CK Retro Review: Knocked Out Loaded by Bob Dylan

This is where it starts to get a little grim. 1986’s Knocked Out Loaded was an appropriate enough album title, since Bob Dylan seemed to be anesthetized on many of the recordings. The album has one undisputed classic, a few other fair-to-middling originals, and some goofy cover songs. At least the album cover was pretty cool. Here is a song-by-song review.


8. “They Killed Him”- Why Dylan picked one of buddy Kris Kristofferson’s most maudlin songs to cover is baffling enough, but the version he cut, complete with children’s choir to really drive the manipulative qualities of the lyrics home, is completely wackadoo.

7. “Driftin’ Too Far From Shore”- The lyrics are bad and the synthesizers are worse. If Bob was trying to mimic the interstitial music of some bad 80’s sitcom, mission accomplished. Otherwise, this one is a complete mess.


6. “Precious Memories”- Bob must have wanted to imagine the island breezes at his back when he added a steel drum “riddim” to this country-gospel oldie. Yawn.

5. “You Wanna Ramble”- The song itself is OK, and T. Bone Burnett plays a nice lead guitar, but the sound of the recording is pretty lousy. It’s not too objectionable, as some of the others on the album are, but it’s also easy to forget the second it’s over.


4. “Under Your Spell”- To paraphrase one of co-songwriter Carole Bayer Sager’s other hits, we don’t quite have to cry out loud upon hearing this intriguing oddity of a closing ballad. There’s nothing really that warm about the song, which is surprising considering Bayer Sager’s rep for sappy slow stuff. Lines like “I’ll call you tomorrow if there’s phones where I am” even flash a little black humor. Definitely weird, but at least it’s not dull.

3. “Got My Mind Made Up”- People forget that Dylan and Tom Petty wrote together before the Traveling Wilburys united. This one and Petty’s minor hit “Jammin’ Me” sound like dry runs for that supergroup, full of lyrical non-sequiturs that nonetheless end up being slyly catchy. The Heartbreakers lock onto a pretty solid Bo Diddley groove to give this one a little added punch.


2. “Maybe Someday”- It could have been ever better were it not for the intrusive female backing vocals. Still, there’s more than a little whiff of “Like A Rolling Stone” in the lyrics, as Bob calmly dresses down a former lover who made choices that pulled her away from him. The narrator is no saint himself and owns up to the role he played in the separation, making it akin to the Blood On The Tracks material. Even if only for the echoes of past glories that it stirs, “Maybe Someday” is an underrated gem.


1. “Brownsville Girl”- If Knocked Out Loaded had to exist only to give us this song, it was worth putting up with all the other debacles on the album. Written with Sam Shepard, it is a mind-bending accomplishment, a meditation on identity and reality and Gregory Peck and corrupt swap meets and pretty much everything else under the merciless sun. Dylan’s singing is so magnificent here that you almost take it for granted; how he navigates all those wordy lines and hits the right accents in them for maximum impact is beyond comprehension. The writing is special too, seemingly rambling to nowhere until an aphorism springs up out of the dust that seems to answer all the mysteries of the universe. We’re selfish, Bob, which is why we got on you in the 80’s. When you could do a song like “Brownsville Girl,” it’s human nature that we would want something like it every single time.

(E-mail me at or follow me on Twitter @JimBeviglia. For a more in-depth look at the songs of Bob Dylan, check out the link below to my upcoming book, Counting Down Bob Dylan: His 100 Finest Songs, available at all major book-selling sites.)


13 Comments on “CK Retro Review: Knocked Out Loaded by Bob Dylan”

  1. Baggy says:

    Great review of Brownsville Girl CK, your language captures the magic ot this song totally.

    It is a shame that it appears on such a mediocre collection, but hell, if this was the only great song Bob had released in the 80s it would still be worth it. IMHO any consideration of Bob’s career from say 1978 on to the present day should start here, it has all his primary themes embedded within it.

  2. Shabtai says:

    Totally agree with the appreciation of Maybe someday and Brownsville Girl.
    I expect Dylan purists to knock down Maybe Someday.
    Personally I like the record and its ( and Empire Burlesque) easygoing and up tempo mood .
    We should not expect I&I or Every grain in each record.
    I would add a star to Got My Mind Made Up and Driftin’ Too Far From Shore.

  3. Shelley says:

    Unfortunately, even the gem Brownsville Girl is not immune to the 80s treatment, even worse here than on Empire Burlesque. Driftin’ Too Far has one of the most obnoxious drum sounds ever put on record, and it’s only slightly better on the rest of the tracks (Got My Mind Made Up excepted). Brownsville Girl is a masterpiece, but of writing and performance, certainly not of production. The horns on the chorus are horrid, and of all the tracks they appeared on from Street Legal to Down in the Groove, the girl singers here are at their most shrill and intrusive. Still a great listen though, as is the early version Danville Girl, if you can find it check it out, fascinating to hear the lyric revisions.

    I agree Under Your Spell has some witty lines, but none as funny as when my ex-girlfriend heard “when my last dream exploded” as “when my ice cream exploded”!

    • Baggy says:

      I love it, “exploding” ice creams, that’s the kind of stuff Bob used to write in the 60s !

      I’m still trying to remember who “took a cabbage into town” in Lily Rosemary….

  4. Donald White says:

    Maybe Someday is even better when slowed to the correct speed.

  5. Ishman Bracey says:

    Drifting Too Far From Shore is an allusion to the Bill Monroe written song, Drifting Too Far from the Shore. Bob refers to the Stanley Brothers’ version at the outset of No Direction Home. He suggests the song was the beginning of his quest as a musician. He also implies it was the beginning of a religious journey, They Killed Him is a profession of faith, one that is as over the top, and therefore committed in the face of all skepticism, as Christmas in the Heart.

    This book by Jason Hartley gives a great account of Bob in the 80s. His thesis is that with Bob there is always more going on than it might seem at first and things initially hated, generally get better in time. Worth a look.

    I have been enjoying these posts. Thanks for doing them.

  6. k. cramsey says:

    Kid, you are often too kind.

    Even “Brownsville Girl” is a difficult listen because of the bad production and obnoxious back-up vocals noted by one of the other commentors. For this reason, even this song is a “3” at best. The rest are all “1s” and “2s” — mostly “1s.”

    “Loaded,” “Groove” and “Burlesque” are all rather wretched, though admittedly I’ve liked certain songs at certain times over the years (most notably “Tight Connection,” though its better as “Someone’s Got a Hold of My Heart,” “Silvio” and “Brownsville” namely.)


    • Jacek says:

      I think Brownsville Girl is terrific as is! With its more sprawling production and horns and girl singers I far prefer it to New Danville Girl (then throw in Dylan’s vocal delivery, and hoo boy). It’s just a huge, huge triumphant anthem about feeling exactly the opposite of triumphant. It’s got one of the best choruses in all pop or rock music and the band & singers milk for all it’s worth, as they damn well should. The song would probably kick ass solo acoustic too, but the bombastic arrangement is second only to Dylan’s vocal delivery when it comes to sweeping me up with it. For once, the ’80s were brought to heel and made to serve the artist’s vision, as opposed to the other way around.

      • JS says:

        Thanks for your comment Jacek. We definitely agree it’s a terrifc song. But I still cringe when I hear that falling shriek the girl singers do at the end of one of the verses towards the song’s finish, I definitely could do without that bit! (lol)

      • hans altena says:

        Well, Brownsville Girl indeed works in this arrangement for me. The shrieking part is hilarious to me because the women react on a boastful phrase of Dylan’s protoganist in the song. It’s pure theatre in the vein of the Rolling Thunder Revue. If When the Night Comes Falling would have had the same treatment, just as Tight Connection and they were coupled with the creepy Something’s Burning Baby, and as icing on top of this for once delicous overdone eighties cake the moving I’ll Remember You and Under your Spell, we would have had one little tasty sucker, to paraphrase Zappa, that would have done justice to Dylan’s experiment with the modern sounds of those days

      • hans altena says:

        ps I forgot to mention Dark eyes that shines as the everest over this synthetic mess, but then that was no eighties track… but it would have topped of my imaginary ideal 1986/87 album…

  7. Futzi Wailer says:

    I admit I hated it when it came out. Expectations were high with the Tom Petty tour coming up and a rave review in Rolling Stone about sessions of hot r & b covers. Let’s be honest, he blew it big time with this one. And then, years go by and I find myself actually liking some of the stuff. The vocals are strong throughout. Wanna Ramble is great rock and roll, as is Maybe Someday and Got My Mind Made Up. Brownsville Girl is an epic I can listen to over and over. Now if he had added Band of the Hand and left off He Killed Him would we till be complaining? There must be tons of tape somewhere waiting for a Bootleg Series releases that will reveal an album that could have been.

  8. Shelley says:

    Band of the Hand is a killer track, would have been most welcome on Knocked Out Loaded.

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