BOB DYLAN: HIGHWAY 61 REVISITED (1965)
Though you’d be hard-pressed to find anyone who would disagree that Highway 61… is a great album, it usually takes a back seat in most Bob Dylan polls to the album that came next, 1966’s Blonde on Blonde. Blonde on Blonde is an extraordinary musical achievement, filled with great songs.
But like the aforementioned London Calling, it is a double album. It ends on the epic “Sad Eyed Lady of the Lowlands,” written for Dylan’s wife Sarah Lownds. I think “Sad Eyed Lady…” is a very good song, but I’m not sure it was the best way to end Blonde on Blonde. At eleven-and-a-half minutes, it can grow monotonous.
There is not one second of monotony on Highway 61 Revisited. It arrived at a crucial point – not merely in Dylan’s career, but in the evolution of popular music as a whole. Steve Earle has identified 1965 as the year Dylan decided he wanted to be the Beatles (in Highway 61…) and John Lennon decided he wanted to be Dylan (in Rubber Soul). He had begun blending folk protest with electric rock n roll with Bringing It All Back Home earlier in 1965, and it had pissed off Dylan’s core audience. Nonetheless, he double-downed on Highway 61... and won him a whole new world of fans.
From the moment Al Kooper’s organ kicks off “Like a Rolling Stone,” through to the epic Latin-tinged acoustic story told in “Desolation Row,” Dylan is at his absolute best. The title track is boisterous fun with a slide whistle adding to the carnival. “Tombstone Blues” rocks better than ever Dylan had before. And ‘Ballad of a Thin Man” is one of the most, bitter mysterious epics in all pop music. The other four songs lose none of that eclectic energy. “Desolation Row” is as long as “Sad Eyed Lady…” but I have never felt worn out by the time I get to it.