I’ve never been much of a Bob Dylan acolyte. There’s a type of Mojo-reader (also Mojo editor, Mojo writer…) that worships at the Altar of His Bobness, throwing praise at his every croaky utterance, undeterred by mere accusations of plagiarism. That’s not really me.
Bringing It All Back Home? Wonderful. Highway 61 Revisited? Oh yes. Blonde on Blonde? Fantastic. Desire? Good stuff. Blood On The Tracks? Aye, okay. Other than that, there’s more quality material of course but he’s trotted out out mediocrity and shite in fairly equal measures. He also popularised the rack harmonica, which is hard to forgive. Whatever; some of my favourite records are covers of Dylan songs (Jimi Hendrix’s comprehensive retooling of All Along The Watchtower and Johnny Winter’s immaculate Highway 61 Revisited are obvious examples, Roger Taylor’s odd, proggy/electronica take on Masters of War less so) and he gets points for the fact that he was actually in Pat Garrett & Billy the Kid. Of course, he was also in that Hearts of Fire with Rupert Everett and Fiona but theres no need to get bitchy.
So then, the album (Dylan’s soundtrack for the great Sam Peckinpah film). Regardless of his stellar reputation as a lyricist, I shouldn’t imagine many would rate Dylan as a particularly accomplished music composer and this is all too apparent on the opening pair of instrumentals (Main Title Theme and Cantina Theme) which drift by unremarkably. They’re not even particularly well recorded, with one of the acoustic guitars overloading the mic noticeably throughout. Still, the other instrumental on this side, Bunkhouse Theme is sweet enough.
The actual songs here, though, are very good. There are three “Billy” songs on the album, entitled Billy 1, Billy 4 and Billy 7 respectively. Just because. 1 and 4 are on side one and they’re both reminiscent of Kris Kristofferson. Never a bad thing. Perhaps Dylan was influenced by Kristofferson’s involvement in the film itself (he plays Billy – hardly a “kid” himself at the time but excellent in the role). Regardless they’re nice pieces of country balladry.
Side two begins with Turkey Chase, a natty wee uptempo bluegrass instrumental replete with banjo and fiddle. The other instrumentals on this side are Final Theme – there’s a flute on that one – and River Theme which serves as a short and sweet outro. Song-wise there’s the third and final “Billy” – Billy 7, which drops the Kristoffersonisms and is perhaps surprisingly none the worse for it. The album’s jewel, buried as the second song on side two, is Knocking On Heaven’s Door. It would be perfect but for its brevity, barely clocking in at two and a half minutes where we could listen to it all night. Over-familiarity with its multitudinous cover versions in no way overshadows the sheer beauty of the original, making it easy to cast Axl Rose’s strained warblings to the back of your mind and to mentally tell Eric Clapton’s cloying cod-reggae arse-gravy to fuck right off.
A first for Tapes For My Walkman – it’s only the sixth review overall, mind – this is an album I hadn’t heard before, at least not that I remember. An interesting if slight listen, Pat Garrett & Billy the Kid is a pleasant enough affair, peppered with glimpses of Dylan’s much vaunted genius and worth a purchase for Knocking On Heaven’s Door alone.
The tape itself, picked up for a lucky £1.99 online, is an old one and in pretty decent playable order considering. A couple of wee dropouts but that’s as bad as it gets. Paper labels, pre-bar code with a surprisingly decent inlay which folds out to a nice wee Bob-centric still from the movie. Still no musician or production credits but that was par for the course in the ’70s. The track running order has been slightly re-jigged too (something that used to drive me nuts about tapes back in the day), to save all that pesky fast-forwarding between unevenly long sides.