Bob Dylan: Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid – [Record 147]
Pat Garrett & Billy the Kid is the twelfth studio album and first soundtrack album by American singer-songwriter Bob Dylan, released on July 13, 1973 by Columbia Records for the Sam Peckinpah film, Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid. Dylan himself appeared in the film as the character “Alias”. Consisting primarily of instrumental music and inspired by the movie itself, the soundtrack included “Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door”, which became a trans-Atlantic Top 20 hit. Certified a gold record by the RIAA, Pat Garrett & Billy the Kid reached #16 US and #29 UK.
1, Main Title Theme (Billy).
2, Cantina Theme (Workin’ for the Law).
3, Billy 1.
4, Bunkhouse Theme.
5, River Theme.
6, Turkey Chase.
7, Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door.
8, Final Theme.
9, Billy 4.
10, Billy 7.
Filming of Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid: Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid scriptwriter Rudy Wurlitzer, who was a previous acquaintance of Dylan’s, asked him to provide a couple of songs for the movie. Dylan performed “Billy” for director Peckinpah, who found the performance very moving and offered Dylan an acting part on the spot. The role he ended up getting was a character named Alias. In November 1972, Dylan and his family moved to Durango, Mexico, where filming took place. Filming lasted from late 1972 to early 1973.
Recording sessions: Dylan’s first session for the Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid soundtrack was on January 20, 1973 at CBS Discos Studios in Mexico City. The only song from that day that was included on the album was “Billy 7”; also recorded were multiple other takes of “Billy”, and the outtakes “Under Turkey”, “Billy Surrenders”, “And He’s Killed Me Too”, “Goodbye Holly” and “Pecos Blues”. The following month, Dylan recorded two days at Burbank Studios in Burbank, California. The rest of the album’s songs were recorded, as well as the outtakes “Sweet Armarillo” and “Rock Me Mama”.
Outtakes: The Mexico City session produced two notable outtakes: “Pecos Blues,” an instrumental based on the traditional “What Does The Deep Sea Say?,” and the song “Goodbye Holly.” Both tracks were rejected but eventually bootlegged.
The Burbank sessions yielded a few spontaneous recordings, including a jam titled “Sweet Amarillo” and a simple, improvised song titled “Rock Me Mama.” Although neither were seriously considered for the soundtrack (as they were born more out of leisure than actual work), they were eventually completed and recorded by the Nashville band Old Crow Medicine Show; “Wagon Wheel” was released in 2004 (and subsequently covered by many other artists, including Darius Rucker) and “Sweet Amarillo” was released in 2014.
Reception: Robert Christgau of The Village Voice described it as “two middling-to-excellent new Dylan songs, four good original Bobby voices, and a lot of Schmylan music”. Jon Landau wrote in Rolling Stone that “it is every bit as inept, amateurish and embarrassing as Self Portrait. And it has all the earmarks of a deliberate courting of commercial disaster, a flirtation that is apparently part of an attempt to free himself from previously imposed obligations derived from his audience.”
Despite the album’s lukewarm reception, it spawned a significant hit in “Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door,” which would be covered by acts such as Eric Clapton and Guns N’ Roses. Years later, “Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door” endured as a popular favorite among critics and fans as well as a concert staple, with its inspirational tone and lyrics regarding impending death.
Legacy: After Peckinpah completed his own cut of Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid, MGM re-cut the film without his input, removing several significant scenes and re-shuffling most of Dylan’s music in the process. Peckinpah’s film was released to mixed reviews. Years later, critical re-evaluation of Peckinpah’s film would lead many to regard it as one of his major works, a revisionist view aided by the restoration of Peckinpah’s original cut in 1984.
After witnessing firsthand Peckinpah’s battles with MGM, Dylan had his own problems with Columbia Records. After years of minimal activity, Dylan had lost Columbia’s patience, and when negotiations for a renewed contract began in 1972, the label (except for Clive Davis) had little interest in being generous. “Early in 1973 I finally did conclude negotiations for a new contract with Bob,” wrote Clive Davis in his autobiography. Davis had been a longtime supporter of Dylan’s, but he had been the victim of a corporate coup. While finalizing the details of Dylan’s contract, Davis was fired by CBS president Arthur Taylor on May 29. Dylan testified on Davis’s behalf in a well-publicized civil trial held in July 1975. In the meantime, the incident soured Dylan’s relationship with CBS, convincing him to sign with David Geffen’s fledgling Los Angeles-based label Asylum Records.