Bob Dylan: Highway 61 Revisited

“Highway 61, the main thoroughfare of the country blues, begins about where I began. I always felt like I’d started on it, always had been on it and could go anywhere, even down in to the deep Delta country. It was the same road, full of the same contradictions, the same one-horse towns, the same spiritual ancestors…. It was my place in the universe, always felt like it was in my blood.” (Bob Dylan)

Bob_Dylan_-_Highway_61_Revisited

Overview: I liked it but it is not something that I would want to listen to very often. It is very bluesy and almost a bit country with the use of story. This is the first Bob Dylan that I have really listened to and I would listen again but not right away. It seems like a very good protest album from the 1960s. I am not sure that is what he was going for but that is what I heard. Bob Dylan is an iconic musician from this period and so, I can see why he made this list. I suppose as I listen to more of his music, I may see why this album made the top 500 list.

Bob Dylan’s Highway 61 Revisited was released by Columbia Records on August 30, 1965. It is less than an hour, at about 51 minutes long. So, it is not a horribly long album to commit to listening.

This album was a bit of a departure for Bob Dylan, as it featured only one acoustic song. Most of his previous music had been acoustic. The acoustic number on this piece, “Desolation Row,” is 11 minutes long. I think it is awfully long but it was probably one of my favorite songs on the album.

Highway 61 Revisited was named after the American highway that connected Duluth, Minnesota (Dylan’s birthplace) to southern cities that are known for their musical heritage: St. Louis, Memphis, New Orleans).

This record hit #3 on the US charts and #4 on the UK charts and is ranked #4 on Rolling Stone’s 500 Greatest Albums of All Time.

The musicians working on this album were :

  • Bob Dylan: vocals, guitar, harmonica, piano, police car(siren whistle)
  • Mike Bloomfield: electric guitar
  • Charlie McCoy: guitar
  • Paul Griffin, Al Kooper: piano, organ
  • Frank Owens: piano
  • Harvey Brooks, Russ Savakus: bass guitar
  • Bobby Gregg, Sam Lay: drums

Production Personnel:

  • Bob Johnston: producer
  • Tom Wilson: producer on “Like a Rolling Stone:
  • Daniel Kramer, Don Hunstein: photography
  • Steve Berkowitz: Hybrid SACD reissue production
  • Greg Calbi: Hybrid SACD reissue remastering

Tracks

  • “Like a Rolling Stone”
    • Combination of electric guitar licks, organ chords (!!!!) and Dylan’s voice
    • “How does it feel?”
    • Seems to express resentment and desire for revenge
  • “Tombstone Blues”
    • Fast-paced
    • Two-chords
    • Blues
    • Guitar driven
    • Mentions historical characters
      • Belle Starr
      • Delilah (Bible)
      • Jack the Ripper (as a successful businessman)
      • John the Baptist (as a torturer)
      • Ma Raney (Blues singer)
    • Critics have said that the reality behind this song was most likely the then-escalating Vietnam War
  • “It Takes a Lot to Laugh, It Take a Train to Cry”
    • Slow
    • Some lyrics borrowed for old blues songs
  • “From a Buick 6”
    • Up-tempo blues
    • Opens with a snare shot similar to “Like a Rolling Stone”
  • “Ballad of a Thin Man”
    • Piano-driven
      • Contrasts with organ riffs
    • “Something is happening here/But you don’t know what it is/Do you, Mr. Jones?
    • Protest song
  • “Queen Jane Approximately”
    • ABAB form, quatrain verses
      • Each verse followed by chorus that is simply a repeat of the last line of the verse
        • “Won’t you come see me Queen Jane?”
    • Piano ascends scale during harmonica break
  • “Highway 61 Revisited”
    • Opening words
      • “Oh God said to Abraham, ‘Kill me a son’/Abe says, ‘Man, you must be puttin’ me on”
        • Abraham was Bob Dylan’s father’s name, so Dylan could be referring to himself as being the son God wants killed
    • Blue boogie
    • Song has siren whistle – very noticeable
  • “Just Like Tom Thumb’s Blues”
    • 6 verses and no chorus
    • Lyrics describe a horrible experience in Juarez, Mexico
  • “Desolation Row”
    • Sole acoustic track
    • Cast of iconic characters:
      • Einstein
      • Nero
      • Noah
      • Cain and Abel
      • Ophelia
      • Romeo
      • T.S. Eliot
      • Ezra Pound
    • Cowboy song

 

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