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Today: Bob Dylan released “Slow Train Coming” in 1979 – 33 years ago

Sometimes I feel so low-down and disgusted
Can’t help but wonder what’s happenin’ to my companions
Are they lost or are they found
Have they counted the cost it’ll take to bring down
All their earthly principles they’re gonna have to abandon?
There’s a slow, slow train comin’ up around the bend

From Wikipedia:

Released August 20, 1979
Recorded April 30-May 11, 1979
Genre Rock, gospel, Christian rock
Length 46:19
Label Columbia
Producer Jerry Wexler
Barry Beckett

Slow Train Coming is singer-songwriter Bob Dylan‘s 19th studio album, released by Columbia Records in August 1979.

It was the artist’s first effort since becoming a born-again Christian, and all of the songs either express his strong personal faith, or stress the importance of Christian teachings and philosophy. The evangelical nature of the record alienated many of Dylan’s existing fans; at the same time, many Christians were drawn into his fan base. Slow Train Coming was listed at #16 in the 2001 book CCM Presents: The 100 Greatest Albums in Christian Music.

The album was generally well-reviewed in the secular press, and the single “Gotta Serve Somebody” became his first hit in three years, winning Dylan the Grammy for best rock vocal performance by a male in 1980. The album peaked at #2 on the charts in the UK and went platinum in the US, where it reached #3.

Track listing:

All songs were written by Bob Dylan.
Side one

  1. “Gotta Serve Somebody” – 5:22
  2. “Precious Angel” – 6:27
  3. “I Believe in You” – 5:02
  4. “Slow Train” – 5:55

Side two

  1. “Gonna Change My Way of Thinking” – 5:25
  2. “Do Right to Me Baby (Do Unto Others)” – 3:50
  3. “When You Gonna Wake Up” – 5:25
  4. “Man Gave Names to All the Animals” – 4:23
  5. “When He Returns” – 4:30

5 best songs.. according to me:

  1. Slow Train
  2. Gotta Serve Somebody
  3. When He Returns
  4. I Believe In You
  5. Precious Angel

Reception:

  •  Greil Marcus wrote, “Dylan’s received truths never threaten the unbeliever, they only chill the soul” and accused Dylan of “sell[ing] a prepackaged doctrine he’s received from someone else.”
  • According to Clinton Heylin, “Marcus isolated Slow Train Coming’s greatest flaw, an inevitable by-product of his determination to capture the immediacy of newfound faith in song.”
  • Robert Christgau gave a mostly positive review, grading it a B+. “The lyrics are indifferently crafted,” wrote Christgau, “and while their one-dimensionality is winningly perverse at a time when his old fans will take any ambiguity they can get, it does serve to flaunt their theological wrongheadedness and occasional jingoism. Nevertheless, this is his best album since Blood on the Tracks. The singing is passionate and detailed, and the pros behind him – especially Mark Knopfler, who has a studio career in store – play so sharply that his anger gathers general relevance at its most vindictive. And so what if he’s taken up with the God of Wrath? Since when have you been so crazy about the God of Love? Or any other species of hippie bullshit?”
  • Reviewing the album in Rolling Stone magazine, Jann Wenner proclaimed it “one of the finest records Dylan has ever made.”
  • On October 18, 1979, Dylan promoted the album with his first—and, to date, only—appearance on Saturday Night Live, performing “Gotta Serve Somebody,” “I Believe In You,” and “When You Gonna Wake Up.”
  • Nearly two weeks later, on November 1, Dylan began a lengthy residency at the Fox Warfield Theater in San Francisco, California, playing a total of fourteen dates supported by a large ensemble. It was the beginning of six months of touring North America, performing his new music to believers and his heckling fans alike.
  • Despite the mixed reactions to Dylan’s new direction, “Gotta Serve Somebody” was a U.S. Top 30 hit, and the album outsold both Blood on the Tracks and Blonde on Blonde in its first year of release, despite missing the top of the charts. It even managed to place at #38 on The Village VoicePazz & Jop Critics Poll for 1979, proving he had some critical support if not universal acclaim.

Charts:

Year Chart Position
1979 Australian Kent Music Report Albums Chart 1
1979 UK Albums Chart 2
1979 U.S. Billboard Albums Chart 3

Personnel:

  • Bob Dylan – guitar, vocals
  • Mark Knopfler – lead guitar
  • Tim Drummond – bass
  • Barry Beckett – keyboards, percussion
  • Pick Withers – drums
  • Mickey Buckins – percussion
  • Muscle Shoals – horns
  • Carolyn Dennis – background vocals
  • Helena Springs – background vocals
  • Regina Havis – background vocals
  • Harrison Calloway – arrangements
  • Gregg Hamm – engineer
  • David Yates – assistant engineer
  • Paul Wexler – original mastering supervision
  • Bobby Hatta – original mastering engineer
  • Wm. Stetz — cover concept/design

I Believe In You – Live 1980:

Precious Angel – Live 1980:

Gotta Serve Somebody – Studio version:

Album:

-Egil

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4 Comments

  1. I had just left Saudi Arabia after a 3 month work stint and had flown to Amsterdam for some R&R. I remember buying both “Slow Train Coming” and Van Morrison’s wonderful “Into The Music” there. I distinctly remember listening to them on an night train ride to Paris, loving them both. Sometimes the circumstances of where and when you first hear something makes an indelible impression and a lifelong connection.

    I saw a show at the Warfield, as well, with that amazing band Dylan had assembled that included Jim Keltner and Tim Drummond in the rhythm section.

    • Hi Mark,

      GREAT story.
      The circumstances surely matters…

      Warfield 79… legendary shows. I didn’t see any of them (being 10 & living in western Norway), but I’ve got 4 of them (6,7,11 & 16) and sound is…. good enough.

      -Egil

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