By Bill Spurge
A year ago, I decided to complete my collection of Bob Dylan albums. I was a few albums and some odds and ends short, but I purchased 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 albums (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. 17 of 33: Shot Of Love (1981)
Of of all of Dylan's "Christian" albums, this is the one I enjoy most -- and I just plain enjoy it, period. I find several songs inspirational.
This album isn't quite as "gospel" as the previous two (Slow Train Coming and Saved) and has a harder rock edge to it. It's pretty eclectic, and some of it has nothing to with religion at all. The opening track, "Shot of Love," comes at you right out of the gate. Dylan said it was "where I am at right now," and he was fond of it.
"Heart Of Mine" was recorded several times until Dylan used Ronnie Wood and Ringo Starr and knocked it off with them in a few minutes. It actually sounds like a bouncy outtake, and I like it. I've always liked "Property of Jesus," and Sinead O'Connor recently covered it. Dylan's ode to Lenny Bruce (called "Lenny Bruce") is pretty good ("He never robbed any church or cut off babies' heads"), and "The Groom's Still Waiting at The Altar" finds Dylan missing love in a solid rocker. "Trouble" sounds like a combo of blues and reggae, and I'm into it.
But the last song on the album is worth the price of admission all by itself and stands as one of Dylan's finest songs ever: "Every Grain Of Sand." Bono and Bruce Springsteen have referenced it in glowing terms, with Springsteen mentioning it at Dylan's Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction (George Harrison and Jeff Lynne even performed it on the radio in 1987). It is spiritual, but not overtly so. It tells of a man being fallible and his bumps in the road. It is so heart-wrenching and deep, yet so simple. Some of his best harmonica playing is on display here. This song has a melody to die for.
Years ago, most people panned this album, pining for '60s Dylan. Looking back, this is solid Dylan in a different phase. I enjoy playing it all the way through.
Journalist Bill Spurge of New York City has been a Bob Dylan fan since 1974.