Bob Dylan classic ‘Tangled Up In Blue’ could contain a coded reference to Joni Mitchell.
The track opens his fantastic 1975 album ‘Blood On The Tracks’, a release regularly cited as one of the songwriter’s best, most complete works. Lyrically, ‘Tangled Up In Blue’ reflects Bob Dylan’s growing interest in visual art; in interviews, he has cited studying with Norman Raeben – in particular his view of time – as a key inspiration.
A song about love, loss, and the passing of time, Bob Dylan has long refuted suggestions that it was prompted by travails in his own marriage to Sara Lowndes. In his book Chronicles the songwriter says ‘Blood On The Tracks’ was inspired by short stories from Chekhov, while a lengthy interview with Bill Falangan in 1985 saw Dylan re-assert his view that the song was an exercise in disrupting linear time-based narratives within a song.
He said: “It didn’t pertain to me. It was just a concept of putting in images that defy time – yesterday, today and tomorrow. I wanted to make them all connect in some kind of a strange way.”
There’s a host of theories surrounding ‘Tangled Up In Blue’, but sometimes the simplest one catches hold – such as a prevailing belief that it contains a nod to Joni Mitchell’s ‘Blue’. Similarly, it’s a record of love gained and lost, and according to novelist Ron Rosenbaum Bob Dylan once told him ‘Tangled Up In Blue’ emerged following a weekend of listening to Joni Mitchell’s classic album.
For her part, Joni Mitchell is actually a fan of ‘Blood On The Tracks’. Famously, Dylan recorded the album in two parts – the initial New York sessions, and the further Minnesota recordings. Back in 2018, Joni Mitchell revealed that she was one of the first to hear the album, but prefers those earlier recordings in comparisons to the later takes.
She recalls: “Joel Bernstein gave me a tape of it, and it was really good, it was really good. But people said, ‘Oh, it’s like a Joni Mitchell album,’ so he went and recut it with his brother in Minnesota. They butchered it all up. They stomped all over it. But originally the writing was different, it was more vulnerable, and the orchestration was subtle. And one night I had a party here — and Bob crashed it. And the bootleg of that first ‘Blood On the Tracks’, was playing. They were out in the garden, and somebody said that Bob wanted to see me. And the bootleg was still playing and I said, ‘Why didn’t you put that one out?’ And he said, ‘Somebody stole the tape.’ Which was not true. He chickened out.”
“People said it was like a Joni Mitchell album. There was some stylistic production to it, but not the material. It was more honest. — He took the vulnerability out of it, and in the process he took the depth out. The New York sessions were touching. The Minnesota sessions were not touching at all. He asserted himself again as a man.”