Unbeknownst to the fans—though they might have guessed—Bob Dylan hadn’t been writing much lately. So the record company decided to put out another Greatest Hits album, this one a two-record set. And again, most of the songs weren’t exactly hits.
Bob Dylan’s Greatest Hits Vol. II also doesn’t pick up where the last hits album left off, either. Nine of the songs came from albums that predated the first hits album, and some had been huge hits for other people, such as “My Back Pages” for the Byrds and “All Along The Watchtower” for Jimi Hendrix. “Lay Lady Lay” was a hit for the man—his biggest, actually—but chances are most fans had that album already.
But even with the spotty equation, the album succeeds due to the quality of the music. It also broke new ground in the process, by including songs that not only hadn’t been on an album yet, but hadn’t even been released. “Watching The River Flow” had been a summer single, where he admitted to having nothing to say. “When I Paint My Masterpiece” was from the same sessions, and is preferable to the Band’s version released earlier in the year. The touching “Tomorrow Is A Long Time” is included from the unreleased Bob Dylan In Concert album of eight years earlier, and is miles better than any of the studio versions he smartly buried. And to tease the fans even more, three new recordings of Basement Tapes songs close the set. (“You Ain’t Goin’ Nowhere” has different lyrics, though another Basement Tapes track, “The Mighty Quinn” appears in its Self Portrait incarnation.)
It was a nice gesture, but there was still a handful of tracks yet to be included on any albums. For example, “Just Like Tom Thumb’s Blues” was recorded live with the Band in 1966 and released that year as a B-side, but the version that appears here is the standard album version instead of the exciting electric confrontation. And while we’re nitpicking, the concurrent single “George Jackson” (available in acoustic and “big band” takes) wasn’t included either.
Bob Dylan’s Greatest Hits Vol. II is still a good collection, and a great place to start before you collect the individual albums. (The cover photo, which neatly mirrors its predecessor, was captured at that summer’s Concert For Bangla Desh, the album of which included a full side of Dylan performances accompanied by George, Ringo and Leon Russell.)
Bob Dylan Bob Dylan’s Greatest Hits Vol. II (1971)—4