Blonde On Blonde

Blonde On Blonde

By the end of 1965, Bob Dylan was on an unprecedented tear. That year, he’d shocked the folk faithful by turning electric and inward, with both Bringing It All Back Home and Highway 61 Revisited finding him howling questions about how he fit inside the world—and, as a result, fending off resulting accusations of heresy. Only two months after the release of Highway 61, Dylan returned to a New York studio with his new backing band, The Hawks, for a series of frustrating sessions that resulted in very little. But in early 1966, at the behest of producer Bob Johnston, Dylan decamped to Nashville alongside guitarist Robbie Robertson and keyboardist Al Kooper to try again with a set of country aces. In relatively short order, Blonde on Blonde—a gargantuan statement of love, loss, and longing, built with some of Dylan’s best barbs and most beautiful phrases—was finished. Blonde on Blonde opens with “Rainy Day Women #12 and 35,” an outlier that became a hit. The ragtime piano and jubilant singing about everybody being stoned made for an easy sell, but it was a defiant little curio, too, with Dylan shrugging off those who were stoning him for his wild artistic turns. The album’s remaining 70 minutes toggle among happiness, horniness, and hopefulness, as the newly married Dylan sorts through his back pages of failed relationships and lurid affairs, trying to cast them aside like old skin. Dylan ponders his ideal lover, even as he lingers in the clutches of Louise, during the graceful “Visions of Johanna.” He scoffs at his past foolishness in “Temporary Like Achilles,” finding kinship with an old lover’s new suitor (who’ll surely be pushed aside sooner than he expects). And he hilariously beats on his own trumpet during the walloping “Absolutely Sweet Marie” and spies on an old flame making love in a dilapidated garage for the brutal “Leopard-Skin Pill-Box Hat,” a kiss-off of the highest order. Then there’s the striking “Just Like a Woman”: Inspired by the soul music stirring from Memphis and Detroit, the song defines the double-edged joy and danger of any relationship, anchoring Dylan’s lyrics to one of rock’s definitive hooks. Both Bringing It All Back Home and Highway 61 Revisited had found Dylan straying from politics and folk forms—but he’d yet to cut the tether. Blonde on Blonde, the first double-album masterpiece of the rock ’n’ roll era, would slash that tie with glee and aplomb. Its 11-minute finale, “Sad-Eyed Lady of the Lowlands,” was a worship song of sorts for his first wife, Sara Lownds, indulging in his sense of wonder over her and her mystery. His previous work could have never held such a personal testimonial, cloaked in poetry and guided by an attentive Nashville crew.

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