsereviews.com/2015/09/10/bob-dylan-under-the-red-sky-don-was/
  14. ^ "The Official Swiss Charts and Music Community: Awards (Bob Dylan; 'Under teh Red Sky')". IFPI Switzerland. Hung Medien. 
  15. ^ "British album certifications – Bob Dylan – Under the Red Sky". British Phonographic Industry.  Enter Under the Red Sky in the search field and then press Enter.