Highway 61 Revisited – Bob Dylan

This week for Flashback Friday, I’ve decided to throw it way back, all the way to August 30th, 1965, when Bob Dylan released his sixth studio album, Highway 61 Revisited. Bob Dylan is sort of a shapeshifter in a sense, in that each of his albums has a completely different feel and tone. On this record, Dylan puts his folk music past on a shelf and poses as a front man for an electric blues/rock band. He’s is one of my favorite artists so I’ll try to remain unbiased, as I understand there are mixed opinions about his work. Let’s dive in.

The Vocals:

Look, I know they’re not the best. Bob Dylan may sound like Tom Petty with a cold, but I promise that it’ll grow on you. What he lacks in vocal ability, he more than makes up for with thoughtful and poetic lyrics, which start a subtle dialogue over the chaotic cultural and political goings on of that time period. For example, on track two “Tombstone Blues” he says,

“The king of the Philistines, his soldiers to save Puts jawbones on their tombstones and flatters their graves Puts the pied pipers in prison and fattens the slaves Then sends them out to the jungle”

This could be an allusion to Lyndon B. Johnson and the Vietnam war, but it’s up for interpretation. It’s this kind of absurdist poetry that made Dylan the first musician to receive a Nobel Prize for literature two years ago. If you listen close, you’ll pick up on something new from each listen through this album.

The Instrumentals:

This album captures Dylan wandering into uncharted territory, as it’s only his second album featuring an electric guitar. Every instrument captures a sort of nervous energy, from the twangy/jingling guitars to high pitched organ riffs. Each song on the album is a jumbled and sloppy composition of textures from instruments that somehow works out just fine. The album is named after the highway that connects his hometown in Minnesota to some of the blues/rock destinations in America’s southern states, and each instrument gives a sense of the classic American music that the album breaths its inspiration from. It’s a big step from Dylan’s campfire sing-along style of play in his past works.

The Production:

The first recording sessions on the album were produced by Tom Wilson, and the only remaining work from those sessions that made the final cut was “Like a Rolling Stone”. The rest of the album was produced by Columbia Record’s staff producer Brian Johnston. The instrumentation on this album is kind of strange, so I have to give these two props for reigning it all in. It can’t be an easy task to infuse a rock album with an organ and a slide whistle.

The Essentials:

“Like a Rolling Stone” (obviously), “Tombstone Blues”, and “Desolation Row”

The Rating:

It’s tough not to be biased, so I’ve weighted my honest rating of this album. That being said, it an…

8.1

It’s not Dylan’s best album (which is Blood on the Tracks), but it’s a great album and his first real “rock” album. Keep it classic.

-Drew

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