Book Notes: Bob Dylan, The Lyrics: Since 1962

Unknown.jpegUpdate: This book shows as available on Amazon.com, on December 11, 2014. It’s more expensive than the first edition – listing for $299 – and my guess is that it’s a second printing. It’s surprising that the publisher would have raised the list price, but perhaps they figure that it’s a cash cow. In any case, if you want to get a copy, you should probably act quickly.

As Bob Dylan has been such a prolific songwriter, his oeuvre is large and complex, and any book containing his lyrics will have to have quite a bit of girth. This new release is, I have to say, the heaviest book I own, though not quite the largest (in height and width). Weighing 13 1/2 pounds, this is not a book that is easy to read. However, it contains multitudes. (Amazon.com, Amazon UK)

First, you need to know that you cannot buy this book at the normal price. Only 5,000 copies were printed, with 500 reserved for the UK (though it’s not technically a limited edition, and perhaps there will be another print run). While the list price was $200, I notice that people are already offering copies used on Amazon for $300 or more. I ordered my copy from Amazon UK, on the first day it was announced, and was disappointed to find that my order was “delayed,” with no guarantee that I’d get a copy. Then, about ten days ago, I checked Amazon UK again, and found a third-party seller was offering the book at the same price as Amazon, £81.25, 1/3 less than the UK list price of £120. I was very pleased to receive the book this morning.

The book is slightly bigger than an LP in height and width, in part because the book contains thick cardboard LP covers for each album. These are single sheets of cardboard, with the front and back of each original album printed on them. After each one of those is a list of songs on the album, then their lyrics, as well as, for some albums, songs that are alternate takes or tracks that were later released, such as on Dylan’s Bootleg Series.

Each of the songs shows the original lyrics, as well as notes for alternate lyrics, with references to the recordings, such as when Dylan sings different lines or verses on officially-released live recordings. Tell Tale Signs – the Bootleg Series Vol. 8 – is the only non-studio album that gets its own section, as this contains a number of outtakes from more recent years that don’t fit anywhere else. (Note that the book does not contain the lyrics to the songs on the recently-release Basement Tapes Complete, but only those from the original LP release.)

The songs are each laid out on a single, large, left page, so there’s lots of white space. If a song is long enough to flow to a second page, it takes up two pages; if not, the right page contains any notes or alternate lyrics, or is blank.

If you want a collection of Bob Dylan’s lyrics, you’ll certainly want this book, though, to be fair, it’s more of a collector’s item than a useful reference; it’s too heavy and unwieldy to access easily when you’re listening to a Dylan album and want to follow along. It is a true coffee-table book: you’ll need a table to hold it. Don’t even think of holding it on your lap. In fact, for that reason, I’m almost tempted to buy the Kindle edition (Amazon.com, Amazon UK), but I hesitate, as it may not be easy to navigate. (Amazon UK shows a release date of September 2016 for the Kindle edition; I have a feeling it will be released sooner than that.)

If you’re a die-hard Dylan fan, you may have already gotten a copy of this book. If not, and you’re willing to pay a premium, there are some copies available from Amazon. I would be surprised if the publisher didn’t reprint it, given the success; it sold out in just a couple of days. But you never know. This may be one of those things where Dylan just wanted a bunch of them printed and no more. (It’s worth noting that there was also a 50-copy signed, limited edition of the book sold for $5,000.)

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