Some critics have hailed Bob Dylan’s “Blood on the Tracks” as his best album. And with good reason. The album is a raw mix of personal anguish, fantasy and poetry gushing out in an abundance of terrific melodies. The album was not his best-selling one; “Greatest Hits”, “Greatest Hits – Vol. II”, and “Desire” all sold more but as an artistic achievement only “Highway 61 Revisited” was undeniably better.
Let’s go through the songs in order:
Tangled Up In Blue: This rambling seven-verse epic is a road song/love song that has as many twists and turns as a slalom. Written in the summer of 1974 at a farm he had just bought in Minnesota it examines a fictional relationship that comes together, breaks apart, comes together again much later and then finally breaks apart a second time, still with eventual hope of reconciliation. When he sings, “She was married when we first met, soon to be divorced” this is an accurate description of his first encounter with his future wife, Sara Lownds. When they met she was already married and the mother of a daughter. On stage Dylan has occasionally introduced this song about the ups and downs of his subsequent marriage to Sara by telling the audience it took “10 years to live and 2 years to write.” As part of their 1977 divorce settlement, Sara got half the royalties from the songs Dylan wrote while they were married… “Tangled up in blue” included.
While most of the references in the song are pure fantasy, some of them are quite real. There really is a “Montague Street” in an upscale section of Brooklyn which had a music venue named “Capulet’s” (recall Shakespeare’s Romeo Montague and Juliet Capulet) that Dylan sometimes frequented. The allusion to “an Italian poet from the fifteenth century” may sound ambiguous at first but the explanation is there were two versions of this song recorded: the first in New York then subsequently in Minnesota. The Minnesota version was the one used on the album. But in the previous New York version the lyric was originally “thirteenth century” a clear reference to the Italian poet Dante.
From the lines, “All the people we used to know they’re an illusion to me now” we get the impression that the breakup of their relationship felt surreal to him. The song ends with a frank confession “We always did feel the same, we just saw it from a different point of view, tangled up in blue.”
Despite his legendary career Dylan never hit the charts as frequently as artists/bands with comparable influence such as the Beatles, Elvis and the Rolling Stones. “Tangled up in blue” was a happy exception, poking its way into Billboard’s Top 40 in March of 1975.