BOB DYLAN – HIGHWAY 61 REVISITED
Released August 30, 1965– 50 years ago
Highway 61 serves as a turning point in Dylan’s career as well as pivotal moment within rock music as a whole. Trading his lone folk troubadour persona for a cynical bohemian leading a full rock band, he incorporated blues, folk, and country influences with literate, poetic, and surreal imagery in a way that had never before been done. It stands as one of rock’s most influential and important albums.
The Classic Pick is a weekly feature at 4pm M-F on The Home Stretch, sponsored by the Good Oak Bar. Each Monday at 4pm Kris Kerry stops by KXCI to give us insight on this classic album.
Highway 61 Revisited, Dylan’s 6th studio album, marks the first time he utilized a full rock band, except for the closing 11-minute ballad, “Desolation Row.”
Extraordinarily influential, it has been stated by some that the 1960s didn’t really start until the release of this album. Others state that rock music didn’t really arrive until Dylan “plugged in” for the first time on this release. Rolling Stone describes Highway 61 as “one of those albums that changed everything,” placing it number 4 on its list of “The 500 Greatest Albums of All Time.”
Only 24 at the time, Dylan was already well known – as a folk singer. Initial reviews expressed both bafflement and admiration. Some critics were floored, celebrating a sound so completely novel, while others were upset with Dylan’s abandonment of traditional folk.
Commercially successful, the album peaked at number 3 on the US Billboard 200, and number 4 on the UK album charts and was soon certified gold. Interestingly though, it didn’t reach platinum status until the 1990s.
The album was recorded in two blocks of sessions. The first block in mid-June of 1965 with Tom Wilson, resulting I the legendary song “Like a Rolling Stone.” In July Dylan performed his famously controversial electric set at the Newport Folk Festival where some of the crowd booed his performance. Following this performance, Dylan retuned to recording this time w/ Bob Johnson.
Thomas Wilson was producer on “Like A Rolling Stone” only. He also worked w/ The Mothers of Invention, The Velvet Underground, Eric Burdon & The Animals, and Simon & Garfunkel among others.
Bob Johnson gets producer credit on rest of album. Johnson is a legendary producer that has worked with the likes of Johnny Cash (Folsom Prison and San Quentin recordings et al.), Leonard Cohen, The Byrds, Marty Robbins, and Simon & Garfunkel (Sounds of Silence, Parsley, Sage, Rosemary and Thyme) in addition to Dylan. In addition to Highway 61, he also produced Blonde on Blonde, John Wesley Harding, and Nashville Skyline among others.
Both sessions were recorded at Columbia Studio A on Seventh Avenue in New York June-early August, 1965.
With Dylan being so revered at this point, many accomplished musicians appeared on album. Some of these include:
Mike Bloomfield, a famous 60s blues guitarist, was ranked number 22 on Rolling Stone’s “100 Greatest Guitarists of All Time.” He is in both the Blues Hall of Fame and Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame. Played in Paul Butterfield Blues Band, has several solo releases and played with Muddy Waters and Janis Joplin among others.
Charles McCoy was an admired country guitarist that also played with Johnny Cash and Elvis Presley. He regularly appeared on Hee Haw.
Paul Griffin, a well respected studio pianist, played with many well-known artists, including Steely Dan, Don McLean (notably on “American Pie”), John Denver, Van Morrison, and Dizzy Gillespie. He also arranged the soundtrack for 1979 move, The Warriors.
Al Kooper was a producer and also the founder of Blood, Sweat and Tears. His organ riff on “Like A Rolling Stone” was totally improvised.
Harvey Brooks, a studio jazz bassist, played with the Doors and Miles Davis in addition to Dylan.
Drummers include Bobby Gregg and Sam Lay, who had worked with Simon & Garfunkel, John Cale, Hawlin’ Wolf, and Muddy Waters. Bobby Gregg was also a member of The Band.
Dylan played acoustic guitar, harmonica and some piano.
Dylan is purported to have performed “Like a Rolling Stone” more than 2000 times in concert.
Dylan has eleven Grammy Awards, one Academy Award (original song “Things Have Changed” on Wonder Boys soundtrack), and one Golden Globe Award (same song/movie).
Dylan was inducted into the Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame in 1988. Bruce Springsteen performed the induction speech.
Awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the country’s highest civilian honor, by Barak Obama in 2012. Obama stated that there was, “not a bigger giant in the history of American Music.”