Highway 61 Revisited by Bob Dylan

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Highway 61 Revisited by Bob Dylan
Highway 61 Revisited by Bob Dylan

Album Released: 1965

Highway 61 Revisited ::: Artwork

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1.Like A Rolling Stone5:59
2.Tombstone Blues5:53
3.It Takes A Lot To Laugh, It Takes A Train To Cry3:25
4.From A Buick 63:06
5.Ballad Of A Thin Man5:48
6.Queen Jane Approximately4:57
7.Highway 61 Revisited3:15
8.Just Like Tom Thumb's Blues5:08
9.Desolation Row11:18


After Bob Dylan shocked the world by going electric with one side of Bringing It All Back Home, he decided to up the ante and create an entirely electric album. And you know what? He improved his songwriting too. Considering that his songwriting was already world-class, and pretty much single-handedly provided The Byrds with a career, that's a pretty amazing feat. Oh, and he tries out all sorts of things on this album - there's hard-blues, pop-rock, Hard Rock, and one very long folksong.

The song that nearly everybody knows by heart is “Like a Rolling Stone”, and man! - no matter how many times I've heard it, it never seems like it's enough. Dylan's vocal melody is catchy, and he sings its cynical lyrics in a boisterous, youthful and stinging way ('stinging' is the most important attribute of Dylan's vocal cords, all you peopleoids who don't think he's a very good singer). The session musicians are also phenomenal ... they keep the same unkempt but rocking style of Bringing It All Back Home, and they're always good to listen to. “Like a Rolling Stone” in particular is characterized by a Hammond organ riff that was improvised and performed by Al Kooper, who was new to the instrument. The legend is that Kooper hadn't much of an idea of what he was doing, but I wouldn't want to change anything about what I'm hearing through my speakers.

“Tombstone Blues” is completely awesome, because it rocks. Some even say it rocked harder than The Rolling Stones at the time, and I'm not inclined to disagree. That's one song I listen to, and I have to try to keep myself from getting up out of my chair and busting a move. It's a six-minute song too, and that's a perfect length as far as I can tell, never for a moment losing its momentum. “From a Buick 6” literally sounds like a Rolling Stones song from 1965, and holy avocado dip, these guys rocked. If you don't think Bob Dylan could rock, then these songs are exhibits A through Z that you're dead wrong.

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by Reviewer: Don Ignacio (blogging at Don Ignacio's Album Reviews)

This is one of four or five 'Most Important Albums in History' ... too bad I hardly ever listen to it.

Every song is in practically the same damn key, the arrangements are all the same, there are at most three or four memorable original melodies on the entire album (most of the time Dylan simply recycles the 'Standard Blues Melody' - you know, the one that's used on two-thirds of all the blues, country, and American folksongs ever written), and the backing band once again defines incompetent garage-band sloppiness.

Every critic on the planet kisses Dylan's ass without pointing out the man's obvious flaws, so excuse me for dwelling on those negative facts. But let's face it, these are facts, genius songwriter though he is. Let's posit that apart from the lucky stroke of organ on "Like a Rolling Stone", courtesy of Al Kooper, musically speaking there ain't much happening. Dylan goes completely electric for an entire album and changes the face of pop, but what holds up after all these years are the songs ...

... some of them are works of genius, and some aren't. The tempos are a bit more varied than on the mindlessly monotonous Bringing It All Back Home, which isn't to say that there's an obscene dearth of variety. Okay, now before every Dylan fanatic on the web starts flaming me for not seeing the man's genius, let's dwell on the album's positive aspects for a spell.

That would include the songs, of which all but three or so are classic additions to the canon of American song. "Like a Rolling Stone" broke the strictures of pop radio by becoming the first 6-minute single to gain airplay, and it's one of the greatest rock'n'roll singles of all time. Nobody's ever put down stupid rich bitches like ol' Bobby does here - You been to the finest schools Miss Lonely, but you know you only used to get juiced in it!

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by Reviewer: Creative Noise (blogging at Creative Noise)

There are a lot of bizarre circumstances in the history of Rock - the fact that John Lennon gets more praise than Paul McCartney, the critical lauding of Joni Mitchell yet the bashing of John Denver, the very existence of Limp Bizkit ... all of which can be traced back to this album.

You see, rock and roll at one time was all about making the best music you could, whether it was tunefully swinging or stridently twisting. You emphasized the beat and/or melody, and you tried not to offend anybody with the words. In fact, trite lyrics were one of the distinguishing features of rock and roll. And then along comes this Dylan guy, and all of a sudden 'self-expression' is the name of the game.

I'm not sure why this album made such a powerful impact. Lots of other records from 1965 were bigger sellers (including The Sound of Music and Herman's Hermits), but this somehow caught the attention of the rock world, and it became more important for music to reflect the artist's personality than to, you know, sound good. And God forbid your personality was optimistic and you'd learnt to take emotional setbacks in stride - we need your turmoil, damn it! And don't worry about being creative, just be sincere.

And what's most odd about that situation is that there's not a whole lot concerning Dylan's personal feelings on this album. It's all nonsense - admittedly fun nonsense, with lots of goofy references and non-sequiturs to make you smile - but nonsense nonetheless. Still, it gives off a definite personal vibe, and as nobody else would write these songs, the listener excuses the crappy music because of the intensely personal nature of the words. Dylan contributes to the atmosphere by tacking on random adverbs to otherwise sensible song titles, making me wonder 'what is it about Queen Jane that's approximate? There must be something Bob's keeping hidden'.

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by Reviewer: Steve Knowlton (blogging at Steve's Record Reviews)

I was going to say that - to my ears - while this album is probably as good as anything Dylan has done, it's really not all that special. That was until the concluding "Desolation Row".

After eight songs of electric, a style I prefer, Dylan finishes with an 11-minute acoustic piece, something that should bore me to tears. But oh, that Classical guitar that accompanies his singing is just heart-wrenching - it dances around the vocals, plays games with a coy sincerity, and never becomes monotonous or boring. That makes the song.

I can see the appeal of the famous "Like a Rolling Stone", even if I don't think it's the classic it's reputed to be. And "From a Buick 6" is rollicking good fun, while "Ballad of a Thin Man" is effectively moody. The title piece is decent too (although whilst the whistling bits help to give the song an identity, they sound faintly ridiculous to me), and "Just Like Tom Thumb's Blues" isn't all that special.

But the song that grabs me and won't let go is "Tombstone Blues". That rocks! I mean, really! From the pounding drums to the crying guitar, it's "Subterranean Homesick Blues" all over again, in that both songs take hold of me in the same way. And I can't resist such lyrics as the sun's not yellow, it's chicken, even if I don't know what they mean. Just a knockout track.

Highway 61 Revisited is part of Dylan's legendary sixties period, which means - given I'm no fan of folk - I'm in no way qualified to appraise it. But I'll take "Tombstone Blues" and "Desolation Row", combine them with the rest, and agree there's much to like here.

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by Reviewer: The Doctor

After the masterful "Like A Rolling Stone", Dylan and his producer Tom Wilson reputedly had a falling out, resulting in the future Frank Zappa / Velvet Underground producer being ousted and replaced by Bob Johnston. Not that you'd notice a huge difference in the quality of these tracks in terms of sound or whatever - Dylan was on a roll creatively, and led proceedings in the studio.

Dylan's first all-electric album is something of a tour-de-force. "Tombstone Blues" - as well as sporting a torrent of fabulously brilliant lyrics - rolls along at a fair pace musically. The words are often hilarious, the music rich, immense and exciting. And the stately and elegant "It Takes A Lot To Laugh, It Takes A Train To Cry" features great singing from Dylan and a wonderful piano/guitar backing track.

"From a Buick 6" is more of a throwback to the first side of Bringing It All Back Home when compared to other songs here, being a lot rawer in terms of sound than anything else on the entire record bar possibly "Ballad of a Thin Man" (but that's for different reasons). Then, a slow haunting piano track, spooky organ effects, and a vitriolic set of scathing lyrics mark out "Ballad of a Thin Man" as something very special indeed, whereas "From a Buick 6" almost sounds like a demo when placed next to the other songs here.

"Queen Jane Approximately" screams out 'mid-60's' if only because Dylan was producing such great music at this point, and had become a worldwide superstar in the process, with hit singles, hit albums, and controversial tours. The song is almost a softer cousin to "Like A Rolling Stone" from a musical point-of-view - it has that same combination of organ, drums, and guitar. And the hypnotic "Desolation Row" features interweaving acoustic guitars and another captivating set of lyrics over its 11-minute length.

Rock music had never had such poetic and intelligent lyrics before, making Highway 61 Revisited both a pivotal release in terms of Dylan's career, and also for rock music in general.

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by Reviewer: Adrian Denning (blogging at Adrian's Album Reviews)

I have no idea what Dylan's talking about - I recognize that he writes great stream-of-consciousness poetry - the words sound really cool - but as for any deeper meaning, I just can't see it.

When I listen to "Ballad of a Thin Man" for example, I might think 'Heh heh, he said You're a cow' but definitely not 'Wow, what a biting condemnation of the squares of the world'.

I'm not saying there's no meaning in Dylan's lyrics, only that it's not apparent to me. I also have my pet theory that lots of people simply pretend to understand Dylan - after all, I'm a mildly bright guy, yet I don't. Maybe I'm just bitter about things.

One thing I can't deny though, is Dylan's massive intelligence - these songs sound smart, and no matter what he's really saying, they do deserve the giant onus of 'importance' that everyone slaps on them.

Also, I was blown away by the melodies on this album. They range from the gripping "Tombstone Blues" to the wistful "Just Like Tom Thumb's Blues", to the haunting "Desolation Row", and his fantastic imagery always adds to the mood.

And although the instrumentation is rambling and disjointed, it's in a charming western-saloon way, and Dylan's vocal delivery is direct and heartfelt, even if he does hate everything in the world. As for the songs, a few of them are slight or unmemorable, but they all have their good points, and at least half are full-fledged classics, especially the two epics that bookend the album. And I'd be remiss if I didn't mention "Queen Jane Approximately" - my favorite song on the record - it's usually considered one of the weaker tracks, so maybe I'm just falling for the sappy melody, but it gets me every time.

In sum, this is a solid example of why the 60's giants were that good. Or maybe I'm just a sucker for the word 'cow'!

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by Reviewer: Cosmic Ben (blogging at Cosmic Ben [Defunct])