Ranking Bob Dylan’s 33 Studio Albums: No. 9 — ‘Desire’

August 29th, 2012

By Bill Spurge

Last year, I decided to complete my collection of Bob Dylan albums. I was a few albums and some odds and ends short, so I bought 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 LPs (NOTE: Dylan has actually released 34 studio albums, but I’ve chosen not to include 2009’s Christmas In the Heart.)

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. 9 of 33: Desire (1976)

This is the one album where Dylan shared most of the songwriting credit, employing Broadway director and frequent Roger McGuinn co-collaborator Jaques Levy. The featured musician on the album is violinist Scarlet Rivera, who comes up huge all the way through.

I’m not a fan of “Joey,” and that’s not a good thing, considering it eats up 11 minutes of this album. The song is about NYC mafioso Joey Gallo, and not only is it 11 minutes long, it is factually flawed. Since I’ve always hated organized crime and everything that goes with it, this song has always left a sour taste. It glorifies a killer. (I haven’t even watched The Godfather since high school because I hate these kind of guys. I live on Staten Island; that’s all you need to know). And the song drags along; how many times can I hear a chorus that says, “What made them want to come and blow you away?”

I’m also not a fan of “Romance In Durango,” which makes me feel like at a Chevy’s or some other Tex-Mex joint. “Oh Sister” is kind of nice, and “One More Cup of Coffee” is pretty intense.

On to the great stuff. “Hurricane” opens the album with some deep, dark notes and a great opening line: “Pistol shots ring out in the barroom night.” Then the song picks up with an amazing amount of intensity and fury. It’s one of my favorite driving songs. The violin just amps up the song, and Dylan’s incredible, fiery lyrics about a (supposedly) framed boxer, Hurricane Carter, cut like a knife.

“Isis” follows, and I love the piano on this one right from the start. It’s a mysterious song, and I could never quite could figure it out. I think a man gets married, leaves his gal behind to look for treasure and for another friend, the friend dies when he arrives, he buries him (?), runs back to the wife and learns a lesson about life and love. Whatever. I just love the strange lyrics and violin.

The pretty “Mozambique” is one of Dylan’s most underrated songs. I love the bass line. “Black Diamond Bay” is pretty damn awesome. Different characters emerge from a destroyed island. Can they save themselves? The indifferent narrator goes off to “have another beer.” I love the pace of this song.

I often listened to this LP through the winter and spring of ’76 as a strong followup to Blood On The Tracks. If it weren’t for “Joey,” I’d rate this a couple of notches higher. And if you like “Joey,” you’ve gotta love this album.

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

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