Widely viewed as his attempt to Win Back the Crowd after the poor reception of Self Portrait, the album's genesis was a bit more complicated than that. The bulk of it was actually recorded before Self Portrait was released. Dylan had brought Al Kooper, who famously played keyboards on Highway 61 Revisited and Blonde on Blonde, aboard as a musical director, but Dylan seemed unsure which direction he wanted to go on the album. The initial concept was to continue the mix of Cover Versions and originals that he'd done on Self Portrait. The originals included some songs Dylan had written for Archibald MacLeish's Scratch, a stage adaptation of The Devil and Daniel Webster, that were never actually used in the play. He also tried a few different musical approaches, including bringing in George Harrison to play on a few songs (which got left off the album). After Self Portrait's controversial release, Dylan wrote more original songs and the album finally took shape.
His first rock-based album since Blonde on Blonde, it's a much more casual affair, with Dylan singing Silly Love Songs and reflecting on life. Greeted as a return to form on its release, it wound up getting overshadowed by his weightier albums later in The '70s, like Blood on the Tracks and Desire. But it's now generally viewed as a likable, undemanding curio in his catalog. Dylan himself seems to have retained some affection for it, regularly performing several songs from it in concert several decades after its release. The infamous Dylan album from 1974 is made up of some of the Cover Versions he wisely didn't include here. The later The Bootleg Series Vol. 10: Another Self Portrait also featured some outtakes from the album.
It also marked the end of two major professional relationships for Dylan. He formally cut ties with longtime manager Albert Grossman during the sessions, and it was also his last album with Bob Johnston, who'd been his producer since Highway 61 Revisited.
- "If Not for You" (2:39)
- "Day of the Locusts" (3:57)
- "Time Passes Slowly" (2:33)
- "Went to See the Gypsy" (2:49)
- "Winterlude" (2:21)
- "If Dogs Run Free" (3:37)
- "New Morning" (3:56)
- "Sign on the Window" (3:39)
- "One More Weekend" (3:09)
- "The Man in Me" (3:07)
- "Three Angels" (2:07)
- "Father of Night" (1:27)
If Tropes Run Free:
- Beatnik: "If Dogs Run Free" is an Affectionate Parody of Beat poetry.
- "Before" and "After" Pictures: The front cover has a bearded, very mature-looking Dylan in 1970. The back cover shows a much younger, boyish Dylan in 1962, posing with veteran blues singer Victoria Spivey at a recording session.
- Big Applesauce: "Three Angels" takes place in somewhere in Manhattan, judging by the reference to "the 10th Avenue bus".
- Cicadian Rhythm: "Day of the Locusts" was written about Dylan's honorary degree from Princeton in 1970, which happened during one of the 17-year Brood X cicada invasion cycles on the US East Coast, so it's commonly thought that the song is actually about cicadas. With Dylan's 80th birthday happening in May 2021, just as cicadas once again invaded the East Coast three Brood X cycles later, the song gained renewed topicality.
- Did I Mention It's Christmas?: The title characters in "Three Angels" have been playing their horns "since Christmas morn".
- Face on the Cover: A common trope for Dylan, but this is the closest he ever came to a straight, glamour-type cover photo.
- Flowery Elizabethan English: "Father of Night" is phrased like a prayer and uses verb forms like "taketh" and "shapeth".
- Genre Roulette: Very unusually for a Dylan album. He tries out Blues Rock ("One More Weekend"), Jazz ("If Dogs Run Free") and even a song that's a nod to traditional Jewish music ("Father of Night").
- Miniscule Rocking: "Father of Night" is the shortest song Dylan has released on any studio album (Biograph and some of the Bootleg Series albums have shorter songs).
- Non-Appearing Title: The actual recurring phrase in the chorus of "Day of the Locusts" is "the locusts sang".
- One-Woman Song: "Winterlude" is addressed to a woman named Winterlude.
- The Power of Love:
If not for you my sky would fall
- "If Not for You"
Rain would gather too
Without your love I'd be nothing at all
I'd be lost if not for you
True love can make a blade of grass
- "If Dogs Run Free"
Stand up straight and tall
- Ripped from the Headlines: Crossed with Write What You Know—"Day of the Locusts" was Dylan's story about what it was like to receive an honorary degree at Princeton University in 1970 (an incident that drew fire from both the stuffier parts of the establishment and the more strident parts of the counterculture).
- Shout-Out: "Day of the Locusts" obviously alludes to The Day of the Locust, though the connection between a cynical novel about The Golden Age of Hollywood and a song about Dylan getting an honorary degree from Princeton is still up for debate.note
- Silly Love Songs: "If Not For You", "Winterlude", "New Morning", "One More Weekend", "The Man in Me".
- Snow Means Love: "Winterlude"The snow is so cold
But our love can be bold
Winterlude, this dude thinks you're fine
- Talking with Signs: "Sign on the Window" is about a guy whose lover runs off with someone else. Her only explanation is a bunch of terse signs she sticks on his house.Sign on the window says “Lonely”
Sign on the door said “No Company Allowed”
Sign on the street says “Y’ Don’t Own Me”
Sign on the porch says “Three’s A Crowd”
- Textless Album Cover: His third consecutive one.
- Unusually Uninteresting Sight: The theme of "Three Angels". Nobody in a crowded city seems to care about a group of angels on poles playing horns.
- Your Head Asplode: Metaphorically used in "Day of the Locusts" in reference to the hot weather.The man standin' next to me, his head was exploding
I was prayin' the pieces wouldn't fall on me