Thursday, 23 May 2013

Top 102 Albums⁺ No 1. Highway 61 Revisited

As a result of my liking for having my cake and eating it, I am continuing this list to 0 and then beyond, into the shadows of the negative numbers. There was not enough space in 102 albums. So I have a No 1 and a No -1 and also 0, the ground zero of my musical world, due next. 

Top 102 Albums⁺ No 1. 
Highway 61 Revisited - Bob Dylan

"Those masterful images because complete
Grew in pure mind, but out of what began?
A mound of refuse or the sweepings of a street,
Old kettles, old bottles, and a broken can,
Old iron, old bones, old rags, that raving slut
Who keeps the till. Now that my ladder's gone,
I must lie down where all the ladders start
In the foul rag and bone shop of the heart. "

I have no problem selecting my favourite Dylan album. He has released at least ten albums that could comfortably sit in my top five if I selected them as my favourite Dylan album but I can't remember a time when this wasn't my favourite Dylan album.

1. Like a Rolling Stone
It has the greatest opening song of any record, the incomparable Like A Rolling Stone. It's one of those cases where the reputation cannot effect the edifice. That snare beat at the beginning is enough to open a gap in time and I fall into the song. But what can you say that hasn't been said? Greil Marcus wrote a whole book about the one song, and it's a damn fine book. But now how can I tell if any of my thoughts are my own. I'm "bound to fall."

I used to have a recurring dream that I ended up on the streets, my couple of days on the Grass Arena multiplied into years. The dream/s were mundane, realistic. I realised that it wasn't my fear that gave birth to these dreams but some illicit dream of being 'invisible' and having 'nothing to lose'. Who is less beholden than a "Napoleon in rags". At times it seems to me that Dylan wove my unconscious.

The drawled voice seems to angle in from outside, loaded with illicit knowledge. NOW is the point at which the past crashes into the future and that is where this album remains, in the eternal accident of NOW. He trailed some kind of magic which seems irresistible even from this distance.
2, 3 & 4 Tombstone Blues; It Takes a Lot to Laugh, It Takes a Train to Cry; From a Buick 6
The difficulty of capturing something as DEFINING as Like a Rolling Stone is that you have to build an album around it. How do you manage to create anything else that can escape its event horizon? Well, maybe at first you don't, you just pick your steps among the graves, etching epitaphs as you go. Perhaps you even lie with corpses ("I've got a graveyard woman") because you need to find the roots and this is where our roots are, six feet under. And if you aren't messing with the roots, it's just topiary. It's as if Dylan is on the run. He's in the Old West wearing outlaw black. But it's also easy to get lost here "Well, you know I need a steam shovel mama to keep away the dead / I need a dump truck mama to unload my head."
5. Ballad of a Thin Man
How do you find something that's not dead? Well, you find someone who isn't alive, don't you, Mr. Dylan? With a notebook tombstone Mr Jones comes to bury 'NOW' but ends up lost, blowing from room to room in an astonishment of incomprehension, the living ghost of Elvis Presley calling "Lets get real gone."

"ruthless, and intoxicated to some degree"
6. Queen Jane Approximately
If you can't find the music you call on the muse. The visionary calls out to his vision, commanding, wheedling, sneering, despairing:
"Now when all the clowns that you have commissioned
Have died in battle or in vain
And you’re sick of all this repetition
Won’t you come see me, Queen Jane?"
7. Highway 61 Revisited
If you haven't got a play,at least you can have a stage. With vaudeville whistles Bob returns to the road back home, also the road that leaves home. Here on the asphalt, trying not to trip over the footlights, the poet stages everything from Abraham to apocalypse.
8. Just Like Tom Thumb's Blues
The instinct is to run when "your gravity fails / And negativity don’t pull you through." But when you leave yourself too open you may find someone who "takes your voice / And leaves you howling at the moon." Time to go "back to New York City", Bob's Odyssey is over.

9. Desolation Row
"And the only sound that’s left
After the ambulances go
Is Cinderella sweeping up
On Desolation Row"
Back in the city, Bob has brought the dead to play tricks on the living and confound the conundrum set by Like A Rolling Stone with it's counterweight, a song set in a perpetual NEVER where everyone is in masks. Desolation Row is another of the most remarkable songs I know with a tender resignation in Dylan's voice as he acts as ringmaster of the roadshow at the end of the world.

It's such a pity Elvis never covered it.

Tomorrow I'll listen to this album and another story will unfold.

Here's a link to my thoughts the last time I saw Dylan (can't believe it's seven years ago.)

Here's a link to my review of Scorsese's No Direction Home.


  1. for the shadow lit I'm expecting a musical equivalent of the twilight zone!

    I'm not a big Dylan fan but this is one of those lps that I can appreciate why it is rated so highly , and in Desolation row has one of the Dylan songs that even manages to break through my own prejudice

    looking forward to ground zero!

    1. Some people would say that it's all like The Twilight Zone (my list, that is). There will be occasions when they are more right than wrong.
      Desolation Row is pretty special, alright, but then so is an awful lot of Dylan.

  2. He was light on his feet wasn't he? Watching those clips you sense the journo's trying to trip him... he's always one page ahead of them.
    And what a presence, twitchy, relaxed, charming, mean, happy, sad. Also mesmerically beautiful in that screen test. The light reflects beautifully off him. He wasn't a bad 'song and dance man' too.
    Just playing this now and loving that 'thin mercury sound'. This is one album that should never be remastered. I don't want separation in sound, I just want THAT sound...

    1. Yes, he was hard to pin down, comfortable to answer or not answer anything. You can almost understand the people who tried to fix him up as some kind of messiah.
      And that sound sure is something.