Released mere months after his last album, Bringing It All Back Home, 1965 saw Bob Dylan issue one of his seminal albums in Highway 61 Revisited. Though the album is not chock-a-block with Dylan hits, it is widely regarded as one of the greatest records ever made. Recording took place in two blocks with the first being in mid June and the second in late July. In between recordings is the infamous electric set that took place at that year’s Newport Folk Festival which was a signal of what was to come.
Recording with a band on virtually every track for the first time in his career, Hwy 61 often has the feeling of a great band swinging behind Dylan with their heads down while he presents his vignettes. With six verses in six minutes, “Tombstone Blues” is a sped up number where “mama’s in the factory, she ain’t got no shoes”. The mysterious and atmospheric “Ballad of a Thin Man” questions that, “something is happening here/but ya don’t know what it is/do you, Mr. Jones?”
With the accompanying band, organ and piano play a key role on several tracks. “Queen Jane Approximately” has great piano/organ lines courtesy of Al Kooper and Paul Griffin. While Hwy 61 references the road that travels from his old home in Minnesota through to New Orleans, “Just Like Tom Thumb’s Blues” first line, “When you’re lost in the rain in Jarez” shows we’re not in Duluth anymore. The album is bookended by two epic tracks, the last being “Desolation Road”. The eleven minute song is the only one delivered here acoustically and touches on historical figures of Einstein and Cinderella among a cavalcade of others.
The most famous song on the album is the first track, “Like a Rolling Stone”. Introduced by it’s instantly recognizable drum shot from Bobby Gregg. The song is also musically notable for it’s improvised organ riff courtesy of Al Kooper. The celebratory chorus sees Dylan ask several times, “How does it feel?”. It’s a song that is near impossible not to get swept away in. By 1965, Bob Dylan had already released a couple classic albums but in Highway 61 Revisited, he released an album that blasted him past rock and roll luminaries who had to quickly accelerate just to keep up.