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Live at The Gaslight 1962 is a live album including ten songs from early Bob Dylan performances at The Gaslight Cafe in New York City's Greenwich Village. Released in 2005 by Columbia Records, it was originally distributed through an exclusive 18-month deal with Starbucks, after which it was released to the general retail market.
Live at The Gaslight 1962 was recorded early in Dylan's career, when he was still virtually unknown outside of Greenwich Village. Thanks to the cooperation of various club owners, and the management skills of Dave Van Ronk's wife, Terri Thal, Dylan was able to record a number of performances during that time on a reel-to-reel tape recorder patched into the house PA system. It is believed that Live at The Gaslight 1962 was culled from tapes recorded with this arrangement.
These Gaslight recordings have circulated among Dylan collectors for many years. They made their first appearance on bootleg LPs no later than 1973, and have appeared, in various forms, on several bootleg LPs and CDs and on many Dylan fan CDR projects. The full set of recordings, including 17 tracks, is usually referred to by Dylan collectors as the "Second Gaslight Tape", but some refer to the recordings as a compilation of the "Second" and "Third Gaslight Tape", believing them to be compiled from two different sets at The Gaslight. The source recording is not continuous, and its exact provenance has not been firmly established.
Two tracks from these recordings were previously released on official Dylan albums: "No More Auction Block" appeared on The Bootleg Series Volumes 1–3 (Rare & Unreleased) 1961–1991 in 1991 and "Handsome Molly" appeared on the Japanese release Live 1961–2000: Thirty-Nine Years of Great Concert Performances. A third track, "The Cuckoo (Is A Pretty Bird)", was included on a promotional CD distributed in U.S. retail markets in association with the official release of Chronicles, Vol. 1.
The Gaslight recordings had been warmly received by critics and collectors alike ever since Greil Marcus wrote about them in the late 1960s. When this CD was officially released, the critical consensus remained positive, with Entertainment Weekly's David Browne giving it an A- grade. "Although [Dylan] was too young to pull off the burnout elegy 'Moonshiner,'" wrote Browne, "Gaslight is a spellbinding reminder that Dylan was never a typical folkie (or typical anything, for that matter)."
During an 18-month deal whereby Starbucks had exclusive rights to sell the album, HMV Canada pulled all Bob Dylan products off their shelves in protest. Similar joint ventures in the past also brought protest from HMV, affecting sales of The Rolling Stones and Alanis Morissette. HMV began stocking their shelves with Dylan's albums (albeit sparingly) in December 2005 in order to capitalize on the Christmas season. HMV fully restored Dylan's discography to their shelves in the spring of 2006. Afterwards, in order to appease frustrated HMV customers, Columbia offered the Live at The Gaslight 1962 CD as a free giveaway with any Bob Dylan purchase at HMV stores.
Live at The Gaslight 1962 captures early performances of three different Dylan compositions: "A Hard Rain's A-Gonna Fall" (often referred to as "Hard Rain"), "Don't Think Twice, It's All Right", and "John Brown". Both "Hard Rain" and "Don't Think Twice, It's All Right" would eventually appear on Dylan's second album, The Freewheelin' Bob Dylan. "John Brown" would later be published and issued on Broadside Ballads, Vol. 1 in February 1963, but it would not be released on any of Dylan's subsequent studio albums (the song only re-appeared as a live performance on Dylan's 1993 MTV Unplugged album.)
The remaining songs on Live at The Gaslight 1962 are considered traditional folk songs; essays on a number of ballads performed by Dylan during his October residency at the Gaslight Cafe can be found in an anthology published in 2004 entitled The Rose & the Briar: Death, Love and Liberty in the American Ballad.
"Rocks and Gravel" is Dylan's own adaptation of Brownie McGhee's "Solid Road" and Leroy Carr's "Alabama Woman", an arrangement that fuses both songs into one. It was originally slated to appear on Dylan's second album (and later appeared on test pressings made for a preliminary version of the LP), but when Dylan reconfigured The Freewheelin' Bob Dylan, he omitted "Rocks And Gravel" from the final album sequence.
"The Cuckoo" was originally recorded in the 1920s by Western North Carolina banjo musician Clarence Ashley. According to Thomas Goldsmith of The Raleigh News & Observer, "The Cuckoo" is reportedly descended from an old folk ballad; it's an interior monologue where the singer "relates his desires—to gamble, to win, to regain love's affection."
Described by critic Dave Marsh as "the most widespread folk song in the English language", "Barbara Allen" dates as far back as the 17th century, when Samuel Pepys wrote about the song in a diary entry dated January 2, 1665. Similar but different versions of the ballad have been traced to English and Scottish folk traditions, and when "Barbara Allen" was brought to North America by early European settlers, no particular version of "Barbara Allen" was dominant or considered definitive. Over the years, countless variations of "Barbara Allen" have been found throughout the United States, with roughly 100 variations in Virginia alone, but the version Dylan sings on Live at The Gaslight 1962 is one rooted in the English folk tradition.
In the story of "Barbara Allen", the title character rejects a suitor (his name varies in different versions of the songs, ranging from Sweet William to John Graeme). On his death bed, he calls Barbara Allen to his side, swearing his love for her. However, in some versions of "Barbara Allen" (particularly older variations), he discovers Barbara Allen's complaint that he once neglected her in a local tavern. When she sees him on his death bed, she offers a cold observation, "Young man, I think you're dying."
The story then takes a strange twist: when Barbara Allen walks home, she hears the church bells tolling for her true love. She then dies, mysteriously, and the two are buried in an old churchyard, where a love knot then comes to twine, made from a rose growing out of her lover's heart and a brier from Barbara Allen's.
Towards the end of his essay on "Barbara Allen", Dave Marsh focuses on the outcome of the song, the intertwined rose and briar emerging from the graves of the spurned lover, and Barbara Allen's rejection of her true love. "What’s amazing is our ability to ignore the lesson that 'Barbara Allen' has to teach," writes Marsh, "which is the peril of denying the complicated mysteries that throb within our hardened hearts and the equal peril of horsing around instead of acknowledging our love for one another. This is not a lesson you can squeeze onto a tombstone, or, for that matter, our current conception of a curriculum, but it is one to carry through this life."
All songs traditional; adapted and arranged by Bob Dylan, except where noted.
- "A Hard Rain's A-Gonna Fall" (Bob Dylan) – 6:40
- "Rocks and Gravel" (Bob Dylan) – 4:58
- "Don't Think Twice, It's All Right" (Bob Dylan) – 3:09
- "The Cuckoo (Is a Pretty Bird)" (Traditional, arranged by Clarence Ashley) – 2:18
- "Moonshiner" – 4:05
- "Handsome Molly" – 2:44
- "Cocaine" (Traditional, arranged by Rev. Gary Davis) – 2:56
- "John Brown" (Bob Dylan) – 5:53
- "Barbara Allen" – 7:49
- "West Texas" – 5:37