Things Twice

Dylan and his band, with producer Bredan O'Brien on keyboards, tape two shows
on successive nights (November 17-18, 1994) in front of an invited audience
at a Sony soundstage in New York City for a MTV "Unplugged" appearance.
Making no concession to MTV Dylan wears shades throughout both shows.

The hour long MTV show, edited from the two evenings performances, is
broadcast December 14, 1994 in the U.S. and December 24, 1994 in Europe.
The MTV Unplugged CD is released in Europe on April 11, 1995 and a few weeks
later in the U.S. (May 5). European release has an annoying three-second
audience noise sample (applause and a whistle) that runs over and over through
Knockin' On Heaven's Door. This canned audience noise is deleted from the U.S. release.

Finally, early in the summer of 1995 unedited and uncut versions of the Unplugged
performances begin to appear. The best of these is Moontune's Completely Unplugged,
a superb rough mix soundboard recording of the complete performances from both nights.

Below are the setlists, Jon Pareles' rave New York Times review of Dylan's
Sony Unplugged CD, posts regarding the canned audience noise and
comments on the various Dylan Unplugged releases, among other things.

Originally compiled: February 16, 1997
Last revised: February 16, 1997

First Unplugged taping session
(November 17, 1994, New York City)

1. Tombstone Blues
2. I Want You
3. Don't Think Twice, It's All Right
4. Desolation Row
5. Hazel
6. The Times They Are A-Changin'
7. Everything Is Broken
8. Love Minus Zero/No Limit
9. Dignity
10. With God On Our Side

Second Unplugged taping session
(November 18, 1994, New York City)

1. Absolutely Sweet Marie
2. Shooting Star
3. All Along The Watchtower
4. My Back Pages
5. Rainy Day Women # 12 & 35
6. John Brown
7. The Times They Are A-Changin'
8. Dignity
9. Knockin' On Heaven's Door
10. Like A Rolling Stone
11. Tonight I'll Be Staying Here With You
12. Desolation Row
13. I Want You

Subject: NYT "Unplugged" Review, 4-30-95
From: stern@panix.com (Michael J. Stern)
Date: 1995/04/29

New York Times, April 30, 1995
Arts & Leisure p.33

Recordings View/Jon Pareles
A Rocker Who Hasn't Gentled With Age

BOB DYLAN HAS JOINED THE parade of well-known rockers who have released albums from "MTV Unplugged." That's as far as his conformity goes. Dylan's "MTV Unplugged" (Columbia CT67000, cassette and CD), recorded late last year, isn't a tepid, defanged runthrough of hits, like Eric Clapton's and Rod Stewart's sessions, or a spontaneity-free recital like Mariah Carey's. Acoustic guitars in hand, Dylan's new band still rocks, and the sly old master makes his songs crackle and rage and ache.

Dylan, now 53, is as death-haunted as any grunge rocker, as corrosive as most punks, as free-associative as some rappers. Yet on MTV, as elsewhere in current pop, he's an oddity. His musical tastes are old-fashioned; he doesn't play folk-rock as currently revived by everyone from R.E.M. to Tom Petty, but folk with a rocker's edge. And his songs are highly individual yet almost selfless, barely concerned with private gratification. His best work, like "MTV Unplugged," brings human passion and musical wit to metaphysical struggles.

In the 1990's, Dylan's songwriting has apparently stalled while he has released solo albums of traditional songs, sung in a voice as caustic and untutored as his rural sources. On tour, however, he has reawakened his great 1960's songs and winnowed more recent material, spurred by a band that's in touch with all of Dylan's roots, from slide-guitar picking to church organ.

Dylan emerged from the 1960's folk revival, unfurling visionary images as he melted down country and blues, Celtic ballads and gospel tunes, rhythm-and-blues and a touch of pop. Despite the post-modern juxtapositions of his lyrics, Dylan has almost always treated his music as if it came from the days before recording. He's dedicated to live performance, with all its sparks and faults.

He has always toyed with his songs, sometimes wrecking them in the process (as on previous live albums like "Hard Rain" and "Bob Dylan at Budokan"). But on "MTV Unplugged," he doesn't just rattle off familiar words; he inhabits them again, with the bravado he had three decades ago now transmuted into an elder's crustiness and compassion. He rasps and slurs, croaks and bays, as unpretty as ever but less guarded. Three decades ago, he sang "Desolation Row" with a sneer; on "MTV Unplugged~" his quiet, conspiratorial voice makes the song more paranoid. "MTV Unplugged" includes only three songs that aren't from the 1960's: "Knockin' on Heaven's Door" from 1973, "Shooting Star" from 1989 and an exhilarating version of " Dignity," besting the studio rendition on 1994's "Greatest Hits Vol. III."

Yet in performing on MTV, Dylan may have been thinking about reaching the children of his baby-boomer fans. His touring band is augmented by Brendan O'Brien, Pearl Jam's producer, who plays electric (not unplugged) organ with judicious assurance. Guns 'n' Roses fans can recognize "Knockin' on Heaven's Door," while "Rainy Day Women No. 12 and 35" has the chorus that's a sure-fire crowd pleaser: "Everybody must get stoned." "Rainy Day Women" turns into a jaunty free-for-all, with O'Brien's organ, Bucky Baxter's slide guitar, John Jackson's guitar and Dylan's plunking lead guitar gleefully jostling one another over Winston Watson's rollicking drums.

DYLAN ALSO CHOOSES 1960'S portents that still seem trenchant. "Like a Rolling Stone" might well apply to a scruffy, displaced younger generation, and "All Along the Watchtower" maintains its foreboding mystery, while "The Times They Are A-Changin'" has become as much a warning as a battle cry. On "MTV Unplugged," Dylan reemerges as an antiwar protester. He sings "With God on Our Side" with sullen disbelief while the band turns it into a stately country hymn. And in "John Brown," an Appalachian-style ballad from 1962 that has never appeared on an official Dylan album, he tells the story of a disfigured soldier; the song's graphic descriptions make a bitter contrast with the band's string-band lilt.

"MTV Unplugged" could have easily included more material from the sessions, but the songs on the album hit home. Dylan knows, as Nirvana did, that "Unplugged" doesn't have to mean mellow.


Subject: unplugged query
From: Alan Fraser (100437.2552@CompuServe.COM)
Date: 1996/04/23

Which days do the officially released Unplugged tracks come from?

Thursday - Tombstone Blues, Desolation Row, Love Minus Zero, With God On Our Side.

Friday - Shooting Star, Watchtower, Rainy Day Women, John Brown, Times They Are A'Changin', Dignity, Knockin' On Heaven's Door, Like A Rolling Stone.

Love Minus Zero is only on the European official CD.

Information courtesy of British magazine Mojo, Jan 1995.


Subject: I Want You Unplugged a la Sophie Hawkins
From: +howells@hasbro (John Howells)
Date: 1995/06/23

tower@inforamp.net writes:

: I bought the Unplugged CD and then got hold of the boot of 
: the complete sessions. I see that Dylan did "I Want You" in 
: the Sophie B Hawkins style. Great job too. The guy is NOT 
: afraid to try other peoples' covers of his own material. 
: Too bad it wasn't released on the official CD. Everyone who 
: bought Unplugged is missing out.  
Agreed. One of the highlights of the complete sessions. Which one is better, though, day one or day two? I think the better version was from day two.

Other songs that should have been on the official release: "Absolutely Sweet Marie", "Everything Is Broken", "Tonight I'll Be Staying Here With You" (I know, it was on the French release). "Hazel" turns out to be a slight disappointment and "Don't Think Twice" was completely out of place in the context of the rest of the material. I'm glad it wasn't considered for the album.

One thing that surprised me was how much of Dylan's guitar was cut out of the mix for the album and video. This explains why the album sounds so polished. I know many people like Dylan's guitar playing, and I do too in small doses, but he just overplays on the undoctored sessions and makes everything sound too sloppy for my taste. Another surprise was the sound of the organ and pedal steel. They're more aggressive and out front and they make songs like "Tombstone Blues" sound much more powerful.

The second night's session has to rank among the very best live performances Dylan's ever given.

                                                           John Howells

Subject: Unplugged CD discovery
From: danielb@xs4all.nl (Daniel Baars)
Date: 1995/04/17

Last night I was listening to the Unplugged CD for the first time and I noticed something strange on "Knockin' On Heaven's Door". The song starts with a lot of applause and whistling. Well, nothing strange about that, I know - but the applause and whistling continues... and continues. All through the song there's applause as if the song just ended. It doesn't matter what Bob and the band do, the noise the crowd is making is exactly the same. And then, when I listened closer I could hear it: it's a f**king sample! And a damn short one too. It's incredible, how badly this is done. I mean, to put extra applause under a song is cheating a bit (but it happens a lot) but PLEASE do it right. This is very annoying: you hear a couple of seconds of applause and then a whistle and that over and over again. You can count the beat on that whistle: it's that predictable! It's completely ridiculous... You'd think Don Was (who mixed the damn thing along with a guy called Ed Cherney) would know better, it's not that difficult.

I hope I can find copies of the original tapes from the Unplugged show so I can listen to the untampered versions of these songs. In one word: yuk! Sorry, had to get that off my chest.

Daniel Baars

Subject: Dylan Unplugged
From: rcj10@cam.ac.uk (Craig Jamieson)
Date: 1995/07/07

Tore Kristoffersen (tokristo@math.uio.no) wrote:<
: Watched Dylan Unplugged on tv
: Later i listened to the cd
: One thing i noticed was the great amount of cheering and 
: clapping on Knockin' On Heaven's Door which appeared on the 
: cd version and not on tv
: seems like they took 3 seconds of prerecorded cheering and 
: ran that piece ov
: and over all the way through the song
: notice that high pitched whistling
: whats the point??
: crap
: did they really feel a need for fake entusiasm?
Sony/Columbia/Coopers were doing this as a test run on European and Japanese releases only. It has had such a strong reception that they are thinking of remastering all of Bob's previous albums in the same way. That whistler stands to make a lot on royalties! :-)

I know Bob is supposed to have been especially rude to those Sony MBAs but even in Dylanesque terms they are taking revenge a bit far. Wonder what they have planned next.

Thank goodness we are not still pre-1969, before that time Bob released all his albums with only one label and most people had no choice how they heard him.

Anyway there is a double CD called Completely Unplugged put out by a serious company, so if you don't find that Sony sheen to your taste then buy from a reputable source instead! But if you like the repetitive whistler you must buy both, the CD Completely Unplugged does NOT include the tape loop version for some reason?

>did they really feel a need for fake entusiasm?

Welllll, that is the legit/boot divide is it not? They say the test is whether or not your partner generally fakes orgasm or has real orgasms, the former are suited to Sony, the latter insist on boots. Choose whatever satisfies your needs. I know which side I come down on. ;-)

The hysterical bride in the penny arcade
Screaming she moans, "I've just been made"
Then sends out for the doctor who pulls down the shade
And says, "My advice is to not let Sony in"...

Subject: Love Minus Zero/No Limit
From: rcj10@cam.ac.uk (Craig Jamieson)
Date: 1995/09/06

Baguet (baguet@aol.com) wrote:
: Yeah, this song is my favorite, too. Where did everyone hear it on
: unplugged? My cd omitted it. And what really galls me is that they kept on
: some of the obvious crowd pleasers...trying to connect with the kids in
: the crowd somehow.
Ummmmm, which brand of CDs are you buying?

EDLIS recommends only one title out of the half dozen Dylan MTV Unplugged albums released so far:

Completely Unplugged
Moontunes 006/007, 1995
Matrix: Moon 006, Moon 007
Barcode: 5 413579 004051
Completely Unplugged is a great CD.

C-Nine Records [i.e. Crystal Cat] put out a good double CD called Uncut Unplugged but it had problems on sound quality and speed on its second CD.

Gold Standard put out a highlights CD called Unplugged Half-Cut.

Tuff Bytes put out a highlights CD called Unplugs It Once More.

Some Japanese outfit put out a substandard product unfit for human consumption, they're called Soggy Music or something like that, aimed at fake audience laugh track collectors, featuring a whistler I believe much like poor situation comedies have to do -- it may still be allowed in some countries with weak consumer law . . . . Anyway some people have the Sonny product to play to people who think small labels are immoral, you play the megacorporation's whistler, then you play Moontunes quality product, then you ask the law abiding citizen which company they really think Bob Dylan feels reflects his work best?

Personally I think it is about time legislation was brought in to curb these whistling cowboys. Otherwise you just get anarchy, don't you think? ;-)


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