Highway 61 Revisited would arrive just three years into Bob Dylan’s musical career. Let me repeat that again. In his third year as a professional musician, the Minnesota born singer/songwriter would create one of the benchmarks of recorded ,music, for which everything that came before and after it would be judged by. Then, less than a year later, he would blow his 1965 output out of the water a manic of what Dylan called “thin-Mercury music,” and Rock & Roll’s first triple album release by a record company Blonde on Blonde.
Both albums stand at the summit of recorded music and rightly so. Both are nearing 60 years old and yet remain as lively and vibrant as ever. They have not worn, become antiquated or quaint. They are every bit deserving of being called art as a Picasso or Renoir.
Rightly so, critics were both amazed and perplexed by Blonde on Blonde –
“To accompany the songbook of Blonde on Blonde, Paul Nelson wrote an introduction stating, “The very title suggests the singularity and the duality we expect from Dylan. For Dylan’s music of illusion and delusion—with the tramp as explorer and the clown as happy victim, where the greatest crimes are lifelessness and the inability to see oneself as a circus performer in the show of life—has always carried within it its own inherent tensions … Dylan in the end truly UNDERSTANDS situations, and once one truly understands anything, there can no longer be anger, no longer be moralizing, but only humor and compassion, only pity.” In May 1968 for Esquire, Robert Christgau said Dylan had “presented his work at its most involuted, neurotic, and pop—and exhilarating—in Blonde on Blonde.”
It was the era a legend was born, where Rock & Roll myths were formed aBnd true rebellion in its most naked form was on display for all to see. It was the era of drugs, booze, Rimbaud and Ginsberg, Like a Rolling Stone, Joanna and Tom Thumb. Bob Dylan fully turned his back on folk music, going so far as to joke with an Australian crowd that the song he was about to play would not sound as good because his guitar he had been broken and all he had was a “Folk” guitar. He was hilariously apologetic about it.
The Psychedelic Rock & Roll God Era occurred during one of the most turbulent times in the United States. An unpopular war in Vietnam had everyone on edge and Dylan wanted as far away from the protest movement as he could possibly get.
Highway 61 Revisited brought a similar shock and awe
“In the British music press, initial reviews of Highway 61 expressed both bafflement and admiration for the record. New Musical Express critic Allen Evans wrote: “Another set of message songs and story songs sung in that monotonous and tuneless way by Dylan which becomes quite arresting as you listen.” The Melody Maker LP review section, by an anonymous critic, commented: “Bob Dylan’s sixth LP, like all others, is fairly incomprehensible but nevertheless an absolute knock-out.” The English poet Philip Larkin, reviewing the album for The Daily Telegraph, wrote that he found himself “well rewarded” by the record: “Dylan’s cawing, derisive voice is probably well suited to his material … and his guitar adapts itself to rock (‘Highway 61’) and ballad (‘Queen Jane’). There is a marathon ‘Desolation Row’ which has an enchanting tune and mysterious, possibly half-baked words.”
Dylan had turned from “Folk King” to “Rock God,” bringing with him an entirely new, more poetic style of music, less dependent on rhythm, relying more on language. It was becoming a time when writers, like Jim Morrison, Leonard Cohen, Dylan and Richard Farina, were becoming rock stars.
Though not until 1975, The Basement Tapes was recorded during this era and was the swan song of arguably one of the greatest creative eras in music history. Dylan’s songwriting began to turn inward and become more personal. It would serve as the last hurrah from this era.