Bob Dylan – Slow Train Coming (1979)

We’ve gotta serve somebody? In one way or another, definitively yes. “Well, it may be the devil or it may be the Lord, But you’re gonna have to serve somebody”.
It’s pretty odd, I think Christianity is just another kind of mind-poison as any other organized religion and I have my doubts about the so-called “born-again thing”, but still, everybody have to do as he/she please. I’m not even what might be called a huge Dylan fan, and once again, still, I love “Slow Train Coming”. My mom had it in her record collection – obviously talking bout the good old vinyl’s – back in the 80s and somehow it felt alright to listen it. It has magic. Released on 20th August, 1979, 32 years ago, “Slow Train Coming” still is one of my favorite records.
In the late 1970s, Dylan became a born-again Christian and released two albums of Christian gospel music: “Slow Train Coming” in 1979 and “Saved” one year later.
American author, music journalist and cultural critic, Greil Marcus wrote “Dylan selling a prepackaged doctrine he’s received from someone else” – but I actually took Jesus out of this, I was listen to the music and I “translated” the lyrics out of any Christian and religious context and prejudices.
Dylan took five months off at the beginning of 1979 to attend Bible classes. His subsequent album “Slow Train Coming” reached No.3 on the U.S. Billboard 200 chart and included the Grammy-winning song “Gotta Serve Somebody”. In response to Dylan’s song, shortly before his murder, John Lennon wrote and recorded “Serve Yourself”… Dylan is 70 years old, Lennon were gunned down at age of 40… Still, if there’s a God, something is very wrong with him, with us and generally speaking with our communication and relation with others and ourselves.

Dylan first heard Mark Knopfler when assistant and engineer Arthur Rosato played him the Dire Straits single, “Sultans of Swing.” Later, on March 29, 1979, Dylan caught the final show of a Dire Straits’ residency at the Roxy in Los Angeles, California. Dylan approached Knopfler after the show, asking the guitarist to participate on his next album and – thanks God 😀 – Knopfler agreed.
Dylan also approached Jerry Wexler to produce the upcoming sessions. Neither Knopfler or Wexler was unaware of the nature of the material that awaited them. Wexler recalls: “I liked the irony of Bob coming to me, the Wandering Jew, to get the Jesus feel… I had no idea he was on this born-again Christian trip until he started to evangelize me. I said, ‘Bob, you’re dealing with a sixty-two-year-old confirmed Jewish atheist. I’m hopeless. Let’s just make an album.'”
On the other hand, Knopfler voiced his concerns to his manager, Ed Bicknell, remarking that “all these songs are about God,” but he was also impressed with Dylan’s professionalism.
“Slow Train Coming” was produced by Jerry Wexler & Barry Beckett and recorded at at Muscle Shoals Sound Studio by:

Lead Vocals – Bob Dylan
Keyboards – Barry Beckett
Drums – Pick Withers
Bass – Tim Drummond
Guitars – Mark Knopfler, Bob Dylan
Horns – Muscle Shoals Horns
Background Vocals – Carolyn Dennis, Helena Springs, Regina Havis
Percussion – Barry Beckett, Mickey Buckins

Track list:

Side one
“Gotta Serve Somebody” – 5:22
“Precious Angel” – 6:27
“I Believe in You” – 5:02
“Slow Train” – 5:55
Side two
“Gonna Change My Way of Thinking” – 5:25
“Do Right to Me Baby (Do Unto Others)” – 3:50
“When You Gonna Wake Up” – 5:25
“Man Gave Names to All the Animals” – 4:23
“When He Returns” – 4:30

Dylan was firmly entrenched in his evangelical ways, and it would continue through his next album, “Saved”, whether his audience would follow or not. The evangelical nature of the record alienated many of Dylan’s existing fans; at the same time, many Christians were drawn into his fan base. Slow Train Coming was listed at #16 in the 2001 book CCM Presents: The 100 Greatest Albums in Christian Music. “Gotta Serve Somebody” became his first hit in three years, winning Dylan the Grammy for best rock vocal performance by a male in 1980. Bob Dylan’s 19th studio album peaked at #2 on the charts in the UK and went platinum in the US, where it reached #3.

“You might own guns and you might even own tanks
You might be somebody’s landlord, you might even own banks

But you’re gonna have to serve somebody, yes indeed…”

And some trains never comes.

Bob Dylan – Slow Train Coming

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