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Bob Dylan’s Albums in the 60s: Good and bad he defined these terms

Bob Dylan’s early career seems fated now but in the 1960s it appeared to be veering off in million directions and reinventing itself at the speed of various amphetemines before finding itself on heroine, crashing, breaking, finding a music older than the Appalachian mountains and ending up singing country with Johnny Cash. It is tough writing about Dylan’s 60s albums -so much has been said by so many. I bet I find the 80s Dylan much more fun.
Bob Dylan (1962)
He looked like a street urchin out of “The Grapes Of Wrath” and sounded as though he was a 100 years and had just stepped off a mountain range and into the urban jungle we know as New York. These songs are acoustic standards and promising newbies with the excellent “Baby, Let Me Follow You Down” the powerful “See That My Grave Is Kept Clean” and the hat tip “Song To Woody,” the harbinger “Highway 51” all held together by an acoustic guitar setting the tempo and a harmonica like the freight trains he was so obsessed with. If it all feels a little obvious today it sure didn’t then, not even “House Of The Rising Sun”. Grade: “B+”
The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan (1963)
The legend begins here. A song that will last as long as men raise their voice in peaceful communion “Blowing In the Wind” makes its first appearance here. The lesson the song teaches is implications, it’s not “How many roads must a man walk down before you call him a man,” that makes it so great, it’s “How many sea’s…” the very next line because in writing a great poem it can’t be all lean; it can’t all cut you too pieces as the interation of question and question to an answer so euphemistic it is barely a reply at all. Is the point there is no answer? Or is it that the answer is in a Taoist manner unreachable; the deepest move to freedom is the most etheral. In musical terms it frees the listener to enter the dialogue on our own terms. It is the deepest fredom of all here, the freedom to interprete these most human of sentiments in any way we chose to. Nominally, “Blowing In The Wind” is about the Black human rights movement but it has bypassed the time frame and speaks to a common humanity timeless and gloried. Dylan learnt a lesson from the song as well: he learnt that all politics is personal and in writing the personal instead of the personal he could allow his songs the freedom protest music wouldn’t allow them. Dylan’s greatest song of course. Grade “A+”
The Times They Are A-Changing (1964)
This is about as close as Dylan got to repeating himself in the early folkie days but how close is that? “Come gather round people wherever you roam…” are his first words like an Old Testament Prophet, like a Joshua, spreading the word of God. This album, following as it did the Cuban Missile crisis, the start proper of the Vietnam War, and the assasination of JFK, this is bleak beyond penetration, hell, it’s bleaker than “A Hard Rain’s Gonna Fall” . And all originals. Grade: “A-‘
Another Side Of Bob Dylan (1964)
Like “New Morning” following “Self Portrait” a decade later, this takes the man who was protesting on “A-Changin” and changed him into the man who is introspecting on “Another Side”. His heartbroken, old worldly, up against the wall Dylan gone for good and replaced by the still acoustic but inner searching Dylan and was being lead on many a deadend for the freedom as a refussal to be emotionally vulnerable “All I Really Wanna Do” to deep compassion for the lost and caring “To Ramona” (includes a lyric so great it seems to be a truth all religions fight against: “There is no use in trying to deal with the dying…” and of course “My Back Pages” in which he expresses with the greatest delicacy why protest music does not work as he struggles defining good and bad in ways he didn’t have problems earlier. And over and over gain he has problems with women as he becomes hardened, callowed, by the effects of fame and fortune on true love. Grade: “A+”
Bringing It All Back Home (1965)
It took Hannah Arendt to teach us Heidegger it took Roger McGuinn to teach us how to hear Dylan on “Mr. Tambourine Man” . But that wasn’t the story, the story was the first side and the electrical Dylan. Don’t look back. Grade: “A+”
Highway 61 Revisted (1965)
Shout it from the mountain: Muddy Waters meets Abraham down the road a-piece. Grade: “A+”
Blonde On Blonde (1966)
Ah, good, the drugs have kicked in. There is something so lost and found on this double and all the loves aren’t loves they are emotional breakdowns because you think you’re looking for, or maybe you’ve found something out there but you can’t put your finger on it. Maybe the hard, twisted rock sound of the Hawks was there to lead to you through the haze of acid and heroine to a catharism that can’t be spoken. It is in the charge of emotional freedom Dylan is still so fully propagating and where he thinks he’ll find himself but what he might find instead is a certain nothingness that when he agrees upon restrictiosns to himself he is dismissed and lied to by politicians and women but not in that order. It is all dumbfounding and the spinning realm of lyric dumbfounds us more and Dylan is confounded by the lack of emotional commitment he offers which he considers as the clearest personification of want is considered calloused and all the time Levon Helms thumps it all back home. Oh, and “Absolutely Sweet Marie” is a great song. Grade: “A+”
Bob Dylan’s Greatest Hits (1967)
Includes “Positively 4th Street” otherwise only available as a single. Grade: “B”
John Wesley Harding ( 1967)
My fave Dylan album. Simple parables and a love song thrown in for good measure with a sound not rock and not folk and not country but a unique Americana for the winter of our despair. Grade: “A+”
Nashville Skyline (1969)
Well, I’ll give Dylan this, he has never sung better. The songs are simple country twang though resonant not just because they’re simple but because the times were so complex. As everybody followed his lead from “Blonde On blonde” days he grew up and moved on. Grade: “A”

Coming soon I’ll be on the road heading for another joint… DYLAN IN THE SEVENTIES

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