Thursday, April 20, 2006

OK, I Hope I Didn't Leave The Wrong Impression

As I've listened to Bob Dylan's HIGHWAY 61 REVISITED (1965) several times over the last couple of days, it occurred to me that I need to clear something up. PLEASE don't EVER get the impression that I think this album is overrated. At # 4 on the RS "Top 500 Albums" list, it's probably a couple of spots too low! For the record, I will state again that its immediate predecessor chronologically, Bringing It All Back Home is my personal favorite. That one, at # 31, is certainly UNDERrated. It seems to be treated as a 2nd class citizen in comparison to Highway 61 Revisited, Blonde On Blonde, and even Blood On The Tracks. I certainly think that is wrong. BUT, nothing can take away from the greatness of Highway 61 Revisited!!!

OK, is that cleared up? Please let me know if there's any remaining confusion on this issue. Now, on to the album itself, the one that signalled the folkies' worst fears were a confirmed reality. It was the end of August, 1965. Dylan had "gone electric" and there was no turning back!!!

Side 1
Like a Rolling Stone
Tombstone Blues
It Takes a Lot to Laugh, It Takes a Train To Cry
From a Buick 6
Ballad of a Thin Man
Side 2
Queen Jane Approximately
Highway 61 Revisited
Just Like Tom Thumb's Blues
Desolation Row


1st up is the song RS named # 1 on its "Top 500 Songs" list, "Like A Rolling Stone" (Now it should be pointed out that the appearance of the words "Rolling Stone" in the title of the # 1 song were certainly just a coincidence!!!). Seriously, though, I cannot argue with that ranking. I think I've been guilty of looking past this song because I've heard it so much more often on radio, and elsewhere, than many of Dylan's other great songs. But, what an absolute tour de force to open the album! It's a masterpiece, to be sure. It's also a song that had already stretched the boundaries of popular music. Pardon my frankness, but fuck "Hey Jude". At more than 6 minutes in length, "Like A Rolling Stone" had been released as a single in July 1965 and climbed all the way to # 2 on the charts. Take a moment to absorb...over 6 minutes...1965...I rest my case. And, what an amazing put-down song: "You've gone to the finest school all right, Miss Lonely/But you know you only used to get...juiced in it/Nobody's ever taught you how to live on the street/And now you're gonna have to get...used to it". Ouch.

"Tombstone Blues", also more than 6 minutes long, is a good time to mention two words: Mike Bloomfield. Actually, he should've been discussed sooner. But, better late than never. Mike Bloomfield plays lead guitar on this album. That is to say, Bloomfield shreds through some of the most stinging, ripping, bluesy leads in recorded history. In fact, that might be the advantage that Highway has over Bringing It. No offense to anyone else on either album's recording sessions. But, Bob's writing and performing is so fucking good on both albums that his efforts cannot be used to distinguish between them. MY GOD!!! I've got "Tombstone Blues" on again right now. Make that three words: Mike Fucking Bloomfield. (Suck this, Crapton!)

Here's a long song title for you: "It Takes a Lot to Laugh, It Takes a Train To Cry". It opens with "Well, I ride on a mailtrain, baby/Can't buy a thrill." Hey, wait, Bob stole that 2nd line from a Steely Dan album title! (Just joking, Bob fans.) This song is a bit slower than the previous two songs. It's also the simplest song in my estimation. I like it, don't get me wrong. But, here's a thought: what if "Positively 4th Street" (recorded on the same day, but only released as a single) had been substituted in its place? Is there room enough on one album for the two greatest put-down songs ever? Just a hypothetical scenario to ponder.

"From A Buick 6" picks the pace back up. "Well, she don't make me nervous, she don't talk too much/She walks like Bo Diddley and she don't need no crutch/She keeps this four-ten all loaded with lead/Well, if I go down dyin', you know she bound to put a blanket on my bed." Love it, although my favorite line of the song is "I need a dump truck mama to unload my head". Classic Dylan imagery.

"Ballad Of A Thin Man" closes side one. It's slower paced. But, at just under 6 minutes, it packs in a ton of great lyrics (e.g., "You've been through all of/F. Scott Fitzgerald's books/You're very well read/It's well known/But something is happening here/And you don't know what it is/Do you, Mister Jones?").

Side two opens with "Queen Jane Approximately", possibly the most Dylanesque of titles. It's the "Approximately", isn't it? Just like "Positively 4th Street" has that "Positively" in the title. Not "4th Street" or "4th Street Blues", but "Positively 4th Street"...Not "Queen Jane", but "Queen Jane Approximately"...even Bob's song titles added to the mystique. This song picks up right where side one ended, pace-wise. "Now when all the clowns that you have commissioned/Have died in battle or in vain/And you're sick of all this repetition/Won't you come see me, Queen Jane?"

The title track is up next. Musically, it's very upbeat, and it's got the goofy siren sounds (which I believe Dylan made with his mouth). Lyrically, it evokes images from every conceivable source. Some appear biblical ("God said to Abraham, 'Kill me a son'). Some appear to be from the old west ("Ol' Howard just pointed with his gun"). It even ends with a darkly comedic scene of capitalistic violence ("Now the rovin' gambler he was very bored/He was tryin' to create a next world war/He found a promoter who nearly fell off the floor/He said I never engaged in this kind of thing before/But yes I think it can be very easily done/We'll just put some bleachers out in the sun/And have it on Highway 61"). No one else could squeeze so much into 3 minutes and 30 seconds!

"Just Like Tom Thumb's Blues" (there's that Dylanesque title thing again) is great almost beyond description. Just look at these lyrical snippets: "When you're lost in the rain in Juarez/And it's Eastertime too...And my best friend, my doctor/Won't even say what it is I've got...Because the cops don't need you/And man they expect the same". Now, look at this KILLER closing verse: "I started out on burgundy/But soon hit the harder stuff/Everybody said they'd stand behind me/When the game got rough/But the joke was on me/There was nobody even there to bluff/I'm going back to New York City/I do believe I've had enough"!!!!

OK, the grand finale, "Desolation Row" is the one solo-acoustic Dylan song (maybe an accompanying bassist or 2nd guitarist??). It clocks in at a massive 11 minutes, plus. Lyrically, it's among Dylan's best, which is to say among the best of all-time. To sustain this level of lyrical excellence over an 11+ minute song is yet another of Dylan's extraordinary achievements. Read the lyrics in their entirety here. I'd have to say that "Like A Rolling Stone" and "Desolation Row" might well be the best opening and closing combination in the history of popular music albums.

Bottom line: This album deserves every accolade it's ever been given. It is certainly among the best of all time. I still have a slight personal preference for Bringing It All Back Home. But, I would not begrudge anyone who named this album ahead of it. And, I'll be damned if it doesn't belong above that #@%$#%^-ing Sgt. Pepper's.

5 Comments:

Blogger Steve Pearce said...

Mr H, you have excellent taste in music. I too prefer Bringing it all to Highway 61 (just). It's been my favourite Dylan album for 30 odd years. But then along came Love and Theft. I just can't stop playing it. What do you reckon?

12:49 PM, April 20, 2006  
Blogger Steve Pearce said...

Mr H, you have excellent taste in music. I too prefer Bringing it all to Highway 61 (just). It's been my favourite Dylan album for 30 odd years. But then along came Love and Theft. I just can't stop playing it. What do you reckon?

12:53 PM, April 20, 2006  
Blogger haahnster said...

Steve,

1st of all, thanks for commenting. In order to answer your question I'm going to launch headlong into a meandering ramble in order to try to explain the shameful truth. This blog started in January 2006 as a series of posts on Neil Young albums. Due to a variety of factors, my always-present fandom of Mr. Young was rekindled from smoldering back into inferno mode. In the process, I realized that Sleeps With Angels (1994) and Broken Arrow (1996) were sitting in my basement STILL UNWRAPPED!!! In addition, I had to buy Year Of The Horse, Silver & Gold, Road Rock, Are You Passionate?, Greendale, and Prairie Wind!!! I mention all of this as an illustration of how far "out of it" I had been for about 10 years, regarding my favorite music.

Now, the sad truth: I don't even have Love and Theft!!! Ouch! I know, I know, please don't make me feel any worse about the situation than I already do. I have heard good things about it, and it is on "my list". But, I don't have it yet. Feel free to elaborate on what you like about it though. I am definitely interested, as Bob Dylan is one of my all-time favorites.

1:06 PM, April 20, 2006  
Blogger Keith Kennedy said...

Excellent shot across the bow on your Bob Dylan sojourn. I am including a chronological discography for you. Keep 'em comin'......

Bob Dylan Albums

Bob Dylan – 1962
The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan – 1963
The Times They Are a Changin’ – 1964
Another Side of Bob Dylan – 1964
Bringin’ It All Home – 1965
Hwy 61 Revisited – 1965
Blonde on Blonde – 1966
Greatest Hits – 1967
John Wesley Harding – 1967
Nashville Skyline – 1969
Self Portrait – 1970
New Morning – 1970
Greatest Hits 2 – 1971
Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid – 1973
Dylan – 1973
Planet Waves – 1974
Before the Flood – 1974
Blood on the Tracks – 1975
Basement Tapes – 1975
Desire – 1976
Hard Rain – 1976
Street Legal – 1978
At Budokan – 1979
Slow Train Comin’ – 1979
Saved – 1980
Shot of Love – 1981
Infidels – 1983
Real Live – 1984
Empire Burlesque – 1985
Biograph – 1985
Knocked out Loaded – 1986
Dylan and the Dead – 1988
Down in the Groove – 1988
Oh Mercy – 1989
Under the Red Sky – 1990
Bootleg Series 1-3 – 1991
Good As I Been To You – 1992
30th Anniversary Celebration – 1993
World Gone Wrong – 1993
Greatest Hits 3 – 1994
MTV Unplugged – 1995
Time Out of Mind – 1997
Live 1966 – 1998
The Essential Bob Dylan – 2000
Love and Theft – 2001
Live 1975 – 2002
Live 1964 – 2004

3:18 PM, April 20, 2006  
Blogger haahnster said...

Keith,

That's an imposing list...I think I'm going to have to do them 1 at a time, but only here and there. My wife almost checked into the loony bin near the end of my Neil project. (Can there be too much of a good thing?)

And, you could've at least put a check mark next to the 2 that I have reviewed (Bringing It All Back Home and Highway 61 Revisited).

Don't be surprised to see something about Blood On The Tracks soon, though. I've been meaning to dig that one out for about 3 weeks now...

3:26 PM, April 20, 2006  

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