Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
Highway 61 Revisited
Highway 61 Revisited was the sixth album released by folk musician Bob Dylan. Highway 61 stretches from New Orleans through Memphis and Chicago through Hibbing, Minnesota all the way to Canada. Dylan, from Hibbing, borrows liberally from Mississippi blues in this album. Dylan grew up in a small Minnesota town, and was inundated as a youth with jazz and blues music coming from the south, from Highway 61. The album peaked at #3 on Billboard's Pop Albums chart, while the single "Like a Rolling Stone" peaked at #2 on the Pop Singles chart.
Robert Shelton, a Dylan biographer, said: "Highway 61 became I think to him a symbol of freedom, a symbol of movement, a symbol of independence and a chance to get away from a life he didn't want in that town." 1 Bessie Smith, the blues singer, died on Highway 61, while Elvis Presley grew up in housing projects along it and Martin Luther King, Jr. was shot on Highway 61.
Perhaps most importantly, this is Bob Dylan's second album with electric songs on it, and many argue it is the first inkling that Dylan understood rock and was able to make it his own, as shown by "Tombstone Blues" and "Like a Rolling Stone".
In 1965, Bob Dylan had alienated a large portion of his fan base after switching to an electric guitar at the Newport Folk Festival. He was accused of selling out his folk music for rock and roll, which was considered immature and low music in comparison. Dylan released a philosophically- and politically-aware, existential album, Highway 61 Revisited, to prove that rock could also be poetry, and could be intelligent and timely.
Dylan's next album, Blonde on Blonde, is usually considered his magnum opus; Highway 61 Revisited is similar, but is generally considered less mature and developed in comparison.
The music from this album is perhaps his most distinctively 'Dylanesque'. The jangling, fast-paced piano/organ/guitar music overlaid with surreal, rhyme-a-minute lyrics, is the sound many casual fans instinctively identify with Dylan (though in fact his music has varied quite considerably over his long career). The piano/organ/guitar combination was not original; it came from The Hawks, and before them, from black and white southern Protestant churches.
Lyrically, Dylan was unusual for his time in that his songs had deep political and symbolic meaning. Highway 61 Revisited is perhaps the best example of this. Each song is Dylan's vision of a corrupt society head towards chaos and distress. "Desolation Row", the epic final track, is an excellent example of Dylan's vision of the future for human society. The first verse introduces the vision:
- "They're selling postcards of the hanging/They're painting the passports brown/The beauty parlor is filled with sailors/The circus is in town/Here comes the blind commissioner/They've got him in a trance/One hand is tied to the tight-rope walker/The other is in his pants/And the riot squad they're restless/They need somewhere to go/As Lady and I look out tonight/From Desolation Row"
"Like a Rolling Stone" was a landmark single when originally released. Singles were, at the time, universally no more than three minutes long; it was believed that listeners did not want anything longer. "Like a Rolling Stone" is six minutes and thirteen seconds, and was then and now a huge hit; it is often listed as one of the greatest rock and roll songs.
Highway 61 Revisited was a major work in the development of rock and roll because it proved that rock could be lyrical poetry, and could be intelligent and perceptive and deliver a message. In contrast, few other records released before 1965 included any deep or extremely meaningful lyrics outside of the context of romance or teenaged life. Contrast this with Pet Sounds or the collected works of Chuck Berry, Jackie Wilson or Elvis Presley, for example.
Several different versions of this album exist.
- The original mono,
- the original stereo,
- an alternate version with "From a Buick 6 " replaced by a different take.
This album is, to some extent, an exploration of the different types of American music. blues, soul, folk, country and rock and roll were each transmitted, at least partially, along the length of highway 61. Musically, this album was influenced by the blues musicians (Bessie Smith, Leadbelly, Muddy Waters, Robert Johnson and John Lee Hooker), as well as folk (Woody Guthrie, Pete Seeger, Joan Baez), soul (Jackie Wilson, James Brown, Ray Charles, Sam Cooke), country (Hank Williams, Johnny Cash, Merle Haggard, Buck Owens) and rock and roll (Buddy Holly, Little Richard, Jerry Lee Lewis).
Highway 61 Revisited is one of the most important albums of Dylan's career. As the first album of electrified, cohesive rock-folk music, it has had an effect on countless musicians since then. Most immediately came other bands that combined rock with twanging folk (The Band - Music from Big Pink - 1968; Buffalo Springfield - Buffalo Springfield - 1967) and activist lyrics (Jim Croce - You Don't Mess Around with Jim - 1972, Phil Ochs - Pleasures of the Harbor - 1967), honky tonk and Bakersfield country (The Byrds - The Ballad of Easy Rider - 1969) and the electric blues (The Beatles - The White Album - 1968; The Rolling Stones - Aftermath - 1966). The intelligent and witty lyrics influenced the revolution in musical subject matter in the late 1960s, thereby affecting later musicians like politically aware funk, such as Funkadelic (One Nation Under a Groove - 1978) or Parliament (Motor Booty Affair - 1978), the revolutionary lyrics of punk music and proto-punk, such as The Clash (London Calling - 1979), David Bowie (Diamond Dogs - 1974) and Elvis Costello (My Aim Is True - 1977), and the grimy, urban tales of Bruce Springsteen & the E-Street Band (Greetings From Asbury Park, N.J. - 1973) as well as the singer/songwriter genre of the early 1970s (Carole King - Tapestry - 1971; James Taylor - Sweet Baby James - 1970; Jackson Browne - Jackson Browne - 1972). The effects of the album can still be seen thirty years after its release in the aware lyrics of Nirvana (In Utero - 1993) and System of a Down (Toxicity - 2001).
In 1998 Q magazine readers voted Highway 61 Revisited the 57th greatest album of all time; in 2003 the TV network VH1 placed it at number 22. Rolling Stone magazine placed it at number 4 on its list of the greatest albums of all-time.
All songs written by Bob Dylan.
- "Like a Rolling Stone"
- "Tombstone Blues"
- "It Takes a Lot to Laugh, It Takes a Train To Cry"
- "From a Buick 6"
- "Ballad of a Thin Man"
- "Queen Jane Approximately"
- "Highway 61 Revisited" (see below)
- "Just Like Tom Thumb's Blues"
- "Desolation Row"
- Michael Bloomfield - Guitar
- Harvey Brooks - Bass
- Bob Dylan - Guitar, Harmonica, Piano, Keyboards, Sound effects, Vocals, Liner notes
- Harvey Goldstein - Bass
- Bobby Gregg - Drums
- Paul Griffin - Organ, Piano, Keyboards
- Bob Johnston - Producer
- Al Kooper - Organ, Guitar, Piano, Horn, Keyboards
- Sam Lay - Drums
- Charlie McCoy - Guitar, Harmonica
- Frank Owens - Piano
- Russ Savakus - Bass
- Tom Wilson - Producer
- Bob Johnston - Producer
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