T for Tom

Day 6 – Highway 61 Revisited – 1965

Posted in A Dylan A Day by johnsontoms on June 28, 2016

 

highway61.jpg

Get me that goddamn jacket, man.

Here it is, Highway 61 and “Like a Rolling Stone,” the song that will not and should not die, has been called Dylan’s and America’s greatest song, and continues to maintain relevance 50 years and a world over. When that keyboard kicks in, you just know.

I’m starting to think that Dylan had a business plan that never changed much – put the best, most honest song first, and let the rest rip. It may every well be his own sonic acid trip.

Highway 61 Revisited is as absurd as anything before, and sometimes more. If Dylan’s retelling of the Abraham fable, in which Abraham successfully murders his son along Highway 61 according to God, isn’t enough, the audio cues should clue you in: the title track whirs off in a flurry by starting with a carnival whistle. Midway through the record Dylan drops his most onerous track, “Ballad of a Thin Man,” which belongs more to a concert hall than a rock’n’roll album. And throughout the record, a full chorus of high-flying Korg keys sails over every song. But mostly the additions aim to distract.

Many of the songs on this album are lyrical interpretations of tracks off its predecessor: “Outlaw Blues” becomes “From a Buick 6,” Subterranean Homesick Blues” becomes “Tombstone Blues,” and “It’s Alright, Ma, I’m Only Bleeding” gets the full band treatment as “Just Like Tom Thumb’s Blues.”

For that, Highway 61 possibly becomes the fullest vision of what Dylan may have been too timid to attempt with the half-electric, half-acoustic Bringing It All Back Home released only months prior. The edge is taken off by reducing the mix on the guitars, often just letting the piano and drums lead the way, and the accessory of percussion make it something big, but not eclectic – it fits right in with the busiest of any Beatles album, landing on shelves a mere week after Help! and becoming a key influence for Rubber Soul later that year. Highway 61 Revisited is somehow hip, fanatic, developed, and clean at the same time, and paves the way for a more controlled and tight Dylan that appears on Blonde On Blonde the following year. But my opinion remains unchanged. I never felt like we got the whole Dylan, or that he was somehow hiding a bit in effort to make something more circular.

I’ll take Bringing It… for its daring and vigor, but if there is a single record to point to in Dylan’s career, it is rightfully Highway 61.


Song: Like a Rolling Stone

It couldn’t be anything else.

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