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Thursday, March 12, 2009

29 in 2009 - Bob Dylan: Highway 61 Revisited

Bob Dylan: Highway 61 Revisited
Originally Released: August 30, 1965
Genres: Rock, Folk, Blues
Rating: 9 out of 10 Stars

It's strange, the preconceived notions that we have about certain artists; how one song that doesn't "rub us the right way" can leave a sour taste that lasts for years. For me, this has always been my gut reaction to Bob Dylan. Yes, he's one of the most highly-revered artists of all time - probably the most, actually. And yet every time someone told me to listen to "this Dylan song" or to check out "this Dylan album," my response was usually a polite "No thanks."

Going into this listen of Highway 61 Revisited, I knew that what I was going to be listening to was influential and important, and I tried my best to set that knowledge aside and to just focus on the music. So I did, mostly. To my surprise, I generally loved every single moment of this album. "Like a Rolling Stone" is easily the most famous song on the album, and for good reason. It's at once the most catchy and poignant song on the record, probably of the decade, possibly of Dylan's career. Rolling Stone named it the #1 Song of All Time! While I'm not about to jump on that bandwagon just yet (primarily because Outkast's "Hey Ya" was in the Top 100 on that same list), I'll admit that it is awesome and leave it at that for now.

Other than that song, the only other track that I was familiar with beforehand was "Ballad of a Thin Man," and only then because The Grass Roots (best pop band ever?) had covered the song early in the band's mixed-up history. Both versions have their merits, though this version is clearly the more suitable of the two. There's also that one line from "Desolation Row" that was in Alan Moore's Watchmen (odd coincidence that I'm just now getting to this album, isn't it?) that I was previously familiar with. Other than that, the sad fact is that I was a complete newcomer to this album.

Dylan's lyrics are...odd. Everybody knows this - Demetri Martin pretty much rips into him every week with his folk singer sketches. If there was anything to criticize on Highway 61, that would be it. Still, I get the feeling that the real Dylan fans have spent their entire lives trying to decipher his lyrics to apply meaning to them. My dad took an English class at Rice University in the 70s where the professor spent the entire semester playing Dylan songs and having the students interpret their lyrics. They don't mean a damn thing to me, though, and that makes it perhaps a more difficult listen that it would've been otherwise.

Even with that, however, it's rare that an album comes along that defines not only a decade, but a generation. Highway 61 Revisited, may just be that album. It takes a genius to be able to dissect and define a culture in the way that Bob Dylan does on this album, and "genius" may be an understatement. I don't really know what else to write. I like it a lot. A whole lot. I'm going to go listen to more of it!

Verdict: Classic

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