Highway 61: "People who liked Bob because he was an anti-war folk artiste won't like this."
Words By: Norman Jopling - 1965 | November 11th, 2015
In late September 1965, Norman Jopling of the Record Mirror in the UK published a track-by-track preview of Bob Dylan's latest LP, Highway 61 Revisited. The album had recently been released in the US, ahead of his North American tour, but not yet released in the UK.
Here is the original track-by-track review of Highway 61 Revisited. Read our 2015 review of the album here.
THOUGHT I'D jump the gun and tell you all about this LP, just issued in the States but not here. Side one starts off with "LIKE A ROLLING STONE", and presumably there's no need to talk about the drama of degradation, well on its way to selling a million copies on single.
"TOMBSTONE BLUES" has a repetitive drum beat running through the length of five minutes and fifty three seconds. Plenty of perky guitar work and Bob's lyrics are mainly cynical, sometimes blasphemous depending if you're religiously minded or not.Bob Dylan just uses musical mediums to put over what he wants to say. He used folk, now on this album he basically uses rock 'n' roll and blues. It's still Bob Dylan.
"IT TAKES A LOT TO LAUGH, IT TAKES A TRAIN TO CRY" is a lot slower, and partly reminiscent sound-wise of "She Belongs To Me". Plodding but hypnotic beat, and more conventional blues harmonica work instead of the usual scrapings. Works up to a mild climax.
"FROM A BUICK 6" flips Bob's next single, and there's very dominant and compulsive organ work, so that you have to strain to catch the lyric. "She don't make me nervous, she don't talk too much, she walks like Bo Diddley, and she don't need no crutch," comes through loud and clear just before the wheezy harmonica break. He knows what it's all about when he gets enthusiastic over women in his songs.
'BALLAD OF A THIN MAN' is a slow blues with piping organ work and vocal heard clear enough above gently strumming guitar. Bob laughs occasionally at his own lyrics about the non-appreciation of slender 'Mr. Jones', but as with so many of his songs they seem to deal with his own obscure personal experiences, one can only interpret them in terms of something similar happening to oneself.
"QUEEN JANE APPROXIMATELY" starts prettily with tuneful organ and piano backing. Jane is another interesting Dylan dolly who Bob invites to see him when things get too much for her. As there's a good tune here it shouldn't be long before some group get their teeth around this one.
"HIGHWAY 61 REVISITED" gallops along with references to various biblical characters and Highway 61 (where the hell is that?). A clever idea lyrically but this Highway 61 must be a gargantuan rubbish dump for people and things. Bob plays the police car very well on this.
"JUST LIKE TOM THUMB'S BLUES" is a thing of beauty, maybe not a joy forever though. Slurry vocals, pretty tune, and Tamla-Motown-ish backing (is it possible?). Rather a moving vocal from Bob, and to describe this with played out adjectives like 'soul' seems wrong, but that's it. Lyric is one of discontent.
"DESOLATION ROW" has all your own fairy story characters in an eleven minute epic, placed in grotesque settings. Medium-paced and with Spanish styled guitar running through, Bob's lyrics are as usual, unique. Who else would make this kind of rhyme: "... all except for Cain and Abel and the Hunchback of Notre Dame, everyone is making love or else expecting rain."
It sounds pseudo to say this album is surrealist, but it is. "The songs on this specific record are not so much songs as exercises in tonal breath control," he says on the sleeve notes.
Those people who liked Bob because he was basically an anti-war folk artiste won't like this.
But Bob Dylan just uses musical mediums to put over what he wants to say. He used folk, now on this album he basically uses rock 'n' roll and blues. It's still Bob Dylan.
The possibilities are endless.
Review by Norman Jopling: Record Mirror - 23rd September 1965
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