Bob Dylan at Budokan is a live album by American singer-songwriter Bob Dylan, released April 1979 on Columbia Records. It was recorded during his 1978 world tour and is composed mostly of the artist’s “greatest hits”. The performances in the album are radically altered from the originals, using the same musicians that backed Street-Legal, but relying on a much larger band and stronger use of brass and backing singers. In some respects the arrangements are more conventional than the original arrangements, for which the album was criticized. For a few critics, such as Janet Maslin of Rolling Stone, the differences between the older and newer arrangements had become less important.
Many moons ago (mid-eighties), I had a book about the 50 worst rock albums of all time. Now the usual suspects were on it: Lou Reed’s Metal Machine Music, Having Fun On Stage With Elvis and CSNY’s American Dreams. This album was one of the two Dylan albums to make the list (Self Portrait was the other) and for years, because of that review, I’ve done my utmost to avoid coming into contact with it. Described by one critic as “the least essential live Dylan albums from the 70’s” and reading about the radically rearranged versions of his classic songs, I felt a little trepidation approaching this record.
First off, I’ve seen Bob Dylan twice (one good experience, one abysmal experience) so I’m used to him rearranging his songs, and I love and appreciate artists that do that to their material, and for the majority of the time it works; however this is rearrangements gone awry! Most of Dylan’s classic 60’s songs (Love Minus Zero/No Limit, Maggie’s Farm, Ballad of a Thin Man) have had all their venom, anger, and sarcasm removed and replaced by saccharine Sunday-school-happy-clappy sing-a-longs; the addition of brass and the backing singers bring on air of musical theatre to the songs, and if the flute met with a (non-fatal) accident before the show the album would have been slightly improved! It’s not all non-offensive showbiz blandness, occasionally one or two of the arrangements work: Dylan’s plaintive vocals on a slow I Want You is a particularly good example of him getting it right (despite the flute!) but I’m struggling to find any other highlights. A very bland, insipid album that makes Dylan and the Dead positively metal!
Thankfully no track is over 10 minutes, there’s no way I’d either recommend this or listen to it again, and how I wish to Hathor there was a drum solo somewhere in this fetid pile of camel feces. Worse than the ELP triple album monstrosity. 1/10.
The next album up looks like it’s one that will test my patience and will to live, so fun times for all! But until then, TTFN.