In honor of Bob Dylan’s 80th birthday, which will be on May 24, I have been sharing a song from each of his albums — one song per day in chronological order — on Facebook, as I’ve done before for Elvis Costello, Lou Reed and Stevie Wonder. And I will collect them here, adding them after posting to Facebook.
I will include tracks from some (but probably not all) of Dylan’s compilations, live albums, soundtracks, side projects and so on, so I will probably have more than 80 entries (and it will be well past May 24) when I am done.
Since Dylan’s output has been so prodigious, I will do different blog posts for every decade, and link them to each other.
Look below for a Spotify playlist, compiled by Ken Shane.
We start with “Song to Woody,” the Woody Guthrie tribute from Dylan’s solo acoustic, self-titled 1962 debut album. It’s one of only two self-written songs on the album, and the album’s only hint, really, that this could be a hugely important new artist.
I’ve seen a lot of discussions on Facebook about the best debut album in rock history. Bob Dylan is rarely, if ever, mentioned. But if there ever were a discussion about the best second album, 1963’s The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan would deserve serious consideration, with four absolute classics (“Blowin’ in the Wind,” “Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right,” “Masters of War” and the stunning “A Hard Rain’s a-Gonna Fall”) and lots of other good stuff, too. A huge step forward for Dylan, and for ’60s music in general.
After releasing his brilliant The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan in May 1963, Dylan returned less than a year later (January 1964) with the more political The Times They Are a-Changin’. It’s a bit less impressive than its predecessor, but you can feel, for the first time, Dylan starting to think about his albums as making coherent statements rather than just being a random collection of songs. And it offers, in its title track, an anthem as timeless as anything on Freewheelin’.
As its title declares, Another Side of Bob Dylan (1964) shows him going in a different direction from The Times They Are a-Changin’ (released earlier in ’64), with more personal and introspective, funnier (in some cases) and less politically oriented songs. “It Ain’t Me Babe” is perhaps its greatest achievement, a starkly unsentimental breakup song as well as, perhaps, a subtle message to his fans, letting them know that he’s not going to stay in any stylistic box they might want to keep him in.
Bringing It All Back Home (1965) marked the moment went Dylan went electric (on side one) as well as his explosive growth as a songwriter. It’s frustrating to have to pick just one song from an album that includes “Mr. Tambourine Man,” “Subterranean Homesick Blues,” “Maggie’s Farm,” “Gates of Eden,” “It’s Alright, Ma (I’m Only Bleeding)” and “It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue,” among others, but I’ll go with “Mr. Tambourine Man,” possibly his most poetic work ever, and a song destined to become a landmark in the folk-rock movement.
After five revelatory albums, Dylan topped himself on his sixth, Highway 61 Revisited. I wouldn’t argue that it’s his greatest album, but its first single, “Like a Rolling Stone,” had a huge impact, reimagining the possibilities of what rock could be, and landing him in the Top 10 for the first time (as a performer, not just a songwriter).
Less than a year after Highway 61 Revisited (August 1965), Dylan returned with another triumph, and a double album at that: Blonde on Blonde (June 1966). “Just Like a Woman,” “Rainy Day Women #12 & 35” and “I Want You” all made the Top 40, and there were plenty of other gems, too, including “Stuck Inside of Mobile With the Memphis Blues Again” and “Absolutely Sweet Marie,” but I’ll go with the surreal late-night meditation, “Visions of Johanna,” possibly Dylan’s most haunting song ever.
Following a motorcycle accident in July 1966, Dylan had to take some time off in order to recover. He also happened to be at his commercial peak at this time, so he put out a greatest hits album in March ’67 that made the Top 10 in its own right. Included were his versions of songs other artists had helped popularize (“Blowin’ in the Wind,” “Mr. Tambourine Man,” “It Ain’t Me Babe”) as well as the cathartically vitriolic “Positively 4th Street,” which he had released as a single in 1965 but not previously put on an album. Greatest Hits was, incidentally, the album that served as my personal introduction to Dylan when I started to seriously listen to rock in the mid-’70s.
“All Along the Watchtower,” from John Wesley Harding, is best known, of course, as covered by Jimi Hendrix (Dylan would later use Hendrix’s arrangement in concert). But its original version is pretty powerful, too. Like most of the album, it’s simple and direct, musically. But its Bible-inspired lyrics, which seem to warn of a coming apocalypse, make Dylan seem like a dire prophet. How appropriate that this song came out in late December 1967, with the chaos and violence of 1968 just around the corner.
Dylan’s last album of the ’60s, Nashville Skyline, contains a song I consider, possibly, his most underrated ever: the heartbreaking, exquisitely sung “I Threw It All Away.”
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