To the tune of an Ulster Rugby crowd chant I want to shout “Stand up for The Budokan”. Bob Dylan’s live album Live At Budokan album from back in 1978 is getting re-assessed or re-trashed as a box set called The Complete Budokan which has just been released. I want to defend it because of how crucial it was in my personal discovery of Bob Dylan.
I wasn’t a Bob fan in 1978 though I was on the cusp. Baby Stop Crying from 1978’s Street Legal was a favourite song and after my intrigue about Hurricane from 1975’s Desire, showcased in my favourite TV music programme The Old Grey Whistle Test.
I remember the fuss about the Budokan record. Supposed to be a Japan only release in August 1978, a guy in school (Frank Delargy me thinks!) had bought it at a ridiculous price on import only to be rather annoyed at a world wide release in 1979 that we could all afford.
Just a few months later Slow Train Coming arrived and Bob had come to a Christian faith, almost at the exact same time as I had too. That common faith caused me to play that one until I had acquired the taste for Dylan’s voice and set off in looking back across the 17 years of records that I had missed.
In that time of research Live at Budokan was a gift. It allowed me to grab almost 22 songs from every era of Bob on one double album.
More than that the very accessible way that Dylan arranged those songs at Budokan, made them easier for a young fella to hear them rather than say the much raw and rougher edged Hard Rain live album from 1976.
I am not sure what Bob was wanting to do with this particular line up. The fiddle had encroached towards centre stage on The previous Rolling Thunder tour. Now, though the fiddle stayed, Bob had added flutes and particularly a saxophone.
If 1978 Dylan fans were unsettled by this I wasn’t. As a Moody Blues and at this stage Horslips fan I was more than up for a few flute riffs. The saxophone though was put Bruce Springsteen. The Big Man Clarence Clemons was Springsteen’s foil and a very big presence on the cover of that iconic 70s record Born To Run. Why shouldn’t Dylan give it a try.
Reggae versions too. Again I was used to such arrangements. Bob Marley had become another of the rock icons of the 70s. Eric Clapton had covered Marley’s I Shot The Sheriff and even done his own reggae version of Knockin On Heaven’s Door that Dylan repeats here.
Above all of this. As Bob looks back and around for his Budokan muse so too he looks forward. The female Gospel vocals would become the major feature of the next few years of Dylan’s live shows. Where he is with Jesus at Budokan is anyone’s guess but the Gospel singers are ready!
So, why shouldn’t Bob Dylan bring a plethora of contemporary ideas into a career known for its reinvention. For me there is a hint of musical snobbery in those who dismiss these Budokan concerts.
So, I was thrilled that there would be a box set of the complete Budokan. Now we can hear 1978 versions of songs like Ramona, I Threw It All Away, The Man In Me and Tomorrow Is A Long Time as well as rarities Repossession Blues and Love Her With Feeling
With such releases I quickly glance across the track listings and the prices to see which I will purchase. As I am currently buying vinyl I am going to actually buy the double vinyl Another Budokan 1978 at £35 as I think £190 is utter madness for 4 CDs especially when fans have almost two of them.
In the next few weeks I am looking forward to listening to 1978 Bob Dylan. I hope at times it will take me back to my teens and those early Bob loving days but also back into that Dylan catalogue in which I am always discovering.