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. 28 of 33: Good As I Been To You (1992)
When I started this project, I made sure I scanned other online reviews of Dylan’s albums. Having done that, I want to make sure readers know that my ratings sometimes don’t agree with others — at all.
Even though I’ve put the work in and know all the songs, my ratings simply aren’t the be-all-to-end-all. That’s the nature of music: If you can agree with someone at least half the time, that’s a lot.
I bring this up because Good As I Been To You has received a number of positive reviews, and you might want to check them out. They’re much more positive than mine (although some fans refer to this album as “horrible,” “the worst,” etc.). Critics tend to love Dylan, and they’ve always cut him lots of slack. I’m not so generous at times, as we’ve seen on this list so far.
I don’t think this album is that bad — but it is No. 28 on my list. We’re nearing what I feel are the below-average albums.
Good As I Been To You is basically Dylan returning to his folk/blues roots for the first time since 1964. All the songs on the album are traditional; some of them inspired him when he was younger.
I like his guitar playing on this album; he really gets back into his acoustic, and he does it well. It sounds like you’re listening to him around the campfire. I particularly like “Step It Up and Go,” a good, fast-paced blues rocker. “Tomorrow Night” is a nice, ’20s-style ballad. “Jim Jones” is mediocre, but to me it sounds oddly like “Desolation Row.” Some songs, such as “Blackjack Davey,” would be better if they were three minutes shorter.
There’s a version of “Sittin’ On Top Of The World,” also done by a zillion artists, most notably Cream. There’s a humorous “Froggie Went A-Courtin’,” which is something you’d sing with a fourth-grader. It’s an old English song, but it’s much too long.
The song content is OK, but what makes this album fall short for me — as compared to Dylan’s work from the early ’60s — is his voice, which is incredibly ragged by this time. That doesn’t bother me on some of his later albums, but it certainly doesn’t help what I feel are mostly mediocre songs.
Journalist Bill Spurge of New York City has been a Bob Dylan fan since 1974.