The Rolling Stone Hall of Fame: Bob Dylan's 'Nashville Skyline'

A look back at the greatest albums ever made

May 27, 2004
Bob Dylan during Willie Nelson and Friends: 'Outlaws & Angels.'
Bob Dylan during Willie Nelson and Friends: 'Outlaws & Angels.'
M. Caulfield/WireImage for NBC Universal Photo Department

When Nashville Skyline, the last of Bob Dylan's brilliant Sixties albums, was released, fans examined every one of its twenty-seven minutes for signs of musical revolution like fortunetellers poring over the intestines of a goat. Now, without the weight of those expectations, Skyline (1969) just sounds like a great country-folk record. It's warm, full of love songs and even features Dylan employing a baritone croon rather than his trademark wheeze. (Dylan told Rolling Stone in 1969 that all he had done was give up cigarettes.) The album begins with a casual duet with Johnny Cash, "Girl From the North Country," recorded when the two friends were both working in the same studio. Throughout Skyline, Dylan trades in his usual torrent of lyrics for a relaxed feel, and he does well on the exchange; even slighter songs such as "Peggy Day" and "Nashville Skyline Rag" are confident and charming. "Lay Lady Lay," with an offbeat percussion track built around bongos and a cowbell, was the most successful of these, becoming Dylan's last Top Ten hit. The album also contains "I Threw It All Away," one of Dylan's most gorgeous ballads ever. "Once I had mountains in the palm of my hand/And rivers that ran through ev'ry day," Dylan sings ruefully. "I must have been mad/I never knew what I had/Until I threw it all away." It's the sound of a man with oceans of sorrow within him, asking you to taste just a few salty drops.

This story is from the May 27, 2004 issue of Rolling Stone.

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Song Stories

“San Francisco Mabel Joy”

Mickey Newbury | 1969

A country-folk song of epic proportions, "San Francisco Mabel Joy" tells the tale of a poor Georgia farmboy who wound up in prison after a move to the Bay Area found love turning into tragedy. First released by Mickey Newbury in 1969, it might be more familiar through covers by Waylon Jennings, Joan Baez and Kenny Rogers. "It was a five-minute song written in a two-minute world," Newbury said. "I was told it would never be cut by any artist ... I was told you could not use the term 'redneck' in a song and get it recorded."

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