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The album was received poorly upon release, and is still considered by some critics to be one of Dylan's least-engaging efforts. However, the 11-minute epic "Brownsville Girl"—co-written by Sam Shepard—has been cited as one of his best by some critics.
The album includes three cover songs, three collaborations with other songwriters, and two solo compositions by Dylan. Most of the album was recorded in the spring of 1986 (several tracks built on instrumental tracks from 1985 sessions), but one track, "Got My Mind Made Up", was reportedly recorded during a one-day break in the Dylan/Tom Petty "True Confessions" tour in June. One song, "Maybe Someday", paraphrases a line from T. S. Eliot's poem Journey of the Magi: Eliot's "And the cities hostile and the towns unfriendly" becomes in Dylan "Through hostile cities and unfriendly towns".
The cover art is a reworking of the January 1939 cover of Spicy Adventure Stories.
The album earned mostly negative reactions, with only a rewritten version of an outtake ("New Danville Girl'", retitled "Brownsville Girl") recorded during the Empire Burlesque sessions, receiving uniform praise. Robert Christgau called it "one of the greatest and most ridiculous of [Dylan's] great ridiculous epics."
"Knocked Out Loaded is ultimately a depressing affair," wrote Anthony DeCurtis in his review published in Rolling Stone Magazine, "because its slipshod, patchwork nature suggests that Dylan released this LP not because he had anything in particular to say, but to cash in on his 1986 tour. Even worse, it suggests Dylan's utter lack of artistic direction." In the Howard Sounes book Down The Highway: The Life Of Bob Dylan, it is reported that Dylan said "if the records I'm making only sell a certain amount anyway, then why should I take so long putting them together?"
Sales for Knocked Out Loaded were considered weak, as it peaked at #53 on U.S. charts and #35 in the UK.
Dylan has played few songs from this album in concert; "Driftin' Too Far From Shore", with 14 performances (all but one in 1988), is the most frequently performed. Four songs remain unplayed, while the other three have together been aired only five times.
In recent years the album has gained a cult following among some Dylan fans who believe it is one of his least-understood works, but critical consensus remains negative, with recent reviews from Salon.com toRolling Stone Magazine calling it a "career-killer" and "the absolute bottom of the Dylan barrel" respectively.
The album was remastered and re-issued in 2013 as a part of "The Complete Albums Collection Vol. One" box set.
- Side one
- "You Wanna Ramble" (Little Junior Parker) – 3:14
- "They Killed Him" (Kris Kristofferson) – 4:00
- "Driftin' Too Far from Shore" (Bob Dylan) – 3:39
- "Precious Memories" (Trad. Arr. Bob Dylan) – 3:13
- "Maybe Someday" (Bob Dylan) – 3:17
- Side two
- "Brownsville Girl" (Bob Dylan, Sam Shepard) – 11:00
- "Got My Mind Made Up" (Bob Dylan, Tom Petty) – 2:53
- "Under Your Spell" (Bob Dylan, Carole Bayer Sager) – 3:58
- Additional musicians
- Mike Berment – steel drums
- Peggie Blu – background vocals
- Majason Bracey – background vocals
- Clem Burke – drums
- T-Bone Burnett – guitar
- Mike Campbell – guitar
- Carolyn Dennis – background vocals
- Steve Douglas – saxophone
- Howie Epstein – bass guitar
- Anton Fig – drums
- Lara Firestone – background vocals
- Pamela Quinlan – background vocals
- Milton Gabriel – steel drums
- Keysha Gwin – background vocals
- Don Heffington – drums
- Muffy Hendrix – background vocals
- April Hendrix-Haberlan – background vocals
- Ira Ingber – guitar
- James Jamerson, Jr. – bass guitar
- Dewey B. Jones II – background vocals
- Phil Jones – conga
- Al Kooper – keyboards
- Stan Lynch – drums
- Steve Madaio – trumpet
- Queen Esther Marrow – background vocals
- Larry Mayhand – background vocals
- John McKenzie – bass guitar
- Vince Melamed – keyboards
- Larry Meyers – mandolin
- Angel Newell – background vocals
- Herbert Newell – background vocals
- John Paris – bass guitar
- Bryan Parris – steel drums
- Al Perkins – steel guitar
- Tom Petty – guitar
- Crystal Pounds – background vocals
- Raymond Lee Pounds – drums
- Madelyn Quebec – background vocals
- Vito San Filippo – bass guitar
- Carl Sealove – bass guitar
- Patrick Seymour – keyboards
- Jack Sherman – guitar
- Daina Smith – background vocals
- Maia Smith – vocals
- Medena Smith – background vocals
- Dave Stewart – guitar
- Benmont Tench – keyboards
- Annette May Thomas – background vocals
- Damien Turnbough – background vocals
- Ronnie Wood – guitar
- Chyna Wright – background vocals
- Elesecia Wright – background vocals
- Tiffany Wright – background vocals
- Technical personnel