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Music / Street Legal

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Fortune calls; I stepped forth from the shadows to the marketplace...

Street-Legal is the eighteenth studio album by Bob Dylan, released in 1978.

The album came at a time of transition for Dylan. He'd just gone through a very public and bitter divorce from Sara Lownds. Also, his film Renaldo and Clara had opened to scathing reviews then quickly closed.

But it also came at a time when the music world was in turmoil. Elvis Presley had died (which deeply affected Dylan). Disco and Arena Rock dominated the charts, and both had their own hedonistic excesses. Meanwhile, Punk Rock was rising up from the underground with its irreverent energy.

All in all, it wasn't a great time to be a 37-year-old rock icon. So how did Bob Dylan handle a Mid-Life Crisis?

By recording an album that was a curious mix of dense, poetic, sometimes cryptic lyrics and slick arrangements, augmenting the usual Dylan sound with saxophone, violin and gospel-style female backing vocalists.

Needless to say, this caught many people off-guard. It became his first studio album of the decade to miss the Top 10 in America (peaking at #11 in Billboard) and drew his harshest reviews since Self Portrait (with that album's main antagonist Greil Marcus leading the way here as well). Interestingly, the reaction in Britain was much different. It was released to rave reviews and got to #2 on the charts, with "Baby, Stop Crying" becoming a hit there as well.

One big criticism at the time was the album's muddy sound. In 1999, producer Don DeVito remixed and remastered it, which started a gradual re-evaluation of the album. It's now appreciated as the last stand of "old Dylan" before his Christian phase. Some go even further and call it his most underrated album. "Señor (Tales of Yankee Power)" was a staple of Dylan's early 2000s concert setlists.


Side One

  1. "Changing of the Guards" (7:04)
  2. "New Pony" (4:28)
  3. "No Time to Think" (8:19)
  4. "Baby, Stop Crying" (5:19)

Side Two

  1. "Is Your Love in Vain?" (4:30)
  2. "Señor (Tales of Yankee Power)" (5:42)
  3. "True Love Tends to Forget" (4:14)
  4. "We Better Talk This Over" (4:04)
  5. "Where Are You Tonight? (Journey Through Dark Heat)" (6:16)

Tropes of Yankee Power:

  • Bald Mystic: "Changing of the Guards"
    They shaved her head
    She was torn between Jupiter and Apollo
  • The Bus Came Back: 39 years after this album, Dylan brought keyboardist Alan Pasqua back to do the piano accompaniment for his Nobel Prize lecture.
  • Call-Back:
    • The opening line of the album is "Sixteen years, sixteen banners united." It had been sixteen years since his debut album, and this was his sixteenth studio album if you don't count Pat Garrett & Billy the Kid and Dylan.
    • "Where Are You Tonight?", as befitting the final song of his last album before his Christian phase, has a few. The title had already been used as a recurring line in "Absolutely Sweet Marie". It uses a similar chord progression and lyric structure to "Like a Rolling Stone". And there are some similarities to "Tangled Up in Blue", with lines about lovers meeting and breaking up, references to parents and strippers, and the song opening up with the narrator wondering about his old lover.
  • Credits Gag: A few oddball titles for people. Instead of producer, Don DeVito is credited as "Captain in Charge". Larry Kegan (a childhood friend of Dylan who had been paralyzed in a swimming accident in his teens and still kept in touch with him)note  was "Champion of All Causes". Two members of Dylan's staff, Arthur Rosato and Ava Megna, are "Second in Command" and "Secretary of Goodwill". Mary Alice Artes (his girlfriend at the time) is "Queen Bee".
  • Enemy Within: Cited by name in "Where Are You Tonight?"
  • Epic Rocking: The album's shortest song is still over four minutes, and its longest is over eight.
  • Every Scar Has a Story: "Where Are You Tonight?"
    If you don't believe there's a price for this sweet paradise
    Just remind me to show you the scars
  • Hall of Mirrors: "Changing of the Guards"
    The palace of mirrors, where dog soldiers are reflected
  • Magical Native American: In "Where Are You Tonight?" the woman's father is a "full-blooded Cherokee" who can predict the future.
  • Names to Run Away from Really Fast: In "New Pony", the narrator names the pony Lucifer.
  • No Time to Think: "No Time to Think".
  • Production Foreshadowing: It's been argued that some of the album's lyrics have covert Christian themes, perhaps indicating that Dylan was already pondering the religion even before he formally converted. It's worth noting a possible Bilingual Bonus: "Señor" means "mister" in Spanish, but it can also mean "Lord".
  • Questioning Title?: "Is Your Love in Vain?" "Where Are You Tonight? (Journey Through Dark Heat)".
  • Shout-Out: This is one of his deepest albums lyrically. Practically every line is some sort of reference to something.
    • Robert Johnson gets a few nods. Besides "Is Your Love in Vain?", in "Where Are You Tonight?" he quotes the lines "Killing me by degrees" ("Preachin' Blues") and "Juice running down my leg" ("Traveling Riverside Blues").
    • "Señor" seems influenced by the work of Carlos Castaneda, who wrote a book called Tales of Power.
  • South of the Border: "Señor" (of The Savage South variety).
  • Tarot Motifs: "Changing of the Guards" is filled with Tarot allusions, and ends by directly referencing the King and Queen of Swords. The Empress, The Magician and The (High) Priestess make cameos in "No Time to Think".
  • Tranquil Fury: Implied in "Where Are You Tonight?".
    It felt outa place, my foot in his face
    But he should-a stayed where his money was green
  • 12-Bar Blues: "New Pony".
  • Wedding Ring Removal: On the cover photo there's a prominent tan line on the recently-divorced Dylan's left ring finger where the ring used to be.