Album Of The Year: 1965

The idea behind this ‘series’ is that once every two weeks another year will be brought into attention, starting with 1963 and moving onward chronologically. One and only one album will be selected and written about from each year, the criteria being a mix of personal preference and historical relevance. If you stumble upon this article by any chance and end up not clicking the ‘x’ button in disgust, keep in mind that I would love to hear your choice for the respective year – from a simple comment stating the album’s name, to detailed analysis that will destroy my argument and make me reconsider my reasoning. Remember, one of the main reasons I’m doing this is to get a better perspective of what albums I’ve missed out on, from each period of time.

Today’s Pick: Bob DylanHighway 61 Revisited

Highway+61+Revisited+Bob+Dylan++Highway+61+Revisite

I’ve kept postponing Dylan for two posts now, but it was inevitable that sooner or later he’d be featured on this series. I mean, I’d love to go with something like Beach Boys’ Today just to be different, but that’ll feel like trying to bypass a huge mountain. Yes, I feel that Dylan’s (especially mid-) 60’s albums are of that colossal importance.

By the second half of 1965, Bob’s approach to song-writing has morphed into something that I’ve yet to encounter in any other artist’s work. Musically, he still draws his influences from blues, folk and country, with the electric backing band providing a needed rock ‘n’ roll edge. Only this time around, the session musicians contribute with their own artistic input, resulting in plenty of memorable instrumental touches. It’s actually quite impressive how they all sound like the perfect choice for the song in question.

The words may or may not make sense when taken literally, but that’s not important. What truly matters is how they are put together – Bob has developed a sponge-like ability to absorb information from literally hundreds of sources and then combine it in a drug-fueled, stream-of-consciousness manner. But please do not get the impression that it’s all random. The brilliance of the lyrics doesn’t necessarily lie in some hidden meaning they may have, but rather in how the actual words flow together and follow one another. The visual images they paint will be stuck in your head, the syntagmas they create will be memorized automatically, whether you want it or not. It also doesn’t hurt that they are sung by a voice that has by then become as recognizable and as personality-filled as they come. There are few musical clichés that are more annoying than the “Bob Dylan can write, but he can’t sing” one, and those who believe that need to look no further than ‘Highway 61 Revisited’ to be proven wrong: the tone he adopts is always fitting the mood of the song – from the angry sneering to the laid-back mysticism and everything in-between.

The thing is, this is one of those albums that words won’t ever fully do justice to. Although all the elements that I described above are impressive on their own, it’s only the unique mix of them all that ultimately makes ‘Highway 61 Revisited’ such an influential and enjoyable work that stands above the rest of its contemporary records. A true milestone, an album that could come out only at that particular time from that particular artist, never to be duplicated again.

Do you agree? What’s your favourite album from 1965?

Find the previous parts here: 1963, 1964

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9 replies

  1. Great review sir – I used to be one of those annoying music fans (let Dylan write it but please give the song to Hendrix/GNR to sing!) and it was the mid-60s output that showed how misled I was.
    I flip between this and Bringing it all back home for best of ’65. If you exclude Dylan, I quite enjoyed the live energy of Jerry Lee Lewis’s Live at the Star Club, Hamburg and it’s tough to dislike the jangling rickenbacker sound of The Byrds’s Mr. Tambourine Man. But then again, Dylan wrote that title track!

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    • Thanks. You know, now that I think about it, I’ve always been a Dylan fan. Used to listen to Blowin’ In The Wind and Like A Rolling Stone alongside with Bon Jovi, Guns n’ Roses etc. in my earliest days of “rock” fandom. It has never occurred to me that some might think he’s a bad singer until I started seeing that opinion stated on the internet.

      Bring It All is incredible too, that goes without saying. The Jerry Lee album is 64′ though, isn’t it? Don’t even get me started on the overrated, kitschy Byrds debut. That was one of my biggest musical disappointments.

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      • Interesting – you’re right Wikipedia says the Hamburg one was in 1964, my 1001 book claimed it was 65.

        I shall not get you started on the byrds! To me, I didn’t have much use for the sweetheart of the rodeo (which is odd, as I really like a lot of the groups it influenced) but I enjoyed the jangle of the earlier stuff. Different strokes I suppose!

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  2. I thought the thing about Dylan not being a great singer (at least back then) would have been retired by now. He influenced generations of great artists who realized they didn’t have to be conventional “good” singers to make their mark in the world. To me, the bad vocalists of the world (Pariah Carey, for instance) have great pipes but waste it on vacuous material and a style of tiresome over-singing imitated by many on American Idol and The Voice etc. Great choice for that year.

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    • Spot on, I agree 100%. I think the whole ‘Dylan can’t sing” shtick will fade away over time, then come back, then fade away again ad inf. A lot of the younger music fans feel the need to be different, special, so they figure putting down sacred artists/albums that have been praised over the years will do. That’s why today you’ll find more people stating on the internet that Sgt. Pepper is overrated, rather than discuss its merits as a great album. In a few years, as more as more people will come around to that, it won’t be ‘cool’ anymore. They’ll probably switch to saying that Velvet Underground & Nico is the most overrated album. Or Zombies’ Odessey and Oracle. Sorry for ranting, this probably deserves its own separate discussion.

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  3. The first verse on “Highway 61” is maybe my favorite first verse ever. “God said no, Abe said what?/God said you can do what you want Abe but/next time you see me comin’ you better run.”

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    • That’s an amazing and hilarious lyric, indeed. But if I were to pick a favourite, I’d go with the whole Ophelia strophe from Desolation Row:

      “Now Ophelia, she’s ‘neath the window
      For her I feel so afraid
      On her twenty-second birthday
      She already is an old maid
      To her, death is quite romantic
      She wears an iron vest
      Her profession’s her religion
      Her sin is her lifelessness
      And though her eyes are fixed upon
      Noah’s great rainbow
      She spends her time peeking
      Into Desolation Row.”

      Gives me chills just reading it.

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  4. 1965 was my all time favorite year for music – and I’m old enough to have heard the songs as they came out during that year. I do wonder why I never see younger people remembering The Byrds. I see young people becoming fans of Dylan and The Beatles, and even The Beach Boys, but not The Byrds.

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