on September 22, 2004
There are many dividing lines in rock and roll. Before Elvis and after Elvis, before The Beatles and after The Beatles, and so on. "Highway 61 Revisted" invites such a watershed moment in rock and roll. Prior to the release people such as Steve Allen would gather great laughs just from reciting the lyrics to rock and roll songs. For example, Steve Allen would read "Be bop a lu bop, she's my baby", and audiences would guffaw loudly. When "61" was released, it was evident that rock and roll had meaning, it was an viable art form. Dylan's fury and wounded ego can be heard throughout the album snarling and pleading to those seemingly unaffected by the times they lived in. "How does it feel", is rock and roll's preeminent and ultimate question. How DOES it feel? This album, in my humble opinion, is the greatest rock album ever produced. Dylan, Bloomfield, and Kooper on organ, transcend popular music and sent it spinning into areas artists are still exploring. Rock's first great masterpiece and Dylan's ticket to immortality.
on July 12, 2001
One of the records essential to understanding the genuis that is Bob Dylan. Not his best album, but one of his most defining. An epoch not just in the career of Dylan, but in rock itself. Highway 61 Revisited was a turning point, a defining moment; the point where Bob Dylan dropped the folk mystique and went straight-ahead into rock. The electric half of Bringing It All Back Home (and, in particular, Subeterranian Homesick Blues) took rock in another direction entirely, and this album is the logical extension of that. Backed by a full rock band, Dylan lifts off the album with one of his most instantly-recognizable songs, the epic Like A Rolling Stone (which, significantly, broke radio's "three minute" barrier.) Many people consider this the first actual "rock" song; and, though that is a bit of an exaggeration, it is definately an extremely important early icon of the rock generation. This song is followed by the pure garage rock of Tombstone Blues. Next up is the excellent slow blues, It Takes A Lot To Laugh, It Takes A Train To Cry. Other highlights of the album include the hilarously surreal Ballad of A Thin Man, the lyrically and musically avant-garde title track, and the closing, thoughtful, apocalyptic epic Desolation Row. It is obvious even from the titles of the songs that Dylan lyrically was here attempting something very avant-garde and impressionistic. Some of the lyrics are unquestionably profound (Rolling Stone, Desolation Row), others seemingly non-sensical (Thin Man), but all brilliant. The music here is rock rooted in blues, and we get more than a few fine blues licks here and there from guitarist Michael Bloomfield, and some fine acoustic playing on Desolation Row. On top of all this, Dylan would rarely play his harmonica this good again. An absolute must-own.
on August 18, 2004
There are many great Bob Dylan albums. For some people, it's a hard to find the right one to truly see how brilliant Bob Dylan is; vocally, lyrically, and musically.
As a 20 year old, I was intrigued by listening to - Like a Rolling Stone - for the first time. I purchased Highway 61 Revisited and was absolutely floored by it's content. This is the single best album for younger people to grasp hold of Bob Dylan's amazing talent. The songwriting is absolutely amazing. The music differs a lot from his earlier work. This is the first time a full band was hired on, featuring Michael Bloomfield on lead guitar, giving it a full electric sound.
My past opinions of Bob Dylan being a Folk Musician were long gone. Bob Dylan is the epitome of Rock & Roll. I now own 13 Bob Dylan CDs now, and my life will be forever changed by them. Bob Dylan grows on you like nothing else. He draws you in, and obsession takes over from there. This album and most Dylan albums are an experience in themselves. They all give you a unique perspective into the personality of Bob Dylan.
Bob Dylan is an acquired taste. This music may not be for everyone; but it's a great feeling grasping the intensity of the lyrics, the attitude, and the message that Bob Dylan sends to his listeners. I hate thinking of all the years Bob Dylan hasn't been a part of my life. I wish I could go back in time to 1965 and see it for myself (like I said above - obsession). It will make you think; then make you think some more; and that's never a bad thing. So get out there and experience the magic for yourself.
(key track: Ballad Of A Thin Man)
on August 11, 2005
I started listening to Bob Dylan when I was eighteen years old and lived in Calcutta, India. This was before the 'glory' days of corporate globalization and the global brands hadn't painted the nation with its broad strokes of corporate colour. No MTV, just a state controlled basic TV for under 30 hours a week in all meant that we listened to good music and read good books. We realized early that good music, like good literature had no political boundaries, yet so much of it was pure politics.
Arindam Mitra, an old friend of mine, now settled in Mumbai, gave me the vinyl LP and swear to god, I probably listened to it a 100 times in a short span of time. It wasn't my first Dylan album, but it was one that would have an indelible mark on a young mind.
Music, as you know, in its best form, can change your life.
I wonder if there's one performer these days who even comes close to having the ability to make a record of this stature. The words are like burning coal, the music like rolling thunder and hits you like a jet plane.
I do not recommend that you go and buy this album unless you are exploring what real music is all about. On the other hand, if you do decide to listen to Highway 61 for the first time, it may well change your life.
If you do possess this album, go and listen to it again. Mr. Dylan may tell you something completely different this time.
on July 2, 2000
Dylan's first all-electric album may have dated somewhat, but it remains a fascinating and extremely powerful symbol of the 60s counterculture. With his extraordinary surreal imagery and literary references, the greatest songwriter of this century brought to rock music an intellect and respectability no one had thought it capable of possessing. This album is raw, unfinished; admittedly, it lacks the formal perfection of its great successor `Blonde on Blonde'- but that doesn't make it any the less impressive or significant. The album opener `Like a Rolling Stone' holds a unique place in rock history, and is even considered by many to be THE defining rock song (I personally admire the track more than I actually enjoy listening to it); the closer, `Desolation Row' is a sparsely arranged, musically economical 11-minute long number that breaks new ground in surrealistic poetry (`Einstein disguised as Robin Hood....') Whether or not one reads any actual deep-rooted meaning in these lyrics, the fact remains (though this may sound hypocritical) that such songs were absolutely essential at the time, for popular music to acquire the much-needed respect that had hitherto been denied it. Stacked between these two bookends are gems like the haunting `Ballad of a Thin Man', `Just like Tom Thumb's Blues', the wickedly funny title track, and the absolutely superb `Tombstone Blues'. Decidedly an album that changed the course of popular music forever.
on February 10, 2008
Bob Dylan is a frustratingly inconsistent artist. The worst albums in his catalog - and there are a lot of those - are pretty much insufferable. But if you catch Dylan on a good day, when his creative powers are at their height and his lyrics are some of the best known to man - and there are a lot of those, too - every good word you've heard about the guy suddenly turns true. This is definitely one such album, and his most famous, acclaimed work. It may not be as revolutionary as Bringing it All Back Home or as personal as Blood on the Tracks, but the lyrics here are better than on ANY other Dylan album, or any other album, period.
So, right. It's Dylan vs. the establishment here. And if you aren't betting on Dylan, you're betting on the wrong horse. The most fierce attack on the "straight" (in more senses than one, if you're reading between the lines) culture is on "Ballad of a Thin Man", a creepy, organ-driven track with Dylan's sneering at its best. And the lyrics are brilliant, as usual. Another favorite of mine is the resident classic, "Like a Rolling Stone", which was later covered by everyone from Bob Marley to the Replacements to Jimi Hendrix. In other words, it's an across-the-board standard, and it just might be Dylan's signature song. It's not just the infamously nasty lyrics that make it the masterpiece it is, either (though that sure is part of it), but the melody, the triumphant organ part, and the little guitar fills, provided by Al Kooper and Mike Bloomfield, respectively. In short, it's Dylan at his peak as a songwriter, lyricist, and arranger. It's more or less as good as a song can get. Sharply contrasting this carefully arranged song are the several literally offbeat (as in, the bass and drums aren't even together) garage-rockers: "Tombstone Blues" is a propulsive, ramshackle rant against everything, taking "Subterranean Homesick Blues" to a new level; "From a Buick 6" is a funny blues rave-up parody with a great bass line and several great lyrics such as "I need a steam shovel mama to keep away the dead, I need a dump truck mama to unload my head" and various others that only Dylan could come up with. The title track is hilarious - the satirical lyrics ("God said to Abraham, 'Kill me a son', Abe said, 'Man, you must be puttin' me on'") are gutbusters, and who doesn't love that little toy police siren? "Just Like Tom Thumb's Blues" is more of Dylan at his finest, a witty travelogue with several sly, subtle references to prostitution, drugs, corrupt authorities, and general decadence. Let us not forget Dylan's sarcastic, satirical love song "Queen Jane Approximately" either, or the gentle majesty of the straightforward blues "It Takes a Lot to Laugh, It Takes a Train to Cry".
And then there's "Desolation Row", arguably the most cryptic piece in Dylan's discography. It's more than eleven minutes long, and the entirety of it is played on an acoustic guitar with Dylan calmly intoning downright apocalyptic lyrics. It's certainly an ambitious piece, namechecking Ophelia, the Phantom of the Opera, Casanova (in the same verse!), Quasimodo, Cain & Abel, Ezra Pound, T.S. Eliot, and containing more than one reference to genocide. By anyone else it would fall apart, but there's something about Dylan's presence here that makes it arguably the best song on the album. I myself haven't the faintest idea of what he's getting at here - I suspect that "desolation row" itself is an afterlife of sorts - but the words sure do sound good together, whatever they're supposed to convey.
In conclusion, this was probably the album that gave the name "Bob Dylan" the messianic undertone it conveys. But here's what separates Bob from his many imitators. It's clear that he wasn't even TRYING to be the voice of his generation here - if he was, he probably would've put a lot more care into producing this album and DEFINITELY would've fixed all those little mistakes the band makes that just add to how GOOD this record is - but he succeeded in it just the same. Everyone else who tries it fails. See? That's what's so good about him.
on February 16, 2006
"Like a Rolling Stone" alone earns 5 stars. I remember hearing it on the radio when it first came out. Talk about anthems! To this day, that song gives me chills. Who knew where we were headed in the next 5 years?!? Chicago, Vietnam, Selma, Chicago again, Woodstock, Altamont, Watergate (alright, that one's more like 6), NIXON/AGNEW. And through it all, you could almost hear "Like a Rolling Stone" playing. It was more than just what the lyrics were saying.
I saw Dylan and the Band on tour in 72/73. When they played that song, the completely sold out arena just plain went nuts. A lot had happened since 1965, and that song just reminded us. "How does it feel?" Well, a lot had happened, but Bob and the Band were still with us. And somehow, that made it just a little easier to stomach.
I've pondered the significance of Highway 61 over the years. I think the name of the album alone is genius. Think of how much happened over the last 100 years within 50 miles of that road. The birth of the blues, the Civil Rights movement, the final death-knell for Jim Crow (though some still lingers). It's like an artery through the body of America.
p.s. I like Counting Crows, initially anyway, just on the basis that their song "Mr. Jones" is a reference to "Ballad of a Thin Man".
Hyperbole rules in customer reviews, but I honestly believe that this is the greatest album ever released. It almost certainly influenced the history of rock and roll more than any other single album made, even more than SGT PEPPER. Why? The greatest influence on the Beatles after their initial fame was listening to Bob Dylan. The influence of the single "Like a Rolling Stone" alone was staggering. (It was released as a single months before the album.) Upon listening to Dylan and this album/song, Sam Cooke wrote a masterpiece in trying to imitate him ("A Change is Gonna Come"), as did Otis Redding ("Sitting on the Dock of the Bay"). Both Lennon and McCartney abandoned the pop love songs that had been the staple of the Beatles success through 1965 to write the more complex lyrics found on REVOLVER and RUBBER SOUL. Virtually every rock songwriter on both sides of the Atlantic had to rethink everything that they were doing with their music. His previous albums had found a wide audience, but primarily in the folk scene. This was true even of BRINGING IT ALL BACK HOME. Primarily because of the success of "Like a Rolling Stone" as a single, this was the first Dylan album that was primarily a rock album rather than folk.
There are so many remarkable aspects to this album. The lyrics are so incredible as to seem beyond the capacity of someone as young and uneducated as Dylan, full of deep cultural resonances and references while maintaining a poetic perfection. Every fan can name his or her own favorites: mine are "Like a Rolling Stone," the title song, "Ballad of a Thin Man," "Just Like Tom Thumb's Blues," and "Desolation Row." The success of the album made his earlier albums equally essential for rock performers, instantly providing rock with a verbal palette that dramatically extended the simple love song to almost any subject.
One thing that sets this album from so many Dylan albums that followed is the excellence of the session musicians. As great as Dylan is, on many of his albums he employs musicians that simply aren't among the best. Take the guitar work alone. Although Robbie Robertson would provide superb work on BLONDE ON BLONDE, no Dylan album after HIGHWAY 61 would feature such stellar solo work as what Michael Bloomfield would provide on this one. The filler lines he provides at the end of the various lines in "Tombstone Blues" is just one example. But as fine as Bloomfield is, he is matched by the astonishing playing by country guitarist Charlie McCoy on "Desolation Row," who achieves the near impossible by playing eleven minutes of acoustic guitar in counterpoint to Dylan's strumming, and manages to make it compelling throughout.
Above all else, HIGHWAY 61 REVISITED created the potential for rock to be difficult and challenging. Before Dylan, no one listening to rock had to use more than just a tiny fraction of their brain. After this album, rock became intelligent, or at least had that potential. Take "Desolation Row." Apart from Chuck Berry telling Beethoven to roll over, rock contained in its first decade virtually no cultural references to speak of. But in that song alone Dylan sings of Cinderella, Bette Davis, Romeo, Cain and Abel, the hunchback of Notre Dame, the Good Samaritan, Ophelia, Noah, Einstein, the Phantom of the Opera, Casanova, Nero, Neptune, the Titanic, Ezra Pound, and T. S. Eliot. Rock had never been so literate before and has only rarely been this intelligent since. Somehow in an eleven-minute song Dylan managed to sum up huge hunks of modern culture. In conjunction with the other songs on the album, in particular "Ballad of a Thin Man" and "Highway 61 Revisited," Dylan seemed to sum up all the alienation that the youth of the sixties was feeling in regard to the consumerism that had exploded in the fifties.
It is hardly conceivable that any serious fan of music in general or rock in particular isn't already familiar with every second of this album, but if not, you must get it. On its own merits, it is one of the supreme cultural achievements of the century, and its massive influence on every single songwriter who grew up in its wake only makes knowing it all that more essential.
on August 25, 2001
While it's true that "serious" Dylan fans are supposed to unanimously agree that Blood on the Tracks is his best album, I can't help but think that this supercedes it in some aspects. Dylan did a terrific job with this album, which starts off with "Like a Rolling Stone" and still manages not to go down from there. "Tombstone Blues", "Just Like Tom Thumb's Blues", and "Queen Jane Approximately" are all great songs, to say nothing of the massive masterpiece that is "Desolation Row". "Ballad of a Thin Man" is also terrific, but it tends to take second fiddle after a while to the other songs. "It Takes A Lot To Laugh, It Takes A Train To Cry", quite apart from having a great title, is a great song. Finally, the title track is what got me into Dylan, and I'm still not sick of it. "Blood on the Tracks" is a great album, but it's not a very good introduction to Dylan. "Highway 61" is a perfect introduction. Follow it up with "Blonde on Blonde" or "John Wesley Harding" and let the rest follow from there.
on June 4, 2004
In 1965, Bob Dylan released HIGHWAY 61 REVISITED, arguably the single most important record in 1960s rock. A total break with anything occurring in popular music before (save Dylan's own albums), HIGHWAY 61 REVISITED merged biting, sharp lyricism and great garage-rock and blues. When most other bands were singing about boy-girl topics and writing insubstantial lyrics (in 1965 The Beatles were singing "You're gonna lose that girl"), Dylan combined edgy, hip lyrics with garage rock, blues, and epic folk. His voice, rough hewn and very off-kilter technically, rewrites the rules for rock vocals. As Mark Prindle says, Dylan's voice turned off a lot of people, but influenced a whole lot more.
"Like a Rolling Stone," Dylan's most famous song, kickstarts HIGHWAY 61 with a sledge hammer. Significant as the single that broke the three minute barrier Dylan berates a woman, very much trying to be with the `in' movement. Filled with images never before conceived with in pop music, this song sets the tone of the rest of the album, and indeed this period of Dylan's life. "Ballad of a Thin Man," however, proves itself to be the really brutal put-down to all those to unwilling to open their minds and see where the counter-culture was headed. "Mr Jones," the acrimonious protagonist, finds himself thrown into a world of freaks, and he simply doesn't know what is happening. He is wealthy, well-read, and in all likelihood corporate - the very materialism and hypocrisy the youth of the 1960s were so ardent to overthrow. (Many 1960s' youth turned into 1980s' yuppies; that is neither here nor there.)
The very confrontational break with the folk community informs this entire work. The folk community were still idolizing Dylan, and Dylan, being Dylan, abandoned the role, much to their anger. Dylan was following his own muse, transforming himself from a protest singer into a cynical, avant-guard musician, very much a counter-cultural icon, exerting enormous influence over the rest of the fellow musicians as well as the growingly despondent youth culture. Ironically, Dylan would likewise abandon this role for a more mellow, country direction, and anger the counterculture just as much as he angered the folk fans, which is why I believe SELF PORTRAIT is the perfect capstone to Dylan's 1960s work. Because it's Dylan being contrary and inscrutable. That album's infamous for a reason folks.
This transformation, while occurring over the past two albums, comes to full fruition here, and with such offerings as the lead off track, "Tombstone Blues," "Ballad of a Thin Man," and "Desolation Row," this is nothing short of essential listening. "Desolation Row," arriving a full year and a half ahead of the other great epic in classic rock, The Doors' "The End," feels like a journey down a twisted, malignant, decaying road through America, with surrealism abounding and one of the best (and most accessible) answers to T. S. Eliot's modernist masterpiece `The Waste Land." "Tombstone Blues," combining (like the rest of the album) complex, surrealistic imagery and characters given an almost mythological import with seemingly random juxtapositions, rewrote the rules of rock lyrics. It has quite the absurdist touch.
The remaining tracks are just as remarkable. "It Takes a Lot to Laugh, a Train to Cry" musically turns to the blues for its inspiration, but the lyrics are a far cry from the classic blues motifs. "From a Buick Six," based partially on the 1930 Sleeping John Estes "Milk Calf Blues," shows Dylan reinventing the blues with a visceral fist. "Queen Jane Approximately," a dire warning directed to an obviously important woman in the narrator's life, chugs along at a loose, warm, garage frenzy. The narrator warns Queen Jane that she's about to fall apart. Wrapping the message in symbolism, the listener is left wondering if she's a real person in Dylan's life or not. "Just Like Tom Thumb's Blues," one of my personal favorites (I wrote a story about New York City using these lyrics as inspiration), details a character's descent into a continually more startling and depressing lifestyle, filled with corrupt authorities, shady women, and a haze of drugs and alcohol. Rich with literary allusions, writing like this sets Dylan head and shoulders above any other lyricist. "Highway 61 Revisited," the very song that game the album its name, gives another example of Dylan's surrealistic, stream-of-conscious type of writing, part beat, part symbolist, and undeniably all Dylan. The opening stanza, with its 1960s' reinvention of God telling Abraham to kill his son Isaac, stands as a stroke of genius. Some commentators have pointed out there's Highway 61 in Minnesota, and that Dylan's father's name was Abe. Dylan populates the rest of the song with royalty, roving gamblers, and other colourful characters. One of Dylan's best songs, with a rollicking bit of music to go with the mind-bending lyrics.
Two tracks, recorded during the same sessions and cut very much of the same cloth, would have found a welcome home on this album. "Can You Please Crawl Out Your Window?" a bizaare narrative about a guy trying to win back his love, broke the top 100 but wasn't very successful. Somewhat akin to "I Want You" in the bizaare pop department. "Positively Fourth Street," one of Dylan's biggest hits and one of the nastiest put downs ever committed to tape, shows Dylan totally demolishing a so-called friend. It's one of Dylan's best mid 1960s offerings (and that's saying something, let me tell you) and appears on the first GREATEST HITS album.
HIGHWAY 61 REVISITED's most radical facet is it brought rock and popular music to a totally unprecedented level of sophisticated, artistic mastery. Dylan made music both deeply poetic and complex, redefining rock as we know it. Is it Dylan's best? Maybe. It is certainly one of his most important, not only for his career but for rock in generall. While many people point to The Beatles' SGT PEPPER as the seminal record of the 1960s, HIGHWAY 61 REVISITED is where my money is at.