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. 27 of 33: Down in the Groove (1988)
Let me start by saying this is the last of my ranked Dylan albums that can be discarded. From here on, “Its All Good,” as Dylan croons on Together Through Life.
I probably have this album ranked higher than most Dylanphiles and critics. In fact, Rolling Stone ranked this his worst album in 2007. Most have it ranked no higher than where it is on my list.
Down in the Groove isn’t as bad as the albums I’ve ranked below it (which I know is sort of obvious) because its songs don’t really have that ’80s sound, they rock a bit — and some of the songs are a bit catchier. He also writes more on this album than on some of those ranked lower.
Its saving grace is a three-song stretch in the mid- to later part of the album. “Had A Dream About You Baby” is a decent, straightforward rocker, and “Ugliest Girl In The World” is pretty humorous, especially with the female background singers saying, “She’s so ugly, yes she’s ugly.” Of course, the key song on the album is the Dead-related “Silvio,” which is a pretty good rocker. “Shenandoah” is a decent version of the old song, and “Let’s Stick Together” is a halfway decent version of the Wilbert Harrison song.
The rest of the album doesn’t do much for me.
Of the seven albums rated so far, there aren’t more than a dozen or so songs I’d take with me should I never be able to hear those albums again. That will now change. There is a decent gap between albums 26 and 27, so even my next “review” will be much kinder. I can’t wait to move forward. Even the average Dylan albums are more interesting than the better stuff from most artists.
Journalist Bill Spurge of New York City has been a Bob Dylan fan since 1974.