Desire is the seventeenth studio album by Bob Dylan, released in January 1976. It was partly co-written with Jacques Levy, and recorded with his future touring band The Rolling Thunder Revue, featuring a then mostly unknown Emmylou Harris on backup vocals. The album was inspired by his (then) temporary split from his wife and return to his old neighbourhood in Greenwich Village, where the music scene had changed since the early days of the folk revival; one inspiration for putting his band together was seeing the Patti Smith Group play. The result was yet another New Sound Album.
The album is mostly remembered for the furious Protest Song "Hurricane", an account of the arrest and trial of boxer Rubin Carter who was serving a life sentence for a 1966 triple murder (and would go on to be acquitted in 1985). Following the hit album Blood on the Tracks, Desire also did well for itself. It was listed at #176 in Rolling Stone's 500 Greatest Albums of All Time.
Odd trivia note: the coat Dylan wears in the cover photo was a hand-me-down given to him by Dennis Hopper.
- "Hurricane" (8:33)
- "Isis" (6:58)
- "Mozambique" (3:01)
- "One More Cup Of Coffee" (3:45)
- "Oh, Sister" (4:02)
- "Joey" (11:05)
- "Romance In Durango" (5:44)
- "Black Diamond Bay" (7:29)
- "Sara" (5:31)
He asks for a trope and a pen that will write:
- Badass Bystander: Scarlet Rivera was a completely unknown violinist, who was hired to play on the album after Dylan happened to see her cross the street and asked if she could play the violin she was carrying. She could.
- Big "YES!": "Isis"She said "You gonna stay?" I said "If you want me to - YES!"
- Call-Back: "Sara", to the closing number on Blonde on Blonde.Stayin' up for days in the Chelsea Hotel
Writin' "Sad Eyed Lady of the Lowlands" for you
- Bolivian Army Ending: "Romance In Durango" ends with the narrator fatally wounded and the linesQuick, Magdalena, take my gun
Look up in the hills, that flash of light
Aim well, my little one
We may not make it through the night...
- Culture Chop Suey: "Isis" blends Ancient Egypt with Mexico...with references to the "5th Day of May" in the same time as "pyramids dressed in ice" and a woman named "Isis" while the music suggests a wild western adventure gone wrong a la The Treasure of the Sierra Madre.
- Downer Ending:
- "Hurricane" ends with Rubin locked in the living Hell of prison while the real murderers drink martinis. He'll never get the chance to be the champion of the world now.
- "Black Diamond Bay" ends with the volcano erupting and killing everyone.
- "Romance In Durango" ends with the narrator being fatally shot.
- "Joey" ends with Joey being gunned down in a restaurant.
- Darker and Edgier: Not the album itself, but the surrounding tour. The autumn 1975 tour, as captured on The Bootleg Series vol 5, was generally playful, optimistic and theatrical. Then Dylan's marriage fell apart completely, and the spring tour, as captured on the live album Hard Rain, was ragged and angry, with "Hurricane" and "Sara" replaced with "Maggie's Farm" and "Idiot Wind".
- Epic Rocking: "Joey" is over 11 minutes.
- Fading into the Next Song: "Romance In Durango" cross-fades into "Black Diamond Bay".
- Grave Robbing: The narrator of "Isis" is hired to break into a tomb in a pyramid. When he finds it empty, he buries the man who hired him there instead.
- Humble Hero: Despite being an incredible boxer, Rubin didn't brag about it and just wanted to do his work. Obviously, his wrongful arrest put a stop to that.Rubin could take a man out with just one punch
But he never did like to talk about it all that much
Its my work, hed say, and I do it for pay
- Historical Hero Upgrade: "Joey". Especially egregious as "Crazy" Joey Gallo had only been dead for a couple of years at the time. Dylan said that the song was meant to be an ironic revival of the folk song glorfication of outlaws, noting that the famous song "Jesse James" was a folk song classic despite being sentimental glorfication of the brutal Jesse James.
- Joisey: Where "Hurricane" takes place. Dylan talks about the racial tensions in the state.In Paterson thats just the way things go
If youre black you might as well not show up on the street
Less you wanna draw the heat
- Large Ham: Dylan was never hammier than he was on the Rolling Thunder Revue Tour.
- Lyrical Shoehorn: Dylan has a lot of things he wants to say in "Hurricane", so he has to split some words between verses.We wanna put his ass in stir!
We wanna pin this triple murrr
...der on him, he ain't no Gentleman Jim!
- The Mafia: "Joey".
- Miscarriage of Justice: "Hurricane".All of Rubin's cards were marked in advance
The trial was a pig-circus, he never had a chance
- Multilingual Song: "Romance in Durango" on Desire has several untranslated Spanish lines in its chorus.No Ilores, mi querida (don't cry, my dear)Dios nos vigila (God watches over us)Soon the horse will take us to DurangoAgarrame, mi vida (grab hold of me, my life)Soon the desert will be goneSoon you will be dancing the fandango
- My Country Tis of Thee That I Sting: The song "Hurricane" criticizes the imprisonment of Rubin "Hurricane" Carter, a boxer falsely accused of murder and tried by an all-white jury. Dylan's song actually raised awareness of this man's false imprisonment and made people do the trial over, which would eventually lead to Carter's release.To see him obviously framedCouldn't help but make me feel ashamed to live in a land where justice is a game.
- Nested Story Reveal: The final verse of "Black Diamond Bay" has a Shocking Swerve where the narrator reveals that his only connection to the events at Black Diamond Bay is that he saw Walter Cronkite read a story about the disaster on the evening news.
- New Sound Album: Keeping the acoustic feel of Blood on the Tracks, but with a much more ragged and passionate feel, less personal lyrics (except for "Sara"), and with Scarlet Rivera's violin and Emmylou Harris' vocals taking up a lot of room.
- Nice Hat: Dylan wears one on the cover. The woman in "Black Diamond Bay" is only identified by her Panama hat.
- Now or Never Kiss: The tiny man and the soldier in "Black Diamond Bay", as the volcano erupts.
- One-Woman Song: "Sara", "Isis".
- Precision F-Strike: "Hurricane" has three, two of them very pronounced, all the more remarkable as Dylan normally avoids all profanity.The number one contender for the middleweight crown had no idea what kinda shit was about to go down (...)You'll be doing society a favor, that son of a bitch is brave and getting braver (...)To the white folks who watched he was a revolutionary bum, and to the black folks he was just a crazy nigger
- Protest Song: "Hurricane" was a surprising return to Ripped from the Headlines material for Dylan, after mostly staying away from what he called "finger-pointing songs" since 1964's Another Side of Bob Dylan.
- Ragtag Bunch of Misfits: Intentionally invoked with both the look and the sound of The Rolling Thunder Revue.
- Silly Love Songs: "Sara" is anything but silly, as basically a last-ditch attempt by Dylan to save his marriage. It didn't end up working.
- South of the Border: Several songs share a tex-mex feel. "Romance in Durango" is partly inspired by Sam Peckinpah's 1973 movie Pat Garrett & Billy the Kid, where Dylan played a part and composed the soundtrack, and which was shot in Durango, Mexico.
- Shout-Out: The cover is very similar to John Phillips' 1970 album The Wolf King of LA.
- Suicide as Comedy: The Greek in "Black Diamond Bay" keeps getting interrupted when all he wants to do is hang himself.
- Tarot Motifs: The card for The Empress is on the back cover.
- Very Loosely Based on a True Story: Dylan was criticized for fudging some details of the stories of Rubin Carter and, especially, Joey Gallo. Dylan would later claim that Jacques Levy wrote the entirety of the lyrics for "Joey".