Ranking Bob Dylan’s 33 Studio Albums: No. 19 — ‘Under the Red Sky’

August 13th, 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. 19 of 33: Under the Red Sky (1990)

I suppose others will have this album ranked lower, and that’s how I felt when I started this project. In fact, this is the only album that surprised me in how much better I felt about it now than when I first listened to it years ago. I hadn’t listened to it in a while, actually.

A majority of critics didn’t like this LP, but some, like Robert Christgau of Rolling Stone, liked it a lot. I found this to be an interesting album in that the lyrics are nonsensical (including nursery rhymes, in some areas, critics charged), and there isn’t one defining song, yet it still satisfies.

“Wiggle Wiggle” is a goofy rocker, but it’s catchy nonetheless. “Under The Red Sky,” supposedly sung with his young daughter in mind, is kind of nice, and George Harrison plays the slide guitar solo. “Unbelievable” chugs along as good rocker. “Born In Time” is solid, especially the way the keyboards and rhythm guitar roll on throughout. I particularly like “God Knows” (featuring Stevie Ray Vaughan), a song that starts slow, until the drums roar in and it kicks into a rocker. “Handy Dandy” is an especially fun song, probably my favorite on the LP.

This album was known for all the guest appearances by big stars: Harrison, Elton John, Slash, David Crosby, SRV and Jimmie Vaughan and so on. It came on the heels of The Traveling Wilburys and Dylan’s acclaimed Oh! Mercy album. It probably suffers from not living up to those, and maybe it was a bit too star-studded.

In any event, it’s good enough for me. It’s my No. 19, which makes it a good Dylan effort. We’re getting closer to the great ones, and now we’re coming into “Very Good” and “Excellent” territory.

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

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