By Bill Spurge
Last year, I decided to complete my collection of Bob Dylan albums. I was a few albums and some odds and ends short, so I bought most and swapped items with a co-worker and fellow Dylan fanatic.
Then, in honor of the 50th anniversary of his first album, 1962’s Bob Dylan, I set out to rank every Dylan album and song. A monumental task, indeed. I listened to album after album, four or five times through. Even albums I knew in my sleep were placed under scrutiny.
Then came the hardest part: making the list. The albums came easier. The songs, not so easy.
My song list is coming soon. In the meantime, here's my album-by-album ranking of Dylan's 33 studio LPs (NOTE: Dylan has actually released 34 studio albums, but I've chosen not to include 2009's Christmas In the Heart.)
These 33 album-ranking stories will take us right up to the release of Tempest, Dylan's new album, which is scheduled to come out September 11. Enjoy!
No. 14 of 33: The Times They Are A-Changin' (1964)
Why only No. 14? Because this is the start of the really great stuff, and there's a lot of competition from the higher-ranked albums. Also, while it offers several classic tracks, the album happens to contain some of my not-so-favorite early Dylan tunes.
The title track is chilling in its ability to see the future events of the '60s. I'm a teacher, and I use this song in class to go along with slides of images of the '50s and '60s to show how times truly did change. I also note that many of the changes took place after the song came out. (Although the album was released in early '64, most of the songs were recorded by October '63, before the JFK assassination.)
"The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll" is a favorite. It tells the true story of a middle-aged black waitress/barmaid and mother killed by a white man. "Only a Pawn In Their Game," another great one, is about Medgar Evers. I also love "When The Ship Comes In" and "Boots of Spanish Leather," which has a strong melody.
I'm not so crazy about "With God On Our Side," a cynical, history-based song with fine lyrics that grows tedious quickly. "North Country Blues" is so-so. Critics seem to love "One Too Many Mornings," which I find boring. "Restless Farewell" is merely OK.
This was Dylan's third album and his first with all original songs. It's amazing what this guy could write and sing about at age 22. He was so advanced, surpassing all the folkies in his ability to convey a message with a powerful tune. There were some real serious messages here and several thought-provoking songs. Much of it still mesmerizes.
Journalist Bill Spurge of New York City has been a Bob Dylan fan since 1974.