If you’ve been around a radio, turntable, CD or 8-track player that functionally operates in the last five decades, you know Bob Dylan’s impact on music is immeasurable.
Over the course of his career, the songwriter has wowed listeners with decade-defining singles (“The Times They Are A-Changin’,” “Just Like a Woman”), timeless albums and notably potent lyrics. In celebration of the release of Dylan’s 35th studio album, Tempest, we’re taking a look at our favorite albums.
Oh Mercy saw the re-emergence of Dylan as a darling among critics in the late ‘80s, although that might not have been the case without producer Daniel Lanois, best known for his work on U2’s The Joshua Tree. Lanois’ schedule-free, unconventional sessions lead to a sonically intriguing record that still brings Dylan’s songwriting to the foreground, and it only takes a listen to “Political World” or “Most of the Time” to showcase Lanois’ impact on the legend.
Following on the heels of two critically acclaimed albums, Love and Theft and Time Out of Mind, Dylan delivered once again with Modern Times. After stepping up as producer under his preferred “Jack Frost” pseudonym, Dylan again relied on a palette of bluesy slide guitars and a country-flavored backline. Dylan gets back to the basics for this album, but Modern Times’ 10 tracks don’t ever feel like they could be tagged as just throwbacks.—Taylor Evans
Love and Theft begins and ends with worlds ending. “Tweedle Dee & Tweedle Dum” concludes with a man dying in a Mardi Gras like party, while “Sugar Baby” ends with the potential of death from a broken heart. On Dylan’s 31st album, released on Sept. 11, 2001, Dylan explores death plenty. But there’s still a sense of optimism, and the proof is that he’s still tinkering around with his style after all these years. Love and Theft is both predictable and completely surprising. It features all the characters and signature Dylan vocal stylings that is to be expected, but songs like “Honest With Me” and the fascinating shifting pace of “Cry a While” show that not only does Dylan have a lot of life left in him and his music, but that he’s still releasing some of his best music.—Ross Bonaime
Dylan took a lengthy hiatus following a near-fatal motorcycle accident in 1966, and out of it came the whimsically laid-back John Wesley Harding. He followed it up in 1969 with Nashville Skyline, which saw Dylan mellowing out even further and taking his most countrified approach to songwriting. On the heartbreaking leadoff track, “Girl From The North Country,” Johnny Cash joins Dylan for a strange but beautifully pastoral duet about a lost love. The forlorn “I Threw It All Away” and sublime “Lay Lady Lay” continue to fill in love’s spectrum of emotions, while songs like “Peggy Day” and “Country Pie” take a more spirited and carefree approach to country living.—Ryan Bort
When psychedelic rock was taking over pop culture, Dylan released John Welsey Harding. The album was named after a 19th-century outlaw that killed a man over a game of craps, and that wasn’t the only thing that made it a far cry from mainstream pop. After changing his sound to electric rock on his previous three albums, Dylan returned to his acoustic folk roots. This album proved that Dylan didn’t need to conform to what was popular to make great music.—Laura Flood
?It’s perhaps one of Dylan’s more collaborative albums, but that doesn’t make Desire any less focused. With Emmylou Harris and bassist Rob Stoner making appearances on the album, we still see classic Dylan shining through on timeless tracks like the driving “Hurricane” and the slow-burning “One More Cup of Coffee.”—Taylor Evans
If Bringing It All Back Home was the bridge to the electric masterpieces Highway 61 Revisited and Blonde On Blonde, then Another Side of Bob Dylan was the all-important first step. Still working within the folk framework as a solo performer, Dylan abandons his ultra-serious politics for some of the most personal, humorous, poetic and heartbreakingly vulnerable songs in his catalog. Recorded in just one night in the summer of 1964, Another Side offers a rare snapshot of the still-developing young artist beginning to find a voice of his own with impressive clarity. This allowed the singer/songwriter to shed his persona, start anew and evolve. As he recites “I was so much older then/I’m younger than that now” in centerpiece “My Back Pages,” no other album showcases Dylan in such youthful anticipation for his whirlwind prime.—Zachary Philyaw
After spending much of the 1980s struggling to clearly define a musical identity, Dylan returned to the studio with Time Out of Mind, and it was his triumphant return to form. The album went on to win three Grammy Awards, including Album of the Year in 1998. Coming in the subsequent years following Dylan’s well-documented creative crisis during which he questioned his ability to create songs worthy of releasing to the public, the album was a strong commercial success and helped solidify Dylan’s rightful place among the world’s best musicians.
The songs are as raw and emotional as the country was during the early ‘60s. The Times They Are A-Changin’ reflects the world in which it was written. There arrangements are not in a neat package and the lyrics are as honest as they are disturbing. Dylan’s album describes the true emotion of the ‘60s without sugar-coating events many would rather forget. Like most pieces of great art, The Times They Are A Changing is a very detailed, emotive snapshot of tough times.—Laura Flood
After Dylan’s infamous motorcycle accident in 1967, the singer went into seclusion in the Woodstock area of New York. The members of his recent touring band, The Hawks (later to become better known as The Band), joined him shortly thereafter, and the group of musicians began writing and recording the music that would eventually become The Basement Tapes. Bob Dylan & The Band recorded over 100 tracks during this time, and while most of them circulated for years on bootleg recordings, it wasn’t until 1975 that they were officially released. The album is notable for its sound, which was a distinct turn away from the type of songwriting Dylan had been exploring on Blonde on Blonde and Highway 61 Revisited. The music on The Basement Tapes is characterized by its roots or Americana feel—a stark contrast to the trends of rock music at the time. When everyone else was infusing rock music with psychedelia or using every nook and cranny of the recording studio to create complex production work, Dylan & The Band sent the music world for a loop by going down into the basement and embracing traditional American stylings. You can always count on Dylan to do the exact opposite of what is expected of him.—Wyndham Wyeth
Over the course of his five-decades-long career, the songwriter has wowed listeners with decade-defining singles (“The Times They Are A-Changin’,” “Just Like a Woman”), timeless albums and notably potent lyrics. In celebration of the release of Dylan’s 35th studio album, Tempest, we’re taking a look at our favorite albums. You can weigh in on your own favorites in the comment box below.
Filled with rollicking dream-like lyricism and electrified instrumentation, 1965’s Bringing It All Back Home is an album that sees Dylan letting his imagination run wild. Though songs like “Bob Dylan’s 115th Dream” and “Subterranean Homesick Blues” are filled with rapid-fire nonsense illustrating all of the distractions and influences inherent in modern society, the album’s last four songs—”Mr. Tambourine Man,” “Gates of Eden,” “It’s Alright Ma (I’m Only Bleeding)” and “It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue”—contain some of the most thoughtful, poetic and vividly imagined lyrics in Dylan’s entire catalog.—Ryan Bort
With good reason, Bob Dylan is most revered for his nearly unparalleled streak of legendary albums in the 1960s (including 1963’s The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan, 1965’s Highway 61 Revisited and 1966’s Blonde on Blonde), but he saved arguably his finest album ever until 1975, making one of rock ’n’ roll’s most jaw-dropping comebacks with the striking, emotional Blood on the Tracks. Despite being recorded in a ridiculous 10 days (barring a last-minute re-tracking of a few songs), the album remains Dylan’s warmest, richest recording—loads of purring organs, shuffling acoustics and soulful rhythm sections. But as always with Dylan albums, it’s the words that steal the show, particularly on the bitter epic “Idiot Wind” and the haunting, uplifting “Tangled Up in Blue.” Rock’s most critically acclaimed troubadour kept on releasing wonderful albums after Blood on the Tracks—but he never topped it.—Ryan Reed
After going electric and releasing two records full of raving existentialism and subversive societal commentary in Bringing It All Back Home and Highway 61 Revisited, Dylan took a broader, more tender approach to his 1966 double album Blonde on Blonde. Though still rife with surreal imagery, the album tackles more love-centric themes with songs such as “Visions of Johanna,” “I Want You” and “Absolutely Sweet Marie.” This was also Dylan’s first album recording with Robbie Robertson of The Band, and with John Wesley Harding and Nashville Skyline to follow, Blonde on Blonde would signal Dylan’s transition into more laid-back, country-inspired material.—Ryan Bort
Bob Dylan’s second album, Freewheelin’, came out in 1963 right at the beginning of his career. Even though he’s gone on to write literally thousands of great songs since then, nothing has ever surpassed the sincerity and passion the 21- year-old musician poured into every track on the record. With songs like “Blowin’ in the Wind,” “Girl From North Country,” “Masters of War,” and “Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right” that are still in Dylan’s set list nearly half a century later, Freewheelin is an album whose music will outlive everyone who’s reading this.—Doug Heselgrave
Highway 61, much like the thoroughfare that stretches from Dylan’s native Minnesota and follows the Mississippi down to New Orleans from which it takes its name, represents a certain musical journey. While Highway 61 is the route the delta blues took to travel north, Highway 61 is Bob Dylan’s path to the stratosphere. It’s the logical next step after Bringing It All Back Home, expanding upon the electric sounds he played with on that record. But—more importantly—it’s Dylan in top form, perhaps the first time he truly successfully paired his unparalleled lyricism (see dynamite lines like “dropping a barbell, he points to the sky, saying ‘the sun’s not yellow, it’s chicken’” off of “Tombstone Blues”) with that rock ‘n’ roll music the kids were getting into. The result is some of ol’ Robert Zimmerman’s finest material, including the title track, “Desolation Row,” “It Takes A Lot To Laugh, It Takes A Train to Cry,” and of course, his masterpiece, “Like A Rolling Stone.” So, “how does it feel”? Pretty damn good.—Bonnie Stiernberg