What? you say. “The Boxer?” That isn’t even a Bob Dylan song! What about “Knocking on Heaven’s Door?” “Blowin’ in the Wind?” “Mr. Tambourine Man?” So many classic songs to choose from, and you go with “The Boxer?” What the hell are you thinking, wasting everyone’s time writing about a song that nobody cares about?
To which I say, hypothetical and likely nonexistent reader, that you have a point, but I write what I write. The song exists, and we, the fans, must contend with it: such is fandom. Sometime between Paul Simon’s composing “The Boxer” and Marcus Mumford’s ruining it, Bob Dylan recorded a bizarre cover version for his infamous Self-Portrait album. Even on that album, which is full of (mostly failed) experiments, Dylan’s “Boxer” stands out, and not in a good way: the song is a mostly straight reading of the song which is rendered ridiculous by its two vocal tracks. That’s right folks: modern recording technology, ca. 1970, has reached its culmination in allowing the Voice of His Generation to record a duet with himself. Blonde on Blonde Dylan and Nashville Skyline Dylan, together at last!
It’s difficult to imagine why any serious recording artist would choose to release a recording like this. One of the predominant narratives surrounding Self-Portrait is that it was an attempt to get rid of that annoying and not-all-that-accurate “Voice of a Generation” tag; Dylan himself makes this claim in Chronicles. At least he sounds like he’s having a bit of fun while recording it, though, definitely more fun than I’ve had listening to it. I guess that’s the kind of thing you can expect from one of the most notorious albums in rock.
The Bootleg Series, Vol. 10: Another Self-Portrait did a lot, in my opinion, to show what kinds of things Bob was doing musically as the sixties gave way. A lot of the songs on Self-Portrait, when stripped of the overdubs that are on the finished album, are actually really good! “The Boxer” isn’t one of those songs, though. It just sucks.
(I would include a link to the song, but Columbia appears to have cracked down on YouTube postings of Dylan material.)