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. 3 of 33: Bringing It All Back Home (1965)
A lot of things make this a great LP. First, there's the fact that Dylan is switching gears and finding a new direction. A lot has been made of this, so there's no point belaboring that old point. With the arrival of The Beatles, and with Dylan's eclectic taste in music, it makes sense he'd get itchy and go back to roots music while developing his own unique style of songwriting.
You can tell Dylan felt the vibe of the Stones, Paul Butterfield and bands like The Animals, etc. So it wasn't just that Dylan was going electric; it was where electric was taking him.
Second, this album was swiftly put together in early 1965, and word is he did "It's Alright, Ma (I'm Only Bleeding)" and "Gates of Eden" in one take, saying (I'm paraphrasing here), "We're going through these numbers once, and once only, and you better not make any mistakes because I'm not going to do it again." The point: The LP was spontaneous.
Third, his lyrics are more abstract than ever before, whether it be a love song, an indictment number or a joyous one. Fourth, of course, is the amazing set list of songs that make for a fun and interesting listen all the way through.
Let it be noted that a young Kenny Rankin, who said he could hardly play guitar at all in those days (That might be stretching it), was at the sessions and can be heard on this LP. And John Sebastian plays bass, an instrument he told Dylan he'd never played. Also on bass: A guy named Bill Lee, Spike Lee's father.
The album starts with "Subterranean Homesick Blues," which spawned the great video with the cue cards and memorable lyrics we all know and love. Everyone likes to call it the first rap record. Inspired by Chuck Berry's "Too Much Monkey Business," it became a hit for Dylan and included the famous line, "You don't need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows," which I think of whenever the New York newscasts open with the weather, which happens all too often these days.
"Love Minus Zero/No Limit" is a beautiful song, and you can feel the sparring within the mind of the writer, thinking about the lover: She's fascinating but elusive: "My love, she’s like some raven, At my window with a broken wing."
"Outlaw Blues" and "On The Road Again" are two of Dylan's most underrated blues numbers, and I prefer them to "Buick 6" on Highway 61. They are fuel-charged and just rip through the speakers. On the latter number, Dylan says, "Then you ask why I don't live here / Honey, how come you don't move?" Great!
"Bob Dylan's 115th Dream" is another in along line of Dylan's humorous songs done att this time. The start is memorable, where Dylan breaks down in laughter, and the take is kept.
This was an epic, momentous LP -- and one of the most complete albums ever made.
Journalist Bill Spurge of New York City has been a Bob Dylan fan since 1974.