Blonde on Blonde
The Record That Can't Be Set Straight
Was there ever a record like Blonde On Blonde?
It was the final step in the great progression of Dylan's early albums, and like its predecessors it still had the special energy of a young artist who had not yet stopped to look back. The previous album, Highway 61 Revisited, perhaps more obviously broke new ground, and certainly had a sharper edge; but Blonde On Blonde has a dimension of humour and warmth, of humanity, that for me sets it on a higher level. Add to that its sheer magnitude: it is still Dylan's longest studio album, and despite this it maintains the internal unity and consistency of all his finest works.
Then there is the quality of the music: thanks largely to the company of musicians assembled in Nashville - ace country session players nudged into a new groove by Dylan and his cohorts Al Kooper and Robbie Robertson - the backing has a complexity and level of musicianship unmatched by any of Dylan's records before or since. You could listen to it a thousand times and still be uncovering new delights in the layers of musical detail, in the seemingly effortless invention and interplay.
But there's another, stranger reason why I've found this particular record so compelling, and that is the practically endless range of subtly different forms in which it has appeared. Certainly other Dylan albums have displayed some variety – Highway 61 Revisited with its different back sleeves and the "Buick 6" out-take, the quadraphonic albums of the 1970s, even Biograph with its erroneous reissue – but none that can come near Blonde On Blonde for diversity. Look at what we've been given over the years:
And on top of that, different permutations of these mixes, titles and photographs have been released in different countries at different times; I don't suppose anyone will ever document them all.
But which one is the real Blonde On Blonde? Maybe the blurred definition is part of the nature of the album, like the blurred cover photograph. It's as though it was all done in such a chaotic rush that it never got fixed, never got made permanent in the way that Dylan's other albums have.
What I aim to do in this essay is to identify and describe the main versions of the album which I have been able to find, in sufficient detail that any further significant variants can be identified with some confidence. Part I of this essay outlines the album's release history, identifying these distinct versions as they have appeared. Part II details the differences between the versions, first noting any points which apply to the album as a whole and then proceeding through the album a track at a time examining the ways in which the songs sound different in the various versions.
Most of what follows is based on versions of the album which are musically distinct, whatever country they appeared in. I haven't attempted to catalogue international releases in general. I'm assuming, until proved wrong, that all other countries had releases essentially the same in terms of the musical content. Nor have I systematically covered releases in different formats such as tape, mini-disc or hi-res download, or alternate mixes and remasterings of Blonde On Blonde tracks which have appeared on acetates, promotional releases or anthologies. Note
Comments, and in particular corrections and further information, are most welcome - please e-mail rogerfordxblueyonder.co.uk , replacing the x with an at-sign.
Part I: History
The recording sessions for Blonde On Blonde have been very well documented by Michael Krogsgaard in the first two parts of his series of articles in The Telegraph magazine – see the links in Appendix F. More recently, the 2015 Bootleg Series release of The Cutting Edge 1965-66 has provided us with an even greater wealth of information about the recording sessions (though still with the odd slip here and there). See the separate page about this release, with links to detailed commentaries on the sessions.
Very briefly, one track ("One Of Us Must Know") was recorded in New York on January 25, 1966; the remainder of the album was recorded in two groups of sessions in Nashville from February 14-17 and from March 7-10 1966, Note with an isolated overdub session on June 16. All sessions were recorded on four-track tape, each track generally being used to record more than one instrument.
While the archived documentation for the recording sessions has been thoroughly researched, there is very little information available about the evidently complex and protracted mixing process. Much of the story has had to be put together from anecdotal evidence, and the dates in particular have to be treated with caution.
By way of background, it is worth mentioning that at the time Blonde On Blonde was recorded, mono was still very much the standard format for popular music LPs – see the separate article about mono and stereo recording. Artists and producers viewed the mono version of an album as the primary product and focused their efforts on getting that right. The stereo mix was produced more or less as a sideline for a minority market, and typically received much less attention. Now read on . . .
The first track recorded, "One Of Us Must Know", would have been mixed into mono in New York shortly after it was recorded, in preparation for its mid-February single release; the same mix was used for the mono album. The mix for the stereo version of the album was most likely done later, in Los Angeles - see below.
For the remaining bulk of the album, some initial mono mixes were made in the Nashville studios immediately after the recording sessions, under Bob Johnston's supervision. According to Al Kooper, Dylan did not play an active part at this stage. Later that month Dylan played a few concert dates in the Pacific Northwest, and while he was in Vancouver for a show on March 26, a first version of the album was delivered to him in his hotel room, in acetate form. Note This most likely comprised Johnston's mono mixes from Nashville, sequenced into the album's four sides. While Dylan was enthusiastic about the music, he evidently thought that most of the mixes could be improved, as only two of these mixes made it through to the finished mono album: "Rainy Day Women #12 & 35" and "Just Like A Woman". Following the Vancouver date Dylan took up temporary residence in Los Angeles, and Bob Johnston came there to do further work on the mixing in Columbia's studios there. According to Johnston, Dylan worked with him at this stage, spending three or four days on the mono mix. Note A great deal of effort went into this process of refining the mono album, some tracks going through three or more mix revisions before the album was finalised. Note Bob Irwin researched the tape archives for his 2002 Sundazed reissue of the mono album, and listened to these successive mono mixes. He concluded that ". . . they were working toward a very deliberate end result. That end result changed a few times, but there was clear vision throughout the mono mixing. . . . without a doubt, the mono mix was the one that was considered most important to everyone associated with the album at the time. The final mono mix is much, much more complicated and deliberate than the stereo." Note
This work was most likely done in early April rather than straight after the Vancouver concert. The first date of Dylan's overseas tour was in Hawaii on April 9, and the previous day's Honolulu Advertiser reported that Dylan had postponed his flight there by a day to do some further work on the album.
Dylan took acetates of the album on tour with him and played them to various people along the way, including journalist Craig McGregor in Australia and Beatle Paul McCartney in London. It's quite possible that acetates containing further mix revisions were flown over to Europe during the tour. Note
Even after Dylan's return to America in early June, one track, "4th Time Around", was apparently still not to his satisfaction, and required an overdub. This was almost certainly recorded at a documented overdub session in Nashville on June 16; there is no indication that Dylan himself was present. The track must then have been quickly remixed for inclusion in the finished mono album. The overdub is discussed in more detail in Part II, under the heading for this song.
All of the above relates to the mixing of the mono album, which was undoubtedly Dylan's primary concern. The stereo mixing is even more of a mystery. According to Bob Johnston, after he and Dylan had done the mono mixing, Dylan departed and Johnston then spent "about four hours" doing the stereo mix. Note Bob Irwin (see above) found that there were several stereo mixes of each track, but these seemed less purposeful than the progression of the mono mixes. Perhaps this is because some of these 1966 stereo mixes were made by different people at different times.
Robbie Robertson, in his 2016 autobiography Testimony, recalls that some time after he and the others had returned from the UK tour around the end of May, 1966, he had a call from Albert Grossman: Columbia Records wanted a stereo mix of Blonde on Blonde, and Dylan wanted Robbie to oversee the mixing. This seems a little surprising if Bob Johnston had already done a stereo mix, but perhaps Dylan had heard it and not liked it. Robertson describes how he spent a week, working with a somnolent engineer at Columbia's studios in New York, producing the required mix; Dylan declined to be involved himself, saying he would listen to it when it was done. This appears to have been in early-to-mid June, not long before the album's release; so Robertson's mix is most likely the one to be found on the very first US stereo pressings of the album.
It then appears that a number of the songs were remixed yet again during the summer of 1966 - see the story of the early releases below. Nothing is known about who supervised these remixes, though it could have been Dylan himself, prior to his motorcycle accident at the end of July. After two previous attempts by others had been found wanting, he may have decided get more closely involved himself.
The early history of Blonde On Blonde's release is a story of total chaos. I shall try to present it as clearly as possible, but I suspect that not even those involved at the time knew what was going on, so any sense of order may be illusory.
The official Dylan web site, bobdylan.com, used to give exact release dates for Dylan's albums, and for Blonde On Blonde the date given was May 16, 1966; this date has also been quoted by others in the past, and indeed it evidently was the originally-intended release date. Note However, fans who were awaiting its release at the time were told of repeated delays, and clearly recall that the record finally appeared in the shops around the end of June or, in some places, in early July. Presumably the delays were caused by the need for repeated remixing of many of the tracks, including the last-minute adjustment to "4th Time Around" noted above. Note
By the time Dylan's Complete Album Collection Vol. 1 was released in 2013, Sony had rethought the matter, and stated that Blonde On Blonde was originally released in mid-July 1966. A couple of years later, the notes for the Collector's Edition of The Cutting Edge 1965-1966 revised the date once more, this time to June 20, 1966 – a date apparently drawn from Dylan's Artist Contract records. Note However, it should be borne in mind that the dates shown on Columbia's internal documents were 'shipping dates', in other words the date that a record was due to be dispatched from the company's pressing plants; these shipping dates were generally Mondays, though there were occasional exceptions. There would then be a few days' delay for distribution before the record could actually go on sale. In the 1960s, new releases were normally timed to appear in the stores on a Monday, so for Columbia records this would generally have been a week later than the documented shipping date. In the case of Blonde On Blonde, then, we might expect the album to have appeared in the shops on Monday June 27.
However, contemporary reports in the music press suggest that it was probably a little later than this. Note Following the overdub session on June 16, the logistics of getting the album ready for its final release may have taken a little longer than expected, and the album most likely didn't leave Columbia's pressing plants until June 27. Note It seems that the record may have gone on sale just a day or two later in some stores in the Los Angeles area, Note and possibly by the end of that week in other cities where Columbia had its own distribution branches; but it probably gained a more general nationwide release in the first full week of July. Note
The mono album as finally released in the US was a polished and carefully edited set of recordings, and represented the culmination of the painstaking mixing process referred to above. However, earlier, unfinished mixes appeared in other countries and remained on the market for quite some time as the standard product. Note
The earliest set of assembled mixes appeared – presumably by mistake – on the Canadian mono album, which reached the shops in the first week of July. This clearly shows the album in a much rougher state than the finished version as released in the US. Note There are vocal slips (in "I Want You" and "Sad Eyed Lady Of The Lowlands") and instrumental phrases (on "Visions Of Johanna" and "Temporary Like Achilles") which were subsequently either edited out or rectified by splicing, and on "4th Time Around" there was a keyboard that was completely removed before the final release. Some tracks also have longer or shorter endings. All the Canadian mono copies that I've been able to trace have these characteristics, so it seems that the mistake went unnoticed there, and this edition stayed on the market for at least a couple of years.
CBS in France were sent a slightly later set of tapes for their September 1966 release. All four sides had moved on at least one stage from the Canadian version, each containing later mixes of one or more songs. Sides 1 and 4 then remained unchanged for the final, US version of the mono album. The French sides 2 and 3, though, contained some intermediate mixes that have remained unique to this edition, which stayed in print for a number of years.
The gremlins in Columbia's New York tape library saw to it that England got something different again for its release there in early August. The tapes sent for the last two sides of the album were as per the finished US album, but the first two were the very early versions released in Canada. This mistake too seems to have gone unnoticed, and the UK mono version remained on sale until it was deleted in 1969.
Other countries in which mono editions are known to have been released (Italy, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa) had the final set of mixes as released in the USA.
Appendix C summarises, for all the mono editions, which version of each side originally appeared in which country.
Still awake? That's just the mono album. The tale of the stereo album is just as confused, in its own way.
The original US stereo version of the album was released alongside the finished mono edition at the end of June 1966, but it sounded very different. In many respects it was more akin to the early mono versions mistakenly released in Canada and France, in that it missed a number of the detailed editing improvements made for the final US mono edition. It lacked the overdub that was done to remove the keyboard on "4th Time Around", for example, and it still contained unedited vocal and instrumental slips in other songs. Full details can be found in Part II of this essay.
Then, when the album was released in Australia and New Zealand a couple of months later, those countries were blessed not only with the correct, finished version of the mono album but also with a much improved stereo version. Eight of the album's fourteen tracks appeared in revised mixes. Note Most of the changes that had been made brought the stereo album more into line with the editing and sound of the final mono album, but there remains a question as to who directed the revised mixes and when. It's possible that Robbie Robertson made more than one mix of some tracks during his week-long stint in June, and then somehow the wrong versions got compiled for the initial US stereo release. But I think it more likely that the initial US release represents Robertson's mix in its entirety. I'd surmise that Dylan wasn't taken with some of Robertson's mixes, but found it was too late to do anything about it without holding the album up further; so the stereo release was allowed to go as it was for the initial pressing, with the intention to rectify it at the earliest opportunity. The relevant tracks were then remixed, perhaps under Dylan's own direction, during July. Note
On the domestic market, Columbia in fact allowed the replacement of the original stereo version to be governed by production economies rather than artistic imperative, probably reflecting the minority status of stereo at this time. The original matrixes used in the production processes lasted for about eighteen months, and then as they wore out, new ones were cut using the revised master tapes. This resulted in the new mixes appearing a side at a time rather than for the whole album at once. Note And because there were three different US pressing plants, each provided at the outset with two sets of matrixes, copies manufactured around 1968-69 contain numerous different permutations of old and new sides. The replacement process finally appears to have been completed by the time Columbia changed its record label design in 1970.
The revised mixes were a well-kept secret for most of the world, though. The original, flawed stereo version was released in Canada (July 1966), England (August 1966), Holland (1967), Japan (late 1966 / early 1967) and quite possibly other countries besides. It remained the standard version in the UK and Japan, at least, until the early 1980s. Note
By the time Columbia came to reissue Blonde On Blonde on CD in 1987, they no longer had any usable stereo master tapes for the album as a whole. Note It has been reported elsewhere that the tapes were lost, but according to Sundazed's Bob Irwin they were just worn out through over-use - not just the original master but the safety copy too. Note This meant that Columbia had to produce a new stereo mix before they could issue the album on CD. Fortunately they were able to locate the four-track studio tapes, and Tim Geelan, a long-established staff engineer, was given the job of remixing the album. The digital mastering was done by Vic Anesini, another Columbia engineer.
The enforced use of the lowest possible generation tapes gave Blonde On Blonde a great advantage over many of the other Dylan CDs released around this time, which appear to have been remastered from the first tape that came to hand, even if it was an nth generation copy. Note The Blonde On Blonde disc offered sound quality which was in many respects a significant improvement over the stereo vinyl releases; but Geelan's remixing had produced a different album again. While he had evidently made some reference to the revised stereo vinyl version, this was clearly not seen as a rigid constraint, and he had remixed some tracks entirely to his own tastes. A few of these were quite noticeably different in mixing terms from anything that had appeared before, including "One Of Us Must Know", "Most Likely You Go Your Way" and "Sad Eyed Lady Of The Lowlands". Furthermore, Geelan had used some more subtle electronic effects to liven up the sound, particularly with Dylan's voice.
This 1987 CD, released on both sides of the Atlantic, presented what had been a double album on a single CD, but several tracks were significantly curtailed in order to keep within the then-prevailing limit of 72 minutes for a single CD. The two tracks worst hit were "Just Like A Woman", which was faded out for the first time, and "Sad-Eyed Lady Of The Lowlands", which lost over half a minute of the final harmonica solo.
Complaints about this editing, coinciding with technical advances which were extending the total playing time of CDs, resulted in Columbia issuing a revised version in the US; this gave us a full-length "Sad-Eyed Lady", but left all the other tracks short. Then in 1989 a third US pressing finally presented all the tracks in what could be considered full-length versions.
The full-length CD appeared in Europe shortly afterward on the CBS label, later updated to Columbia. In the UK, though, the first, heavily edited version remained the standard issue until 2004.
Both of the old stereo vinyl versions were reissued in the 1990s, though these editions are now long deleted and probably even harder to find than original pressings. A 1992 edition from Sony in Holland, apparently re-pressed in 1997, had all of the revised sides, while a 1999 pressing from the English specialist reissues company Simply Vinyl briefly made the original stereo mix available once more. Note
In 1992 Sony planned to bring out a range of their classic titles, remastered using a new 20-bit process which they called Super Bit Mapping (SBM). They wanted to include Blonde On Blonde in the first group of releases, but the fact that the original stereo master tapes were worn out left them once again with a problem. The remix performed only five years before was almost certainly an entirely digital mix, and with a resolution of only 16 bits it could hardly now form the basis of a 20-bit remastered edition. Note The only answer was to have it remixed again from the analogue 4-track master tapes, and this time the engineer given the job was Mark Wilder. Note To further tempt audiophile purchasers, the resulting CD had a 24-karat gold reflective surface and was packaged in a fancy 12" x 6" box carrying the new 'MasterSound' logo.
As far as it's possible to tell by listening, Wilder seems to have tried to present a straight picture of the performances at the sessions, using the new mastering technology to get the most detailed sound possible. There is no evidence of any attempt to creatively improve the sound along the way, and little attention to the form of the songs as they were presented in the original mixes: where songs are faded out, Wilder keeps them going at full volume until the last moment, and then shuts them down in a very abrupt fade. Overall his approach makes for an interesting documentary, but to my ears not a very pleasing album. Rather more significantly, it has been reported that Dylan himself was not happy with the results. Note
In 1994 this gold CD edition was reissued in the revised MasterSound series packaging - a jewel case inside a cardboard sleeve, with an open-out insert. This edition eventually gained a European release around 1998. Wilder's mix was also used for other special editions of the album, including a 1995 Japanese limited edition and a 1999 Millennium Edition in the UK.
Then in late 1999 Sony in the US released a major new edition of the album. They wanted to include a Dylan title in the launch of their new high-resolution Super Audio CD format, and once again they chose Blonde On Blonde - probably because it was Dylan's best-recorded album from this 'classic' period. However, the new edition was accessible to very few Dylan followers: this first SACD edition was completely incompatible with normal CD players, and at the time the necessary SACD hardware was very expensive. See the separate article on audio technology.
There was much more to this new edition, though, than the subtle hi-fi gain of the SACD format. Probably recognising the shortcomings of the 1987 and 1992 mixes, and also wanting to get the best possible sound for this showcase medium, Sony decided to have the album remixed once again from the original four-track master tapes. This time they contracted the job out to independent engineer Michael H. Brauer, who had gained favour with Sony (and probably with Dylan himself) first for mixing the electric half of the Live 1966 release and then for producing the widely-praised remix of Street-Legal. Note
Brauer, under the guidance of Columbia Legacy producer Steve Berkowitz, set out to create a mix that would match as closely as possible the sound of the stereo vinyl version which people would be familiar with. Berkowitz located as good and as original a vinyl copy as he could find, and he and Brauer used that as a reference point. The remixing was done from a copy of the original four-track studio master tapes, using Brauer's extensive range of vintage and modern equipment at Quad studios in New York. According to Brauer, they carefully matched the stereo positioning and balance of the instruments, the fade-outs and all the other sonic characteristics, constantly listening to what Brauer was producing and comparing back with the vinyl. Given this, it is clear that what they worked from was not (as they believed) an original 1966 stereo copy of the album, but a somewhat later copy containing most if not all of the revised mixes. This may have been unwitting, but I think it was also fortuitous given the poor quality of the original stereo mix.
Once Brauer had finished the analogue remix, well-known mastering engineer Greg Calbi then transferred it into two digital formats: DSD for production of the Super Audio CD, and PCM format to provide for the future production of a conventional CD version. Again, his work was checked back against the reference vinyl copy of the album.
The sound of the SACD version is discussed in Part II of this essay, but in short it far outshines the previous CD releases; and it also improves very considerably on any stereo vinyl copy of the album that I have heard. The improvement, though, is much more to do with the quality of Brauer's remixing than with the SACD technology; see the separate article on audio technology for further discussion.
Probably less than a year after the SACD was released, Sony in the US slipped the new mix onto standard CD copies of the album. There was no announcement in the press, and nothing in the packaging distinguished these copies from earlier pressings containing the Tim Geelan mix. As a result they seem to have gone unnoticed until quite some time later. Note
Brauer's remix was at last promoted to the mass market in September 2003, when Blonde On Blonde was reissued in hybrid SACD format alongside fourteen other rejuvenated Dylan titles. This flagship edition of Blonde On Blonde presented Michael Brauer's 1999 remix in both conventional CD stereo and SACD stereo. Greg Calbi is this time properly credited with the mastering. In addition to having this stereo mix in a choice of formats, the 2003 hybrid disc also has a 5.1 surround mix. Again this was produced by Michael Brauer with some input from Sony's Steve Berkowitz, but it was done in 2003 especially for the new reissue series, and mastered for SACD by George Marino. This six-channel mix is playable only on multi-channel SACD hardware, and to hear it properly you need a full 5.1 surround-sound system.
One final point about the hybrid SACD reissue: it restored Blonde On Blonde's double album format. However, this was apparently not done for nostalgic reasons: because of the album's length Sony's engineers weren't able to get both the stereo and 5.1 mixes onto the SACD layer without using an unacceptable degree of digital compression.
The SACD format failed to take off in the way Sony had hoped, so the double-disc SACD edition was deleted within a few years; and a subsequent 2004 CD edition of Blonde On Blonde reduced the album to a single disc once more. This was a normal CD reissue with but with a "remastered" tag, and had the Michael Brauer remix as on the SACD. Note
The original and MasterSound CD editions were deleted by this time, so this plain CD version of Michael Brauer's stereo mix effectively became the new standard edition, and remains so. It is also available as a high-resolution digital download from authorised online resellers such as HDTracks.
In 2002 the US mono version saw the light of day once more, by way of a licensing arrangement between Sony and the US specialist reissues company Sundazed. This gave Sundazed the rights to reissue all of Dylan's mono albums, though on vinyl only. Then in 2010 Sony decided to reissue the mono catalogue themselves as box sets in both CD and vinyl formats, under the title The Original Mono Recordings. The CD edition, remastered by Mark Wilder, was released in October 2010; again it was the US mono version of Blonde On Blonde that was reproduced rather than any of the early variants. To reflect the original format as closely as possible, Blonde On Blonde was presented as a double CD, with the disc design based on the original LP labels.
For the vinyl edition the job of cutting the lacquer master discs from the original analogue tapes was handled by George Marino at New York's Sterling Sound. In Europe, the independent Dutch company Music On Vinyl was licensed to market the new 2010 vinyl editions individually under its own imprint, but apparently also using metal mother plates from Sterling Sound. Both the Sony Original Mono Recordings vinyl box set and the individual albums from Music On Vinyl reached the market in December 2010. Note The Music On Vinyl pressing was reissued in Europe in 2015, though as a Sony Legacy rather than a Music On Vinyl release, and with nothing on the sleeve (other than the original US mono catalogue number C2L 41) to say whether it is a mono or stereo LP.
It's also worth noting that the individual mono albums and tracks are available commercially in compressed format (via iTunes, HMV and so on), but not, it seems, as CD-quality or high-resolution downloads.
The last few years have seen a steady stream of Dylan reissues from the US audiophile label Mobile Fidelity Sound Lab (MFSL). Blonde On Blonde has so far appeared as a stereo 45rpm 3-disc box set (2012) and a stereo hybrid SACD (2013). The vinyl edition was mastered by Krieg Wunderlich and Shawn Britton, the SACD by Rob LoVerde and Shawn Britton. Despite carrying MFSL's "Original Master Recording" banner, both were in fact mastered from Michael Brauer's 1999 remix of the album. The hybrid SACD had the stereo mix in both CD and SACD formats, but did not include the 5.1 surround mix featured in Sony's own SACD of 2003. Similar vinyl and SACD releases of the mono mix seem likely to follow, given that these have already appeared (in limited editions) for Bringing It All Back Home and Highway 61 Revisited.
In November 2015 Sony pre-empted the problematic EU 50-year copyright law by releasing practically everything that Dylan recorded for Columbia in 1965 and 1966. Every take from every session was given a no-frills, narrow stereo mix by Steve Addabbo, with mastering by Mark Wilder. The whole lot was released in an edition of 5,000 copies as The Bootleg Series Vol.12: The Cutting Edge 1965-1966, Collector's Edition; this 18-CD edition, unlike the more affordable 6-CD and 2-CD sub-sets, gave you newly-remixed versions of all the takes that were actually selected for release on Dylan's albums and singles of this period. So (although this was obviously not the producers' intention) you could easily compile a newly-mixed version of Blonde On Blonde from the set, albeit one lacking the polish of the album's proper release. And the same was true, of course of the other two albums of this period.
Blonde On Blonde has had a varied history in terms of its packaging, too. Rod MacBeath gave a very good account of it in his series on Dylan's record sleeves in UK fanzine The Telegraph many years ago, and Alan Fraser's website Searching For A Gem shows pictures of sleeves and labels from all over the world, right up to the present time. What follows is just a summary of the main points.
The first issues in the US, Canada and the UK had nine photographs inside the gatefold sleeve, four on the left and five on the right. Those on the right hand side included a large portrait of the actress Claudia Cardinale, and another smaller photo of a still-unidentified female bending over and speaking into Dylan's ear. Note Around the beginning of 1968 the right hand layout was changed on the US mono and stereo editions; Claudia Cardinale's lawyers had objected to the use of her photo, so this was removed, replaced by an enlarged and slightly fuller version of the photo of Dylan with the white scarf. The picture with the other woman was also dropped, perhaps just because it was difficult to fit into the revised layout.
This change took a long time to cross the Atlantic, though, and the original photos stayed on the UK sleeve until the mid 70s, when the revised seven-photo layout took over. The final UK vinyl edition from Sony (late 1980s) had a cheap single sleeve with no inside photos at all. The 1970s Japanese album had the revised photo layout but the original stereo mix of the music; the 1992 Sony pressing from Holland, on the other hand, combined the original nine-photo layout with the revised version of the music! Perhaps the revised photo layout never reached the Netherlands at all.
Up until 2003, vinyl and CD editions worldwide continued to use photos from the original artwork, the Claudia Cardinale photo never appearing in US editions. Then, for the major refresh of Dylan's catalogue via the hybrid SACD programme, the production team acquired a number of additional photos from Jerry Schatzberg to go in the booklet and the digipak for Blonde On Blonde. Note Some of these were also used for the 'remastered' standard CD that followed a year later. Note The 2010 mono editions released in the US and Europe on CD and vinyl, and the 2015 European vinyl reissue, have all featured the revised 7-photo layout; but surprisingly the Blonde On Blonde CD in the Japanese edition of the mono box set revived the 9-photo layout with Claudia Cardinale.
The CD and vinyl editions released by Mobile Fidelity Mobile Fidelity since 2012 have included the 7-photo layout, sans Cardinale, but have added yet more new Schatzberg photos of Dylan himself.
That song title
The original US and Canadian albums, mono and stereo, listed Side 2, Track 2 as "Memphis Blues Again" on both the sleeve and the record label. The Dwarf Music songbook for Blonde On Blonde, however, gave the song the complementary title of "Stuck Inside Of Mobile With The", which I always took to be the song's intended title, a particularly fine example of Dylan's perversity in naming his songs in those days. A Columbia internal document illustrated in the 2015 Collector's Edition of The Cutting Edge reveals that this was indeed quite deliberate: it gave the track title as STUCK INSIDE OF MOBILE WITH THE and issued an instruction for the title to be corrected for the next run of labels. This document is dated 10-19-66. Note Accordingly, labels on later US copies of both the mono and stereo LPs gave this corrected title - though the sleeve continued to show "Memphis Blues Again".
CBS in the UK tried to get the title right, but hilariously corrupted it to "Stuck Inside Of Mobile With Thee" - either it was read out over the phone, or someone just couldn't believe it ended with "The". The song's reference to Shakespeare possibly clinched it. Nonetheless, this became the standard title on UK copies until the inside sleeve layout was changed to the seven-photo version in the early eighties; at this point the song once more became "Memphis Blues Again". Other international copies of the album have had a fairly random mix of the titles on both sleeves and labels.
When Greatest Hits Vol. II came out in 1971, reportedly compiled and mixed by Dylan himself, it contained the full title "Stuck Inside Of Mobile With The Memphis Blues Again", and this has largely been maintained ever since - in Writings And Drawings (and later lyrics books), on the live Hard Rain album, and on most CD releases of Blonde On Blonde. Some 1990s European reissues both on vinyl (Dutch and English) and CD (English) reproduced the original European gatefold sleeve, so that as well as having Claudia Cardinale's photograph, they also had "Stuck Inside Of Mobile With Thee" among the song titles.
The more globally-controlled 21st century releases have used "Memphis Blues Again" only in reproductions of the old LP sleeve layouts and record labels; elsewhere the full title has been used.
These, then, are the principal facts in the history of Blonde On Blonde - so far, at least. What we are left with, in terms of musical content, is ten different versions, including one with minor variants:
1. Mono Vinyl (Canada)
2. Mono Vinyl (France)
3. Mono Vinyl (US)
4. Original Stereo Vinyl
5. Revised Stereo Vinyl
6. Original CD (two abridged versions and one full length)
7. MasterSound Gold CD
8. SACD Stereo Mix (now available on ordinary CD)
9. SACD 5.1 Surround Mix
10. Stereo remixes for The Bootleg Series Vol.12: The Cutting Edge
Part II of this essay looks in detail at the differences between these versions in terms of mixing, editing and overall sound, and finally revisits the question of whether there is any one of them which we might consider to be the real, the essential, Blonde On Blonde.
Last updated January 2020