500 Greatest Albums of All Time

4

Bob Dylan, 'Highway 61 Revisited'

Columbia, 1965

Bruce Springsteen described the beginning of "Like a Rolling Stone," the opening song on Highway 61 Revisited, as the "snare shot that sounded like somebody'd kicked open the door to your mind." Folk singer Phil Ochs was even more rhapsodic about the LP: "It's impossibly good... How can a human mind do this?"

Recorded in a staggering six days, Highway 61 Revisited – named after the road that runs from Bob Dylan's home state of Minnesota down through the Mississippi Delta – is one of those albums that changed everything. In and of itself, "Like a Rolling Stone," rumored to be about Andy Warhol acolyte Edie Sedgwick, forever altered the landscape of popular music – its "vomitific" flow (Dylan's term), literary ambition and sheer length (6:13) shattered limitations of every kind. "Ballad of a Thin Man" delivered the definitive Sixties comment on the splintering hip-straight fault line: "Something is happening here, but you don't know what it is/Do you, Mister Jones?" If anyone questioned whether or not Dylan had truly  "gone electric," the roaring rock & roll of  "From a Buick 6" and "Tombstone Blues" – powered by guitarist Mike Bloomfield – left no doubt.

The album ends with "Desolation Row," a surrealist night journey that runs 11 minutes. Dylan evokes a Hieronymus Bosch-like season in hell that seems to foretell all the Sixties cataclysms to come. "The Titanic sails at dawn," he sings wearily. "Everybody is shouting, 'Which side are you on?'" That "Desolation Row" is an all-acoustic track – a last-minute decision on Dylan's part – is one final stroke of genius: a spellbinding new vision of folk music to close the album that, for the time being at least, destroyed folk music.

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