Half a century has passed since the unveiling of Bob Dylan‘s 14th studio album. On January 17, 1974, Asylum Records in the United States and Island Records in the United Kingdom released “Planet Waves,” marking a significant chapter in the iconic singer-songwriter’s prolific career. The album features Dylan accompanied by his longtime collaborators, the Band, and it became a catalyst for a major reunion tour that ensued shortly after its release, famously documented on the live album “Before the Flood.”
While the tour had already commenced a couple of weeks before the album’s official release (a decision influenced by Asylum Records’ eagerness to have the album out first), it proved to be a resounding success, accompanied by a surge in publicity. “Planet Waves” soared to the top of the US Billboard charts, clinching the coveted #1 spot, and securing the respectable position of #7 in the UK. The critical reception, while not as harsh as some of Dylan’s preceding albums like “Self Portrait” and “Dylan,” still exhibited a reserved reception for the album’s laid-back roots rock style.
In the annotations accompanying the 2007 album “Dylan,” Bill Flanagan recounts how Dylan and the Band hastily collaborated on the creation of “Planet Waves,” producing an album that included two renditions of a parental blessing to a child, notably showcased in the track “Forever Young.” During the period of Dylan’s hiatus from the stage, he had embraced fatherhood, a shared experience with a substantial portion of his audience. The resonance of “Forever Young” was underscored when Howard Cosell recited the song on American television during the historic moment of Muhammad Ali securing his third heavyweight crown.
The album was initially slated to bear the title “Ceremonies of the Horsemen,” a nod to the song “Love Minus Zero/No Limit” from Dylan’s 1965 album “Bringing It All Back Home.” However, at the eleventh hour, Dylan opted for a change, delaying the release by two weeks to settle on the final title, “Planet Waves.” Notably, an earlier working title for the album was “Wedding Song.” The intricate journey of naming and the artistic choices surrounding the album added an extra layer of intrigue to the already captivating musical narrative of “Planet Waves.”