“It’s very tiring having other people tell you how much they dig you, if you yourself don’t dig you.”
Dylan was getting sick of Dylan, when everyone else wanted more Dylan. Upon returning from a tour in England dissatisfied and drained, Dylan unleashed a 20-page "long piece of vomit" which would be condensed into Like a Rolling Stone, rediscovering Dylan's love of writing music. Rather than shying away from the limelight, Dylan straight up changed his style up and released his second album of 1965, introducing an all new electric sound, much to the chagrin of all his fans. The album that kickstarted the 60s was met with resounding boos at the Newport Folk Festival.
Dylan's sixth studio album Highway 61 Revisited was his first foray into a fully electric sound, a big departure from the signature acoustic-only lineup Dylan had perfected since his arrival on the Greenwich Village folk scene at the turn of the decade. Fifty five years later and the album is regarded as one of Dylan's finest, and one of the most influential albums of all time.
Bruce Springsteen described the album opening track Like a Rolling Stone a "snare shot (that) sounded like somebody'd kicked open the door to your mind." The pace never drops for the entirety of the 51 minute runtime, without a single weak track. It would be easy to say Dylan hit his peak with Highway but the truth is that that didn't happen until the 80s. Combining Dylan's penchant for storytelling and the surreal, each song weaves its own bizarre narrative, complete with appearances from Jack the Ripper, an argument involving God and Abraham, Napoleon and a fight between Ezra Pound and T.S Eliot.
Named after the highway that runs from Dylan's hometown of Duluth in Minnesota down to New Orleans and the rest of the southern cities rich in musical heritage. A blues and country pilgrimage, Highway 61 passes through birthplaces and homes of countless influential musicians including Elvis Presley, Muddy Waters and Son House. Dylan's strong affinity to the road made it a perfect fit for the album, a departure from his homegrown acoustic style, touching on various genres and branching into new directions.
Having already established himself as a voice of protest and dissatisfaction of America, Highway 61 perfectly captures the political and social chaos that defined the 1960s. Combining his stinging vocals and sharp lyrics with driving blues music, Dylan delivers an album that hits on every front. With a backing band on every track save the last one; Desolation Row, Dylan returns to his acoustic folk beginnings and closes the album with an 11-minute poetic piece with only his voice, acoustic guitar and harmonia occupying the sound. This alone contributed to his winning of the Nobel Prize for Literature in 2016.
Upon finishing the album and the subsequent release to almost universal acclaim, Dylan was happy at last: "I like the sound – I like what I’m doing now. They can boo until the end of time. I know that the music is real, more real than the boos.” 55 years later and the album still holds up, Rolling Stone magazine declaring the album number four in their 500 Greatest Albums of All Time and placing Like a Rolling Stone at number one in the 500 Greatest Songs of All Time. Nobody is booing, Dylan.
Settling for a top 5 track listing of the album is futile, so here's a top 9; the entire album:
- Like a Rolling Stone
- Tombstone Blues
- It Takes a Lot to Laugh, It Takes a Train to Cry
- From a Buick 6
- Ballad of a Thin Man
- Queen Jane Approximately
- Highway 61 Revisited
- Just Like Tom Thumb's Blues
- Desolation Row