Albums: Bob Dylan, Bootleg 9: The Witmark Demos, Columbia (5/5) / The Original Mono Recordings, Columbia (5/5)

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The Independent Culture

The latest release in Dylan's Bootleg series is chronologically the earliest, collecting together the original demos which were recorded for his publishers Witmark & Sons, to help them sell the young folkie's songs to other singers.

It was through these demos that Peter, Paul and Mary came to record the hit versions of "Blowin' In The Wind" and "Don't Think Twice, It's All Right" which kick-started Dylan's reputation, and drew him into the orbit of heavyweight manager Albert Grossman; later on, many became staples of early Dylan bootlegs. Presented en masse like this, these 47 tracks depict a tyro talent struggling to keep up with his own muse, spewing out songs at such a rate that he can barely spare the time to jot them down. "I can write you out the verses to this later, I can't really remember them now," he blurts before dashing off a refrain of "Bound To Lose, Bound To Win"; presumably, he forgot to bother: this brief fragment is all that remains of the song.

Never intended for public consumption, these rudimentary demos are littered with mistakes, apologies and explanations as Dylan loses his way, adds on a verse he's just thought of, or deprecates material he's already grown bored with. A particularly scathing version of "I'd Hate To Be You On That Fateful Day" is capped by the throwaway comment, "That's my calypso tap number!" It's immediately preceded by a take of "All Over You", featuring the racy hook-line "If I could do it all over again, I'd do it all over you", which illustrates how easily the young Dylan could slip between the saucy and the censorious, already boasting a true entertainer's instincts. That's also confirmed by his dismissal of "Let Me Die In My Footsteps", a sententious slice of anti-nuke proselytising which he already considered too juvenile and preachy to be worthy of inclusion. "You want this?" he asks. "'Cos it's awful long... I mean, it's not that long, it's just that it's a drag, y'know?"

There are substantial tranches of similarly earnest strummage, some redeemed by his facility with wordplay, and plenty of evidence of his Woody Guthrie obsession. But the highlights – early takes of "A Hard Rain's A-Gonna Fall", "Masters Of War", and versions of "The Times They Are A-Changin'" and "Mr Tambourine Man" both pounded out roughly on piano – must have had a devastating impact on those performers who heard them back in the Sixties.

Also released this week is a box set of the mono mixes of Dylan's first eight albums – ie the only mixes he personally sanctioned of his most creative period. Focused and singular, the sound spears the listener head-on, rather than being spread across the soundstage – and the harmonica solo at the end of "Sad Eyed Lady Of The Lowlands" isn't faded out prematurely like on the stereo CD mix, which is reason alone to invest.

DOWNLOAD THIS A Hard Rain's A-Gonna Fall; All Over You; Mr Tambourine Man; Blowin' In The Wind; Masters Of War