Played Once & Left Behind

It was at a concert in St. Paul in 1989, my friends and I sitting on a grass bank overlooking the stage at Riverfest, four of us among a crowd that I think was later estimated somewhere between 20,000 and 40,000. (I no longer remember the estimate; I only know that the St. Paul police closed several city streets after the show to let the crowd walk off of Harriet Island north through downtown.)

Before the show started, the four of us tried to guess how Bob Dylan would open that night’s concert. If all of us had been wrong, I doubt that I’d recall any of the four guesses, but my guess – and that’s all it was, based on the opening track of his live album Before the Flood – was correct. When Dylan and his band took the stage, they launched the concert with “Most Likely You Go Your Way And I’ll Go Mine.”

Along with a great night of music – Dylan and his band were very good that night – and a chance to march on downtown St. Paul, I also remember a snippet of conversation from before the show, as we talked about which songs we hoped to hear. “Like A Rolling Stone” was mentioned, of course, and one of the four of us wondered, “Can you imagine how many times he’s played that in concert?”

Well, no, I couldn’t then. I had no idea. But today, I do.

Between July 25, 1965, when he first performed the song, and his most recent concert on September 9 of this year, Bob Dylan has performed “Like A Rolling Stone” 1,976 times. Surprisingly – or maybe not; this is Dylan, after all – that’s not the song he’s performed most frequently.  That would be “All Along the Watchtower,” performed 2,070 times, with the first performance on January 3, 1974, and the most recent on September 9.

Other songs that Dylan has performed more than a thousand times are “Highway 61 Revisited,” 1,746 performances; “Tangled Up  In Blue,” 1,242 performances; “Blowin’ In The Wind,” 1,114 performances; “Maggie’s Farm,” 1,055 performances; and “Ballad of a Thin Man,” 1,026 performances.

Where did I find this information? Right on Bob Dylan’s website at the page that lists his songs and provides a link to each song’s lyrics. I’m not sure how frequently the list of performance dates is updated, but the most recent performances listed come from Dylan’s most recent show, which took place September 9 in Hershey, Pennsylvania. Dylan is scheduled to play in Winnipeg, Manitoba, tomorrow night, so those of us who are interested can look at that webpage over the weekend (or later, if need be) to see how soon the list is updated. (There is a separate list at the website of all songs Dylan has performed, including covers; I might dig around in that on another day, but today, I was interested in Dylan’s own songs.)

After checking on the most frequently performed songs, I started digging through the list from the other end. There are a lot of songs on the list that Dylan has never performed in concert. Those come from all portions of Dylan’s long career, although many of them seem to come from just a few sources: the 1970 albums Self-Portrait and New Morning; the Biograph collection; the blues/folk albums of the  1990s, Good As I Been To You and World Gone Wrong; and from the various Bootleg Series collections he’s released since 1991.

But it was the next step up that interested me: Songs that Dylan has performed in concert just once. Only once, for example, has he pulled “Buckets of Rain” from Blood on the Tracks out of his bag of tricks, on November 18, 1990, fifteen years after the album came out. Only once has he performed “Spanish Harlem Incident” from Another Side Of Bob Dylan. (That October 31, 1964, performance was included on the sixth collection in the Bootleg Series: Bob Dylan Live 1964 – Concert at Philharmonic Hall.)

So, just because it interests me, here’s the list of his own songs that Bob Dylan has only performed once:

“As I Went Out One Morning” from John Wesley Harding, performed January 10, 1974

“Billy 1” from Pat Garrett & Billy the Kid, performed March 22, 2009 

“Black Diamond Bay” from Desire, performed March 25, 1976

“Brownsville Girl” from Knocked Out Loaded, performed August 6, 1986

“Buckets of Rain” from Blood on the Tracks, performed November 18, 1990

“Can You Please Crawl Out Your Window” a 1965 single included on Biograph, performed October 1, 1965

“Caribbean Wind,” an unreleased 1981 track included on Biograph, performed November 12, 1980

“Corrina, Corrina,” from The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan, performed April 16, 1962

“The Death of Emmett Till,” released with The Witmark Demos, performed July 2, 1962

“Farewell,” released with The Witmark Demos, performed February 8, 1963

“Gospel Plow” from Bob Dylan, performed November 4, 1961

“Got My Mind Made Up” from Knocked Out Loaded, performed June 9, 1986

“Handy Dandy” from Under the Red Sky, performed June 27, 2008

“Last Thoughts on Woody Guthrie,” a reading during a concert included on Rare & Unreleased, 1961-1991, performed April 12, 1963

“Lay Down Your Weary Tune,” an unreleased 1963 track included on Biograph, performed October 26, 1963

“Let Me Die In My Footsteps,” a 1961 outtake included on Rare & Unreleased, 1961-1991, performed July 2, 1962

“Lily, Rosemary & The Jack of Hearts” from Blood on the Tracks, performed May 25, 1976

“Little Maggie” from Good As I Been To You, performed March 18, 1992

“Living The Blues” from Self-Portrait, performed May 1, 1969

“Man On The Street,” a 1961 outtake included on Rare & Unreleased, 1961-1991, performed September 6, 1961

“Meet Me In The Morning” from Blood on the Tracks, performed September 19, 2007

“Million Dollar Bash” from The Basement Tapes, performed November 21, 2005

“Minstrel Boy” from Self-Portrait, performed August 31, 1969

“No More Auction Block,” a 1962 live performance included on Rare & Unreleased, 1961-1991, performed October 15, 1962

“Only A Hobo,” a 1963 outtake included on Rare & Unreleased, 1961-1991, performed April 12, 1963

“Outlaw Blues” from Bringing It All Back Home, performed September 20, 2007

“Oxford Town” from The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan, performed October 25, 1990

“Percy’s Song,” an unreleased 1963 track included on Biograph, performed October 26, 1963

“Quit Your Lowdown Ways,” a 1962 outtake included on Rare & Unreleased, 1961-1991, performed July 2, 1962

“Sarah Jane” from Dylan, performed May 1, 1960

“Spanish Harlem Incident” from Another Side of Bob Dylan, performed October 31, 1964

“Talkin’ Bear Mountain Picnic Massacre Blues,” a 1962 outtake included on Rare & Unreleased, 1961-1991, performed September 6, 1961

“10,000 Men” from Under the Red Sky, performed November 12, 2000

“Walkin’ Down The Line,” a 1963 demo included on Rare & Unreleased, 1961-1991, no performance date listed

I’m not at all sure what that list proves, but what I found especially interesting were the songs that Dylan performed for the only time long after they were recorded, like “Outlaw Blues,” “Meet Me In The Morning” and “Oxford Town.” And then there’s the flip side of that: “Sarah Jane,” performed for the only time in May of 1960 and then winding up – in a chaotic and imprecise performance – as the only original on the 1973 album Dylan. (That album, famously, is made up of outtakes released by Columbia over Dylan’s objections after the singer had moved to the Asylum label.)

And I find myself wondering how – even as he carries with him the greatest catalog of songs of the rock era – Dylan can ignore so many great songs, not only those listed here with one performance each but the many more that he’s never performed at all. I guess if I were going to pull one of the tunes listed here from its relative obscurity, it would be “Lily, Rosemary & The Jack of Hearts” from Blood on the Tracks.

Here’s how it sounded in 1974 during the original New York sessions for that album, before Dylan re-recorded most of the album in Minneapolis.

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3 Responses to “Played Once & Left Behind”

  1. The first time I saw Dylan, he opened with “Jokerman,” which he has apparently performed 157 times.

  2. Paco Malo says:

    Whiteray, this is great, great work.

    I saw Dylan twice in ’75 on the Rolling Thunder Revue tour. One of the shows was the opener for the tour, in Houston at the Astrodome. The guests, including Stevie Wonder, Steven Stills and Carlos Santana, were mind-blowing that afternoon. And when he played New Orleans a little down the line, it was Dylan and that all star band that shone.

    I’m gonna vary from your theme a little and mention one song from the Biograph album that changed my world view, Up To Me.

    As Keef says as they close the Stones’ cover of “Like a Rolling Stone” one of their live albums, “Thank you, Bob.”

  3. […] “I’ll Be Your Baby Tonight” from 1967’s John Wesley Harding. Despite having once correctly predicted Dylan’s opening tune, I didn’t even try last night; I would certainly have been […]

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