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. 25 of 33: New Morning (1970)
Here’s another case where critics tend to offer higher praise for a Bob Dylan album than I do. But once again, I’m rating Dylan against himself.
The album has some good things, but overall, it’s average when compared to Dylan’s best work. In fact, this is my least-favorite Dylan-written album of his 1967-to-1975 phase (phase two of four).
New Morning contains what I consider one of the worst songs Dylan ever recorded: “If Dogs Run Free.” But it’s a rare example of Dylan doing a jazzy/scat/cabaret number, and it fails. With its female backup singer, it’s almost comical. Sometimes she even sounds like Yoko Ono.
Some tracks are middling, and some are pretty good, including “Day Of The Locusts,” which is about the time Dylan reluctantly accepted an honorary doctorate at Princeton University (and mostly noticed all the locusts there). “Sign On The Window” is a decent song about growing up (or getting older); “Three Angels” is almost Lou Reed-esque in its delivery.
But what keeps this album above the below-average material is a handful of great tracks. The title track is a favorite of mine; it’s basically a country/pop song (I’m surprised it wasn’t seriously promoted as a single). I love the drumming, guitar playing and keyboards; it’s all very uplifting. Then there’s “If Not For You,” which would make a great wedding song. I usually prefer the Dylan versions of songs covered by other artists, but we all know how great George Harrison’s version of this song is (from All Things Must Pass); he really makes it soar. But I still love Dylan’s original; it has a nice melody and moves at a decent pace. With those simple, beautiful lyrics, how can you go wrong?
Another song I really like is “One More Weekend,” a blues rocker reminiscent of “Leopard Skin Pillbox Hat.”
All in all, it’s pretty good — but only good enough to make No. 25 on this list.
Journalist Bill Spurge of New York City has been a Bob Dylan fan since 1974.