The period leading up to Bob Dylan‘s 1966 studio album Blonde on Blonde was the most hectic in Dylan’s long and varied career. Still in the midst of his electric period, Dylan’s shows were met with a polarising reception from fans and critics who were divided over the folk hero’s new direction. Amidst the chaos, Dylan was having one of his most creatively fertile periods, coming up with song ideas quicker than he could ever get them on tape. Blonde on Blonde would become one of the first double albums in popular rock history for this very reason.
Dylan wrote anywhere he could: in the studio, at home, during rehearsal, and especially in the off hours between shows. Hotel rooms were a frequent cite of woodshedding new material, with a tape recorder always on hand to capture what always had the potential to be another Dylan classic.
That’s not always how it shook out, however. Despite writing at a frantic pace and necessitating more vinyl than any other artist of his time, Dylan still had a barrier of entry for including material on his albums. His ongoing Bootleg Series illustrates just how much material Dylan was working on throughout the years. In its longest “collectors edition” form, The Bootleg Series Vol. 12: The Cutting Edge 1965–1966, contains 19 hours of material from this period of Dylan’s career. One section of that album finds Dylan in a Denver hotel room on March 12th, 1966, working on some new material.
‘Don’t Tell Him, Tell Me’ is only a brief snippet on the album, not even a minute and a half in length, but there exists a longer audio take that finds Dylan and presumably guitarist Robbie Robertson working through chord sequences. After a few rough run throughs, a certain prototype of a song begins to take shape, although Dylan appears to be singing nonsense syllables in place of actual words.
Even in rough and unfinished form, it’s clear that ‘Don’t Tell Him, Tell Me’ has potential. The hook is there, as is the ear-catching chord sequence. Why Dylan decided not to continue fleshing the song out remains a mystery, but he was in the middle of recording Blonde on Blonde at the time. He would return to Columbia’s Nashville recording studio just two days later, where he would record the final takes of ‘Absolutely Sweet Marie’, ‘Pledging My Time’, and ‘Just Like a Woman’. For whatever reason, whether because it wasn’t finished or Dylan simply forgot about it, ‘Don’t Tell Him, Tell Me’ wasn’t attempted.
Check out the hotel room audio for ‘Don’t Tell Him, Tell Me’ down below.