Friday, December 27, 2013

Bob Dylan - Highway 61 Revisited

Released just 5 months after the ground-breaking Bringing It All Back Home, Highway 61 Revisited
continues with Dylan's fascination with combining electric r'n'r with his poetry and, combined with the previous album, marks his two most defining albums.

Opening with the hit song "Like a Rolling Stone", driven by Mike Bloomfield's guitar licks and Al Kooper's organ (which he claimed to barely know how to play at the time), this tale of cynicism, resentment and revenge became one of his most acclaimed numbers and another song with innumerable covers, most notably Jimi Hendrix's terrific take on it. "Tombstone Blues" is a fast blues-rocker that Dylan rambles over in his inimitable way, with more classic lines like "the sun isn't yellow, it's chicken" as Bloomfield blasts out riffs around him. He slows things down a bit for the sultry blues of "It Takes a Lot to Laugh, It Takes a Train to Cry", another song with such a great feel and swing that it gave us many fine covers - Leon Russell did a particularly wonderful one - fitting, since Dylan worked this one out on the piano. He takes a number of blues riffs and mashes them together for "From a Buick 6" and gives us an upbeat, funky number, with more cool organ work and fun lines like "she walks like Bo Diddley" and the blues-y "well, if I go down dyin' you know she's bound to put a blanket on my bed". Another of his finest closed the first side of the vinyl, "Ballad of a Thin Man', with the piano and organ working the minor chords together to create a spooky mood, while his abstract lyrics give a feeling of isolation and confusion as he repeats "something is happening but you don't know what it is, do you, Mr. Jones". There's been lots of speculation as to who the Mr. Jones was, including Dylan himself. Again, lots of other groups did fantastic versions of this, including, of all people, the Grass Roots.

One of his more lovely melodies opens up side two in "Queen Anne Approximately", a song more of love than revenge and is quite evocative, even in the simple lyrics  "won't you come see me, Queen Jane". The title track is driven by slide guitar and, humorously, a siren whistle that was handed to Dylan before they cut the take to add some variety. The song is filled with mini-stories and plenty of characters, all intersecting on Highway 61, including the opening tale of God & Abraham!  He gets more quietly serious in "Just Like Tom Thumb's Blues" (despite the odd title), telling of a trip to Juarez, Mexico with many twists and turns, all told obliquely, with references to Edgar Allen Poe, Kerouac, and more. The acoustic "Desolation Row" is the epic number on this album, a fine ballad in his more traditional style with added acoustic guitar licks moving around Dylan's lyrics.

Again, this record, along with Bringing It All Back Home, basically defined Dylan's style from here on out. Of course, he would surprise people here and there, but these are the blueprints for his work and are a couple of the most influential records in r'n'r. Another essential outing.