Imagine the shock of hearing Highway 61 Revisited the first time in the mid 60s. You’re a Bob Dylan fan, you like his politicised songwriting as it fit in neatly with your ideals and opinions. Sure his material has become slightly less political over recent albums, but he’s still a great songwriter. You can even forgive him for dabbling with the passing popular fad for electric music. He’s an artist, and artists should be free to experiment. At least it means it’ll be out of his system for a while now. You put the stylus into place on the shiney virgin vinyl, theres a drum crack, a swirl of organ…
For me, Highway 61 Revisited is Dylan’s second greatest album, as it was where he found the perfect blend of singer songwriter smarts and rock’n’roll power. If there had ever been any doubt before, Highway 61 Revisited confirmed that it was Bob Dylan’s world, and we just lived on it.
There’s not a single track on Highway 61 Revisited which is surplus to requirements, and if anything else had been added it would have spoiled the dynamic of the album. “Like A Rolling Stone” is one of the most legendary songs in the history of rock’n’roll, but the praise heaped upon it over the last four decades by a media obsessed with nostalgia has perhaps lessened its impact over the years. It’s breathtaking the first time you hear it, but it slowly becomes less special each time you hear it.
Ask a room full of Bob Dylan fans what their three favourite songs from Highway 61 Revisited are and they will bicker for weeks, maybe even months. There’s just so much good stuff here, but the three that have a special part of my heart this week are “Tombstone Blues”, a song propelled along by some of the most exciting acoustic guitar you are likely to hear anywhere, “Ballad Of A Thin Man”, an undisputed Dylan classic, and the title track is a song that get’s overlooked too often when compared to its illustrious brethren. Of course ask me the same question next week, and I may very well give you three totally different songs, it’s just one of those albums where every song is great and it’s just down to the mood of the listener as to which are their favourites at that exact moment in time.
The album of course closes with the epic “Desolation Row”, the only ‘acoustic’ number on Highway 61 Revisited , but at least it’s a cracker, one of the few songs that can totally justify having more than ten minutes spent listening to it. It leaves you breathless and wondering if you had heard what you thought you had heard over the last fifty one and a half minutes.
Rock’n’roll would never be the same again.