on 22 May 2004
"Highway 61 Revisited" should be on every "Top Ten non-classical recordings of the 20th century" lists, for many reasons: Its courage and innovation, and the influence it had on the music of its time, and for the impact it continues to have; the strength of its strange but potently poetic lyrics, and the quality of its musicianship; and most of all, because it is fabulous listening.
Dylan turned the musical world on its head when he went "electric", and the musicians he assembled to back him are legendary; Michael Bloomfield, guitar / Al Kooper, organ & piano / Paul Griffin, piano and organ / Bobby Gregg, drums / Harvey Goldstein, bass / Charley McCoy, guitar / Frank Owens, piano / Russ Savakus, bass. The music they make sounds as fresh today as when I first heard it four decades ago; everyone will have their favorites, mine are "Ballad of a Thin Man" and "Tombstone Blues", but all nine tracks are brilliant and powerful.
Fortunately CBS/Sony has released this CD in the same format as the original LP, with Dylan's incomprehensible but terrific liner notes ("On the slow train time does not interfere..."), and with no extra tracks to ruin the feel of the music. It is a recording that is like clear water when compared to the stagnant musical times we live in, and no CD collection is truly complete without it. The sound is excellent and total playing time is 51'37.
on 2 October 2007
In 1965, Bob Dylan released HIGHWAY 61 REVISITED, arguably the single most important record in 1960s rock. A total break with anything occurring in popular music before (save Dylan's own albums), HIGHWAY 61 REVISITED merged biting, sharp lyricism and great garage-rock and blues. When most other bands were singing about boy-girl topics and writing insubstantial lyrics (in 1965 The Beatles were singing "You're gonna lose that girl"), Dylan combined edgy, hip lyrics with garage rock, blues, and epic folk. His voice, rough hewn and very off-kilter technically, rewrites the rules for rock vocals. As Mark Prindle says, Dylan's voice turned off a lot of people, but influenced a whole lot more.
"Like a Rolling Stone," Dylan's most famous song, kickstarts HIGHWAY 61 with a sledge hammer. Significant as the single that broke the three minute barrier Dylan berates a woman, very much trying to be with the `in' movement. Filled with images never before conceived with in pop music, this song sets the tone of the rest of the album, and indeed this period of Dylan's life. "Ballad of a Thin Man," however, proves itself to be the really brutal put-down to all those to unwilling to open their minds and see where the counter-culture was headed. "Mr Jones," the acrimonious protagonist, finds himself thrown into a world of freaks, and he simply doesn't know what is happening. He is wealthy, well-read, and in all likelihood corporate - the very materialism and hypocrisy the youth of the 1960s were so ardent to overthrow. (Many 1960s' youth turned into 1980s' yuppies; that is neither here nor there.)
The very confrontational break with the folk community informs this entire work. The folk community were still idolizing Dylan, and Dylan, being Dylan, abandoned the role, much to their anger. Dylan was following his own muse, transforming himself from a protest singer into a cynical, avant-guard musician, very much a counter-cultural icon, exerting enormous influence over the rest of the fellow musicians as well as the growingly despondent youth culture. Ironically, Dylan would likewise abandon this role for a more mellow, country direction, and anger the counterculture just as much as he angered the folk fans, which is why I believe SELF PORTRAIT is the perfect capstone to Dylan's 1960s work. Because it's Dylan being contrary and inscrutable. That album's infamous for a reason folks.
This transformation, while occurring over the past two albums, comes to full fruition here, and with such offerings as the lead off track, "Tombstone Blues," "Ballad of a Thin Man," and "Desolation Row," this is nothing short of essential listening. "Desolation Row," arriving a full year and a half ahead of the other great epic in classic rock, The Doors' "The End," feels like a journey down a twisted, malignant, decaying road through America, with surrealism abounding and one of the best (and most accessible) answers to T. S. Eliot's modernist masterpiece `The Waste Land." "Tombstone Blues," combining (like the rest of the album) complex, surrealistic imagery and characters given an almost mythological import with seemingly random juxtapositions, rewrote the rules of rock lyrics. It has quite the absurdist touch.
The remaining tracks are just as remarkable. "It Takes a Lot to Laugh, a Train to Cry" musically turns to the blues for its inspiration, but the lyrics are a far cry from the classic blues motifs. "From a Buick Six," based partially on the 1930 Sleeping John Estes "Milk Calf Blues," shows Dylan reinventing the blues with a visceral fist. "Queen Jane Approximately," a dire warning directed to an obviously important woman in the narrator's life, chugs along at a loose, warm, garage frenzy. The narrator warns Queen Jane that she's about to fall apart. Wrapping the message in symbolism, the listener is left wondering if she's a real person in Dylan's life or not. "Just Like Tom Thumb's Blues," one of my personal favorites (I wrote a story about New York City using these lyrics as inspiration), details a character's descent into a continually more startling and depressing lifestyle, filled with corrupt authorities, shady women, and a haze of drugs and alcohol. Rich with literary allusions, writing like this sets Dylan head and shoulders above any other lyricist. "Highway 61 Revisited," the very song that game the album its name, gives another example of Dylan's surrealistic, stream-of-conscious type of writing, part beat, part symbolist, and undeniably all Dylan. The opening stanza, with its 1960s' reinvention of God telling Abraham to kill his son Isaac, stands as a stroke of genius. Some commentators have pointed out there's Highway 61 in Minnesota, and that Dylan's father's name was Abe. Dylan populates the rest of the song with royalty, roving gamblers, and other colourful characters. One of Dylan's best songs, with a rollicking bit of music to go with the mind-bending lyrics.
Two tracks, recorded during the same sessions and cut very much of the same cloth, would have found a welcome home on this album. "Can You Please Crawl Out Your Window?" a bizaare narrative about a guy trying to win back his love, broke the top 100 but wasn't very successful. Somewhat akin to "I Want You" in the bizaare pop department. "Positively Fourth Street," one of Dylan's biggest hits and one of the nastiest put downs ever committed to tape, shows Dylan totally demolishing a so-called friend. It's one of Dylan's best mid 1960s offerings (and that's saying something, let me tell you) and appears on the first GREATEST HITS album.
HIGHWAY 61 REVISITED's most radical facet is it brought rock and popular music to a totally unprecedented level of sophisticated, artistic mastery. Dylan made music both deeply poetic and complex, redefining rock as we know it. Is it Dylan's best? Maybe. It is certainly one of his most important, not only for his career but for rock in generall. While many people point to The Beatles' SGT PEPPER as the seminal record of the 1960s, HIGHWAY 61 REVISITED is where my money is at.
on 24 July 2005
You want an early Dylan album but you are not sure which one to buy. Buy this one. Listen carefully to it a few times. Let it get into you as only the best music can, it takes a while sometimes but the effort is worth it. This album can be like that. Most of the songs on here need listening to until something clicks then you are hooked for all time. Dylan will never leave you. After all 'when you ain't got nothing you got nothing to lose'.
on 16 January 2002
MAGNIFICENT!!! The best album of all time???
I have all of Bob Dylan's albums but this one, in my opinion is the best. Blonde on Blonde, Blood On The Tracks and many more run it close, but it is Highway 61 that I keep coming back too. From the opening bars of Like A Rolling Stone, you are hooked and there is no going back. Just listen to the lyrics of the album from the start, ending with Desolation Row, which is Dylan's crown jewel on the album. No other songwriter on the planet could write Desolation Row! You have to hear it to believe it. In between there is Tombstone Blues, Ballad Of A Thin Man, Queen Jane, Highway 61, and Just Like Tom Thumb's Blues. All are simply superb.
This album changed rock music forever.... This is essential and fully deserves 5 stars. BUY IT NOW!!!
on 10 August 2005
Dont listen to the guy who gave this 1 star. It is obvious that he doesnt realise that poetry doesnt need a political gain...
This album is as rough and ready as it comes. It sounds like it was a whirlwind session, as if everone ran into the studio to record it all in one go, one take each song, before everyone legged it out of the studio once again to follow Dylan on the next leg of his creative evolution. The song that sounds the worst on this album is Like a Rolling Stone; a fantastic song, powerful and spiteful in all its other forms, but the sound of the original is, dare I say it, horrendous. Listen to that 'chuga-a-lug-lug' guitar in the middle of the mix (possibly Dylan) especially when he loses the timing.
I always thought Tombstone Blues would've made a better start. This is a stonking song; violent, fast, like a steam train driving through your stereo. Dylan's voice on this is wonderful, so full of character, especially when he slyly and dirtily sneers "stop all this weeping, swallow your pride. You will not die, it's not poison" (my interpretation of this line doesn't bare thinking about!). The length of this song is impressive too. How they kept up that beat for the entire length of the song is a mystery.
It Takes A Lot To Laugh, It Takes A Train To Cry and From A Buick 6 are sublimely sluggish songs, kind of like (I can only imagine) rolling slowly down a muddy hill, but they still dont lose that loose urgency that appears with the other songs. Ballad of a Thin Man is possibly the dirtiest, most metaphorical song I've ever heard and is delivered with that same disgust and foreboding that poor old Mr Jones must feel for himself.
Highway 61 Revisited returns to the same powerhouse stomp-a-long as Tombstone Blues and is similar too in its humorous, character driven lyrics, a quality of his songs I have always loved. Just Like Tom Thumb Blues is a good song, but every time I hear this version, I have to go put on the vastly superior version from the Bootleg Series vol 4.
Now...what words can I use to describe Desolation Row? Nothing that will do it justice, that's for sure. One of my favourite songs of all time and certainly one of the most beautiful I've ever heard. Again, a wonderful character driven song, featuring Romeo, Cinderella, Casanova, Betty Davis, The Hunchback of Notre Dame, Einstein, The Phantom of the Opera, T.S Eliot and others. The imagery that this song envokes and the gorgeous poetry it is formed around is made all the better in its heartfelt delivery. This is a song that I can listen to again and again; indeed, I never really want it to end. During the last harmonica solo, I am always anticipating that hidden verse I've always missed, that perhaps this time his voice will kick in again and the song continues in an everlasting roam. Of course, this never happens, the song comes to a close and all I can do is play it again from the start.
Please, buy this album, because if you have any kind of creative bone in your body then this will serve as the greatest of inspirations. Some of the most beautiful use of the English language ever is contained in this album, of which Dylan is one of the true great masters. His voice may not be to everyone's taste, but the poetry he writes and the way he delivers it makes his songs truly beautiful. When Dylan writes and sings a song, you know he's not messing about...he TRULY means it.
What kind of genius writes like that? The best kind...
on 25 November 2015
I cant fault the album itself. Just hope it helps someone to point out that the vinyl version of this, released on Nov 2015, is actually the MONO recording, 180g, on Legacy Vinyl label from Sony. Nice quality reproduction of original sleeve and record. But as I was hoping for the stereo pressing, I returned mine. It's a shame Amazon don't show any details about this release, and that they don't filter their reviews into different formats.
on 31 December 2003
Yes, you read me right, better than Blonde on Blonde, even better than Blood on the Tracks. OK, so maybe I'm getting carried away, and certainly there isn't that much to separate "Highway 61 Revisited" from Dylan's other outstanding albums, and it may not have had the revolutionary timing of "Blonde on Blonde", but the completeness and magic of the epic songs that appear here merits such a title.
"Like a Rolling Stone" is probably the best album starter in music history, and there or there abouts as Dylan's finest works, with a very catchy melody and a moving theme of riches to rags. It also showcases what "Highway 61" is all about, Dylan finally finding a harmonious blend of the electronic and the acoustic, with the electric organ blairing out unmistakeably. "Tombstone Blues", while perhaps not the most catchy or melodic song around, provides Dylan at his cheekiest, with lines like "the sun ain't yellow - it's just chicken". "From a Buick 6" provides a jazzy number with Dylan at his most soulful.
"Balad of a Thin Man" provides an incredible change of style as the pivot of the album, haunting with its piano chords and introducing a very different sound to the accustomed folky Bob Dylan. "Queen Jane Approximately" further provides a gorgeous melody and some wonderful instrumental work which really isn't seen on Dylan albums pre-"Highway 61".
However, perhaps the crowning glory of the album comes at the end of the album with the two epics "Just Like Tom Thumb Blues" - a lament of a man about his time away from New York ("there's a lot of hungry women there, and they'll really make a mess out of you") and the sumptuous "Desolation Row" with the beautiful imagery of two lovers looking out at the chaos of the world from the safety of their own personal love.
"Highway 61",then, seems to represent the first step of Dylan to becoming the legend he is today, but furthermore it is the Dylan album that blends his witisicsm with his sincerity in such a wonderful mixture of pure music that never lets up or shows one sign of weakness from start to finish. Contender for best album of all time? Most definitely!
on 9 December 2011
The opening rimshot of 'Like a Rolling Stone' is an earthquake that heralded a new era in rock music. That song is a strong contender for the greatest single of all time.
There is a surrealistic edge to most of the songs on the album which might jar with the `Thin Men' among you, but the erupting imagery is mesmerising from start to finish. Dylan sings, `I need a steamshovel mama to keep away the dead. I need a dumptruck baby to unload my head.' In 'From a Buick 6'. As a teenager living through the Cuba missile crisis, the Cold War and the Vietnam War that resonated. It still does alas. There is a fair amount of name checking of cultural icons, especially in Desolation Row, which could have sounded pretentious in the writings of a lesser wordsmith, but that song is a dazzling cinematic vision of the margins, misfits and victims of `The Great Society' - sheer genius.
The band has a graceful loosness, for example Al Kooper's organ entering half a beat behind the chord changes in places, that might not appeal to some, but it captures the spontaneity and excitement of the creative process Dylan conducted. The result is beautiful. I love the jangly piano and spiky electric guitars on most tracks and the sweet acoustics on Desolation Row.
How some clown can review this album and give it one star beggars belief. Love it or loathe it, this is one of the greatest rock albums of all. If you are socially and culturally connected listen to it.
B. Arthur is a professional guitarist and guitar teacher active in Northumberland UK.
The importance of this original release in "breaking" Dylan away from his folk links and selling him into the rock mainstrean is well documented and for me still remains his best solo effort ever in terms of range and songs - the acoustic number "Desolation Row" sounds like nothing the man would have attempted on any prior acoustic outings. The songs and performances were to demonstrate a "full group" tightness and overall production level that has been only hit occassionally by the man since (notably the follow up "Blonde on Blonde" and later "Blood on the tracks") with such overall consistency being demonstrated.
The improved audio CD version in fact has already been available in a costly DCC gold plated CD which underlined the great sound that had been created in the NY studio - the SACD version now makes that quality available more cheaply and with the edge in overall sound separation.
A priceless masterpiece beautifully improved in sound and packaging.
on 23 January 2003
this is not really a review - its hard to be objective about an album like this - you start the player and you are literally swept away - the album begins with "Like a Rolling Stone" - for God's sake. Dylan sneers his way through it - and it sets the tone for the rest of the album - you dont really understand how sneers and snarls and growls and rants can make for great music - maybe they make for great emotion - but just look at the songs - Ballad of a thin man, Queen Jane approximately, the title track, Tom Thumbs blues - as good as Desolation Row - and Desolation Row itself - the title sounds cheesy - but listen to the song - and you listen to a fascinating meld of poetry, music cynicism and self disgust that is actually beautiful...
this is a good album - the sun is a yellow ball in the sky