Earlier this month, a handful of lucky Bob Dylan fans in Europe stumbled upon a new release entitled 50th Anniversary Collection 1973 in record stores scattered across the continent. The 28-track collection consists of nothing but studio outtakes from the 1973 Pat Garrett and Billy The Kid soundtrack sessions, but it’s sent the Dylan collecting community into a frenzy. Bids are surging past the $500 mark for the few copies available on Ebay — and fans are combing the shelves of European stores in the hopes of finding one.
Fiftieth-anniversary collections like this are a December annual tradition in the rock world due to a “use it or lose it” provision in European copyrights that sends all sound recordings into the public domain if they aren’t released 50 years after their creation. Over the past decade, this has caused acts like Pink Floyd, the Rolling Stones, and Dylan to clean large caches of live recordings and studio outtakes out of their vaults to secure their copyrights. Some acts choose to dump them onto streaming services, while others opt for limited physical releases.
Bob Dylan’s team has handled this problem in multiple ways over the years. When the copyright deadline loomed for outtakes from his first three electric albums (Bringing It All Back Home, Highway 61 Revisited, and Blonde on Blonde), they assembled an 18-disc box set for die-hards along with a two-disc set of highlights for casual fans. When the deadline hit for more obscure periods of Dylan’s career, they’ve simply pressed 300 or so CDs and sent them to random European stores with no advanced notice to technically comply with the law.
The 1973 collection that just hit will be largely familiar to Dylan fans since the Pat Garrett sessions leaked several decades back. Former Old Crow Medicine Show singer/guitarist Chris “Critter” Fuqua picked up a copy of the bootleg during a family trip to London when he was in high school, which he passed along to bandmate Ketch Secor. He became enamored with the song fragment “Rock Me Mama,” which is little more than Dylan and his bandmates messing around shortly after cutting “Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door.”
Secor fleshed out the composition into a finished work and eventually released it as “Wagon Wheel” on Old Crow Medicine Show’s 2004 self-titled LP. It became the group’s signature song and found an even bigger audience in 2013 when Darius Rucker took it to #1 on the Country chart. Old Crow Medicine Show returned to the Pat Garrett sessions in 2014 when Fuqua and Secor took “Sweet Amarillo,” another song fragment from the period, and finished it himself. The song wasn’t nearly as successful as “Wagon Wheel,” but Dylan did receive a writing credit in both instances.
The original versions of “Rock Me Mama” and “Sweet Amarillo” appear on the new 50th Anniversary Collection along with an alternative rendition of “Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door” and multiple takes of songs like “Billy Surrenders,” “And He Killed Me Too,” and “Final Theme” that will be of limited interest to anyone but true Dylan completists. That said, “Untitled 1973 Instrumental No. 1” and “United 1973 Instrument No. 2” are just waiting for the Old Crow Medicine Show treatment.
Dylan recorded the Pat Garrett and Billy The Kid soundtrack in the first few weeks of 1973. He returned to the studio in November of that year to cut Planet Waves with the Band. Very few outtakes from those sessions leaked to bootleggers, and Dylan’s camp seemingly decided to keep whatever they had from this period in the vault. If Dylan’s team continues to release copyright extension albums, they’ll turn to the 1974 Before the Flood tour with the Band before the end of next year.
In other copyright news, an early version of Mickey Mouse is entering the public domain in January because 95 years have passed since the character first appeared in Steamboat Willie. Many people thought this day would never come since Congress repeatedly altered copyright laws over the years to protect Disney’s signature character, but they drew the line at 95 years. Disney released a statement pointing out that only the crude version of Mickey Mouse as he appeared in Steamboat Willie is fair game. “More modern versions of Mickey will remain unaffected by the expiration of the Steamboat Willie copyright,” they said, “and Mickey will continue to play a leading role as a global ambassador for the Walt Disney Company in our storytelling, theme park attractions, and merchandise.”
All of this means that if you’ve been secretly hoarding Planet Waves outtakes all these years, you can start legally pressing them onto CD and vinyl with Steamboat Willie-era Mickey Mouse on the cover. Nobody will stop you.