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
ReleasedSeptember 10, 1990 (1990-09-10)
RecordedJanuary 1990, March–May 1990
Producer"Jack Frost" (Bob Dylan), Don Was, and David Was
Bob Dylan chronology
Oh Mercy
Under the Red Sky
The Bootleg Series Volumes 1–3 (Rare & Unreleased) 1961–1991

Under the Red Sky is the 27th 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.


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.


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.)[1] 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.[2]

Unlike the rest of his discography, the album features numerous guest appearances by established artists, such as Bruce Hornsby, Elton John and George Harrison. Additionally, session musicians like pianist Al Kooper and guitarist Waddy Wachtel appear throughout the album. The album opener, "Wiggle Wiggle", also features Slash on guitar, while "10,000 Men" features Stevie Ray Vaughan. The title track features a "fine guitar solo" by George Harrison; Heylin has called this track an "important song", noting that it has been a staple of Dylan's live performances.[3]

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.[citation needed]

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).[4] "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".


Professional ratings
Review scores
AllMusic2/5 stars[5]
Chicago Tribune2.5/4 stars[6]
Christgau's Consumer GuideA−[7]
Encyclopedia of Popular Music3/5 stars[8]
Entertainment WeeklyC[9]
Los Angeles Times3.5/5 stars[10]
MusicHound Rock0.5/5[11]
Rolling Stone2/5 stars[12]
Tom HullB+[13]

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."[14]

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."[7] 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.[citation needed]


Dylan continued the style of the album with his recording of the nursery rhyme "This Old Man", which was released on the Disney charity album For Our Children in 1991. For his follow-up album, Good As I Been to You (1992), Dylan went back to his acoustic roots, recording more serious songs.

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".[15] The song was covered on the 2014 tribute album Bob Dylan in the 80s: Volume One by Slash and Aaron Freeman.[16] Its lyrics were also the namesake for the Danish pop/rock band Big Fat Snake.

Track listing[edit]

All tracks are written by Bob Dylan.

1."Wiggle Wiggle"2:09
2."Under the Red Sky"4:09
4."Born in Time"3:39
5."T.V. Talkin' Song"3:02
1."10,000 Men"4:21
2."2 × 2"3:36
3."God Knows"3:02
4."Handy Dandy"4:03
5."Cat's in the Well"3:21


Additional musicians[edit]



Region Certification Certified units/sales
Switzerland (IFPI Switzerland)[19] Gold 25,000^
United Kingdom (BPI)[20] Silver 60,000^

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


  1. ^ Heylin, C., (2010), Still on the Road: The Songs of Bob Dylan, 1974-2006. Chicago Review Press. p. 374
  2. ^ Heylin, C., (2010), Still on the Road: The Songs of Bob Dylan, 1974-2006. Chicago Review Press. pp. 391-392, 502
  3. ^ Heylin, C., (2010), Still on the Road: The Songs of Bob Dylan, 1974-2006. Chicago Review Press. pp. 383-385.
  4. ^ Hughs, Rob (2008-10-09). "Bob Dylan: Online Exclusives - Under The Red Sky with Don Was". Uncut. Retrieved 2012-09-29.
  5. ^ Erlewine, Stephen Thomas. Under the Red Sky at AllMusic
  6. ^ Kot, Greg (October 25, 1992). "Dylan Through the Years: Hits and Misses". Chicago Tribune. Retrieved March 1, 2020.
  7. ^ a b Christgau, Robert (2000). "D". Christgau's Consumer Guide: Albums of the '90s. St. Martin's Griffin. ISBN 0-312-24560-2. Retrieved March 1, 2020 – via robertchristgau.com.
  8. ^ Larkin, Colin (2011). Encyclopedia of Popular Music (5th ed.). Omnibus Press. p. 854. ISBN 0857125958.
  9. ^ Entertainment Weekly review
  10. ^ Hochman, Steve (September 9, 1990). "Bob Dylan 'Under the Red Sky'". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved March 1, 2020.
  11. ^ 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)
  12. ^ 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.
  13. ^ Hull, Tom (June 21, 2014). "Rhapsody Streamnotes: June 21, 2014". tomhull.com. Retrieved March 1, 2020.
  14. ^ 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.
  15. ^ "The 10 Worst Bob Dylan Songs". Time. 2011-05-23.
  16. ^ 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
  17. ^ Tolinski, Brad (October 6, 2011). "Slash Discusses Bob Dylan, Iggy Pop, Michael Jackson and Guns N' Roses in 1990 Guitar World Interview". Guitar World. Retrieved April 4, 2019.
  18. ^ Grow, Kory (February 24, 2014). "Slash and Aaron Freeman Team for Bob Dylan Cover 'Wiggle Wiggle'". Rolling Stone. Retrieved April 4, 2019.
  19. ^ "The Official Swiss Charts and Music Community: Awards (Bob Dylan; 'Under the Red Sky')". IFPI Switzerland. Hung Medien.
  20. ^ "British album certifications – Bob Dylan – Under the Red Sky". British Phonographic Industry. Select albums in the Format field. Select Silver in the Certification field. Type Under the Red Sky in the "Search BPI Awards" field and then press Enter.

Further reading[edit]