Bob Dylan – The Original Mono Recordings

Bob Dylan - The Original Mono RecordingsBob DylanThe Original Mono Recordings (Columbia/Legacy)

Cynics will note that there is virtually no difference performance-wise between the mono recordings of his first eight records for Columbia, so why bother? They will then point to the success of the Beatles’ mono box as the financial motivation for Sony (Columbia’s owner) to pull a similar move, a clear attempt at getting Dylanophiles to dig deep in their wallets once again.

But what cynics also need to acknowledge is that these eight records are absolutely essential and probably half of them changed the course of rock music. So if you’re going to exploit a legendary artist like Dylan with some fancy, overpriced packaging, at least you’re doing it with material that’s pretty hard to fuck up.

In looking at it from that perspective, if someone who is just beginning their studies of Rock Music 101 were to approach the Dylan catalog for the first time, they may as well fork over the dough all at once for the format presented here.

Yes, the packaging does mirror (as best as its format allows, anyway) the way the original releases would have looked. Original, era-specific Columbia labels are used, and each record is housed in cardboard jackets that look like the original artwork.

Bob Dylan even finds its disc in a label-roster paper sleeve, promoting the albums of such artists as Mitch Miller, Ray Conniff and original cast Broadway recordings. It shows Columbia Records as being woefully late to not only the rock and roll game, but to folk as well. And while that debut would go on to sell only a little over 5,000 copies, it would sell enough to get the owners to tell others about this strange piece of work from Minnesota.

While his significance wasn’t known at the time, its wake was so wide that I imagined what a similar catalog advertisement for Columbia Records’ roster would have looked like just a few short years after the release of the one found in Bob Dylan.

There is something endearing about the mono versions presented—particularly in the later, electric records. They’re warmer, you can appreciate the musicians’ interplay a bit more, and right above the singular mix is Dylan. The phrasing, and ultimately the words themselves become center stage, suggesting that maybe there was a bit of truth in the self-congratulating liner notes that unconvincingly attempt to demonstrate the need for this set because this is how they were intended to be heard.

I think the intent was just to be heard, regardless of it was a hi-fi system or on a portable record player from Montgomery Ward’s. At the same time, after having heard some of these albums in their stereo form for years, I can confirm that there’s something drawing me to these mixes a bit more.

I don’t know if it’s the novelty of hearing things presented a bit differently or if the mix really does fit in my ear a bit better (I swear that Dylan’s harmonica is not as shrill as it is in stereo and that Blonde On Blonde sounds like a new masterpiece with its punchy blend), but it’s got me coming back to these records with more vigor than it probably should.

For the novice, The Original Mono Recordings is an ideal way to begin your Dylan phase. If your pocketbook can tolerate the up-front expense, then by all means, indulge in this clever facsimile of eight records that will eventually end up in your library at some point in your life.

Video: “The Original Mono Recordings” Animated Product Shot

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12 thoughts on “Bob Dylan – The Original Mono Recordings”

  1. I’m not sure I agree that all eight of these albums are essential, especially for a Rock Music 101 newbie. Beginners should start with Bringing It All Back Home, Highway 61 Revisited, and Blonde On Blonde (one of the finest three-album runs ever!), but probably the stereo versions.

    People (especially non-audiophreaks) tend to appreciate the clarity and separation that stereo offers. Mono is cool and can certainly sound more powerful and punchy, but it’s not really meant for normal people, is it?

    I’ve only heard the single-disc sampler of these mono mixes, and what I’ve heard sounds great and should be fascinating for Dylan fans who have only ever heard the stereo mixes. The original mono mixes are interesting. Even if this is the way these recordings were meant to be heard, does that make them better than the stereo mixes? I’m very happy we live in a time when we have the option to hear them both ways.

  2. I’m hardly an audiophile. Most of this review was done after hearing the discs through the cd player of a Toyota Sienna. It sounded like a warm companion that was in the back watching [i]Toy Story 3[/i] with my kids.

    But stereo/mono, whatever, these are great albums with a relatively “fresh” sound to them, given the fact that I had never heard Dylan in anything but stereo.

    I would argue with Jake about the validity of the other efforts aside from the acknowledged trio. Until recently, I was one of those that would have suggested that those three were essential, and that non-freaks could do without the rest, but I’ve since expanded that. I now think that Dylan’s 60’s material is probably required listening for anyone who wants to get close to rock music’s family tree. The songs from those first few records were of such enormous impact that they changed rock music, despite that the original source material was anything but “rockin'”, musically speaking anyway.

    So I wanted to hear that. I wanted to hear the transition-what prompted some people to scream “Judas!.” I wanted to hear that kid from Hibbings turn into someone who needed to keep an eye on his trash cans for raccoons and nosey fans. Surely there must be some evidence of this greatness on those early records.

    There is, and I happen to be one that feels you need those early releases as reference points, the same way in which you need all of those Beatle albums, even though you don’t listen to much of them before Rubber Soul.

    Even the most disappointing record of the bunch, Another Side of Bob Dylan fascinates me now with the rushed way it was recorded and in the warts-and-all production that demonstrates that Bob Dylan knew he was infallible even when others weren’t ready to accept that.

    I think if you’re a passive fan of rock music, or one that is merely content with those touchtone records of rock’s development and not interested in exploring Dylan’s cannon beyond those three records, then you’d be fine without this box. The same is true for anyone who has the stereo issues already; there’s no reason to duplicate those titles. But if you’ve never heard those early albums, or if you need to fill in some of the gaps of his collection-this set is a nice way to do it. I think it’s neat to obtain the records in their original form and replicate how it must have sounded to those record buyers in the early 60’s.

    And this is GloNo man! None of these readers would do anything half-assed, would they? I gotta think that every one of these records will eventually end up in any self-respecting GloNoid collection.

  3. I agree with Todd, but mainly because I was one of the dopes who who paid MORE for FEWER Beatles albums so I could get the mono mixes. And I don’t regret it one bit.

  4. well I haven’t listened to them all yet — but certainly the early (solo) disks sound better without the split. Of the electric albums – John Wesley Harding sounds MUCH better in mono — the stereo mix was weird with such sparse instrumentation and drums being off on one side. I was slightly disappointed with Blonde on Blonde mainly because I adored the new stero mix done for the SACD/CD re-issue – which added a depth to everything in the soundscape. Bringing it All Back Home was the other album re-mixed for the SACD/CD hybrid (and was much better than the original stereo) – Here the mono sounds equally good but different. Haven’t hit Highway 61 yet. :)

  5. Hey, I just love the Dylan orig. mono recordings, only I got the vinyl version, and had to buy record player to play them on a new, but old style flip-up Crosly) WOW!! what a difference not only from stereo, but also from CD. I think i’m going to have to go on ebay and get his stereo lp’s.

    Freewheelin’ sounds like he’s in the same room, and Highway 61 and Blonde on Blonde rock. My current fav is John Wesley Harding. The original Lp is super rare, as it was Dylan’s mono recording and not that many were made. If you’re into Dylan this set is an historic must have. thanks

  6. Interesting comments re: John Wesley Harding. I’ve always kinda hated that album, but I’ve only heard it in stereo. It’s just boring. Might have to check out that mono mix after all!

  7. The SACD hybrid discs that were released a decade ago do sound awesome. I have replaced all my original issue Dylan CD’s one-by-one with these when I find them used. It’s a shame that SACD never caught on. It burns my ass that all these reissues are comIng out but none of them are in high bit-rate formats.

  8. Does the vinyl box include a download code (coupon)? I had heard that it does, but cannot find it in my set.

  9. Jason: it does, and the cd version does too. I remember seeing my when opening it up, but I’ve lost my code as well. When you find yours, give it to me.

  10. The first Dylan album is essential. Even though it’s basically covers and borrowed melodies and phrases, it just shows a vulnerable side of Dylan that he started to mask pretty quickly. I return to it often even though most of that Village folkie stuff leaves me cold. Hearing the early stuff makes BIABH, Highway and Blonde sound that much more incredible.

  11. I have the Sundazed BIABH, HW61 & BoB. They are truly incredible and very different from the stereo mixes. Some songs are at different tempos & there are different takes used at times.

    I’m thinking about getting the Sundazed JWH as well. The price tag of having to get all of these albums at once is too high. I wish they would release them separately. They would eventually make more money from me. I’m interested if anyone who has the Sundazed stuff & the box set could tell us the difference. I know these new releases are remastered, but is that necessarily a good thing (-the loudness wars)? Come on Sony, put them out separately, please.

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