Home Music Music Lists

Readers’ Poll: The Best Bob Dylan Albums of All Time

Your picks include ‘Desire,’ ‘Blood on the Tracks’ and ‘Highway 61 Revisited’

Readers' Poll: Bob Dylan's Best Albums

David Redfern/Redferns

Bob Dylan's 35th album, Tempest, landed in stores this week – a record in which, he claims, "Anything goes and you just gotta believe it will make sense." He's been on an incredible creative roll since the release of his 1997 comeback LP, Time Out of Mind, and we figured this was a good time to poll our readers on their favorite Dylan albums. Votes poured in for everything from his 1962 self-titled album through Tempest; here are the results. 

6. 'Nashville Skyline'

Columbia

6. ‘Nashville Skyline’

In 1969, rock & roll was starting to get harder and heavier. New groups like Led Zeppelin, Deep Purple, Black Sabbath and Blind Faith were experimenting with an aggressive, raw sound that delighted a new generation of fans. Bob Dylan, as usual, was on a very different trip. He went back down to Nashville to cut a simple country record. If that wasn't enough of a change, he was suddenly singing in a completely different voice; even some longtime fans didn't initially recognize they were listening to a Dylan song when "Lay Lady Lay" came on the radio.

Dylan recorded many songs with Johnny Cash during these sessions, but only a duet on "Girl From the North Country" made the album. While the record puzzled some Dylan fans, most people found it extremely warm and charming. "Lay Lady Lay" became a huge hit, and Dylan even made a rare television appearance to promote the album on The Johnny Cash Show. It would be a long five years before Dylan released another widely praised work. 

5. 'Desire'

Columbia

5. ‘Desire’

Bob Dylan's 1974 album, Blood on the Tracks, reminded the world that Dylan was a songwriter without peer. On his next album, he decided to experiment by taking on a co-writer, theater director Jacques Levy. While the songs on Blood on the Tracks were highly personal, these new songs were largely about characters, both real and imagined. "Joey" is an 11-minute tribute to the New York mobster Joey Gallo, while "Hurricane" passionately argues that the boxer Rubin "Hurricane" Carter was falsely convicted of murder. The influence of Levy is quite apparent on "Hurricane," which begins with actual stage directions: "Pistol shots ring out in the barroom night/ Enter Patty Valentine from the upper hall." It's an enormously complicated story that Dylan and Levy crammed into a seven-minute pop song, and even though they got some of the facts a little wrong, it brought renewed attention to the plight of the imprisoned boxer.

The album ends with "Sara," an extremely moving tribute to Dylan's long-suffering wife. According to multiple accounts, she watched him record the song and then agreed to a reconciliation; she filed for divorce months later. The album is also notable for the work of violinist Scarlet Rivera. It's hard to imagine what the album would sound like without her playing, yet she was only invited to the sessions when Dylan spotted her walking down the street with a violin case. He invited her into his car and the rest is history. 

4. 'Bringing it all Back Home'

Columbia

4. ‘Bringing It All Back Home’

Bringing It All Back Home captured Bob Dylan during a period of tremendous transformation. One side of the LP is just Bob Dylan and an acoustic guitar, while the other side finds him playing with an electric band. The disc kicks off with "Subterranean Homesick Blues," a wild stream-of-consciousness rock song that sounded unlike anything else Dylan had released. The folk purists howled but everybody else ate it up, and the song became his first Top 40 hit.

The timing was right for such a move. New folk-rock groups like the Byrds were breaking onto the scene, and Dylan would have seemed passè had he kept knocking out songs like "Masters of War." To grow, he had to shed some of his old audience, though with songs like "Mr. Tambourine Man" and "Gates of Eden," the folkies had much to celebrate on Bringing It All Back Home. Their patience would be further tested over the next few years, though a giant mainstream audience was beginning to come around to Dylan that more than made up for any defections by the old guard. 

3. 'Highway 61 Revisited'

Columbia

3. ‘Highway 61 Revisited’

By the summer of 1965, Bob Dylan had absolutely no interest in writing folk songs, and the success of the "Subterranean Homesick Blues" single earlier in the year proved to him that fans were willing to follow him down new paths. On June 15th, he went into a New York recording studio with guitarist Mike Bloomfield and cut "Like a Rolling Stone." The following month, they performed it at the Newport Folk Festival.

About 10 trillion words have been written about exactly what happened that day, not least about how Dylan seemed to walk away convinced the crowd had booed him. Undeterred, he went back into the studio just four days later to finish recording Highway 61 Revisited. This time, the songs were bluesy and the lyrics were more surreal. Fueled by the massive success of "Like a Rolling Stone," the record flew off shelves and established Dylan as a true rock god. 

2. 'Blonde on Blonde'

Columbia

2. ‘Blonde on Blonde’

In a 1978 interview with Playboy, Bob Dylan was asked if he hears songs in his head before he records them. "The closest I ever got to the sound I hear in my mind was on individual bands in the Blonde on Blonde album," he said. "It's that thin, that wild mercury sound. It's metallic and bright gold, with whatever that conjures up. That's my particular sound. I haven't been able to succeed in getting it all the time."

In 1966, Dylan was succeeding in nearly everything that he tried. He was playing some of the most amazing shows of his career, and songs were flooding out of him almost faster than he could record them. This all culminated in Blonde on Blonde, a double LP he cut largely in Nashville with Robbie Robertson, Al Kooper and a bunch of Nashville pros. The songs veer from surreal epics like "Stuck Inside of Mobile With the Memphis Blues Again" to sublime love songs like "Sad-Eyed Lady of the Lowlands." The latter takes up the entirety of side four and is an 11-minute tribute to his then-wife Sara Lownds. The musicians at the session claim they cut it all in a single take at 4 a.m. The album hit stores just weeks before Dylan's motorcycle crash. 

1. 'Blood on the Tracks'

Columbia

1. ‘Blood on the Tracks’

By 1975, many people had written off Bob Dylan as a Sixties wash-out. He had reunited with the Band the previous year for an extremely lucrative reunion tour, but it was a decidedly nostalgic affair. Dylan had scored hits in the early 1970s with "Forever Young" and "Knockin' on Heaven's Door," but his albums were pretty half-assed affairs.

Then came Blood on the Tracks, a gut-wrenching account of the dissolution of his marriage. Dylan, of course, denies the songs are personal, but it's impossible not to hear his pain on tracks like "You're a Big Girl Now" and "If You See Her, Say Hello." "Simple Twist of Fate" is a nostalgic look back at his early 1960s romance with Suze Rotolo, while "You're Gonna Make Me Lonesome When You Go" was inspired by his brief affair with Columbia A&R rep Ellen Bernstein. The common thread through all the songs is the pain that comes when love dies.

While Dylan has made the wild claim that the songs were inspired by Chekhov short stories, Jakob Dylan knows the truth. "The songs are my parents talking," he said in one interview. 

Show Comments