Bob Dylan "Blood On The Tracks - The Original New York Test Pressing" (2019 Record Store Day LP)

On Record Store Day 2019, Legacy Records issued a limited edition vinyl LP reproducing the original test pressing of Bob Dylan's landmark 1975 album Blood On The Tracks. The LP was limited to 7,500 copies. This was the first time the much-bootlegged test pressing -- commonly referred to as the "New York version" -- was made available commercially. All ten tracks on the test pressing were recorded at A&R Recording Studios in New York City.

The 1975 commercial release of Blood On The Tracks contained five original New York tracks and five rerecorded Minnesota tracks. Dylan’s brother David Zimmerman encouraged him to rerecord those five latter tracks at Minneapolis Sound 80 Studios with local musicians to make the overall sound of the album less downbeat. There were originally only five copies of the Columbia test pressing known to exist. Amoeba Records in Los Angeles, California acquired one of those copies in 2015 and reportedly sold it for a whopping $12,000.

The original test pressing does have more consistency in sound – although not very many people seemed to complain about any perceived inconsistency on the released album for 40 years. The test pressing sounds more personal, logically enough for an album that was recorded during four sessions with little accompaniment. In many ways, it’s reminiscent of the early Dylan recordings from the days before he went electric. It’s a good thing Dylan took his brother’s advice, because if those five tracks had not been rerecorded, then Blood On The Tracks would probably not have been as commercially successful as it was. The 1975 album was one of Dylan’s best-selling albums ever, reaching Number One on the Billboard album chart, and has since been certified double-platinum. Also, it is highly unlikely that the original New York version of “Tangled Up In Blue” would have been a Top 40 single; the released version of the song peaked at Number 31 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart. Like it or not, the album’s commercial success is probably the reason it is so well-remembered. Classic album status is usually not built on critical acclaim alone.

That said, it is good to have the New York versions of the five rerecorded songs available, because they show another side to the Bard's brilliant songwriting on those compositions. If the test pressing is not necessarily a substitute for the released album, it is certainly a useful companion piece.

In fact, the test pressing’s version of “Tangled Up In Blue” is arguably better than the more polished hit version. This version is slower and more understated, giving the song a more introspective feeling and drawing more attention to the lyrics. Many lyrics were changed, and some -- though not all -- in the New York version were sung about a third-person instead of from a first-person point of view, making it a bit clearer that the song is about a number of people instead of just one.

The test pressing’s version of “Idiot Wind” is also much more understated, with many changed lyrics. One striking difference is that an organ is used to provide a more subtle undercurrent to the quieter arrangement. Still, the fuller-sounding released version is far more pleasing to the ears.

Most notably, the test pressing’s version of “Lily, Rosemary and the Jack of Hearts” is far preferable to the rerecorded version on the released album. The epic poem about a symbolic poker game has a more stripped down sound and one extra verse on the New York version, which has a more engaging storytelling style than the fuller-sounding, faster-moving Minneapolis version.

The other two alternate test pressing tracks are inferior to their rerecorded versions, but both of them have their place. The “If You See Her, Say Hello” New York version certainly sounds like a demo, but it is interesting how the different lyrics in the third verse change the meaning of the song about wishing an ex-lover well despite the pain caused by the breakup. Instead of saying “If you get close to her, kiss her once for me” like he did on the released version, Dylan said on the New York version: “If you’re making love to her, kiss her for The Kid”...Wait, what?! The New York version of “You’re A Big Girl Now” has a similarly unfinished demo quality, and slightly rearranged verses – not necessarily a bad thing, since this version has more emotional subtlety. But the released Minneapolis version’s fuller production makes it more satisfying.

All five of these alternate tracks were included on the 6-CD limited Deluxe Edition of More Blood, More Tracks: The Bootleg Series Vol. 14 released in 2018 (Columbia 19075858962S1). The test pressing versions of “Tangled Up In Blue” and “Idiot Wind” were issued on the 1991 box set The Bootleg Series, Vols. 1-3: Rare and Unreleased, 1961-1991. The test pressing version of “You’re A Big Girl Now” was issued on the 1985 Biograph box set.

For the track listing below, the New York tracks that are different than the released album tracks have been marked with an asterisk. I have also included the descriptions of those tracks from the More Blood, More Tracks notes.

Bob Dylan “Blood On The Tracks” (test pressing) (Columbia 33235-14) 1974

Bob Dylan - The Original New York Version of Blood on the Tracks

Bob Dylan "Blood On The Tracks - The Original New York Test Pressing" (Columbia 1907593122151) 2019

Track Listing:

1. Tangled Up In Blue * -- (take 3, remake 2)
2. Simple Twist Of Fate
3. You're A Big Girl Now * -- (take 2, remake)
4. Idiot Wind * -- (take 4, remake)
5. You're Gonna Make Me Lonesome When You Go
6. Meet Me In The Morning
7. Lily, Rosemary and the Jack of Hearts * -- (take 2, solo)
8. If You See Her, Say Hello * -- (take 1, remake)
9. Shelter From The Storm
10. Buckets Of Rain

* -- original New York recording, later rerecorded in Minnesota