Classic Album Review: Bob Dylan Highway 61 Revisted

A new side of Dylan


In August 1965, the boundaries of rock and folk music were torn down by Bob Dylan's Highway 61 Revisited. Continuing the move he started on Bring It All Back Home (1965), Dylan hired a full band and went completely electric for the first time. Not only is Highway Dylan's most rocking effort, it proved that music doesn't have to be acoustic and reserved to be literate and complex.

Highway begins with perhaps the most famous bit of percussion in history, the snare shot that opens "Like a Rolling Stone." The song sets the album's mood -- a cynical, chaotic attitude that had never been heard before. Then comes the raucous "Tombstone Blues," led by the squealing guitar of Mike Bloomfield, in which Dylan spins out his challenging, surreal lyrics with ease. Al Kooper's organ makes "Ballad of a Thin Man" a prison-blues song, letting you know this is the Dylan of the streets, not of upper-class New York. The title track finds Dylan challenging American principles, from capitalism to religion, over a romping rhythm-guitar line. Highway closes with the highly ambitious 11-minute "Desolation Row," which runs through troubling stories of several unlikely characters above an elegant guitar line.

Every second of the album is classic, and it includes some of rock's most well-written songs. Lyrically, Highway can be seen as the first punk album, with its hopeless anarchic talk of America in a time of chaos. Although Dylan made Highway during the '60s in the middle of the Vietnam War, the lyrics are still relevant to America today. Along with The Beatles albums Rubber Soul and Revolver that came out the same year, Highway 61 Revisited proved that rock 'n' roll could be intelligent and rebellious at the same time.

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