Quick Review (LP): Self Portrait by Bob Dylan

Bob Dylan
Self Portrait
Columbia; 1970

My Rating: C (44/100)

Best Tracks: "I Forgot More Than You’ll Ever Know", "The Mighty Quinn (Quinn The Eskimo)"

A classic of the school of monumentally bizarre career moves.

NOTES

  • He’d already released a greatest hits collection. Why not an odds + ends collection? Throw in some live takes from Isle of Wight ’69, and you’ve got a money-maker.
  • It’s a strangely appropriate album title. This is perhaps Dylan’s most radical attempt to reclaim his identity, to snatch it away from the 60’s counterculture. Truth is, I think he succeeds, with unintended effect.
  • Just what the heck IS "All the Tired Horses"?
  • Lots of covers, not much original here. Still, there are some quality moments.
  • "I Forgot More Than You’ll Ever Know" is a really nice; is it a Nashville Skyline outtake?
  • He really does sound bored on the live take of "Like A Rolling Stone."
  • He really farts around on "The Boxer."  I think that qualifies as irreverent? What was that petty rivalry that Simon and Dylan had going on back then?
  • I love this version of the "The Mighty Quinn." One of my all time favorite Dylan cuts. So loose, so carefree, so joyful.
  • I don’t know that this is really the load of junk that everyone suggests. It’s an odds and ends collection that would sound right at home on "deluxe" reissues of some of Dylan’s late 60’s and early 70’s work. It’s not prime material, but it ain’t bad either.
  • Stephen Erlewine’s AMG review is pretty incisive here. Key insight: "To say the least, it’s confusing, especially arriving at the end of a decade of unmitigated brilliance, and while the years have made it easier to listen to, it still remains inscrutable, an impossible record to unlock. It may not be worth the effort, either, since this isn’t a matter of deciphering cryptic lyrics or interpreting lyrics, it’s all about discerning intent, figuring out what the hell Dylan was thinking when he was recording — not trying to decode a song."

ATTRIBUTES
Cohesion (2/5)
Consequence (4/5)
Consistency (2.5/5)
Concept (4/5)
Songs (3.5/5)

Career In Brief: Bob Dylan in the 60’s

Bob Dylan exerted his greatest influence on American culture in the 1960’s. Arriving anonymously in New York from Hibbert, Minnesota in the early 60’s, he came with a guitar, a dream, and not much else. What helped him standout was an ear for various American music genres, a truly unique lyrical wit, and a knack for memorable songwriting that has only really been rivaled by a few other greats of his generation (you know the names).

Dylan’s 1960’s career can really be divided into 3 distinct phases: folk icon, rock poet laureate, and Americana revivalist. While distinct, these phases definitely overlap. Bringing It All Back Home in particular finds him transitioning from an idealistic folky into a visionary proto-punk. From 1962 thru 1965, Dylan re-defined the canon of folk music with tunes like "Blowin’ in the Wind" and "The Times They Are A-Changin’". In 1965, he "went electric", diving into full band rock and roll and releasing a string of three records that probably constitute the greatest triple header in the history of American rock and roll. After suffering a motorcycle accident and getting married within the space of a year, Dylan began writing simpler but no less marvelous tunes, preferring Nashville to New York City as his music took a turn back toward the subdued folk leanings of his early style. It was also during this period that Dylan began his famous collaborations with The Hawks, later to become The Band.

Albums

Bob Dylan (1962) – [B-]: An understated debut. Dylan hadn’t quite figured out how to be Dylan, and most of the songs aren’t his. Probably only interesting to Dylan diehards. ("Song for Woody", "Baby Let Me Follow You Down") [my review]

The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan (1962) – [B+]: This album is a bit overrated, but it does feature some truly classic tunes. The best of Dylan’s "folk icon" period. ("A Hard’s Rain’s A-Gonna Fall", "Don’t Think Twice It’s Alright") [my review]

The Times They Are A-Changin’ (1963) – [B-]: Dylan swerves toward the protest folk scene on this one. Features some pretty well known tunes, but in my book, a skipper. ("The Times They Are A-Changin") [my review]

Another Side of Bob Dylan (1964) – [B]: Dylan begins to hint at what was to come by re-directing toward the sense of humor that he displayed a bit of on his precocious debut. He doesn’t quite nail it, but there are some worthwhile moments. ("All I Really Want To Do", "It Ain’t Me Babe") [my review]

Bringing It All Back Home (1965) – [A]: Dylan’s first great record. Poetic rebel mysticism. ("Subterranean Homesick Blues", "It’s All Over Now Baby Blue") [my review]

Highway 61 Revisited (1965) – [A+]: One of the greatest of the greatest, hands down. Dylan makes a helluva road record, and probably invents punk rock a decade before anyone knew to call it that. ("It Takes A Lot To Laugh, It Takes A Train To Cry", "Just Like Tom Thumb’s Blues") [my review]

Blonde on Blonde (1966) – [A]: Rock and roll’s original epic, and perhaps still its best. A mystical and romantic Americana road show. ("Stuck Inside Of Mobile With The Memphis Blues Again", "Visions of Johanna") [my review]

The Basement Tapes (1975) – [A]: Though not officially released in the 60’s, this vital set of recordings probably marks the beginning of a number of different genres, including alt-country and lo-fi. That’s incidental though. What really matters is that these are FANTASTIC songs that simultaneously launched The Band’s career, and Dylan has never sounded like he was having so much fun. ("Goin’ to Acapulco", "Yea Heavy and a Bottle of Bread") [my review]

John Wesley Harding (1967) – [B]: Dylan’s early electric material gets the most press, but let’s be honest, it really was a natural and organic progression. It’s JWH that represents a truly jarring change, because it finds Dylan sounding completely stripped down and completely over his mid-60’s persona. It may not be a GREAT record, but it’s a warm and enjoyable listen, and the sort of the thing that you’ll find yourself coming back to with surprising frequency. And in many ways, it’s a sort of template for 70’s folk rock. ("I’ll Be Your Baby Tonight", "All Along The Watchtower") [my review]

Nashville Skyline (1969) – [A-]: Warm and sweet as apple pie, there’s almost no sign of the rock and roll rebel that ruled the 60’s here. Instead, Dylan swaggers through 10 tracks in a little more than 26 minutes, with a new found vocal style that sounds totally removed from anything he’s done in the past. It’s brief, but it’s a strong offering nonetheless. ("Lay Lady Lay", "Tonight I’ll Be Staying Here With You") [my review]

Non-Album Highlights:

  • "Positively 4th Street" (one of his best)
  • "I’ll Keep It With Mine"
  • "Percy’s Song"
  • "Mixed Up Confusion" (notable because it’s an "electric" Dylan track from 1962, well before he supposedly "went electric")
  • "I Don’t Believe You (She Acts Like We Never Have Met) [live 1966]"
  • "Quinn the Eskimo" (bridges the gap between the Manfred Mann version and Dylan & The Band’s Isle of Wight version)
  • "Can You Please Crawl Out Your Window?" (sounds like early Springsteen)
  • "Baby Got Back"

Quick Review (LP): Nashville Skyline by Bob Dylan

Bob Dylan
Nashville Skyline
Columbia; 1969

My Rating: A- (83/100)

Best Tracks: "To Be Alone With You", "Girl from the North Country", "Lay Lady Lay", "Tonight I’ll Be Staying Here With You", "Country Pie"

Bobby goes south in search of a warm bed.

NOTES
– The updated version of "Girl from the North Country" is a great moment for so many reasons. Of course, it’s a lovely duet with the Man in Black himself, which is enough to make it a classic alone. At the same time though, it’s a sort of farewell to the iconic Dylan, the closing credits for the rebel without a cause, the reprise of the film’s harrowing overture. Of course, there would be sequels to Dylan’s first act, but nothing was ever as great as that first act as a whole.
– His voice does sound awful nice here compared to the first eight albums. Almost sounds like a different person.
– "Rest" is a big theme here. Even the opening track, which in its original setting was more about leaving the girl behind, sounds dream like, as if he’s coming home to her.
– This one’s not so different from John Wesley Harding, but it is certainly more oriented towards the popular country music of the time than the cross-eyed folk found on the former.
– I kinda wonder if there was some sort of folk-celebrity interplay going on between Dylan and Simon at this time, since "Lay Lady Lay" and "The Boxer" (both big singles in 1969) have such similar choruses lyrically. Of course, Dylan "covered" "The Boxer" on his next release…
– This is a wonderful warm record. Personally, I’m a fan of the domesticated Dylan, and though I do think New Morning is better, this one is a strong record nonetheless.

ATTRIBUTES
Cohesion (5/5)
Consequence (4/5)
Concept (5/5)
Consistency (4.5/5)
Songs (4.5/5)

Quick Review (LP): John Wesley Harding by Bob Dylan

Bob Dylan
John Wesley Harding
Columbia; 1967

My Rating: B (68/100)

Best Tracks: "I’ll Be Your Baby Tonight", "All Along The Watchtower", "The Ballad of Frankie Lee and Judas Priest"

How does the righteous rebel rebel against rebellion?

NOTES
– He certainly sounds different. That accident must have shook him up.
– According to Wikipedia, recorded in 12 hours over 3 days in Nashville. That’s a quick turnaround.
– Almost had Robbie Robertson and Garth Hudson on it.
– "Don’t go mistaking paradise for that home across the road…"
– Stripped down, low key, warm yet shaded.
– It’s interesting how subdued the arrangements are here, especially considering he made Blonde On Blonde, the biggest sounding rock record up to that point, a year earlier.
– Many of the songs feel like he’s pulling up short, like they are sketches. It’s a nice move against his former tendency to almost wear out his welcome.
– This one is steeped in Christian tradition – St. Augustine, the Parable of the Thief, Judas, etc.
– Best track is the closer, "I’ll Be Your Baby Tonight." Love that pedal steel work, and the warmth of the track is simply wonderful.
– I love the fact that Dylan released such a simple folk rock record in the year of the flower people.
– Less verbose and grand, no less eccentric.
– Eh – not sure if this one is as great as everyone seems to think. It’s a nice little record, don’t get me wrong, but I suspect it received such rave reviews because it was Dylan reversing course once more. An anti-hype record. A rebellion against the "Summer of Love" and psychedelia. An agrarian manifesto against the age of Aquarius. Or maybe Bob just wanted to make some country music his own way.

see my other Dylan reviews

ATTRIBUTES
Cohesion (4/5)
Consequence (5/5)
Concept (4/5)
Consistency (4/5)
Songs (4/5)

Quick Review (LP): The Basement Tapes by Bob Dylan & The Band

Bob Dylan & The Band
The Basement Tapes
Columbia; 1975

My Rating: A (90/100)

Best Tracks: "Orange Juice Blues", "Million Dollar Bash", "Yazoo Street Scandal", "Goin’ to Acapulco", "Ain’t No More Cane", "You Ain’t Goin’ Nowhere", "Don’t Ya Tell Henry", "Open The Door, Homer", "Wheel’s On Fire"

It’s all so weird, so gloriously weird…

NOTES
– Though released in 1975, most of these recordings occurred in 1967, before Dylan recorded John Wesley Harding and leading up to The Band’s release of Music From Big Pink. It’s a pivotal set of tracks, a secret document of some recording sessions that changed rock and roll forever. It’s also a nice excuse to start reviewing The Band’s records.
– By the way, Garth Hudson is a genius. Just sayin’, because he doesn’t get a lot of credit in general.
– The beautiful moments abound: "Goin’ to Acapulco", "Orange Juice Blues", "Katie’s Been Gone", "Nothing Was Delivered"
– The cross-eyed and funky moments abound too: "Yazoo Street Scandal", "Lo and Behold", "Yea Heavy and a Bottle of Bread"
– Love the piano on "A Bottle of Bread." Brilliant. And then the insanely low vocals at the end. What a bunch of goofballs.
– OK, I know "Ain’t No More Cane" wasn’t recorded in 1967, but it’s great nonetheless, and it sounds like it fits in those sessions.
– I love "You Ain’t Goin’ Nowhere", but Dylan’s solo acoustic version, released on Greatest Hits Vol. II, is superior to the version here in terms of sheer hilarious fun.
– Again, I love "Don’t Ya Tell Henry", but it’s not a basement tape track.
– I prefer this version of "Wheel’s On Fire" to Danko’s on Music From Big Pink. This one really captures the ominous feel of the song (the feel is similar to "Ballad of a Thin Man"), which is especially fitting because it was apparently an expression of Dylan’s mortal fear after his motorcycle accident. The version on Big Pink always seemed like a bit of filler, honestly. I love the way this one ends in a sing-along fashion.
– This is truly one of the great moments in rock and roll history. Lay aside those who were obviously influences for a moment. Could this be the birth of the whole DIY ethic that produced the underground music of the last 40 years? Seriously, I can’t imagine that Malkmus wasn’t hugely influenced, at least indirectly, by this.
Wikipedia has an excellent article on this one. Covers a lot, from the sessions themselves, to critical responses to the collection. It’s a nice guide to the record.

ATTRIBUTES
Cohesion (4/5)
Consequence (5/5)
Consistency (4/5)
Concept (5/5)
Songs (5/5)

Quick Review (LP): Blonde on Blonde by Bob Dylan

Bob Dylan
Blonde On Blonde
Columbia; 1966

My Rating: A (90/100)

Best Tracks: "Visions of Johanna", "One of Us Must Know (Sooner or Later)", "I Want You", "Stuck Inside Of Mobile With The Memphis Blues Again", "Just Like A Woman", "Absolutely Sweet Marie"

Return of the Jedi to Highway 61‘s Empire Strikes Back to Bringing It All Back Home‘s A New Hope

NOTES:
– Alternate album title: Bobby’s Bad Hair Day.
– "Rainy Day Women" may be a bit of a novelty, but in terms of arrangement, it’s a pretty awesome novelty.
– Sounds very similiar to Highway 61 Revisited, but the key difference is thematic. Highway 61 was a road record, this one is a broken hearts record.
– I question whether it was necessary to include "Pledging My Time" and "Leopard Skin Pillbox Hat". Then again, the record might be a little too sweet if he hadn’t, and they are both pretty solid tracks.
– Love the piano on "Sooner or Later." Huge song!
– Read somewhere that "Visions of Johanna" is about the devil. I can see that.
– "Stuck Inside Of Mobile With The Memphis Blues Again" is one of the greatest tracks ever. Period. The drums, the circus organ, the noodly guitar in the left speaker, Dylan’s lyrics, and especially that chorus. Oh Bobby!
– I’ve read somewhere that unreleased versions of most of these songs exist that include guitar from Robbie Robertson. Hopefully a deluxe edition will bring those to light one of these days.
– Anyone know what the meaning of the album title is? I’ve never been able to figure it out, except in a sort of really wooden, non-subtle way.
– He sure has a thing for beginning his songs with adverbs: "Obviously 5 Believers", "Absolutely Sweet Marie", "Temporary Like Achilles"
– Good grief, "Sad Eyed Lady of the Lowlands" is laaaaaaawwwwwng. "Desolation Row" was one (great) thing, but given that "Sad Eyed Lady of the Lowlands" sounds quite a bit like a few other tracks here, it’s nowhere near as affecting. Although I do like it well enough I suppose.
– You know what? This would be a great album to perform live. Dylan is probably past his prime on it, but a good tribute record with a follow-up might be in order.
– Just listened to a Sound Opinions podcast where they interview Al Kooper, who played organ on this record and was sort of Bob’s band leader. It was pretty revelatory. Al’s favorite song? "I Want You." Why? Because of the sixteenth notes that the guitar player runs at the bottom of every line of the chorus. You gotta listen close, but he’s got a point. It’s the little things like that that are the icing on the cake of this brilliant album.

Be sure to check out my other Dylan reviews

ATTRIBUTES
Consequence (5/5)
Consistency (5/5)
Concept (5/5)
Cohesion (5/5)
Songs (4.5/5)

Quick Review (LP): Highway 61 Revisited by Bob Dylan

Bob Dylan
Highway 61 Revisited
Columbia; 1965

My Rating: A+ (100/100)

Best Tracks: "Like A Rolling Stone", "Tombstone Blues", "Ballad Of A Thin Man", "Queen Jane Approximately", "Just Like Tom Thumb’s Blues", "Desolation Row"

“I wanna to be your lover baby, I don’t wanna be your boss…”

NOTES
– The ultimate road record. Dylan was a master at thematically unifying a record. Is it the first road record?
– Is "Like A Rolling Stone" the greatest rock and roll track of all time? All things considered, definitely maybe. It represents both a convergence and pinnacle of Dylan’s styles up to that point, it sounds like everything the 60’s supposedly was, and, to be clear, it is epic in all the right ways.
– "Tombstone Blues" is lyrically great, and the lead guitar is fantastic. Wow.
– It’s all about the drunken ragtime piano, esp. on "Tom Thumb" and "It Takes A Lot to Laugh"
– My favorite lyric: "When you’re stuck in Juarez/And it’s Christmastime too."
– The record sounds so lush and brilliant, colorful and tuneful throughout. The opening piano riff on "Tom Thumb", Al Kooper’s organ on "Rolling Stone", the brooding throb of "Thin Man" – Highway 61 is packed with memorable moment after memorable moment.
– Undoubtedly one of the greatest rock records ever. Entirely deserving of your intention.

ATTRIBUTES
Cohesion (5/5)
Concept (5/5)
Consistency (5/5)
Consequence (5/5)
Songs (5/5)

Quick Review (LP): Bringing It All Back Home by Bob Dylan

Bob Dylan
Bringing It All Back Home
Columbia; 1965

My Rating: A (95/100)

Best Tracks: "Subterranean Homesick Blues", "She Belongs to Me", "Mr. Tambourine Man", "Gates of Eden", "It’s Alright Ma I’m Only Bleeding", "It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue"

This is Dylan’s first truly great album. Sure, he’d written lots of great songs before now, but this one feels crafted to please from start to finish.

NOTES:

– From the outset this sounds fresh and revolutionary.
– The lead guitar throught is excellent.
– The bridge album from his early folk style to his surrealistic Americana.
– All in all, this is a great album full of funny, colorful, thick songs and exceptional playing. There is a dream-like quality throughout.
– "115th Dream" is a lyrical trip.
– "It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue" is one of my all time favorite tracks, because it is a break-up song that puts the end of the relationship in apocalyptic terms. Also, I like the noodly guitar that sort of haunts the background of the track. It’s flourishes like these that are signs of what was to come from Dylan over the next several years, both in his solo work and in his collaborations with The Band.
– This is perhaps Dylan’s Rubber Soul or maybe even his Revolver. That is, it’s a bit overlooked, but arguably one of the greatest records of the 60’s. It marks a turning point in music history for sure, and as for personal preference, this begins my favorite Dylan period.
Erlewine of Allmusic makes a good point that the whole Dylan going electric thing makes for good film footage of angry fans, but as an artistic marker, it is overplayed: “…it’s not just that he went electric, either, rocking hard on "Subterranean Homesick Blues," "Maggie’s Farm," and "Outlaw Blues"; it’s that he’s exploding with imagination throughout the record. After all, the music on its second side — the nominal folk songs — derive from the same vantage point as the rockers, leaving traditional folk concerns behind and delving deep into the personal.”

ATTRIBUTES:
Cohesion (4.5/5)
Concept (5/5)
Consistency (4.5/5)
Consequence (5/5)
Songs (5/5)

Quick Review (LP): Another Side of Bob Dylan by Bob Dylan

Bob Dylan
Another Side Of Bob Dylan
Columbia; 1964

My Rating: B (64/100)

Best Tracks: "All I Really Want To Do", "Chimes of Freedom", "My Back Pages", "It Ain’t Me Babe", "I Don’t Believe You"

Appropriately named, this is the point where Bob Dylan began to recast himself as pop music’s conscientious court jester. 

NOTES:
– "I Shall Be Free No. 10" is stupid, but it’s just absurd enough to hint at where Dylan would be going next. Also, sounds very dated.
– "Chimes of Freedom" is pretty remarkable lyrically, but conceptually it’s quite a bit like "A Hard Rain…" and "The Times They Are A-Changin." It’s a Dylan that would soon be left behind, and it’s not THAT great really.
– He gives us not one, but TWO re-writes of "Hard Rain."
– "My Back Pages" is transcendent and timeless. The chorus is one of Dylan’s greatest turns of phrase.
– "Black Crow Blues" looks forward to the really good stuff he’d get into later on.
– He still sounds very protest-y. The moments where he abandons the sermonizing are the best.
– Here’s where Dylan’s vision begins to expand, where he might have first realized that he could take the transcendent folk ramblings of his early work and infuse it with a sort of loose and absurd Americana melting pot and create something altogether unheard.
– I now realize that I really am not that crazy about Dylan’s first four albums. The next time around, he’d start to get REALLY good.

ATTRIBUTES:
Cohesion (4/5)
Concept (4.5/5)
Consistency (3.5/5)
Consequence (4/5)
Songs (4/5)

My review of The Times They Are A-Changin’ by Bob Dylan
My review of The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan
My review of Bob Dylan by Bob Dylan

Quick Review (LP): The Times They Are A-Changin’ by Bob Dylan

bob dylan the times they are a-changin' Bob Dylan
The Times They Are A-Changin’
Capitol; 1964

My Rating: B-

Best Tracks: “The Times They Are A-Changin'”, “Boots of Spanish Leather”, “The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll”, “The Restless Farewell”

I do wonder if this record is our document of Bob Dylan getting traditional folk out of his system. After all, it produced only one true classic, the title track, and even that song comes off as a re-write of “A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall.” The focal point of the songs is undoubtedly the lyrics, which are, for the most part, obsessed with the social injustice of the age. And it is a stark record, for the most part completely devoid of any sense of humor, and to a great extent that makes it pretty forgettable. Even “Boots of Spanish Leather”, one of the album’s best tracks, fails to impress, generously borrowing from the melody of “Girl From The North Country.” Other standout tracks march by with conviction, but in all honesty I still have a hard time distinguishing “Hattie Carroll” from “Hollis Brown.” I suppose for traditional folk purists, this must be a pretty fabulous effort from ol’ Bobby. Unfortunately, this is not the Dylan that butters my bread, for the good man protesteth too much.

Wikipedia article
AMG review
Blogcritics review