- Audio CD (7 Jun. 1999)
- Number of Discs: 1
- Label: Columbia
- ASIN: B0000258N0
- Other Editions: Audio CD | Audio Cassette | Vinyl | Mini-Disc | MP3 Download
- Average Customer Review: 108 customer reviews
- Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 164,616 in CDs & Vinyl (See Top 100 in CDs & Vinyl)
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Audio CD, Original recording remastered, 29 Mar 2004
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The last album released before Dylan's late 1970s/early '80s three-album foray into Christian music, Street Legal is both fascinating and flawed. At the time, Dylan was enthralled with the slick stage presentation of Neil Diamond, which he clumsily attempted to re-create on this 1978 collection. Say what you will about Diamond, but he ran a tight ship; the clunky drumming and rudimentary brass that mar these nine tracks reflect a misbegotten attempt to make Dylan's wing-it studio approach work for an underrehearsed 12-member backing group. Songwise, Street Legal is a mixed bag. Despite a few missteps ("Is Your Love in Vain?" is embarrassingly... well, vain), the wordsmith navigates dense terrain in the masterful "Senior" and the open wound of a closer, "Where Are You Tonight?" --Steven Stolder
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But then you turn over the cover to read the credits on the rear sleeve – and you’re presented with something truly garish and staggeringly unflattering – Dylan in what appears to be a white clown's outfit with mascara running down his face looking like he’s auditioning as an extra for the Alice Cooper Travelling Horror Show. It's a really crappy and unbecoming photo that no other artist would have let pass. But this is Bob Dylan - cool one moment - a putz and a let-down the next. A legend within a mystery within an enigma (and that's just the left leg)...
And in some ways that 'who gives a crap' attitude permeates everything about this much anticipated and yet (at the time) much derided LP. As one insider put it - "Street-Legal" was recorded in a week, mixed the week after and released regardless the week after that. The inference was of course that the new record was a rushed half-assed effort. And in some ways – recording-wise anyway – it is. His band entourage were supposed to be using Rundown Studios (in Santa Monica, California) as a rehearsal space for the Japanese Tour – so the material was recorded in a haphazard ad-hoc way (missed cues, vocals panning in and out etc) with the perceived idea that they’d return to the songs and the sessions and record them properly somewhere else. But Dylan liked what he had – describing it as "the closest to where I am" – and released the unwieldy poorly-recorded beast anyway (all 50 cramped-on-vinyl minutes of it).
The backlash also came from waiting. After the career highs of "Blood On The Tracks" in 1975 and "Desire" in 1976 and the filler live album "Hard Rain" in late 1976 – by June 1978 anticipation for more studio goodies was at fever pitch. As I recall the public liked/disliked "Street Legal" in equal measure - but critics were less kind – especially the famous Greil Marcus review which once again dragged out the 'crap' word whilst throwing in 'fake' and 'sexist' too for good measure (lyrics in "New Pony" stood accused). Dylan reacted angrily saying that even if the Production values weren't exactly Steely Dan – the music was good and his lyrics had meaning and were not just convenient quotes taken from the rhyming-couplets dictionary sat alongside his Woody Guthrie songbook and recent divorce papers in whatever place the Rambler called home.
Which brings us to this re-constructed Stereo CD Remaster from 2003 – carried out by the mighty GREG CALBI – a name synonymous with transfer greatness for me. Given what they had to work with and knowing how bad my initial 1980s CBS CD sounded – the transformation here is amazing and I for one feel should lead to a reappraisal of this slice of lyrical haphazard Bobness. Here is the changing of the guards...
UK re-released March 2004 – "Street-Legal" by BOB DYLAN on Sony /Columbia 512355 2 (Barcode 5099751235521) is a straightforward CD Remaster of his 1978 9-Track LP. It was initially reissued September 2003 as a CD/SACD Hybrid Dual Format release in a gatefold card digipak (Columbia 512335 6 – Barcode 5099751235569) but that quickly deleted and replaced with a standard jewel case issue. The 2003 Remaster has been used on this Reissue (repressed in 2009 and 2016). It plays out as follows (50:26 minutes):
1. Changing Of The Guards
2. New Pony
3. No Time To Think
4. Baby Stop Crying
5. Is Your Love In Vain?
6. Senor (Tales Of Yankee Power)
7. True Love Tends To Forget
8. We Better Talk This Over
9. Where Are You Tonight? (Journey Through Dark Heat)
Tracks 1 to 9 are the album "Street-Legal" - released July 1978 in the USA on Columbia JC 35453 and June 1978 in the UK on CBS Records CBS 86067. Produced by DON DeVITO - it peaked at No. 11 in the USA and No. 2 in the UK.
You'd have to say that the gatefold slip of paper that laughably calls itself an insert is a huge disappointment - especially on a reissued Remaster. Where's the lyric insert that came with original albums - words being a tad important when it comes to Bob Dylan. But at least we get that stunning GREG CALBI Remaster - a man whose had his mitts on McCartney's "Band On The Run", Paul Simon's "Graceland", Supertramp's "Crime Of The Century" and "Breakfast In America" and even John Mayer's Remastered catalogue. Calbi has turned a pig's ear into something prettier than a sow's rump...a job well done it has to be said.
A quick glance at the original LP playing time for the Side 1 opener "Changing Of The Guards" shows a 6:34 minute duration – but the 2003 remaster and remix has the ‘endless road’ song extended to 7:04 minutes - suddenly packing a live-in-the-studio Band punch it never had. Now you can actually hear David Manfield’s Mandolin and the three ladies crooning after every line – Carolyn Dennis, Joanne Harris and Helena Springs on backing vocals. And the guitar on "New Pony" is now more menacing and in your face as are the drums (its also increased from 4:28 to 4:39 minutes - how much longer indeed).
I always thought "No Time To Think" had a great hook (as you slowly sink) - the clever rhymes come fast and furious and that rolling piano is now more to the fore in the mix even if it is overly long at 8:20 minutes. Side 1 ends with the first single "Baby Stop Crying". Released July 1978 on CBS Records S CBS 6499 and unlike most BD 45s "Baby Stop Crying" actually charted - peaking at No. 13 and enjoying an 11-week run and the wild luxury in 1978 of a 12" single issue in a picture sleeve (not sure why). With the guitar chug of "New Pony" as the flipside on all formats - it was an excellent double-header.
Side 2 opens with the cheery "Senor (Tales Of Yankee Power)" as Bob asks "...can you tell me where we're heading...Lincoln County Road or Armageddon..." and at 5:42 minutes it remains the same but the clarity of that strummed acoustic guitar and the sax solo is better than before. "Is Your Love In Vain?" was the second single lifted from the LP in Blighty (CBS Records S CBS 6718 in September 1978 with "We Better Talk This Over" on the B-side) and its whiny theme made an impression at the time even if it did feel like some dismissive 60ts outtake ("...alright...I'll fall in love with you..."). But my fave-rave on the album is "True Love Tends To Forget" which feels like a great Bob Dylan song complete with actual emotion and not just snide observation.
The musical arrangement of "We Better Talk This Over" signals what is to come with "Slow Train Coming" and its lyrics are so emotion-confessional they can at times become uncomfortable. Speaking of which - were the lyrics "...if you don't believe there's a Christ...and sweet Paradise...just remind to show you the stars..." in the album's final cut "Where Are You Tonight (Journey Through Dark Heat)" about his lost 10-year marriage or leaning into the religious trio of albums that began with "Slow Train Coming" in August 1979 - probably both. And that "Like A Rolling Stone" organ sound – wow - a good end to a really good album.
Not as heart-wrenching as "Blood On The Tracks" or as lyrically hard-hitting as "Desire" - nonetheless 1978's "Street-Legal" is a winner on re-listen – it’s an all-good Bob Dylan album when such things were something you hoped for in the later decades but rarely got. "Street Legal" deserves another go-round and this superb 2003 Remaster has finally given the LP the aural oomph it always needed.
"...Missing her so much..." - Bob Dylan sang on "Where Are You Tonight..." - I felt the same re-playing this street hoodlum of a record...
Back to the album. Released in 1978, following from “Blood On The Tracks” and “Desire”. Hmmm. Tough ask. In many ways, though, this is my favourite Dylan album. As a young punk in 1978 I loved it. I loved the saxophone-based sound, played by Spector (and Mink De Ville) veteran Steve Douglas. I loved the romance of many of the songs and also the urgency in Dylan's delivery. Many find the album too dominated by the saxophone, too sort of poppy in its approach and that it utilises too many gospelly female backing vocalists. They criticise another of my favourites, the same year’s “Live At Budokan” for the same reasons. Personally, these are some of the reasons I like it.
“Changing Of The Guards” is a stormer of an opener - “on midsummer’s eve, near the tower”- then that intoxicating saxophone riff. I love this song, its glorious imagery and its celebratory tone. “New Pony” is a repetitive but appealing blues and it now sounds great. Check out that guitar sound. “No Time To Think” is an eight minute, piano driven masterpiece. Again packed with imagery and enhanced, in my opinion, but the female backing vocalists (as I said, I know that there are many do not share that opinion). “Baby Please Stop Crying” was a surprise hit in the summer of 1978. It shouldn’t really be a surprise, as it had a laid-back radio-friendly sound.
The old “side two” began with the beautiful saxophone and yearning lyrics of “Is Your Love In Vain?” before we progress to another of the album’s cornerstones - “Senor (Tales Of Yankee Power)” - with its much-quoted line of “tell me where is it you're heading, Lincoln County Road or Armageddon?”. Great percussion backing on this and Dylan’s mysterious, questioning vocal. “True Love Tends To Forget” is another lovely, romantic, saxophone-dominated goodie. “We Better Talk This Over” is a melodious, laid back piece of soulful easy rock and the closer, the magnificent “Where Are You Tonight (Journey Through Dark Heat)”, with its insistent Paul Simon-esque rhythms and New York references. I once walked along Elizabeth Street one evening just because Dylan mentions it in this song. Again, there is a wonderful atmosphere and images on this song. One of my favourites on what is a favourite album of all time.
Many will say that there are deep religious references buried in the lyrics of songs like “Senor” that would provide a pointer to Dylan’s new direction - a salvation that would pre-occupy him for the next four years. There was a slow train coming.
SL is a generally upbeat album with some sing-along melodies (especially `Baby stop crying' and the opener `Changing of the Guards'), easy to `get' after only a couple of plays and definitive proof that Dylan always could write good tunes, not just great poetic lyrics. Dylan sings throughout the album with great power and gusto, like he really means it.
Criticisms of the original 1978 release of SL focussed on the messy-sounding production, excessive use of backing vocals, overbearing intrusion of orchestra and horns and generally poor `finish' of the album's sound. In 1978 these criticisms had merit. However via various remastering efforts over the years, these issues have been much improved and the result is a good, if not quite a great Dylan album which nevertheless sits in the second rank of his epic canon of achievements. Dylan has always worked hard to resist being `pigeon-holed' and in common with his other work from the period, SL has its own unique character and sounds like nothing else he ever recorded.
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