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 Dylan – Highway 61 Revisited
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?
Categories: Album of the Year