3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
The Sound of the World Changing,
This review is from: Highway 61 Revisited (Audio CD)
Smack in the center of the two-dozen-or-so albums of the 1960s that changed and redefined both rock `n' roll and Western culture, are the three albums whipped off by Bob Dylan right after he "went electric." Bringing It All Back Home (1965), Highway 61 Revisited (1965) and Blonde on Blonde (1966) form an escalating trilogy of realization, transformation and power that are simply unmatched anywhere else in the music. If you do not have all three of these mind-blowing epics, you are simply doomed not to understand the conceptual genesis and limits of late twentieth-century art, nor do you have an adequate standard by which to make judgements, even up to this day.
While the palm usually goes to Blonde on Blonde for being the most extreme statement a popular artist has ever made, Highway 61 Revisited probably packs the most awesome, powerful wallop. It is the most dynamic and viscerally relentless of the three. It begins with Dylan's most dizzying, category-changing shot of his career, "Like a Rolling Stone," arguably the greatest rock song ever written, and then proceeds to become strangely more intense as it goes along.
"Strangeness" is a wonderful but inadequate word for this music. Dylan digs deeply into the collective unconsciousness of folk music and applies it directly to a new electric form that applies precisely to the moment of its creation. Miraculously, by doing so, he radically alters it and defines it. That "strangeness" is embodied perfectly in the magnificently taunting "Ballad of a Thin Man," where Dylan challenges his listeners to rise up and attempt to comprehend the implications of what they are hearing.
By metaphorically shifting ordinary categories of thought into a hard-blown, electric, apocalyptic vision, this music manages to be both honestly descriptive as well as transformative. As Dylan recreates himself - and music - right before our eyes and ears, we are, in a large sense, recreated ourselves. Once the extraordinary vision of this music captures your imagination and spirit, you become permanently transformed. It doesn't work for everyone, but if you want to know why Bob Dylan is so damned important, this is precisely the place to come to find out.
Ultimately, this is why Dylan has the reputation of being the "spokesman for his generation" - since so many people who heard this got their consciousness permanently altered, including the Beatles and the Stones. As much as Dylan needed the early `60s rock explosion to ignite his flame, I promise you there would not have been a late-60's counterculture had it not been for Bob Dylan.
Even placing this music in its proper historical and cultural context is too limiting to define it. The playing, the lyrics, the singing on this album is timeless and awe inspiring. This is music older than the hills, yet futuristic beyond comprehension. Highway 61 is a marker, a monument - an unshakable reference point for measuring the maturity of all popular music, both before or since. This is why Sgt. Pepper became necessary for the Beatles to remain valid. This is why punk rock had to happen. This is the reason that Frank Zappa had a place to enter popular culture on any level whatsoever. And it goes without saying that this is why anything else Dylan himself has done matters so much - or even at all.
Throughout his eighteen-month creative explosion, Dylan tore down all the walls, rewrote all the rules and gave a new meaning to the idea of conceptual reality through music and the genius of his unflinching vision. This album still has that same power to transform - and it steamrolls the listener like a prophetic force of nature.