Friday, June 15, 2018

Sixteen Years

Bob Dylan : Changing of the Guards

On June 15, 1978 Bob Dylan released Street Legal. Despite being dismissed by many critics, the album went gold in the US, peaking at #11 on the Billboard album charts. In the U.K, the album was better received, peaking at #2. And in the annual Village Voice Pazz and Jop critics poll, Street Legal finished #21 right behind Devo's debut. NME ranked the album #7.

I was never very impressed by the album even after a good friend suggested I check out the 1999 remixed and remastered version. Not much Don DeVito could do with an album recorded live in the studio in just a matter of days. Dylan had been preoccupied by his critically panned film, Renaldo and Clara. He was also in a custody battle following his bitter divorce from Sara.

Still, "Changing of the Guards" is a stand out track. The female backing vocals really shine and give the song a gospel feel ( foreshadowing Dylan's move to Christianity?) . The first line is "Sixteen years", which happens to be the length of Dylan's recording career at the time. But reading much more into the opaque lyrics is a fool's errand. Even Dylan has said "It means something different every time I sing it. 'Changing of the Guards' is a thousand years old'" 

I also like the final track, "Where Are You Tonight (Journey Through Darkness)".

Dave Marsh heard echoes of Elvis Presley on Street Legal. Greil Marcus, who did the review for Rolling Stone,  did not:

It saddens me that I can't find it in my heart to agree with my colleague Dave Marsh that Bob Dylan's new record is a joke, or anyway a good one. Most of the stuff here is dead air, or close to it. The novelty of the music — soul chorus backup (modeled on Bob Marley's I-Threes), funk riffs from the band, lots of laconic sax work — quickly fades as one realizes how indifferent the playing is: "Señor (Tales of Yankee Power)," the most musically striking number here, is really just a pastiche of the best moments of the Eagles' Hotel California. Still, I believe some of the songs on Street Legal: those that are too bad to have been intended with anything but complete seriousness. Dylan may have once needed a dump truck to unload his head, but you'd need a Geiger counter to find irony in "Is Your Love in Vain?" or affection in "Baby Stop Crying."


  1. Greil correctly points out the weakest two tracks on the LP, but wildly underestimates the rest of it.

  2. Underrated album with a couple of clunkers and a few gems.