30 August 2013

30th August - Bob Dylan's Highway 61 Revisited

Artist – Album: Bob Dylan – Highway 61 Revisited
Released:  30th August 1965
Sounds Like: A special day

I’ve had days on this Albumaday… journey where I’ve had a pretty tough choice between two awesome records – in June, for example, Radiohead’s OK Computer came directly up against Marvin Gaye’s What’s Going On – and occasionally, say once or twice, there’s been as many as three brilliant albums released on the same day. But today is just plain ridiculous. Today I’ve had to listen to, and then reconcile not writing about, one of the Nineties best albums in Oasis’ Definitely Maybe, The Beach Boys’ forgotten classic Surf’s Up, The Byrds’ sweetest record Sweetheart of the Rodeo, Kanye West’s superstar- status-confirming Late Registration, The Libertines’ stunning self-titled debut and Björk’s majestic Medúlla. It’s just not fair is it? As difficult as it was to justify ignoring each of these genuinely great records, however, it would have been a hell of a lot more difficult to overlook Highway 61 Revisited.

The album that definitively marked Dylan’s transformation from a folk artist to a rock star, Highway 61 Revisited is bookended by two of his most iconic tracks – the sneering, bile-fest that also happens to be the most acclaimed song of all time ‘Like a Rolling Stone’, and the mystic, flamenco tinged stream of consciousness ‘Desolation Row’. An album made of just these two alone would be worthy of mention in this blog, and, at seventeen and a half minutes between them, would roughly equate to the length of the average Ramones record. In between though, there’s wit, romance and, yes, a little bit more anger. The title track is blues boogie plays like a circus act, and it’s followed by the nervous, hallucinatory ‘Just Like Tom Thumb’s Blues’. Along with ‘Desolation Row’, the shuffling ‘Ballad of a Thin Man’ is probably my favourite, with Dylan filtering every bit of venom in the delivery of his put down “something’s happening but you don’t know what it is, do you Mr Jones?”. Highway 61 was seen by Dylan as the road that connected his birthplace, Duluth, to all the blues landmarks, such as the birth places of Muddy Waters and Charley Patton and the point where Robert Johnson allegedly sold his soul to the devil, and, as such, a lot of the music within has blues foundations.  

Better writers than I have found themselves fumbling fruitlessly for satisfactory expressions when attempting to describe albums as great as this. Professors of English would struggle to decipher Dylan’s lush, abstract poetry, whilst the backdrop against which the album was released – with the US entering conflict in Vietnam and the assassinations of JFK and Martin Luther King still being mourned, the Sixties were yet to truly swing – is something that I’ve read about but have had no experience of. Nevertheless, even with my weak and feeble mind, living in these considerably less turbulent times, this album for me is still spectacularly good.

Albumaday... rating: 10/10

1.       Like a Rolling Stone – 6:13
2.       Tombstone Blues – 6:00
3.       It Takes a Lot to Laugh, It Takes a Train to Cry – 4:09
4.       From a Buick 6 – 3:19
5.       Ballad of a Thin Man – 5:58
6.       Queen Jane Approximately – 5:31
7.       Highway 61 Revisited – 3:30
8.       Just Like Tom Thumb’s Blues – 5:32
9.       Desolation Row – 11:21

Listen to ‘Desolation Row’: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=F-8KA4G4S9o

Also released on 30th August:
1967: The Byrds – Sweetheart of the Rodeo
Also released on 30th August:
1994: Oasis – Definitely Maybe

Also released on 30th August:
2005: Kanye West – Late Registration

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