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. 30 of 33: Slow Train Coming (1979)
This was the first of Dylan’s LPs to be released after he became a born-again Christian. It is best remembered for the song “Gotta Serve Somebody.”
I’m sure some Dylan fans will be surprised that I’ve ranked this album so low. I’m just not a big fan of any of the songs. The single is pretty good, and the lyrics are slick, but the rest of the album follows the pattern of the single way too often.
Despite Mark Knopfler’s guitar playing, I think the songs don’t inspire or go anywhere. “Precious Angel” has a decent melody, but like most songs on the album, it has a dull chorus that doesn’t elevate the song. Another example of that is “I Believe In You,” which is sweet — except for the chorus.
There is too much proselytizing on this album, not to mention several references to The Book of Revelations and such. That wouldn’t matter as much if the songs were strong (See: George Harrison). And then there are some blatantly weak tracks such as “God Gave Names To All The Animals.”
The music is pretty good, and the album isn’t horrible, but it’s below Dylan’s standards. I’m heading into a phase now where not much separates about five albums, so this was just a shade below the other four — but they are almost even.
One of the things I’ve noticed about my lower-rated Dylan LPs is their lack of strong lyrics. That problem is apparent here, although some critics, apparently, were positive about the lyrics.
Journalist Bill Spurge of New York City has been a Bob Dylan fan since 1974.