Monday, June 15, 2009

Bob Dylan 14: Pat Garrett & Billy The Kid

In the midst of his writing drought, Bob was asked to contribute music to the film Pat Garrett & Billy The Kid, starring James Coburn and Kris Kristofferson in that order. Before too long, Bob got himself a part onscreen, as a character named Alias whose most memorable scene involves reading the various labels off cans on the shelf of a store.
The soundtrack album itself didn’t come much easier. He was never really known for his instrumentals, and he didn’t feel up to writing ten new songs for the movie; instead we got three versions with vocals of “Billy” (none of them very good), two instrumental versions used for the “Main Title Theme” and “Final Theme” (the latter of which is pretty good), some equally iffy instrumentals and the epic (and hit single) “Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door”, for which one has to be in the mood.
That’s an admittedly rough assessment, but Pat Garrett & Billy The Kid simply isn’t a major album. There are some moments to be had, however. “Main Title Theme” would be okay if we didn’t have so many repetitions on the same three chords. “Bunkhouse Theme” hearkens back to “To Ramona” in a Tex-Mex way. The bluegrass “Turkey Chase” sounds as unlike Dylan as “Nashville Skyline Rag” or any of the instrumentals on Self Portrait. “Final Theme” manages to inspire a feeling of majesty whenever it hits a welcome minor chord. And Dylan himself would continue to tinker with the verses of “Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door” onstage, well after people learned the song from the likes of Eric Clapton and Axl Rose.
Still, it’s not bad for an album that mostly arose out of one set of lyrics and several hours of jamming in the studio with a few ringers to keep him interested. It’s far from the worst 35 minutes of Dylan captured on vinyl, but we were still hoping for something, shall we say, substantial.

Bob Dylan Pat Garrett & Billy The Kid (1973)—


  1. What a garbage commentary! As for me I love many tracks on this album, especially the "Billy" songs, especially the gorgeous Billy4) and some of the epic instrumentals ("Bunkhouse theme"!), not to mention the awesome "Knocking Knock on Heavens Door" on this album which no later cover version could reach in any way.

  2. I find it odd that you'd feel so strongly about something but not go so far as to sign your name. But everyone's entitled to their opinion, even you. Whoever you are.

    So here's my opinion: in the vast configuration of Bob, this album is minor. But have no fear -- Bob's got plenty more albums, and I'm sure we'll disagree on those too. And won't THAT be fun!

  3. The album it's self may not be that good as a "Dylan album", but have you heard the unreleased cuts from "Pecos Blues" It's a very interesting listen if you can get ahold of it. You really get a chance to be a fly on the wall at a dylan recording session.

  4. I've heard various takes of "Rock Me Mama" and "Goodbye Holly", but not "Pecos Blues". I'll have to look for those. Thanks!