“Highway 61 Revisited” by Bob Dylan - album review

features in: Album Chart of 1965Album Chart of the Decade: 1960s1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die external-link.png

TJR says

Much to the chagrin of the eclectically challenged, the decade’s lead hipster deepened his experimental hybrid of folk roots with electrified blues rock, all twisted up in lyrical Dylanility. The songs were flavoured by Mike Bloomfield’s blues guitar, and Al Kooper’s organ riffs. With a doff of the cap to his spiritual ancestors, the album title alluded to the famous route which passed near the birthplaces and homes of influential musicians such as Muddy Waters, Son House, Elvis Presley, and Charley Patton. The “empress of the blues”, Bessie Smith, died after sustaining serious injuries in an automobile accident on it. And it is, of course, the stuff of legend that bluesman Robert Johnson is said to have “sold his soul to the devil” at the highway’s crossroads with Route 49! Bob had to fight hard to get the title that he wanted to go with the content, he said: “Nobody understood it. I had to go up the fucking ladder until finally the word came down and said: ‘Let him call it what he wants to call it’.” How ridiculous is that? Fighting folk fans, fighting record companies, deemed to be a fighter of everyone’s cause; it’s little wonder he was fired up for this one.

The strength in depth over the course of these 9 classic pieces is unsurpassed in Rock n Roll thus far. Such passion, such spirit, such vitality. It’s got a triple wow rating from start to finish. Opening track, “Like A Rolling Stone”, bristles with an intensity which is verging on the insane; when Bob sneers “How does it FEEL?” you get a sense that this is a guy on the edge. In May 1965, Dylan returned from his tour of England feeling tired and dissatisfied with his material. He told journalist Nat Hentoff: “I was going to quit singing. I was very drained.” The singer added: “It’s very tiring having other people tell you how much they dig you if you yourself don’t dig you.” As a consequence of his dissatisfaction, Dylan wrote 20 pages of verse he later described as a “long piece of vomit”. He reduced this to a song with four verses and a chorus—”Like a Rolling Stone”. He told Hentoff that writing and recording the song washed away his dissatisfaction, and restored his enthusiasm for creating music. As always, you can take Bob’s songs in many different ways – it seems to me he himself is the one with “no direction home”.

As impossible as it seems, “Tombstone Blues” manages to maintain the high and, with it, the sense that we are witnessing an epic body of work unfold. It’s a rockabilly rumbler that revels in the latest chapter of Dylan’s surrealistic ramblings; amongst the verbal onslaught you can pick up on a hundred angles – “the sun’s not yellow, it’s chicken”. What’s going on in there? Closer inspection reveals that the line is delivered in mock fashion from a taunting “commander in chief”. In fact, the deeper you dig the more you find there are more angles than a higher Maths paper. Is this anti-Vietnam? Definitely maybe. Side one closes with “Ballad Of A Thin Man”, and the king of the nasty song is in glorious form as he rips into journalists and their infuriating inability to understand both the singer and his work. The song smokes and smoulders with Dylan’s piano and Al Kooper’s “spooky organ riffs”. Mr. Jones could well be a London journalist – or he could represent the hapless bourgeois at large. Dylan mocks on behalf of an entire counterculture movement: “Something is happening here, but you don’t know what it is, do you, Mr Jones?” I’m not quite sure I know what is happening half the time on Bob Dylan records. But I know I love them. And I know I ain’t no Mr. Jones. And I know that Bob Dylan has, for the third time in a row, created the greatest album of the year. In fact, as at 1965, “Highway 61 Revisited” is the greatest album the world has ever seen…

The Jukebox Rebel

A1 [06:13] 10.0.png Bob Dylan - Like A Rolling Stone (Robert Zimmerman) Folk Rock / Americana
A2 [05:58] 10.0.png Bob Dylan - Tombstone Blues (Robert Zimmerman) Rock n Roll / Rockabilly
A3 [04:09] 9.8.png Bob Dylan - It Takes A Lot To Laugh, It Takes A Train To Cry (Robert Zimmerman) Blues / Rhythm n Blues
A4 [03:19] 8.8.png Bob Dylan - From A Buick 6 (Robert Zimmerman) Blues / Rhythm n Blues
A5 [05:58] 10.0.png Bob Dylan - Ballad Of A Thin Man (Robert Zimmerman) Blues Rock / Soul Rock
B1 [05:31] 9.1.png Bob Dylan - Queen Jane Approximately (Robert Zimmerman) Folk Rock / Americana
B2 [03:30] 9.6.png Bob Dylan - Highway 61 Revisited (Robert Zimmerman) Blues Rock / Soul Rock
B3 [05:31] 9.2.png Bob Dylan - Just Like Tom Thumb’s Blues (Robert Zimmerman) Folk Rock / Americana
B4 [11:21] 9.3.png Bob Dylan - Desolation Row (Robert Zimmerman) Folk Rock / Americana

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