on 27 August 2007
While a number of my comtemporaries liked Dylan and played his records to me, it was this album that got me hooked on him. That happened because someone that I was rooming with in 1966/67 kept playing it. The following year 1967/68, when I moved to another location to go University, I had withdrawal symptoms, so I went out and bought my own copy.
Dylan lyrics, if taken literally often do not quite make sense, but then seem to communicate at a subconsious poetic level while still leaving you wondering (even after 40 years) if you understood. That is partly why many of these songs endure. Another reason is that coupled with the lyrics, this album is with an electric band, (which - on the whole - I prefer to the acoustic 'folk' ones) and the playing on this album is just superb.
Which is my favourite track varies a bit depending on my mood. The only track I have never liked particularly is Sad Eyed Lady of the Lowlands - mainly because it is rather long. This occupies a whole side on vinyl, so I just played that side less frequently.
When I started buying CD's, this was one of the first CD's I bought (actually in a 3CD box set with John Wesley Harding and Self Portrait). However, I 'lent' it to my daughter when she went of to university, and after a while I realised the meaning of a permanent loan and so had to buy another copy.
Postscript: SACD version.
I was going to add a separate review of the SACD version, but it seems Amazon somehow realized I had already written a review of the CD version. The music is the same - so the 5 star rating remains.
I bought the 5.1 SACD mix to decide whether it was worth buying Dylan SACD's (while they are still available - they seem to be discontinued even though SACD itself is not dead as there are still a few new classical music issues each month. I not sure whether in general it is worth buying the SACD version if you already have the remastered CD. In this case, there is some intelligent placing of the various elements that makes it easier to discern individual instruments. Other than that, it is the same recording. So I am not planning to replace other Dylan CD's I have with 5.1 SACD versions. Where I don't have an album and there is a 5.1 SACD available, and the price is reasonable I will chose that in preference to a remastered CD. Some Dylan SACD's are just stereo - I will buy these only if they as as cheap or cheaper than the CD.
on 28 October 1999
Out of all the great records released in the 1960's it is this one that to me stands alone ahead of the field, the feeling that i get when i listen to this album is a feeling i get with no other record, only 'Highway 61 revisited' comes close. Dylan himself said that the sound of Blonde on Blonde was the closest he ever got to the sound he had in his head, explanation enough for the other worldly quality of this music. The 14 songs on this album are faultless my favourites being the seductive melodies of "I Want You" and "Just like a Women" The joyus jamming of "Rainy Day Women" and "Most Likely You Go Your Way" The Chicago blues feel of Leopard-Skin-Pillow-Box Hat (Dylan would never be this care-free again), "Stuck Inside of Mobile" has an irresistable chorus and "Visions of Johanna" and "Sad Eyed Lady Of The Lowlands" have an unearthly beauty which Dylan sings wonderfully. I cannot recommend this album highly enough it is the work of a true genius.
on 12 December 2000
Bob Dylan's Blonde on Blonde was, is and always will be his defining work. Blood on The Tracks and Highway 61 will always be fondly remembered by the faithful, for their up-tempo down-beated-ness, something that only Dylan managed to achieve, and there are better songs written by Dylan that are not on this album - 'Simple Twist of Fate', 'All Along the Watchtower' and 'Like a Rolling Stone' spring immediately to mind.
Blonde On Blonde is remarkable in its creativity, each song interwoven with the next. It has attitude, it has zaniness, it has the remarkable portrait of Sad Eyed Lady, and the wonderfully sad circus of 'I Want You' - 'the guilty undertaker', 'the lonesome organ-grinder', and 'drunken politician'. Wonderful honky-tonk in 'Most likely you'll go your way and I'll go mine' follows the tragic 'Just Like a Woman', and the wild, weird and wonderful Leopard skin Pillbox Hat.
Dylan has had other superb albums - Time out of Mind was superb only insofar as it was the amazing blip on the life support machine, when he had long since flat-lined. Highway 61 and Blood on the Tracks I've already mentioned. It doesn't seem to have generated any major resurgence, and his live act for its 'niceness' remains as unremarkable as the 'hood' phase that seemed to upset everyone so.
I suppose in some ways, we all thought that the music that was changed by the bike accident of '66 could have returned through the heart attack of '97, but while a new Bob Dylan emerged from each life-threatening incident, he would never write another Blonde on Blonde. If you have a collection, you must have Dylan; if you have Dylan, you must have Blonde on Blonde.
Everyone of a certain age remembers the double album with its gatefold sleeve of a slightly blurred Dylan in double-buttoned winter coat and scarf, and side 4 exclusively devoted to the marvellously melancholic Sad Eyed Lady Of The Lowlands, perfect on repeat-play for hung-over Sunday mornings, unhurried and timeless, ending with a harmonica solo that slowly and statuesquely faded away.
The CD version was disappointingly butchered with many of the running times noticeably truncated to fit onto a single disc. Just Like A Woman unbelievably faded out instead of ending, and Sad Eyed Lady Of The Lowlands sacrilegiously lost a vital 30 seconds at its conclusion.
When the Bob Dylan Reissue Series reached Blonde On Blonde these anomalies were thankfully minimized, and the total playing time on this edition is upped to 73.03 (compared to 71.31 on the earlier edition), and the overall sound has been significantly upgraded, making this finally worthy of replacing the rather worn vinyl copy in your collection.
This album, recorded between January and March 1966 in Nashville, is after all one of Bob Dylan's most vital, the one about which he said, "The closest I ever got to the sound I hear in my mind was on individual bands in the Blonde On Blonde album. It's that thin, that wild mercury sound. It's metallic and bright gold, with whatever that conjures up. That's my particular sound."
Dylan referred to this release as being "a wild thin mercurial sound" but remastered on SACD it just sounds mighty impressive and certainly not thin or liquid on my normal CD player. The prior upgrading onto a gold plated CD using SBM for remastering apparently upset Dylan in its mix but one assumes he was a lot happier this time around, given that this was the first of his recording to receive SACD treatment.
The interesting aspect is that after a few listens with the better overall clarity in sound, one actually begins to feel that Dylan and his support may have been stretching themsleves a bit thin to cover what was a 4 sided double LP set on release. The move by Dylan from NY (where most of the prior release "Highway 61" had been cut) to Nashville to try for a different sound also seems to have adapted itself to a different style of studio preparation. Dylan it is claimed worked up the songs with Al Kooper each day and the latter then got the Nashville session men in a short time ready to cut under Dylan's usual quick recording method. The seasoned Nashville sidemen certainly delivered but what one notices is that while the songs vary in pace and length the underlying variety present on Highway 61 is just not there.
This is not to take anything away from the sheer majesty of this set with some of his greatest songs ("Visions of Johanna" being one of my all time favourites)and his personal range of vocal deliveries and the crack musicians never missing abeat. With the final long track ending of "Sad Eyed Lady of the Lowlands", one is definitely however left feeling that there was little else to give and that subsequent events merely underlined that. It was not till Blood on the Tracks he hit the same creative stride again.
On a small point, I actually appreciate the provision in two CDs (unlike prior versions done in a single CD) reflecting the combined sides of the original LPs, though I appreciate that in the CD age this shortened time length CD may not be as welcome to everyone.
on 30 July 2006
Seldom out of the top 5 of those never-ending `All Time Best Album' polls, Dylan's 1966 opus is, by any criteria, nothing short of a masterpiece. Originally a double album, one of rock music's first, on CD the seamless flow of the 14 tracks only enhances the listening pleasure. Sony's latest issue of this all-time classic has benefited from a new remix from the original masters by Steve Berkowitz, making this the best audio version of the album available (the original CDs were pressed from very low quality off-master copies, and notoriously had brutal edits cutting short many of the songs), although what is Blonde On Blonde's standout track for many people, the Neal Cassady-inspired `Visions Of Johanna', still suffers from out-of-tune lead guitar breaks towards the end (although these have been watered-down and are not as prominent as on other releases). For the recording of this album, Dylan relocated from his favoured New York studios to Nashville, after the earlier sessions had proven problematic - only `One Of Us Must Know' from New York made the final cut - and had the benefit of the top session men of the day at his disposal, such as Charlie McCoy and Kenny Buttrey, although `One Of Us...' has a stunning piano track from Paul Griffin that makes one lament the fact that Dylan left the keyboardist behind when he left for Tennessee for the first session on Valentine's Day 1966. Of the songs themselves, there is nothing remotely approaching a `protest' song here - if one discounts Dylan protesting at not getting any from the lady in `Fourth Time Around' - and anyone seeking `Masters Of War' Dylan is on the wrong record, but all the numbers here are dressed in the beautiful kaleidoscopic wordplay of prime mid-sixties Dylan. `Visions Of Johanna' is the most, er, visionary, probably because it was the earliest number written for the album (it was originally recorded in the first unsuccessful New York sessions in November 1965 and is closer to `Highway 61 Revisited' in both structure and narrative). `I Want You', one of three hit singles from the record, is pure paradox, the chorus as basic lyrically as can be - Dylan's refrain is a tip of the hat to The Beatles' `Michelle' - whilst the image-laden verses are populated by gypsy undertakers and dancing children in Chinese suits; `Just Like A Woman', written on Thanksgiving Day 1965, is one of Dylan's most enduring, and covered, numbers (despite a somewhat sexist title, which is allayed as the story unfolds); the much-overlooked `Temporary Like Achilles' is a gorgeous slow blues; the good-time romp of `Rainy Day Women # 12 & 35' is irresistibly foot-tap inducing; the melody to `Fourth Time Around' is so lovely that John Lennon appropriated it - and the song's subject matter - for `Norwegian Wood'; and the album closes on what Dylan once described as his "most perfect song", the epic `Sad Eyed Lady Of The Lowlands', which originally took up all of the fourth side of the double LP. A mystical love song to his then-wife Sarah, Dylan weaves pictures with words in a way he would, or could, not do for almost another decade, on his return to form with `Blood On The Tracks'. Dylan's voice is also surprisingly mellow on almost all of the numbers here, with much of the gruffness that spawned a million [bad] impressions tempered into a smoothness that predates his `country' recordings of the latter part of the 1960's (possibly due to the fact that most of the songs were recorded in the early hours of the morning). The only detriment to this CD is that, for some obscure reason, Sony has removed all of the original photographs bar the cover (which itself is thankfully of a much-upgraded quality than the previous releases sported). Although new and previously unreleased Jerry Schatzberg shots are used here, a booklet consisting of a mere couple of pages could, and should, have accommodated all of the original artwork, let alone some proper sleevenotes. However, you do not buy a CD to read, you buy it to listen to - and this is one you will listen to time and time (and time) again.
Obviously this is a masterpiece. Its riches are inexhaustable, and no review could do them justice (in reason or rhyme), so here instead are a few random thoughts about just five lines from its lyrics.
"I've got a poison headache, but I feel alright."
By early 1966, Dylan was clearly on 'a lot of medicine' (as he rather charmingly put it at the time) to keep going. On Blonde on Blonde he sounds desperately tired and strung out, blurry, yet at the same time utterly wired and alert. You can hear the drugs. And the album is drenched in drugs references, from the single-entendre chorus of 'Rainy Day Women' to the arcane 1960s drugs slang that permeates just about every song. But, for all this, it's not a 'druggy' record. The drugs are a means to an end rather than an end in themselves, that end being the transcendence Dylan had sought from his Tambourine Man the year before. The quest for transcendence is a perennial Dylan theme, and he never gets closer to it than here on Blonde on Blonde.
"Oh, I didn't know that!"
There's so much buried tresure hidden in Blonde on Blonde; so many sly and artful allusions to the past, so many shrewd borrowings. It's a record you can listen to for decades until, one day, a phrase wll pop out at you from a crackly old 1930s blues song and suddenly a whole new dimension of meaning opens up in Dylan's lyrics. I won't spoil your fun by giving you any clues. Just watch out for those railroad men - they'll drink up your blood like wine.
"We see this empty cage now corrode"
By 1965 Dylan had widened the focus of his protest singing into huge existential broadsides against the 'empty cage' of bourgeois consumerist America. Songs like 'It's Alright Ma' and 'Desolation Row' mined the final surreal nuggets from Dylan's vein of societal protest. By Blonde on Blonde, Dylan's lyrical concerns had rusted down towards a bleary analysis of the toxic effects of this broken society upon the individuals living within it. The songs here are thus more interpersonal and intimate than on the previous two albums, and delivered from within the world's chaos rather than soaring imperiously above it; the worldview, while no less bleak than before, is implied, never explicit, and is maybe all the more corrosive as a result.
"Early in the morning"
The archetypal blues lyric, and the phrase with which Dylan starts 'Obviously Five Believers'. Consciously. Dylan has shown utter mastery of the blues form throughout his career, but nowhere more so than here. Anyone who says white boys can't sing the blues should listen to Blonde on Blonde. Apart from anything else, the album is a blues masterpiece.
"Ain't it just like the night?"
Well, yes it is. Blonde on Blonde is OF the night, ABOUT the night, FROM the night, FOR the night and JUST LIKE the night. Most of the recording took place way into the small hours, often with Dylan still honing his lyrics in the studio long after midnight while his band played cards until, by 3 or 4 in the morning, it was finally time for a take. It shows. The playing is tight but loose, like you'd find late-on in a good jazz club: the 'thin, wild mercury sound' that Dylan never quite recaptured. Lyrically, too, all the real action takes place after hours, amidst the freaks and pimps and damaged socialites that only come out after dark. Listen to it late at night and you'll hear the darkness.
If you've bothered reading this far, chances are you're a longtime Dylanite who already owns this. If you aren't, and you don't.. well, you don't need me to tell you what you need to do.
This 1966 album is the seventh studio release from legend Bob Dylan, and considered by many to be his defining work, better even than the preceding masterpiece `Highway 61' or `Blood on the Tracks' from 1976.
Dylan's music always benefitted from adversity. In the beginning it was the challenge of making a mark that drove him to great heights, in the seventies the troubles with his marriage would lead to some of his finest recordings. Here it is a profound disagreement with his existing acoustic folk fanbase that leads him to hit the heights. His previous release, `Highway 61', had been intensely controversial due to his use of a rock sound and electric guitars. It had led to fans of his acoustic sound to cry `Judas' when he played tracks from it on tour. The vitriol was astounding. But it has to be said that the album had been a work of genius. Dylan decided to stick two fingers up at the critics, continuing down the electric road and producing a double album of tracks that were electric, eclectic and works of such genius that it forced the critics to shut up and admit that electric Dylan was far superior to acoustic Dylan, and that the man should be allowed to follow his vision wherever it took him.
Blonde on Blonde starts off where Highway 61 left off - giving us a set of song at times raucous (Rainy day women), slow and moving (the epic sad eyed lady of the lowlands), speaking of his experience of life with his usual metaphysical lyrics, vivid imagery and well constructed wordplay. It's track after track of some of Dylan's finest music, and for a double album it is surprising that there is no filler here.
Definitely one of Dylan's best. It was certainly the high mark until 1976's `Blood on the Tracks'. Dylans albums had become increasingly better and better up this release, and this marked a peak before a continuous slide that would reach its nadir with the terrible Self Portrait a few years later. 5 stars, easily.
This is Dylans best period in my books. His band was fab, especially the organ adding to the sound. The lyrics are just marvellous, he never fails to paint an interesting picture in your mind.
Listened to it again today and remembered tracks I'd forgotten about. "Pledging My Time" is a great bluesy number after the silly circus nursery rhyme of "Rainy Day Women" the only track i skip on the album.
The two absolute masterpieces in my mind on this album are two 7 minute beauties "Visions of Johanna" and "Stuck Inside of Mobile with the Memphis Blues Again". Lyrics like "the ghost of 'lectricity howls in the bones of her face" and "jewels and binoculars hang from the head of the mule" some say pretentious, i say, magical, genius! The acoustic version of "Johanna" is also excellent on the famous Live 1966 cd.
You also have the famous tracks like the recently remixed "Most Likely You'll Go Your Way and I'll Go Mine", "Just Like a Woman" and "One of us Must Know(Sooner or Later)"
This is class a full band sound, lots of harmonica. Truly an all time classic that has to be unconditionally recommended. As Jack Black said in the film "High Fidelity".... "Don't tell me you don't own Blonde on Blonde!!!"
Buy it! In fact I've just spotted a 3 CD package on amazon which contains the following of Dylans albums "Bringing It All Back Home/Highway 61 Revisited/Blonde on Blonde" These truly are from his most interesting period and if you purchase it like this you'll also get "Like A Rolling Stone", "Mr Tambourine Man", "Subterranean Homesick Blues" along with many, many class album tracks.
on 15 November 2003
I bought this somewhat reluctantly not really anticipating noticing much difference in sound. Wrong! The set is fantastic with the sound quality amazing. The remastering reveals hidden sounds and adds a wonderful closeness in feel to Dylans vocals.
The packaging is superb and the set has been reinstored to a double CD. I wish that all re-issues were handled with such care.