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Music / Self Portrait

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I think that it's best I soon get some rest, and forget my pride.

"What is this shit?"
Greil Marcus, in the opening line of Rolling Stone's review of this album.

Self Portrait is the tenth studio album by Bob Dylan, released in 1970. It is Dylan's second double album, featuring mostly cover material. At the time reviews were scathing and people wondered what the hell Dylan was thinking when he released such a mediocre album, devoid of much original material? While most of Dylan's earlier albums had received universal positive receptions this album was marked as his first real dud. Many old time fans didn't like Dylan's shift to Country Music, which had already been lurking on his previous album Nashville Skyline from 1969, but came to full blossom on this record. Several songs were straight covers of traditionals or pop songs without any hint of social commentary. Others were perplexed by laughable joke songs such as "The Mighty Quinn (Quinn The Eskimo)" and wondered whether Dylan was pulling a prank on the audience?

It has been claimed that it was intentionally recorded to be a complete 180-degree turn from Dylan's previous output (or even intentionally sub-par, depending on who you ask) so as to free Dylan from the 'voice of a generation' label not to mention the assorted hangers-on, parasites and fawning yesmen that insinuated themselves into his life as a result that Dylan was becoming increasingly bored, annoyed and claustrophobic with.

Nevertheless, despite its status as one of Dylan's worst albums "Self Portrait" was a commercial success and has gotten a cult following in the decades beyond. Especially after the release of The Bootleg Series Vol. 10: Another Self Portrait. Hits and fan favourites include "The Mighty Quinn (Quinn The Eskimo)" and "Wigwam".


Side One

  1. "All The Tired Horses" (3:12)
  2. "Alberta #1" (2:57)
  3. "I Forgot More Than You'll Ever Know" (2:23)
  4. "Days Of 49" (5:27)
  5. "Early Mornin' Rain" (3:34)
  6. "In Search Of Little Sadie" (2:28)

Side Two

  1. "Let It Be Me" (3:00)
  2. "Little Sadie" (2:00)
  3. "Woogie Boogie" (2:06)
  4. "Belle Isle" (2:30)
  5. "Living The Blues" (2:42)
  6. "Like A Rolling Stone (Live)" (5:18)

Side Three

  1. "Copper Kettle" (3:34)
  2. "Gotta Travel On" (3:08)
  3. "Blue Moon" (2:29)
  4. "The Boxer" (2:48)
  5. "The Mighty Quinn (Quinn The Eskimo) (Live)" (2:48)
  6. "Take Me As I Am (Or Let Me Go)" (3:03)

Side Four

  1. "Take A Message To Mary" (2:46)
  2. "It Hurts Me Too" (3:15)
  3. "Minstrel Boy (Live)" (3:33)
  4. "She Belongs To Me (Live)" (2:44)
  5. "Wigwam" (3:09)
  6. "Alberta #2" (3:12)

All The Tired Tropes:

  • Big "NO!": "In Search Of Little Sadie"
    ''Forty-one days, forty-one nights
    Forty-one years to wear the ball and stripes - OH NO!''
  • Bookends: Two versions of "Alberta", slotted as the second song (and Dylan's first vocal appearance) and the final song.
  • Call-Back: "Like A Rolling Stone" is heard here in a live version. The studio version appeared on Highway 61 Revisited.
  • The Cover Changes the Meaning: Ray Price's 1968 country hit "Take Me As I Am (Or Let Me Go)" is addressed to a lover who the narrator thinks is trying to make him "a stand-in for an old love." When he covered it on Self Portrait two years later, the subtext of Dylan sending a message to listeners who believed that He Changed, Now He Sucks was glaring almost to the point of Anviliciousness:
    Why must you always try to make me over?
    Take me as I am or let me go...
    You're trying to reshape me in a mold...
    In the image of someone you used to know
  • Cover Version:
    • Most songs are covers, except for "All The Tired Horses", "Woogie Boogie", "Living The Blues", "Like A Rolling Stone", "The Mighty Quinn (Quinn The Eskimo)", "Minstrel Boy", "She Belongs To Me" and "Wigwam". Special mention goes out to "The Mighty Quinn", which was recorded by Manfred Mann first in 1968, before being recorded by Dylan on this album, despite being written by him.
    • The sources for the cover versions are surprisingly eclectic: Country Music hits from The '50s and The '60s ("I Forgot More Than You'll Ever Know", "Take Me As I Am"), Simon & Garfunkel ("The Boxer"), The Everly Brothers ("Let it Be Me", "Take a Message to Mary"), Gordon Lightfoot ("Early Mornin' Rain"), Rodgers and Hart ("Blue Moon"), The Weavers ("Gotta Travel On"), old Blues songs ("Alberta", "It Hurts Me Too"), a Murder Ballad ("Little Sadie"), an Irish folk ballad that migrated to Newfoundland ("Belle Isle"), a song written shortly after the 1849 gold rush ("Days of '49"), and a song written for a 1953 "folk opera" ("Copper Kettle").
  • Epic Rocking: Unusually averted for Dylan, with only two songs longer than 4:00.
  • Face on the Cover: Subverted. The album cover shows a self painted Stylistic Suck portrait of Dylan that doesn't resemble him, unless somebody told you it was supposed to be him.
  • Gold Fever: "Days Of '49"
  • Hillbilly Moonshiner: "Copper Kettle"
  • Instrumentals: "Woogie Boogie".
  • Ironic Episode Title: "Self Portrait" features a painting on the cover that doesn't resemble Dylan in the slightest and music that was mostly not written by him, and not considered representative of his best abilities.
  • Live Album: "Like A Rolling Stone", "The Mighty Quinn (Quinn The Eskimo)", "Minstrel Boy" and "She Belongs To Me" were recorded live at the 1969 Isle of Wight festival with The Band.
  • Murder Ballad: "Little Sadie"
    Last night I was a-makin' my rounds,
    Met my old woman an' I blowed her down,
    I went on home to go to bed,
    Put my old cannon right under my head.
  • Non-Appearing Title: The album title doesn't appear in any of the lyrics.
  • The Not-Remix: The Self Portrait tracks included on Bootleg Series Vol 10 have all the overdubs from the original sessions removed, which many feel is a pretty big improvement.
  • One-Man Song: "The Mighty Quinn", "The Boxer", "Minstrel Boy".
  • One-Woman Song: "Alberta".
  • One-Word Title: "Wigwam".
  • Rhymes on a Dime: "Woogie Boogie".
  • Scatting: Dylan does this during "Wigwam".
  • Shout-Out:
    • The 1989 thriller The Mighty Quinn, with Denzel Washington, took its title from the Dylan song of the same name. In his memoir Chronicles: Volume One (2004), Dylan mentions he actually went to see the movie out of curiosity:
    It was a mystery, suspense, Jamaican thriller with Denzel Washington as the Mighty Xavier Quinn, a detective who solves crimes. Funny, that's just the way I imagined him when I wrote the song.
    • "Wigwam" has been used in The Royal Tenenbaums (2001), which made the song more popular with younger generations.
  • Siamese Twin Songs: "Alberta #1" and "Alberta #2". "In Search of Little Sadie" and "Little Sadie."
  • Single Stanza Song:
    All the tired horses in the sun
    How'm I s'posed to get any ridin' done? Hmmm.
  • Something Blues: "Living The Blues".
  • Soprano and Gravel: A rare Self-Backing Vocalist version - the cover of "The Boxer" is done as a duet between hoarse folky Dylan and smooth Nashville Dylan.
  • Springtime for Hitler: "Self Portrait" has been interpreted as an intentionally joke on Dylan's behalf, intended to shred off his reputation as the "spokesman of his generation." It sure worked to piss off critics and long time fans, but still was a commercial success.
  • Stylistic Suck: The portrait on the album cover doesn't resemble Dylan one bit, despite the title. Dylan said he just did it in five minutes, and it shows.
  • Wanderlust Song: "Early Mornin' Rain", "Gotta Travel On".
  • With Lyrics: A Cover Version of "Wigwam" with German lyrics, called "Weil ich dich liebe" ("Because I Love You"), was a hit in Germany for Drafi Deutscher in 1970.