Released in 1991 to satisfy enormous demand for Dylan's much-bootlegged unissued material, it contains rarities and unreleased works from the sessions for 1962's eponymous debut Bob Dylan to 1989's Oh Mercy. Of the 58 total tracks, 45 are session outtakes from recording sessions for Dylan studio albums. Of the remaining 13 tracks, one is an outtake from the session for the "George Jackson" single of 1971, two are further releases from the Basement Tape sessions of 1967, five are live recordings, and five are demo records, three of latter being later duplicated on Volume 9 of the series.
The material is spread across five vinyl records and three compact discs/cassettes, each labeled in the box set as "volumes". Subsequent albums in the Bootleg Series continue the CD/Cassette volume numbering and, contrary to the single-disc "volumes" in the box set, appear in double-disc packages as their primary non-limited edition format.
A remastered version in smaller packaging was issued on August 19, 1997, on Legacy Recordings, the reissue imprint of Sony Records.