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30 Best Loved Albums - Blonde on Blonde

2007 will bring the 30th anniversary of my first rock concert (Kiss, December 2, 1977 – Metropolitan Sports Center). In honor of that momentous event I have decided to use this blog to review my 30 best loved albums. They will not be in any order or progression but I will try to review them musically and why they mean so much to me. I’ll also note if they made the Definitive 200 List.

Although I have stated that I’m not going to rank or place in order my favorite 30 albums, there is somewhat of a method to my madness. The first five albums were near and dear to me, some may not necessarily be an all-time favorite, but instead are albums about which that I had a lot to say. The next five albums go in a different direction. They include artists with long and critically acclaimed careers with many, many different albums from which to choose. Sometimes it was hard to choose which album to review and if you asked why did I choose Blonde on Blonde over Highway 61 Revisited, I might have a hard time explaining. Usually the album has some special meaning that pushes it over the top. With that preamble, on to Number 6 on the list!

6. Bob Dylan - Blonde on Blonde (1966)

The year 1966 was special in music history. The Beatles released Revolver, The Beach Boys' Pet Sounds came out, as did Sounds of Silence by Simon and Garfield. Velvet Underground and Nico was recorded in November of 1966, although it wasn’t released until 1967. Psychedelia was beginning to be heard on the fringes of music and Rock and Roll had moved from it’s bubble gum and kiddie-flavored themes to more adult flavors.

Bob Dylan was at the forefront of this transformation. In 1965 Dylan released two classic rock albums: Bringing It All Back Home and Highway 61 Revisited which moved him away from the folk-rock protest singer of the early ‘60s to a full-fledged Rock and Roll star. Blonde on Blonde was the stunning culmination of this transformation. Besides being the first double album by a major recording artist it is a testament to Dylan’s song writing prowess, a summit he’s rarely climbed since.

Even though the Beatles, Beach Boys and Velvet Underground were exploring new musical fields in 1966, Bob Dylan was sticking to straight ahead, blues-flavored rock and roll in Blonde on Blonde. The album kicks off with Rainy Day Woman #12 and #35 (a song I loathe) which is based on Ray Charles’ Lets Get Stoned. The next song, Pledging My Time, is also Blues soaked. A listener might think after hearing these two songs, that Dylan was transforming himself into a deep South bluesman. The tone changes quickly however in song three.

Visions of Johanna is a typical long-form Dylan song clocking in at over 7 minutes with dense lyrics and no chorus. The album kicks it up about 4 notches with the following songs: One of Us Must Know, I Want You, Stuck Inside of Mobile, Leopard-Skin Pill-Box Hat, Absolutely Sweet Marie, and Obviously 5 Believers. Each song a classic, not a throw away note or lyric in the bunch. Just Like A Woman is a song that could find a place on Bringing it Back Home or even Another Side of Bob Dylan. Although there is a question about who the song is about, it seems clear to me that it’s about Joan Baez (who returned the favor a few years later with Diamonds and Rust). The song 4th Time Around is meant as a spoof on Lennon’s Norwegian Wood and Dylan throws it in there to prove that he can do songs like that too.

Overall there is over 70 minutes of music with only one clunker (Rainy Day Woman). The album rocks, it has great lyrics, and a real cool vibe. Al Kooper’s organ is present throughout, and combined with Robbie Robertson’s guitar work, really anchors the album musically. Blonde on Blonde is Dylan at the height of his artistry and is the one album I will go back to time and time again. There might be better Dylan songs on different albums, but as a coherent, musically satisfying whole, recorded in a time of huge flux in popular music, it is the “Dylan? of all Dylan albums and deserves an exalted place in my favorite 30 albums.

Place on the Definitive 200: Criminally not included.

First Five Albums:
1. Pretenders - Pretenders
2. Replacements - Let It Be
3. Nirvana - Nevermind
4. Johnny Cash - American Recordings
5. Guided By Voices - Bee Thousand

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