Hard Rain is probably the noisiest of all Bob Dylan's albums, recorded live in concert during his 1975 Rolling Thunder Revue tour, at the peak of his electric rock and roll period. The Bootleg Series Volume 5 is taken from the same tour; I've heard it's much better, but haven't had the chance to find out for myself yet.
Best played at maximum volume, this album includes material off of albums from The Times They Are A-Changin' through to Desire, re-interpreted as heavy rock with yelled-out vocals and seriously amplified and often distorted electric guitar. As an album, the sound can sometimes get a little samey; but it must have been an incredible concert, and some songs work much better with the rockier slant they are given here than they did on the original album recordings - Stuck inside of Mobile with the Memphis Blues again stands out, and when I'm in a loud enough mood the Hard Rain version of Shelter from the Storm is my favourite ever recording of a Dylan song.
That playlist in full:
- Maggie's Farm
I got a head full of ideas that are driving me insane - it's a shame the way she makes me scrub the floor...
A Dylan classic, originally from 1965's Bringing it all Back Home, Maggie's Farm is fantastic with a faster tempo, a heavy electric guitar line and shouting.
- One too many Mornings
It's a restless hungry feeling that don't mean no one no good...
Taken from his third album, The Times They Are A-Changin', this is not really remarkable for anything much besides the sheer magnitude of the makeover it gets here, Dylan's early acoustic folk-rock style making way for much yelling.
- Stuck inside of Mobile with the Memphis Blues again
The team creature looked so baffled when I asked him why he dressed with twenty pounds of headlines stapled to his chest...
From the relatively laid-back 1966 album Blonde on Blonde, this is great with the adrenaline shot it gets here. ROCK!
- Oh, Sister
Am I not a brother to you, and deserving of affection?
This one is taken from Desire, but despite having the album and listening to it plenty of times I didn't recognise it here - neither version has made much of an impression on me.
- Lay, Lady, Lay
Whatever colors you have in your mind, I'll show them to you and you'll see them shine...
This was never one of my big favourites, although I'm not one of the many who thinks it's a bad song, either. You can hear the audience calling out for it at the start of the previous track, but I don't think this clamourous version works as well as the rather seductive recording which appeared on Nashville Skyline.
- Shelter from the Storm
Twas in another lifetime, one of toil and blood...
This appeared as a sad, folksy tune with a simple guitar line on Dylan's anguished break-up album Blood on the Tracks. Here, it is transformed into pure rock and roll, full of sound and fury: Electric Dylan at his very finest.
- You're a Big Girl now
Now I'm back in the rain, and you are on dry land - you made it there somehow...
Dylan here expresses the severe difficulty he was having coming to terms with his separation from Sara Lowndes. A song full of longing and frustration, I think the slower, thoughtful version on Blood on the Tracks works a bit better than the bustling treatment given here.
- I Threw it All Away
I must have been mad, never knew what I had, until I threw it all away...
Another song brimming with sadness and regret, this time coming from Nashville Skyline - I seem to be almost completely indifferent to this.
- Idiot Wind
It was gravity which pulled us down, and destiny which broke us apart; you tamed the lion in my cage, but it just wasn't enough to change my heart...
One of the world's all-time great pissed off songs, I feel like this should be perfectly suited to this album's intense, noisy style; but somehow, to my ears - and I know not everybody agrees with me about this - it doesn't quite live up to the Blood on the Tracks original.
The following musicians appear, besides Dylan himself:
- Guitar: Mick Ronson, T-Bone Burnette, Steven Soles, David Mansfield
- Bass: Rob Stoner
- Drums: Howard Wyeth, Gary Burke
- Strings: Scarlet Rivera
- Piano: Howard Wyeth, T-Bone Burnette
- Background vocals: Steven Soles, Rob Stoner; Joan Baez apparently also appeared, visible in the NBC broadcast of the concert, but doesn't seem to have made it onto the album.