Ranking Bob Dylan’s 33 Studio Albums: No. 18 — ‘Street-Legal’

August 14th, 2012

By Bill Spurge

A year ago, I decided to complete my collection of Bob Dylan albums. I was a few albums and some odds and ends short, but I purchased 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 albums (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. 18 of 33: Street-Legal (1978)

There is no one great song on this album, but there are no slouches, either. Most of the nine songs are simply very solid.

Some would refer to “Changing of the Guards” as a great song, and it was the most popular tune on the album. When I saw Dylan at Madison Square Garden in 1978 when this album came out, I believe this was the opener. The horn on the song is quite prominent, and that’s true on several other numbers. It always made me feel as if Dylan was going for the Bruce Springsteen sound, as Bruce was all the rage by this time. I like the fade-in at the start of “Changing,” and the female vocalists blend in nicely.

“No Time To Think” is reminiscent of the sound on the Desire album, but a bit long at eight minutes. I like the horns — and Dylan’s plea — on “Baby Stop Crying.” “New Pony” is a solid rocker with some fun lyrics, and I love when the horns kick in. The closing track, “Where Are You Tonight,” is strong, and there’s a touch of the chord structure of “Like A Rolling Stone” (or so it sounds) as it leads to the chorus. There’s also a touch of organ that sounds like “Positively Fourth Street.”

I think critics and some fans like “Senor” quite a bit. It’s nice, but it’s not my favorite.

This is the album that marks a transition from the Blood On the Tracks/Desire period to the Christianity stuff. “Changing of the Guards” seems to look ahead to where Dylan was going with Christianity on the next three or four albums.

Either way, it doesn’t matter what his goals were in getting his message across, as long as the songs were good. And I find this a solid collection of songs worth a listen and a purchase.

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

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