The first Dylan album that fully embraced the electric band is over half a century old, but still sounds as fresh as ever. From the first note, Highway 61 is like a shot in the arm that just doesn’t let up.
Released in 1965 - "Highway 61 Revisited" would be Bob Dylan's 6th studio album.
Born in 1941 - Dylan (real last name - Zimmerman) was 24 at the time that he wrote and recorded these songs.
This CD contains 9 tracks in all. Two of my favourite tunes are - "Like a Rolling Stone" and "Highway 61 Revisited".
Bob Dylan is now 76 years old and still active in the music business.
Released August 30, 1965, after coming home from his tour in England (where he was famously booed). Highway 61 Revisited peaked at No. 3 in the United States charts and No. 4 in the United Kingdom. The album was ranked No. 4 on Rolling Stone's "500 Greatest Albums of All Time". "Like a Rolling Stone" was a top-10 hit in several countries, and was listed at No. 1 on Rolling Stone's 500 Greatest Songs of All Time list. (wikipedia).
The song Like a Rolling Stone, employed young lead guitar from Michael Bloomfield, of Paul Butterfield Blues Band. Bruce Springsteen was 15 years old when he heard it and had said, "That snare shot sounded like somebody'd kicked open the door to your mind." (Rolling Stone)
These lists are looking primarily, at rock and pop music from the 50's on wards, but rated from other musicians and reviewers of similar time and background. They do not include pre "rock n roll" music, and was published in 2004.
That being said, the recording sessions started on June 15th & 16th, resulting in a recorderd version of the masterpiece, "Like a Rolling Stone," where Dylan sang at the July 25th, Newport Folk Festival, where he played a controversial electric set , causing some people booing him.
Dylan and his band went back to the studio between July 29th to August 4th, to finish the album. (dates from wikipedia).
Another masterpiece i had always felt on that album, was the "Ballad of a Thin Man," supported by questioning lyrics and eerie bluesy electric organ riffs by Al Kooper. John Lennon even referred to "Dylans' Mr Jones," in his"'Yer Blues" song.
My mum and I spend many hours listening and writing down the lyrics to this album, pre lyrics being added to the vinyl sleeves at that time and not having the money to go and buy a published book of the music and lyrics. Not understanding everything said or even knowing if it was to be understood, but the lyrics and music took us to experiences of rare destinations.
Highway 61 Revisited begins with the crashing and iconic first notes of “Like a Rolling Stone”, a definitive anthem of the 60s and a song Rolling Stone magazine listed as the single greatest track of all time. That’s being a tad overly generous. It’s a great piece of music, yes, but far from Dylan’s best, as it replaces sharp lyrics with catchier ones. Nonetheless, it’s a lively track, and a magnificent album opener.
It transitions into “Tombstone Blues”, another fast-paced song. Dylan’s voice is perhaps at its most boring, but his lyrics are very clever. His songs are written on par with the great poets of his generation. “Tombstone Blues” is evidence of his gift as a songwriter.
Then we move into a softer piece, “It Takes a Lot to Laugh, It Takes a Train to Cry”. It’s easier on the ear (a result of Dylan using the best of his voice), and has a far less aggressive tone. The piece is written with sexual imagery and smooth bluesy backing music.
“From a Buick 6” is essentially a continuation of “Tombstone Blues”. It’s another track with a fast tempo, strong lyrics, and a band of rock musicians as opposed to the folk sounds early Dylan fans expected and admired. It’s this shift from straight folk to folk-rock that alienated Dylan’s audience – listeners who believed social commentary couldn’t be incorporated into rock music. These days, such criticisms seem trivial, but at the time, Dylan was largely branded as conformist.
As the harmonica from “From a Buick 6” has faded out, “Ballad of a Thin Man” opens with its familiar and striking opening chords. The song is an underappreciated masterpiece, and certainly the greatest song from Dylan, who, despite writing it, claims to have no understand of what it’s “about”. There are several clear recurring themes, such as hypocrisy or the mood in America during the 60s cultural revolution. Dylan displays a degree of range in his voice, often shifting into a softer tone. And the lyrics are haunting as Dylan tells of the misadventures of one “Mr. Jones”. While certainly a boggling listen, “Ballad of a Thin Man” is Dylan at his most poignant, powerful, and ingenious.
“Queen Jane Approximately” is like an underrated “Like a Rolling Stone”. They share a similar sound and a cautiously optimistic mood. While “Queen Jane Approximately” lacks the catchiness of the album’s first track, there’s an emotional component Dylan succeeds in capturing here that “Like a Rolling Stone” lacks.
Then, a whistling sound notifies us we’ve moved onto the title track, “Highway 61 Revisited”. It’s built on biblical and historic references colliding with aspects of modern society. It’s a well-written song, though it does little to distinguishing itself, making somewhat of an album low point.
Perhaps the gloomiest the albums gets is on “Just Like Tom Thumb’s Blues”, a melancholy eighth track. Dylan’s voice is strong and meshes with the aforementioned rockish turn.
Then there’s the 11-minute acoustic finale, “Desolation Row”, which is perfect evidence of Dylan’s immense skill as a lyricist. His words interweave figures from history and fictitious (mostly literary) characters into his highly detailed tapestry of loneliness. It’s Dylan in another masterpiece that would’ve satisfied both the fans of “folk Dylan” and “rock Dylan”. It’s a tremendously lyrical and powerful way of ending one of the greatest albums ever recorded.
Bob Dylan is playing the Paramount Theater this weekend. What a time to look at one of his greatest albums "Highway 61 Revisited". Every song seems better than the last. This is the album to put at the top of the Bob Dylan Record Collection. Ask yourself this, "It takes a lot to cry, it takes a train to laugh". Who else could have had a song with that title?
Bob Dylan's second (some would argue first) greatest album. In my Top 10 greatest albums of all time. See my GerryD Lists for other great albums.
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