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. 2 of 33: Blood On the Tracks (1975)
Even though this isn’t my No. 1 choice, I’ve listened to it more than any other Dylan LP. It’s the album that got me into Dylan, and I’ve loved it since the moment it came out. It contains some of his finest work and was hugely popular, making it to No. 1 on the charts. Just when people thought Dylan had peaked long before, he stunned everyone with this release.
And it wouldn’t have sounded the way it did if Dylan didn’t taken a trip home to Minnesota in late 1974. Dylan had recorded these songs in an NYC studio with some musicians in the summer, but that crew, along with Dylan, and those who’d record with him later in Minnesota (including his brother David), believed something was missing. In fact, Dylan postponed an earlier release after the NYC sessions.
We know today that some of those original recordings, like the stunning version of “Tangled Up In Blue” and the slower version of “Idiot Wind” on the Bootleg Series 1 to 3 were excellent. And while some of the NYC versions made it to the final album, Dylan’s brother and some other local musicians got Dylan to go into the studio and changed things around quite a bit. The result is what we hear on the record.
It’s well known that the album is very personal because it involves Dylan’s breakup with his wife, Sara. He would say, “A lot of people tell me they enjoy that album. It’s hard for me to relate to that. I mean, you know, people enjoying that type of pain …” Later, he would reject the idea that it had to do with his wife, but I think we know better.
The album includes the song that got me into Dylan in a big way, “Tangled Up In Blue.” I was always fascinated how each verse brought Dylan into a different time and place. The song is a narrative, and I always looked at it as if Dylan were singing about different points of his – or someone else’s – life. Yet it’s still a love song. He ends with, “So now I’m going back again / I got to get to her somehow,” after he has spent time doing different things with different people at different times.
I love “Simple Twist of Fate,” a song that has been covered by many artists, from Joan Baez to Concrete Blonde to Jeff Tweedy. I love the acoustic guitar, the bass line, harmonica and the descriptive lyrics: “He hears the ticking of the clocks; and walks along with a parrot that talks; hunts her down by the waterfront docks, where the sailors all come in … She was born in spring, but I was born too late, blame it on a simple twist of fate.”
“You’re A Big Girl Now” is about as pretty – and heartbreaking – as it gets. I’ve never met anyone who didn’t like “Idiot Wind,” one of those songs that saw a dramatic change during the Minnesota sessions. This is one of Dylan’s most vicious pieces or work. It started as an acoustic number, but once Dylan had a full band in place, this song took on a whole new dimension. It’s one of his great vocals; he just rips through whatever pain he’s in, while taking on the world in the process.
I’ve never been touched by an album more than Blood On The Tracks, except maybe Rubber Soul. I’m glad this album came out, because it made me the Dylan fanatic I am today.
Journalist Bill Spurge of New York City has been a Bob Dylan fan since 1974.