Now that I am more than two years into my Dylan journey, I thought it was time to post my list of Top Ten Favorite Bob Dylan Albums.
I must clarify that these are my top ten FAVORITE Dylan albums, not the top ten GREATEST Dylan albums. I do not think I can answer the question, “What is the greatest Dylan album?” Or “What is the top ten greatest Dylan albums?” Dylan’s music has been woven into the fabric of life and so the “greatest” album is just the one I am listening to today. Hardcore Dylan fans will try to throw me into the debate between Blood on the Tracks (1975) or Blonde on Blonde (1966) as the greatest Dylan album of all times. While I lean towards Blonde on Blonde, I am no where ready to settle that dispute.
There is also nothing conclusive about a favorite list, because this list would have looked different a year ago and it will look different a year from now, but here is where I am. These are my TOP TEN FAVORITE DYLAN ALBUMS:
1. Bob Dylan Live 1975—The Rolling Thunder Revue (2002)
This is a part of the “Bootleg Series.” This is volume 5 of the bootleg series. It was released in 2002, but recorded live from 1975 when Dylan traveled with the Rolling Thunder Revue, a large, “stadium rock” band including Joan Baez, Roger McGuinn, Ramblin’ Jack Elliott, Kinky Friedman, and Bob Neuwirth. This is my favorite Dylan album because I love his voice on this album the best, and it captures Dylan’s rough rock n’ roll side and his soft folk side. This album never gets old and it is a live recording so you get the energy of a live concert and all the imperfections that make really good music.
2. Bringing it Back Home (1965)
There isn’t a song I don’t like on this album. The best songs are “Subterranean Homesick Blues,” “Maggie’s Farm,” “Mr. Tambourine Man,” & “It’s Alright Ma (I’m Only bleeding).” Certainly one of Dylan’s greatest works; it contains all the imagery, poetry, and melody of a great album. It was also Dylan’s exodus from folk music. It is on this album that Dylan “goes electric.” Funny though, I prefer the acoustic Dylan to the electric Dylan.
3. Time Out of Mind (1997)
This may be my most favorite Dylan album of his later years. Although Time Out of Mind is twelve years old, it captures Dylan’s voice as it is now–cracked, broken, and scarred, but all together delightful. This album went on to win three Grammy awards, including “Album of the Year” in 1998 thanks to the work of producer Daniel Lanois. I listened to this album over and over last summer when I was finishing my book manuscript. If you listen to this album and read Shape Shifters, you may see some Dylan in the book.
4. Blonde on Blonde (1966)
I love the acoustic Bob. I do. But I also love the Bluesy Bob. “Pledging My Time” may be my favorite blues-inspired Dylan song. This album is Dylan’s full-blown departure from the entire folk scene, a departure which prompted the raucous and sloppy “Rainy Day Women #12 & 35.” This album also contains “Visions of Johanna,” one of my favorite Dylan songs; it is poetic and beautiful.
5. The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan (1963)
This is Dylan’s second album, but it was the album that put him on the map as a heavy-hitter in the folk music world. This album contains, “Blowin’ in the Wind,” a Dylan classic. Perhaps his most well-known and most covered song. This is Dylan maybe at his most confident, when everything was going his way. He is also “channeling” Woody Guthrie in songs like “Talkin’ World War III Blues.”
6. Oh Mercy (1989)
When people talk about Dylan’s “Christian” albums they typically do not include Oh Mercy, even though it contains strong Christian messages. It isn’t as “in-your-face-preachy” as some of the songs on Saved. He uses more of a poetic approach to his preaching on this album, but it is just as powerful and just as biblical. This album also convinces me that Dylan never abandoned the Christian faith that he so openly discussed in the late 70s and early 80s.
7. The Times They Are A-Changin’ (1964)
This is Dylan’s third album and it solidified him as “the voice of a generation.” Even though Dylan despised that title, it was true. He was a prophetic voice of his generation and he continues to live on as a bard, a poet/prophet. He told us that the times were a-changin’ and they were. This albums captures Dylan the prophet. Also “Hollis Brown” is the saddest song I have ever heard.
8. Blood on the Tracks (1975)
This album is considered Dylan’s best by many Dylan-aficionados. I enjoy it a great deal. “Meet Me in the Morning” is my second favorite Bluesy Bob song. “Shelter From the Storm” and “Tangled Up in Blue” are great Dylan standards. It is not higher on my list for two reasons. First, I dislike “Lily, Rosemary and the Jack of Hearts.” I dislike this song so much that I normally skip it on my iPod when I am listening to Blood on the Tracks. Second, many of the songs were inspired by Dylan’s recent split from his wife Sara. I am simply not that mad at anyone to really enjoy “Idiot Wind” and I much prefer the live version of “Simple Twist of Fate” when Dylan was playing with the Rolling Thunder Revue.
9. Slow Train Coming (1979)
This was the second Dylan album in my collection. I had it and Saved for years before I really discovered Dylan. Slow Train is Dylan’s confession of faith. His music has often been filled with biblical imagery, but this album is Dylan’s proclamation of faith in Christ. “Gotta Serve Somebody” won Dylan a Grammy for the best rock vocal performance by a male in 1980. “I Believe in You” is a wonderful prayer and remains one of my all-time favorite Dylan songs.
10) MTV Unplugged (1995)
This is another live album. It seems like my #1 & #10 albums are both live. This one was recorded as a part of MTV’s Unplugged series. I like this one because it is Dylan again speaking propheticly, but this time to a new generation. Dylan’s version of “Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door” on this album is my favorite.
Highway 61 Revisited (1965)
This is a great album. No doubt about it. I am not sure why it didn’t make my top ten. True rock connoisseurs look at this album as monumental in the history of rock music. “Like a Rolling Stone” is #1 on Rolling Stone magazine’s 500 greatest songs of all time. “Desolation Row” is a great, great song, although I prefer the live version of this song on MTV Unplugged.
Tell Tale Signs (2008)
These are out-takes and alternative versions of songs that appear on Dylan albums recorded in the 1980s and 1990s. I mention it here, because I have been listening to it a lot because it is the second most recent Dylan album. Good songs on this two disc set. I love the line in “High Water (for Charlie Patton)”: The Cuckoo is a pretty bird, she warbles as she flies / I’m preachin’ the Word of God / I’m puttin’ out your eyes.
Modern Times (2006)
As I plunged myself into this Dylan journey in 2006, I did so with The Essential Bob Dylan (2000), a decent, but incomplete, collection 2-disc set and Modern Times. This album is on par with Time Out of Mind in terms of it’s production quality. Dylan also won a Grammy Award for Best Solo Rock Vocal Performance for the song, “Someday Baby.”
Bonus: The number one Dylan song according to my iTunes “Play Count” is…. “Mr. Tambourine Man” (from Bob Dylan Live 1975). Here is a similar version of that song from 1976–