Ranking Bob Dylan’s 33 Studio Albums: No. 10 — ‘Oh Mercy’

August 28th, 2012

By Bill Spurge

Last year, I decided to complete my collection of Bob Dylan albums. I was a few albums and some odds and ends short, so I bought most and swapped items with a co-worker and fellow Dylan fanatic.

Then, in honor of the 50th anniversary of his first album, 1962’s Bob Dylan, I set out to rank every Dylan album and song. A monumental task, indeed. I listened to album after album, four or five times through. Even albums I knew in my sleep were placed under scrutiny.

Then came the hardest part: making the list. The albums came easier. The songs, not so easy.

My song list is coming soon. In the meantime, here’s my album-by-album ranking of Dylan’s 33 studio LPs (NOTE: Dylan has actually released 34 studio albums, but I’ve chosen not to include 2009’s Christmas In the Heart.)

These 33 album-ranking stories will take us right up to the release of Tempest, Dylan’s new album, which is scheduled to come out September 11. Enjoy!

No. 10 of 33: Oh Mercy (1989)

This album was so inspiring after Dylan’s disappointments from the previous few years. On the heels of The Traveling Wilburys, Dylan finally took the time to write some solid material.

U2’s Bono suggested Daniel Lanois (of The Joshua Tree fame) as a producer. The combination of Dylan and Lanois proved toxic at times, but when all was said and done, it worked.

The album opens with “Political World,” where Dylan sounds off about people who control and/or make decisions for other people. It ain’t exactly 1963, lyrically, but it stings nonetheless. “Where Teardrops Fall” is a pretty song with some George Harrison-style guitar (It’s not him), and “Ring Them Bells” harkens back lyrically to his religious-era songs.

The album gets pretty mellow as it moves along. “Disease of Conceit” puts down the world’s control freaks, especially evangelical leaders. “What Was It You Wanted” has dreamy guitars and pretty piano. “Shooting Star” is something to listen to under a moonlit sky. “The Man In the Long Black Coat” is a mysterious and mesmerizing song, with these especially vivid, yet dark, lyrics and chords. The crickets are reminiscent of “Sun King.”

Among my other favorites is “Everything Is Broken.” I love the sound of the guitars and the way they work together. It’s the one song on the album that moves at a quick pace. It’s well-sung, and Dylan plays a mean harmonica.

To me, this is Dylan’s best and most inspirational album between the mid-70s and 1997. You should own this one.

Journalist Bill Spurge of New York City has been a Bob Dylan fan since 1974.