Bob Dylan's '1970' Turns a Copyright Technicality into a Must-Hear Meeting with George Harrison

BY Vish KhannaPublished Feb 26, 2021

How big is Bob Dylan's basement and exactly how many more tapes has he got down there?

That's one of the intriguing questions this "copyright extension" three-CD set raises for fans clamouring for as much of the man's work as they can get and, for now, the stewards of his archives continue to oblige.

With tracks featuring George Harrison and culled from New York City sessions that took place March 3 to 5, May 1, June 1 to 5 and August 12 of the titular year, 1970 is a loose and revelatory glimpse of an artist trying to figure himself and some new songs out. The era in question eventually spawned the pleasant lark of sweet-voiced covers and originals that was Self Portrait and the more earnest (but still rather weird) New Morning.

Initially released in limited quantities late in 2020 to avoid a copyright issue where recorded works enter the public domain after 50 years, this 1970 stuff wasn't likely ever meant for public consumption. Ostensibly rehearsal and workshop sessions to get Dylan and assorted players familiar with each other and some new works, the May 1 gathering gained infamy and interest because Harrison sat in on at least nine songs (though, not the scrappy version of the Beatles' "Yesterday" found here, which, who knows, maybe Dylan pulled Paul McCartney's most popular song out as a playful jab, since the band were breaking up badly over business fractures and all of the other Beatles weren't huge Paul fans at this point).

On vocals and guitar, Harrison's presence is not overtly perceptible to any but those who have studied his style closely; as was his wont, the Dark Horse simply melted into the background. Still, there's a lift in this version of "One Too Many Mornings," or Basement Tapes-style song explorations like "All I Have to Do Is Dream" by the Everly Brothers, whom Dylan and Harrison both admired. Surely the players in the room must've been altered, trying to do their jobs with these two icons in their midst, messing around with covers by Carl Perkins or reimagining Dylan songs. In another curio, Harrison does not appear on this collection's different takes of "If Not for You," which he and Dylan actually exchanged; he recorded it for his own All Things Must Pass before Dylan did a version for New Morning.

The "supergroup" implications notwithstanding, Harrison was just kind of there that day, quietly lending a helping hand as his Jedi training had taught him to do. For Dylan fans, this is more of a window into his process, much as some other iterations of his Bootleg Series have been. In fact, this may not fall under that umbrella (for some reason), but it's in the spirit of an "official bootleg" for sure, sequenced in such a way where the same song is presented in consecutive takes, marking its subtle and overt evolution.

There are some cool and very fun pieces here, like versions of Buffy Sainte-Marie's "Universal Soldier," a rollicking and then more country-tinged "Alligator Man" by Jimmy C. Newman, and "Jamaica Farewell" as popularized by Harry Belafonte, but ultimately 1970 is not meant for us to puzzle over too much.

As usual, fascinating choices abound when a lost Bob Dylan session is unearthed (and, excitingly, signalling that maybe there's way more of this kind of stuff to come), but this one feels particularly prototypical and casual, and, with good humour, was intended to warm folks up — to each other and the material — more than get its hypothetical audience hot and bothered.

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