Two weeks ago, 15 of Bob Dylan’s finest albums were released on Super Audio CDs, remastered and even repackaged with each record’s original artwork. Just what the world needs, right? The new technology provides a high-resolution, multi-channel surround sound — so it indeed sounds superb. But who requires highly-resolved 0s and 1s to enjoy Dylan? Of course the albums sound better than normal CDs, but the best part of these albums is still Mr. Dylan. If you don’t know these records, the reissues are an excellent way to get to know him. And the music is in surround sound!
The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan (1963): This was Mr. Zimmerman’s second record (his debut was self-titled) but his first of all original songs. It’s got “Blowin’ in the Wind,” the best folk song ever written, and “Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right,” most definitely the best breakup song. His guitar playing on both is just beautiful. “A Hard Rain’s a-Gonna Fall” and “Masters of War” are both haunting predictions of a nuclear holocaust.
Another Side of Bob Dylan (1964): Here Dylan sticks with the poet-with-his-guitar-and-harmonica formula. In “Don’t Look Back,” Yale professor D.A. Pennebaker’s documentary of the 1965 tour supporting this and his next record, Dylan gave the advice: “Keep a good head and always carry a light bulb.” Right. “To Ramona” is maybe one of the saddest love songs ever written, and “Spanish Harlem Incident” is the sweetest. Last year, he played “My Back Pages” in Hartford, a song he wrote when he was 22 about being an old man. Trippy.
Bringing It All Back Home (1965): Parts of this album are electric, which people took as his abandonment of the folk music world. He was even booed off the stage of the 1965 Newport Folk Festival when he first played live with a rock ‘n’ roll band. “Subterranean Homesick Blues” is the opening song, and when I was 12 I knew a really cool kid who knew all the lyrics. “Mr. Tambourine Man” is a song about trying to find drugs late at night, and, not to mention, it was covered by Sonny and Cher.
Highway 61 Revisited (1965): “Ballad of a Thin Man” is the best rock ‘n’ roll song ever written; “Desolation Row” is the best folk song ever written. This is Dylan’s best album.
Nashville Skyline (1969): This is a country record, and a very good one. “Country Pie” is a markedly dirty song (he sings “Oh me oh my/ Love that country pie” four times), and Dylan sounds oddly froggy singing it. The album was recorded in Nashville with a bunch of session musicians, not to mention Johnny Cash singing harmony on “Girl of the North Country.” When he died, Dylan wrote, “Johnny was and is the North Star.”
Blood On The Tracks (1975): I don’t like this album as much as other people to seem to, though I love the song “Simple Twist of Fate.” I think people like the record so much because it was a return to form for Dylan, who had fought a heroin addiction for half of the ’70s.
Desire (1976): This has the overrated “Hurricane” and the underrated “Isis.” The album has Emmylou Harris singing backup, which sounds beautiful under Dylan’s tired vocal chords, and a violin player that plays annoyingly often.
Oh Mercy (1989): Produced by Daniel Lanois, this album is eerie and dark but just as good as anything else. Check out “Political World” and “Everything Is Broken.”