By Tim Neely
Answer: First, some background on Blood On The Tracks: Bob Dylan originally recorded the 10 songs that comprise the LP at A&R Recording Studios in New York City. Acetates with the in-studio “A&R” label reveal that Dylan changed some of the song titles and played with the order of the tracks over a several-week period. By early December 1974, he agreed on a final version, and Columbia began the process of preparing the album for release, including making a handful of white-label test pressings at its Santa Maria, Calif., pressing plant.
Then Dylan changed his mind at the last minute. Sources vary on the reason, but Dylan decided to re-record five of the songs with local musicians in Minneapolis in sessions produced by his brother, David Zimmerman. All five of these songs: “Tangled Up In Blue,” “You’re A Big Girl Now,” “Idiot Wind,” “If You See Her, Say Hello” and “Lily, Rosemary And The Jack Of Hearts,” ended up quite different from the New York versions, with both subtle and significant lyrical and musical changes. The most radical alternation was the removal of an entire verse from “Lily, Rosemary …”
The version that appeared on store shelves in January 1975 contains the re-recorded versions of the five songs. Though widely available on bootlegs, the New York versions of the five songs above have not been officially issued in the original form and mixes as they appear on the Santa Maria test pressing.
Now to address Joe’s question: First, he doesn’t have the rare test pressing. The Blood On The Tracks test pressing has white labels that state “Columbia Record Productions, Santa Maria, Test Pressing” with no titles on them. The only way to identify this as the original version of the album is by its trail-off markings. On Side 1, the master number is PAL-33235-1A, and on Side 2, the number in the wax is PBL-33235-1A. Once Dylan put the re-recorded versions of the five songs on the final album, the stampers used for these test pressings were supposed to be destroyed or otherwise filed away. In the haste to get the album on the market, however, somebody at Santa Maria goofed.
Thanks to the excellent Dylan rarities web site www.searchingforagem.com, I’ve known for several years that two regular stock copies of the album are known to exist with the “wrong” Side 2 master. Both of these have identical trail-off markings: Side 1’s number is PAL-33235-2E, but Side 2’s is PBL-33235-1A. Thus these copies contain the original, rejected versions of “If You See Her, Say Hello” and “Lily, Rosemary And The Jack Of Hearts.”
Joe and I discussed his album to make sure he had what I thought he had. His copy looks like an otherwise ordinary first-edition copy with the regular orange Columbia label and the back-cover liner notes printed in black. He told me that he obtained it more than a decade ago when he ran a used record store in northern California; it was part of a box of near-mint albums for which he paid $50.
For a while, it was in the racks at his store with a $3 price tag. But during a bad time in Joe’s life, when he was about to close his store and move, a friend of his pulled it from the stacks, and the two of them listened to it. As both were Dylan fans and knew his recordings well, they noticed immediately that something was “wrong.” Joe decided to keep the album; had he not played it that day, he recalled, he might not have saved it.
He checked the trail-off markings for me, and indeed, his copy matches the other two: The Side 1 trail-off ends in “2E” and the Side 2 ends in “1A.” He has the third copy about which I know.
As I know of no transactions of this album, at least none made with the full knowledge that it was a rarity, it’s hard to put a value on this. The 2008 “Goldmine Standard Catalog of American Records 1950-1975” has a tentative $2,000 value for a near-mint copy, based on the confirmed existence of so few copies.
There are probably more out there, though. So the next time you’re browsing through the Bob Dylan section at a vinyl shop or examining your own collection and you see Blood On The Tracks with the original back cover, you might want to peek at the trail-off markings, just in case. You just might find buried treasure. Happy hunting!