Now, personally I am going to take this opportunity to rank my top 10 Bob Dylan albums. I realize that, for reasons I don't fully understand, some people do not love Bob Dylan. That's ok, it takes all kinds to make the world spin. If you like music, but not Bob Dylan, please feel free to rank your favorite Leonard Bernstien, Brittany Spears, Wes Montgomery, Public Enemy, Bill Monrore, Insane Clown Posse, or whatever it is you like, in the comments. I feel best qualified to rank Dylan so that's what I'm going to attempt to do.
Now before I jump into this I'm going to admit that my very favorite Dyaln release is The Bootleg Series Vol. 1-3 Box Set. This may be splitting hairs a bit but I'm not going to rank this kind of thing. Instead, I will focus on the more standard albums full of new material that he put out over the course of his career (which, by the way, now spans over 50 years). Anyway, enough about the arbitrary rules I'm setting for myself that I may or may not follow, let's look at my favorite Dylan Albums.
10. Time Out of Mind (1997).
Key Songs: Love Sick, Not Dark Yet, Highlands
This one will probably go down as the last truly great Dylan album. His more recent releases tend to have have one, or maybe two, enjoyable songs but, with the possible exception of 2001's "Mississippi", most of these songs seem unlikely to remain a continuing part of Bob's legacy. Time Out of Mind has several songs that I think will endure. With this album, Bob introduced a new sound that would become the hallmark of his later career. His voice sounds good, the lyrics are reflective, and the band is crisp. Many artists would be thrilled to have produced an album of this quality but for Bob Dylan it's just 10th best.
9. The Freewheelin' Bob Dylan (1963)
Key Songs: Girl From the North Country, Masters of War, Don't Think Twice, Hard Rain
Here we I will probably run into some early disagreement with my ranking as many hardcore Dylan-files would likely rank this one much higher- and with good reason. This is the first true Dylan album and one in which he first displays the passion and word play that would make him an important voice of his generation and honorary poet laureate of the American experience (whatever the hell that means). Several of Dyaln's most celebrated songs are on this album and it also features an iconic album cover. What more do you want in a great album. Even I think I probably am ranking this one much too low, but this isn't about some kind of objective analysis, it's about my favorites so Freewheelin' ranks 9th.
8. Blonde on Blonde (1966)
Key Songs: Visions of Johanna, Stuck Inside of Mobile with the Memphis Blues Again
This one has grown on me in recent years as a complete album but it was always going to earn a high ranking from me simply because of "Visions of Johanna". Also, the teenage version of me loved this album title (for obvious reasons) and the classic lyric "everybody must get stoned" (also for obvious reasons). Did I mention the song about Johanna? Seriously, I really love this song.
7. Bringing It All Back Home (1965)
Key Songs: She Belongs to Me, Love Minus Zero, It's Alright Ma, I'm only bleeding, It's All Over Now Baby Blue
If I'm remembering my early twenties correctly (and I think we can safely assume I am not) this is the one that propelled me to the next level of Dylan fandom. I wore this CD out.
6. New Morning (1970)
Key Songs: Day of the Locus, Went to See the Gypsy, New Morning.
Ok, I might be overrating this one here a bit but please understand I do so with good reason: I am trying to make up for over 40 years of New Morning being underrated. Dylan came to this one with an impressively soulful version of his iconic and highly criticized voice. The music has a nice grooviness that seems to anticipate the early 1970's and, although not all of the songs here are keepers, the ones that are have earned a special place in my
5. Desire (1976)
Key Songs: Hurricane, Isis, One More Cup of Coffee, Black Diamond Bay
I have always loved a good story and this album is full of them. Who amongst us doesn't remember bubbling over with outrage at the framing of Rubin Carter as we sat in our dorm room listening to Hurricane over and over again? This album also features co-song writing credits for Jacques Levy which is somehthing I have always found interesting. Anyway, here is a weird cover from Robert Plant.
4. Another Side of Bob Dylan (1964)
Key Songs: Chimes of Freedom, To Ramona, My Back Pages
The early 1960's was a busy time for the young man from Minnesota's Mesabi Iron Range and by the time his fourth official album was released Bob had really found his voice. This is another one that I probably personally value higher than the rest of the Dylan community, and even I will admit that the folk based acoustic protest format isn't really my thing these days, but there are some fine songs here that really helped me out during those confusing and overly self important late college years (I was so much older then, I'm younger than that now). To Ramona, especially, is one of my very favorites.
3. The Basement Tapes (1975)
Key Songs: Going to Acapulco, Katie's Been Gone, Bessie Smith, Tears of Rage, This Wheel's on Fire.
Bob Dylan and the Band! What more needs to be said. This album was recorded informally several years before it was finally released and, although I was only three years old in 1975, I can say with confidence that it was worth the wait. The Basement Tapes is easily the strangest release on this list given that much of it has the feel of friends jamming in a barn with a microphone taped to the ceiling. Still, when that group of friends is these guys, our only complaint is that they have yet to officially release the rest of the recordings.
2. Blood on the Tracks (1975)
Key Songs: Tangled Up in Blue, Idiot Wind, Simple Twist of Fate, If You See Her Say Hello.
Somewhere along about 9th or 10th grade I saw a video on the MTV of Bob Dylan singing "Tangled Up in Blue". The video showed only his face which was covered in white make up. This was not the Dylan I had heard growing up. Shortly after this I picked up a copy of Blood on the Tracks at the library and gave it a whirl. I really liked it then and I still do. It's also worth noting that this album was recorded in Dinkytown near the University of Minnesota using local musicians.
1. Highway 61 Revisited (1965)
Key Songs: Like a Rolling Stone, It Takes a Lot to Laugh, it Takes a Train to Cry, Tombstone Blues, Desolation Row
When Rolling Stone Magazine decided to put out a list of the top 500 rock albums of all time they ranked this one 4th and we have all heard the story of how Dylan and his band changed the course of music history by plugging in at the Newport Folk Festival (probably an overblown story given what was all going on musically at the time). Highway 61 stretches from North of Duluth all the way to New Orleans, with plenty of music history along the way, and this is the album that ties it all together. I even have a tattoo that is, at least in part, inspired by Highway 61 Revisited. Did anyone ever doubt that this would top my list?
Well there you have it, my top ten Dylan albums. There are a few noteworthy releases left out so I look forward to hearing what some of the other Dylan fans around here think. I also understand that this music is not for everyone so please take this opportunity to share some of the music you non-Dylan fans out there think I should be listening to instead.