T for Tom

Day 20 – Street-Legal – 1978

Posted in A Dylan A Day by johnsontoms on July 12, 2016



There’s a lot of symbolic iconography on the cover of Street-Legal, Dylan’s eighteenth (…18th!) studio album. He stands on the last step of a stoop, looking outward to the street in anticipation of something or someone arriving. And in his hands, folded up and not worn, is the jacket from the cover of Blonde On Blonde. Sea change.

Boasting the fullest, most arranged compositions of his career so far, Street-Legal is woefully pop, verging on Springsteen. It is still unmistakably Dylan, but there’s a full chorus of females backing every word, and the songs take on a nearly church-like build. This too would be relevant as Dylan’s words and themes became intensely more rich with biblical overtones. It would foreshadow the approaching Christianity that Dylan would find following the settlement of his child custody battle, the period that gave us directly gospel albums Slow Train Coming and Saved. But here at least, he was still Dylan’s Dylan.

It is noticeably rushed, jammed into four days of recording while still in court over his children’s custody, and while still cutting film for Renaldo and Clara. The entire record can at times seem like a patchwork quilt, with various styles and musics put together to create something new. After starting with “Changing Of The Guard,” he rolls quickly into a low-rolling blues tune, “New Pony,” before switching again into a waltz, for chrissakes, in “No Time To Think.”

And yet it sounds profoundly confident. The swing and the sway of each of the songs matches the rhythm in his voice that no other Dylan record really hit, save for Blood On The Tracks. As it turns out, the vocals were his most intricate detail during the recording sessions, as a revolving door of singers came and went, even including Katey Sagal of Married with Children fame, before settling on the right set of vocalists. But he had something in mind, and he wanted to find exactly that.

Turns out it he took aim at everything: “Socialism, hypnotism, patriotism, materialism / Fools making laws for the breaking of jaws / and the sound of the keys as they clink / but there’s no time to think.” It’s this rhetoric that soars throughout the record and shows us that even our icons can break. Sometimes there’s just too much on a man’s plate.

Somehow when Dylan had too much, he still made good music.

Song: “New Pony”

Sounds like a badass would.


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