Ranking Bob Dylan’s 33 Studio Albums: No. 22 — ‘Bob Dylan’

August 8th, 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. I have to have some ground rules.)

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. 22 of 33: Bob Dylan (1962)

This was Bob Dylan’s debut, and I suppose you might be surprised to find an early Dylan album ranked at No. 22.

Heck, I like it. Remember, we’re into the good stuff now, and I’m very fond of some of the songs on this album. It’s ranked lower than expected because it’s mostly covers (except for two songs), and it’s really more of an “intro” to Dylan.

This album was recorded cheaply, and Dylan recorded several songs in one take. Even then, he refused to go over things more than once if he didn’t feel like it. He hand-picked the songs, and the album has a demo feel. Some songs are less folk than hillbilly, and those are only so-so. But the talent and charisma are there. The guy was 20 when this album was recorded in late 1961.

This album contains one of my favorite Dylan tracks, a cover of “Baby Let Me Follow You Down.” I love the chords and the impromptu intro, where he credits Eric Von Schmidt for his arrangement of a traditional song. It’s a pretty piece, and I enjoy playing it on guitar.

Then there’s the Dylan-arranged “House of the Rising Sun,” which, I’m sure, influenced The Animals’ popular version, even though the song’s melody goes back a million years. Dylan wrote the descriptive NYC song, “Talkin’ New York,” and the poignant “Song For Woody,” which is one of the stronger numbers. The rest are decent folk songs.

The most interesting part of listening to Dylan’s debut — which came out 50 years ago, by the way — is thinking that this youthful-sounding neophyte would sound so mature and chock-full of incredible songs just a short while later on the Freewheelin’ album.

All in all, it’s an enjoyable record, but it’s just a small preview of what would follow.

P.S.: The album cover photo is reversed from the original picture.

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

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