Monday, September 5, 2011

Dylan Album Project: Highway 61 Revisited

Highway 61 Revisited (1965)

Many critics say this is Dylan’s best album. It is always in the top three in “professional” rankings. I can’t say I agree with that, but I can say it is Dylan’s most rocking album. Over half the songs are considered “classics,” which is more than most albums can say. It is strong throughout, musically diverse and has Dylan pulling out all of his cards, but it is neither as coherent nor as diffuse as some of his other, for me stronger, albums.

Best song: Tombstone Blues – I’m certainly insane for not picking “Like A Rolling Stone,” but I don’t mind. I loved that song on Bob Dylan’s greatest hits, but in the ensuing decades since that first Dylan CD, I’ve heard it so many times that, while I still enjoy it, it rarely moves me. This song, though, is batshit insane and as manic as it gets. Not only that, you get some nice Biblical allusions thrown in for good measure.

Worst song: It Takes A Lot To Laugh, It Takes A Train To Cry – Another album where there aren’t really any bad songs. This one is just the least awesome.

Best outtake: Positively 4th Street – The ultimate put-down song, and definitely the one with the best organ line. Usually I prefer Dylan’s songs that compound fantastically improbably imagery, but with this one I just like how much “I wish that for just one time you could stand inside my shoes. You’d know what a drag it is to see you” stings.

Notable live rendition: Desolation Row – from Live 1966. The song, so relective and so resigned to ruin, needs to be acoustic. The pacing and phrasing is gorgeous on this rendition. Dylan creates a village inhabited by a motley crew of familiar characters gone awry. Where else would you find the Good Samaritan keeping company with Ezra Pound? This is on the short list for Dylan’s best song.

Rhymes: juiced in it/used to it (“Like A Rolling Stone”); sick in/chicken (“Tombstone Blues”); imagination/organizations (“Ballad of a Thin Man”); plastic/drastic (“Queen Jane Approximately”)

Images: “she violently knits a bald wig;” “jawbones on their tombstones” (1-2 from “Tombstone Blues”); “junkyard angel” (“From A Buick 6”); “[Einstein] went off sniffing drain piped and reciting the alphabet” (“Desolation Row”); “a plainclothesman busts everyone for being incredible” (liner notes)

Axioms: “The sun’s not yellow; it’s chicken” (“Tombstone Blues”); “Something’s happening here and you don’t know what it is” (“Ballad of a Thin Man”); “Her sin is her lifelessness” (“Desolation Row”); “Lifelessness is the Great Enemy & always wears a hipguard;” “you are lucky – you don’t have to think about such things as eye & rooftops & quazimodo.” (4-5 from the liner notes)

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