Recorded: June-August 1965
Released: August 30, 1965
Starts with “Like A Rolling Stone”. Ends with “Desolation Row”. Does it matter what comes in between?
So much has been written about “Like A Rolling Stone”. Honestly, there is no greatest Dylan song… but if you’re forced to pick one, this has to be it. Revolutionary rock song. Incredible lyrics, music, performance.
And “Desolation Row”… the WIkipedia article quotes Philip Larkin describing it as “enchanting tune and mysterious, possibly half-baked words”. Hmmm… pretty fair, but I lean a lot harder into “mysterious”j, and I think “half-baked” is beside the point. It’s one compelling image after another, and a beautiful melody and performance.
But what about the songs in between? Well, as I alluded to in my comments about “Bringing It All Back Home”, I think Dylan achieves a unified sound and tone here… no more half acoustic, half electric. The songs sound like they’re performed by a group of musicians that know what they’re doing, and they’re producing the sound Dylan was reaching for.
I’ve always loved “Tombstone Blues” — just a classic from this period. Spittin’ facts:
You will not die, it’s not poison
Is there a hole for me to get sick in?
The sun’s not yellow, it’s chicken
I really like “Highway 61 Revisited”, too, although I do not like the siren whistle. The first verse blew me away the first time I heard it, and I’ve known it by memory for decades:
God said to Abraham, “Kill me a son”
Abe says, “Man, you must be puttin’ me on”
God says, “No.” Abe say,s “What?”
God says, “You can do what you want Abe, but
The next time you see me comin’ you better run”
Abe says, “Where do you want this killin’ done?”
God says, “Out on Highway 61.”
I’m well aware “Ballad of a Thin Man” is considered a classic, but I’ve never really warmed up to it. I mean, obviously, I like it, but somehow never have connected with it the way I do with so many of Dylan’s other songs.
“From a Buick 6” is replacement-level Dylan. I like all the rest of the songs, but none of them have ever really grabbed me. “Queen Jane Approximately” might come closest. I love the way the music swells after the first two lines and sets up the third line that leads into “Won’t you come see me, Queen Jane?”
Here’s something I never would have thought until I’ve gone through this exercise, listening to “Bringing It All Back Home” quite a few times, then “Highway 61 Revisited”. I think the songs on “Bringing It All Back Home” are overall better than on “Highway 61 Revisited”. In the “near filler” category, I prefer “Outlaw Blues” and “On The Road Again” to “From A Buick 6”. In the Hall of Fame category, I prefer “Like a Rolling Stone” and “Desolation Row” to “Mr. Tambourine Man” and “It’s Alright Ma (I’m Only Bleeding)”, but wow, tough call. But after that, for me at least, “Bringing It All Back Home” is the clear winner, with “Subterranean Homesick Blues” and “It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue” very near Hall of Fame status… and I prefer all the rest of the songs on “Bringing It All Back Home” to the rest of the songs on “Highway 61 Revisited”. Still, “Highway 61 Revisited” has the more unified sound, and luckily, I don’t have to choose between them.
Outtakes! “Positively 4th Street” might not strictly qualify as an outtake; it was recorded during the Highway 61 sessions, but maybe always intended as a single. Still, it too is a Hall of Fame song, with the definitive closing kissoff:
I wish that for just one time
You could stand inside my shoes
And just for that one moment
I could be you
Yes, I wish that for just one time
You could stand inside my shoes
You’d know what a drag it is
To see you.