Recorded in just three days time, Planet Waves is at its core an exhibition of the inimitable folk-rock honed by Dylan and the Band. Recalling the Americana spirit of The Basement Tapes while adding a domesticated edginess and subtracting a degree of wildness, the set personifies simple charm and scraggly sweetness. Couched in the context of Dylan grappling with the chasm between family life and the road, Planet Waves fittingly encompasses myriad moods and contradictions, with tunes ranging from unquestionably devotional to overtly dark. In between, the singer attempts to navigate peace, catharsis, and resolve.
Per Dylan's hallmark, many tunes on Planet Waves involve twists and subterfuge. Not, however, the best-known offerings – the often-covered wish "Forever Young," celebratory roll-and-tumble "On a Night Like This," devotional "You Angel You," which spark with love, romance, and prayer-like tenderness. Yet the seeds that blossomed into 1975's traumatic break-up album Blood on the Tracks are also planted here. Complex feelings and deep-seated personal confusion surface on "Wedding Song," the hardscrabble "Tough Mama," piano-centered "Dirge," and knocking-on-heaven's-door darkness of "Going, Going, Gone."
Throughout, Dylan's voice supplies subtle hints about his mindset and intent as the Band shadows him step for step, adding to the thematic ambivalence and contributing to a debate over meaning that continues today. Indeed, such relevance confirms the significance of Planet Waves 40 years after its original release.