There have been a million articles written this year about Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, which was released in 1967. And none, as far as I know, about Bob Dylan’s Greatest Hits, released around the same time, and therefore also celebrating its 50th anniversary this year.
So I decided to write one.
This is the album, after all, through which I — as a junior high school student in suburban New Jersey, in 1974 or so — became a lifelong Dylan fan. And it was the album that — before I even heard Born to Run, or Who’s Next, or any other album that became a cornerstone of my record collection — really woke me up to the power of rock ‘n’ roll.
Ten songs, all released between 1963 and 1966, and all masterpieces: “Rainy Day Women #12 & 35,” “Blowin’ in the Wind,” “The Times They Are a Changin’,” “It Ain’t Me Babe,” “Like a Rolling Stone,” “Mr. Tambourine Man,” “Subterranean Homesick Blues,” “I Want You,” “Positively 4th Street” and “Just Like a Woman.” Plus, that cool, evocative cover image (see above).
I’m still amazed just thinking about how great this album is. Of course, I grew to love other Dylan albums more, later. But this was my first.
It is also one of only two Dylan albums to reach the 5 million sales mark in the United States, the other one being Bob Dylan’s Greatest Hits, Vol. II, released in 1971. So I’m sure it was the entryway into Dylan for a lot of other people, too.
Bob Dylan’s Greatest Hits was released in March 1967. That may seem a little early in his career to release a compilation: The Beatles, after all, didn’t get around to doing it until 1973, with their posthumous 1962-1966 and 1967-1970 double albums, also known as “The Red Album” and “The Blue Album.” Is is believed, though, that Dylan’s record company wanted to capitalize on the momentum that his landmark 1966 album Blonde on Blonde had created, but Dylan didn’t have any new material ready in early 1967, since he had to take some time off to recover from a motorcycle accident.
By December 1967, he did have another album of new songs out, though: John Wesley Harding. And in 1967, he also recorded most of the material that would wind up on his collaborative album with The Band, The Basement Tapes (released belatedly, in 1975). So 1967 ended up being quite a productive year for him.