Bob Dylan – Highway 61 Revisited
Vinyl LP, Album, Mono, Reissue, 2001
The first bona-fide hit song by Bob Dylan is “Like A Rolling Stone” which was 5:59 long. Most single 45rpm singles were in the 2 to 3:50 minute length, but Bob doesn't play by those rules. At the time, the single was the medium for the teenager or perhaps for the one who was on a strict budget. Nevertheless Dylan's snarly put-down of a song really hit a nerve in the U.S. For one the whole silly Dylan gone electric issue was very much past-tense when Highway 61 Revisited was released to the pop market. What was the issue for me was hearing this grown-up music on my turntable and radio.
What is beautiful is how Dylan puts one image over the other, and his choice of words are always perfect. "Desolation Road" is hypnotic in its description of a picture, it is almost like a camera pulling back from a close-up and slowly the viewer is getting the bigger picture. It has a cast of thousands, and all of them are waiting, yearning, or hoping something on Desolation Road. Dylan is the town-cryer on the street corner commenting on what's happening. The listener doesn't really need anything else, because Dylan supplies the images and as I mentioned before he's a superb singer. Highway 61 is a traveling album, and I feel its very much a cinematic work of art, but a cinema for the ears.
The Dylan mystique was the magnet to hear his very difficult music for me. I hadn't a clue what was going on, but I got the vibe that it was something important and its affecting the pop world with great intensity. So my admiration for his coolness and smartness grabbed my attention. But still (like his other albums) sonically it didn't grab me, except “Ballad Of The Thin Man.” Now, I wonder if it is a reference to Dashiell Hammett's Nick Charles, or is it literally about a reporter who is also thin. What I like about pop generally speaking is the leap from a straight ahead narrative into the unknown. Dylan does that for me with mixed results.
“Mr Jones” here I don't think is about a specific individual, but more of an ideal figure that gives Dylan a certain amount of displeasure. Now, how and cow. The discussion between Mr. Jones and Mr. Dylan is not a good one, because the reporter/journalist is missing the big picture and focusing on things that are not important – according to the Bob.
Highway 61 Revisited was released at the height of Bob-fan-dom. Teen idol craziness with the addition of admiration from the literary masses. For a man who doesn't like to be stuck or have his back to the corner it must have been a nightmare of sorts. Nevertheless it gave fuel to his music at this time, and for me this is the classic Bob Dylan era.