35 Years Ago: Bob Dylan Makes a Mainstream Comeback on ‘Infidels’
An album heralded as a return from Bob Dylan's born-again proselytizing, the Mark Knopfler-produced Infidels began Bob Dylan's journey back toward mainstream music making — and it may have been even better except for some last-minute tinkering.
Luckily, the final track listing included the stand-out track "Jokerman," which found Dylan using themes both Biblical and secular to tear down political charlatans. Or was it a dark reflection on Judaism? A rumination on false messiahs? A cutting indictment of his own career missteps? Such are the enduring mysteries of classic Dylan, the singer-songwriter’s wild card — making this the earliest indication of long-hoped-for bounce-back moment that would finally coalesce into the '90s.
Two key moments, however, were left on the cutting room floor as Dylan continued editing and re-recording Infidels, long after Knopfler had left to pursue his own separate musical interests. The outtake "Blind Willie McTell," for instance, later gained a talismanic import among fans before finally appearing on 1991's The Bootleg Series Vol 1-3. The sessions also included "Foot of Pride," a perfectly executed Dylan put-down about those trapped in ego. ("Someone's Got a Hold of My Heart" was subsequently re-drafted for 1985's Empire Burlesque.)
Listen to Bob Dylan's 'Jokerman'
In their place went "Union Sundown," a much lesser effort -- though still one that exhibited a tougher political bent than had a previous trio of faith-focused recordings dating back to 1979's Slow Train Coming. The album also included "Sweetheart Like You," which was talking down to either a woman or else the wayward church; "License to Kill," which seemed to question the wisdom of space travel with so many unsolved issues down below; and the now-expected album-closing paean to a lover, "Don't Fall Apart on Me Tonight."
Each of them had a sleek approach that updated his sound without dismantling its foundational wit. Credit there goes to Knopfler, and an all-star cast that included Mick Taylor, Robbie Shakespeare and Sly Dunbar — the latter of whom give "Jokerman" in particular a bouncy island feel. In manner and tone, that track connected back to the promise of Dylan's mid-1970s work, and gave us the first concrete hint at the third-act successes to come beginning with 1989's Oh Mercy.