"How Does It Feeeeeeeeel?!!" It Feels Fantastic. Aug 22, 2008
In an interview with Nat Hentoff in 1965, Bob Dylan said that he'd not be able to make a better record than Highway 61 Revisited, because it was "just too good." Music critics and fans can argue about whether he was right about that, but one thing’s for sure: with this album he struck gold. In 1965-66 Dylan released three groundbreaking, spectacular records within 18 volatile months of each other. The second in the trilogy, Highway 61 Revisited is the most consistent of not only this set but of all his early work: very cohesive in terms of pure sound. From the explosive snare snap that opens “Like a Rolling Stone” to Kooper’s swirling organ to Bloomfield’s searing lead guitar the band sounds tight, on the edge. It’s evident how far the instrumentation has come since the electric debut Bringing It All Back Home, but it’s not yet as lush as things would get on Blonde on Blonde. Instead, the sound that defines the album is that rattling, clanging, reedy mash-up of guitars and drums and bass and honky-tonk piano. The harmonica sounds exceptionally bright. Dylan’s voice is slightly raspy, confident, bold, and, for the casual fan or someone just getting into his catalogue, more accessible here than on his other classic mid-60’s releases. Whether he’s sneering at Little Miss Lonely (“Like a Rolling Stone”) or begging you send him no more letters (“Desolation Row”) it seems that by’65 he’d learned how to use his voice a little more. Lyrically, it’s fantastic. The compassion that colors his earlier records is all but gone. Disillusioned, Dylan hammers at his characters’ failures, throwing his hands up at all the fools around him. And although disdain is the dominant mood of the album, the weariness of some of the less driven songs (“Just Like Tom Thumb's Blues” and “Queen Jane Approximately”) is superb, and shows us glimpses of a complex songwriter and performer. He’s sarcastic, hip, arrogant, exuberant. He’s ahead of his time and he knows it. The album is relentless and enthusiastic. It simply swaggers. It’s a rebellious masterpiece — almost like primitive punk rock. Difficult to fault.
Essential Tracks: Throw a dart at the album. Wherever it lands, that’s your answer. Every song is classic. “Like a Rolling Stone” (read: “How does it feeeeeeeeel?!”), “Ballad of a Thin Man”, and “Desolation Row” are the most powerful peaks, and everything else slides smoothly into place.
Weakest Track: “From a Buick 6” (but it’s still a fun grungy piece that definitely keeps your foot tapping.)