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on September 29, 2004
After years of owning and losing Bob Dylan albums, I decided to buy one CD that would best represent my appreciation for this genius' work. I considered some of the box sets, but eventually purchased the Essentials. It was money well spent.

This is a complete set for anyone just discovering Bob Dylan, or for old guys like myself who are trying to rediscover the sounds of their youth-without having to buy a dozen CDs. The Essentials covers the range of tunes and styles of Bob Dylan and opens the door for further discovery of his music--by the way, there's a ton of it.

Songs like "Knock, Knocking on Heaven's Door," and "Positively 4th Street" remind me of summer days at the Drive-In listening to the jukebox and playing pool (when I had some quarters). The man puts his heart and soul into every song, and you can feel this. He's not some image created by a studio and thrust on the consumer by the media. Dylan came of age before million dollar endorsements and the era of goddesses (britney) who spit out focus group music created by committees for big sales. Dylan's songs on the other hand, reflect the attitudes, values, and events impacting the time in which they were written. You may think you have never heard Dylan, but I assure you, if you listen to these songs, you will be shocked how much of this man's music is a part of our culture and music traditions.

You won't go wrong buying this collection. As for the re-mastering part, I'm skeptical, but then again, my hearing is shot from 40 years of playing my stereo too loud.
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on August 17, 2004
Whether or not you agree with the compilers' choice of songs is obviously a question of taste, and very subjective, too. And I'm sure that a lot of people will think that this collection is all good and fine, but despite the high quality of almost every song, I still believe a significantly better "essential" collection could have been made - and has been made, too.

First of all, this is obviously a collection for relative newcomers rather than seasoned Dylan-fans. Second of all, those newcomers should stick to the original "Greatest Hits" and "More Greatest Hits" for the 60s and early 70s material, and hand-pick the best of Dylan's later releases for the rest of his most important output.
There are just too many of Bob Dylan's best songs missing here, especially from the 70s and 90s. "Blood On The Tracks" is represented by only two songs, "Desire" is (mis-)represented only by "Hurricane"...and if non-album classics like "When I Paint My Masterpiece" and "Watching The River Flow" shouldn't be on a supposed "essential" collection, where should they be?

The compilers have opted for songs like "Subterranean Homesick Blues", "Silvio", "Everything Is Broken" and "Tight Connection To My Heart", and they are certainly not bad songs, but they could have done much better.
Leave this album alone, and go get the original Bob Dylan compilations, 1967's "Greatest Hits" and 1972's "Greatest Hits volume 2" - the one with 21 tracks on two CDs, leading off with "Watching The River Flow" on disc 1. Or pick up the classic albums "Highway 61 Revisited", "Bringing It All Back Home", and "Blood On The Tracks". Those will get you turned on to Bob Dylan much better than this good-but-not-great attempt at making a definitive Dylan compilation.
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Trying to make a compilation of Bob Dylan's music is equal to taking 30 of Picasso's works, and saying "this is the artist"; the immense creativity is too deep, the development and changes too wide.
There will always be songs that the listener will feel were a mistake to omit, and for me "Ballad of a Thin Man" is the one I wish had been in this collection.
Disc One starts in 1962, with the folk days of "Blowing in the Wind", to when he went electric with "Like a Rolling Stone" from the ground-breaking Highway 61 Revisited, to the soft lilting folk/country sound of "I'll Be Your Baby Tonight" from John Wesley Harding, released in 1967.
Disc Two starts with the romantic "Lay, Lady, Lay" from 1969's Nashville Skyline, through the 70's and the return of acoustic guitar and harmonica with two songs from Blood on the Tracks, to end the decade with the beginning of his Christian recordings, and a great track from Slow Train Coming, "Gotta Serve Someone".
Ten years later brings him to the fabulous "Everything is Broken", from Oh Mercy, and the collection ends with "Things Have Changed" from 1999, which was featured in the film "Wonder Boys", and the reason I bought this CD set. After viewing the film, what I remembered and liked the most was this powerful, marvelous song..
I am one of those that feel no one sings Dylan better than Dylan, and truly enjoy his rough, expressive voice; it is interesting to hear it through the span of nearly forty years on one has become huskier, with a bit more wobble, but to my ears better than ever.
Total time for Disc One is 56:24, Disc Two 68:31, and the sound quality varies somewhat from song to song, but overall it is excellent.
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on June 10, 2002
As many have already written, making a 4-disc Dylan "Essential" collection out of Bob Dylan's monstrous (40+ albums!) material would be hard. So making a 2-disc one is quite impossible. Yet the "Essential" Bob Dylan does a worthy job of incorporating material from his heyday in the 60s and his more recent efforts together into one collection. I myself am a huge Dylan fan and I own all of his 60s albums, some of his 70s material (Blood on the Tracks + Desire), none of his 80s work, and his two most recent albums (Time out of Mind + Love and Theft). This collection displays all his big hits with 3 glaring tracks missing by my count: "Visions of Johanna," "Ballad of a Thin Man," and "Desolation Row." Also I would have liked to see at least one of Dylan's less famous anti-war ballads, either "Masters of War" or "With God on Our Side." The colletion DOES include the original versions of "Knockin on Heaven's Door" and "All Along the Watchtower." I myself prefer the live versions of both of these, but it is nice to see what they originally sounded like (they have been covered myriad times by various artists, most notably by artists like Jimi Hendrix, Eric Clapton, and Guns N Roses).
This collection rolls through with hit after hit, but it stumbles in a few places: the last 2 tracks of CD one, although both good songs, could have been replaced by any of the previously mentioned glaring ommissions. CD two starts strong with "Lay Lady Lay" but the next 3 songs, though catchy, again could have been replaced by more brilliant work (Dylan has plenty of it). Later on disc 2 we see only 4 songs representing his entire 80s work, and out of those the only great song is "Jokerman." The rest (especially "Silvio" and "Everything is Broken") are quite forgetable, much like Dylan in the 80s. But the collection finishes strong with the raw, emotional, lyrically amazing "Not Dark Yet" which in 1997 was Dylan's best song in at least 12 years, probably more like 23, and "Things Have Changed," another Dylan track with touching lyrics, which was only available on the Wonder Boys Soundtrack before.
If you are a casual Bob fan or not a fan at all, buy this collection as your first Dylan CD. But be aware that Dylan is much more than a hit single. And really, instead of a collection of songs, whole albums of his (Blonde on Blonde, Highway 61, Blood on the Tracks) should be considered "Essential."
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on March 16, 2001
Given the incredible output of Bob Dylan spanning almost forty years now, there is no point quibbling about whether particular songs should or should not have been included in a 40 song compilation, it is an impossible and totally subjective task to pick his "best" 40 songs. The point is that this set provides a rich, diverse, thoughtful selection of some of Dylan's greatest work, so if you are looking for either an introduction to his music, or just a "greatest hits" type CD to listen to at one sitting, this set does the job admirably. By the way, in my opinion Blood on the Tracks, Highway 61 Revisited and Bringing it all Back Home are mandatory acquisitions even for the casual Dylan listener.
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on February 26, 2003
Pay the extra $...bucks and get this version over the American one. The American version is skimpy, with less than an hour on disc 1, and just barely over an hour on disc 2, while this Australian version has over 77 minutes per disc, and includes more of his best material, including "I Want You", a hit that was left off of the American version.
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on February 22, 2005
Right before I went away for my first semester as a college freshman (August 2004), I was shopping at Target (definitely not my favorite place to buy music). Some of my friends had been telling me for years that Bob Dylan had a lot of music and albums that I'd like, but I'd never bought any of Dylan's stuff. That all changed that day when I picked up the Essential Bob Dylan.

To put it quite simply, Essential is probably the best complilation that I have bought with respect to the release of an artists' greatest songs. Essential's first disc starts with one of Dylan's many renowned songs, "Blowin' In The Wind," and has several of his great songs, including "The Times They Are A-Changin'," "Maggie's Farm," "Mr. Tambourine Man," "Like A Rolling Stone," and "Rainy Day Women #12 & 35," among others. It's a very strong disc that got a lot of play on both my CD player and my iPod.

Disc 2 is also very strong, consisting, obviously, of Dylan's later work. Leading off with the serenating "Lay, Lady, Lay," the disc consists of songs that illustrate's Dylan's sheer brilliance with regards to writing lyrics and poetry. Tracks such as "Knockin' On Heaven's Door," "Tangled Up In Blue," "Shelter From The Storm," "Hurricane," and "Gotta Serve Somebody" contribute to yet another strong disc. Disc 2 concludes with a punch, as a later Dylan song, "Things Have Changed," brings an appropriate closing to the disc.

For me, this disc served as both a great intro to Dylan and a marking point in my musical interests. Since purchasing the Essential Bob Dylan, I have bought the following Dylan albums (all within a five-month span and, also, with great deals from my independent, local music store): The Freewheelin' Bob Dylan, The Times They Are A-Changin', Another Side of Bob Dylan, Bringing It All Back Home, Highway 61 Revisited, Blonde on Blonde, Nashville Skyline, Blood On The Tracks, Desire, Oh Mercy, and Time Out of Mind. Very good albums.

Even if you don't think you'll become as big of a Dylan fan as I've become, do yourself a favor and pick up this collection of great songs. I think - and hope - that you'll find a great bunch of songs that cover a variety of topics.
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on November 8, 2000
Look, these songs are great. Everyone knows that. But if you want a real introduction to the greatest songwriter of the century, start with something larger like Biograph, then go to Bootleg Series. This collection is laughable in its attempt to "represent" four decades worth of music from one of the most prolific and interesting artists of this or any other time. Even if you memorize every song backwards and forwards in this collection, you will still be a pathetic novice of Dylan and his work. He deserves better than this paltry representation.
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on January 4, 2001
Let me begin by saying I used to think Dylan had one of the worst voices in modern music. I am also not a child of the 60s or 70s folk music. This is the only Dylan album I own. I believe I am the market this is targeted towards.
This is an excellent overview of Dylan classics, capturing the musical history in a chronological format. Even if you are not a life long Dylan fan or did not protest Vietnam, you will recognize most of these songs. Even the songs you will hear for the first time will be very likable and enjoyable. The producers avoided picking some hard-core folk songs out of a 60s pot festival. Because the selections span about 30 years, you get a broad view of Dylan's music, making this one of the better "best of" albums available from any artist. You will also realize what a talent the man was as a performer and a songwriter. It is evident that he wrote outstanding music in that so many bands covered his music. Those songs borrowed by others, along with recognizeable Dylan classics, are all on this 2 CD set. I am sure there were some good songs left off, but if you are not a big Dylan fan, you will not know the difference anyway. What I do know is that if you have ever thought of buying a Dylan album but stopped short of doing it, or if you have one or two only, then get this one. It will be a great start towards enjoying Dylan and appreciating one of the best talents in the past 50 years.
Regarding his voice - it grows on you the same way a singer like Nanci Griffith does. Besides, Dylan's combination of lyrics, style, tune and voice all combine to allow him to offer something sorely lacking in music - originality.
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on December 31, 2002
Featuring six bonus tracks (Can You Please Crawl Out Your Window?, I Want You, Changing Of The Guards, Blind Willie McTell, Tight Connection To My Heart (Has Anybody Seen My Love?), Dignity (Original Version)) this is obviously the superior version.
The haunting Blind Willie McTell, recorded in 1983, stands out better than anything else he did in that era. The original version of Dignity is a much livelier mix than the one on Greatest Hits Vol 3. The snare and the lead guitar are now brought froward, which gives the song more of a groove, and everything sounds cleaner than the sludgy mix on the earlier version.
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