Highway 61 Revisited (2010 Mono Version)

Highway 61 Revisited (2010 Mono Version)

“I need a dump truck, baby, to unload my head,” Bob Dylan howls toward the middle of his epiphanic 1965 album, Highway 61 Revisited, shooting out of a ragged harmonica solo during the rollicking “From a Buick 6” to diagnose his own condition. At that moment, the twenty-something Dylan—the unofficial youth poet laureate of the United States, as well as the sneering voice of an emergent counterculture—had a lot on his mind, and perhaps more on his professional plate. When he returned stateside after a breakneck British tour in May 1965, he was exhausted, having released five albums—including four certifiable landmarks—in just three years. Was he out of things to say, out of the drive to say them? But, as legend has it, a long stream-of-consciousness manuscript later that month yielded “Like a Rolling Stone,” an anthem of youthful restlessness and grit aimed at a world of know-it-all cynics. Dylan cut it early that summer above Al Kooper’s roaring organ line, then headed to Newport to debut his electric band to a crowd incensed by his folk volte-face. When he returned to the studio just a few days later with a fresh producer—the largely unproven Bob Johnston—he indeed had a lot to unload, and he’d air his grievances via his newly perfected, warped blues-rock sound. Dylan’s frustration comes through on these nine songs, which find him railing against the world’s barbaric weight (“Just Like Tom Thumb’s Blues”), against high society’s superficial wisdom (“Ballad of a Thin Man”), and against the heart’s tangles and briars (“It Takes a Lot to Laugh, It Takes a Train to Cry”). The direct appeals of his earlier works have yielded to deeply referential poetry, resulting in a self-made associative universe in which lovers walk like Bo Diddley, God dispatches Abraham to the Blues Highway along the Mississippi River, and where Einstein slips into Robin Hood’s garb. These were the images of an overheated mind, acting out the theater of human experience—youth versus age, freedom versus oppression, joy versus anxiety—in rock song. As controversial as it may have been to some, Dylan’s electric pivot on all of these songs, save the brilliant capstone “Desolation Row,” could not have arrived at a better time. The dancehall crackle of the title track, the gothic groan of “Ballad of a Thin Man,” and the amphetamine shimmy of “Tombstone Blues”—they all ground these songs in magnetic rock ’n’ roll trappings that gave listeners something to hold onto as the language, lessons, and landscape of rock shifted in real time—something that absolutely happened on, and because of, Highway 61 Revisited.

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