New book of Bob Dylan lyrics: how the earlier collections compare

The new Bob Dylan lyrics book, Bob Dylan – The Lyrics Since 1962, was today – only hours after it went on sale – rising in value.

This morning, with apparently out of stock, re-sellers were asking up to $500 for a copy of the book from the limited edition of 3,000, launched yesterday at $200.

One early buyer complained that the edition of 3,000 does not, as I speculated here last Saturday, have a slipcase – contrary to at least one of the promotional images.

The new Bob Dylan – The Lyrics Since 1962 is clearly desirable, but how does it compare with previous collections of Bob Dylan lyrics? Does it replace them or complement them? And how desirable are the earlier collections?

Bob Dylan lyrics: three previous collections

There have been three previous collections of Bob Dylan lyrics: Bob Dylan Writings And Drawings; Lyrics 1962-1985 by Bob Dylan; and Bob Dylan Lyrics 1962-2001.

The Bob Dylan lyrics collections have a complex publishing history. There are many different versions of all three collections – different editions, different bindings (hardback and paperback), different printings within each, different covers and designs, and different publishers in different countries.

The examples from these collections, shown below, are books I’ve bought in London. There will probably have been different versions on sale where you live.

Bob Dylan Writings And Drawings

On publication in 1973, Bob Dylan Writings And Drawings was a revelation. The first generation of Dylan devotees revered it as a holy text.

Bob Dylan lyrics collection

Bob Dylan Writings & Drawings, 1974

The Bob Dylan drawings were largely ignored at the time. With hindsight, you can now see the emergence of the draughtsman who would later develop into the artist behind the Drawn Blank book and its lucrative offspring, the Drawn Blank Series of limited edition prints.

My copy of Bob Dylan Writings And Drawings (photograph) was first published by Granada in London in 1974, and was reprinted at least four times up to 1980.

It had been first published as a hardback in 1973, in the US by Alfred A Knopf, and in England by Jonathan Cape. The hardback version also seems to have been reprinted at least four times.

The paperback has little sale value: I replaced an original, battered copy with that in the photograph at the Oxfam second-hand bookshop in Oxford a couple of years ago, for £2.99. The hardback versions are more collectable – decent used copies retail for about £50.

Lyrics 1962-1985 by Bob Dylan

Bob Dylan lyrics book, second collection

Lyrics 1962-1985 by Bob Dylan

Bob Dylan Writings And Drawings was brought up to date (and re-titled) in 1985 by a handsome Alfred A Knopf hardback and then by this large-format paperback (Jonathan Cape, London, 1987). It added subsequent album releases, up to Empire Burlesque.

I also have a small format paperback version, published by HarperCollins in 1994.

The Knopf hardback, available second hand for about £50, is desirable, the two paperbacks less so – that pictured cost me less than £5.

Bob Dylan Lyrics 1962-2001

Bob Dylan Lyrics 1962-2001 (published in 2004) takes the story up to “Love And Theft”. It dispenses with the drawings but adds artwork taken from album covers. I bought this hardback copy for £5.99 at a Virgin Records “fire sale”; it now costs up to £50, second hand.

Bob Dylan Lyrics 1962-2001, covering the albums up to "Love And Theft"

Bob Dylan Lyrics 1962-2001

You can still buy the subsequent paperback version (Simon & Schuster, 2006) for about £15. Its content looks identical to that of the 2004 hardback – the only obvious difference is the slightly smaller format.

It has the most engaging cover of any of the versions of Bob Dylan lyrics: not the most collectable version but, to my eyes, the most attractive.

Bob Dylan – The Lyrics Since 1962: replacement or complement?

For fans seeking the most complete book of lyrics, Bob Dylan – The Lyrics Since 1962 clearly replaces all three earlier collections.  It includes the lyrics of albums since “Love And Theft”, plus – big bonus – lyrics from The Bootleg Series, published for the first time.

And I’m looking forward to reading the Christopher Ricks annotations – another bonus. Ricks is one of the most acute Dylan commentators.

Most fans looking for the most complete collection of Bob Dylan lyrics will probably wait until the October 2015 publication of the $50 “mass market” edition of Bob Dylan – The Lyrics Since 1962.

For collectors, who enjoy assembling artefacts in sets, Bob Dylan – The Lyrics Since 1962 nicely complements earlier collections. It’s priced within the reach of most Dylan collectors and will find a place alongside the three earlier collections of Bob Dylan lyrics.

For investors, Bob Dylan – The Lyrics Since 1962 is the only lyrics collection with scope for significant growth in value, though few true investors will be interested in an asset priced at a mere $200.

Hardcore investors will have considered only the limited edition of 50, priced at $5,000. And some will have considered buying rather more than one copy.

Are you a Dylan fan? A collector? Or an investor?  Why do you buy collections of Bob Dylan lyrics?

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