The Rewind Button is a group blogging project that I’m participating in. We’re taking on Rolling Stone‘s Top 40 albums of all time and writing our own reviews of them. There will be a new album and review each Thursday.
Jonah Lehrer shares a great story in his latest book, Imagine: How Creativity Works, about Bob Dylan. Lehrer tells us that after months of grueling touring, Dylan vows to give up making and playing music. He leaves for upstate New York to relax and write a book. However, once he’s away from all life’s pressures, a sense of urgency comes over him to write. He immediately dictates what comes to mind, later claiming it was like word vomiting. After writing for hours, he had “Like a Rolling Stone” completed. A few days later, he’s back in New York, recording the song quickly and cementing his status as America’s premier troubadour.
Listening to Highway 61 Revisited is like attending a fun party. I feel like I’ve stepped sober into a room full of people dancing, smoking, drinking and fondling. It’s how I image the late 1960s were for free-spirited individuals. The energy is attractive, and even if I don’t quite understand the party’s whys or whats, I’m willing to stay until the end.
Listening to this album is also like taking a road trip. Yes, maybe the title is playing a bit into that feeling, but it’s the rolling aspect of the music that lends itself to this feeling. Most of the songs are bluesy stomps touching on America’s current collective psych in 1965. It’s interesting that the top five albums on Rolling Stone‘s list were all released between 1965 and 1969. Does that mean the late 1960s were rock and pop music’s golden age? Highway 61 Revisited makes a compelling argument that yes it was.
You have Dylan releasing this album, followed later in the year by The Beatles’ Rubber Soul, then Pet Sounds by the Beach Boys in response to Rubber Soul, followed by Dylan’s Blonde on Blonde, then the one-two punch of Revolver and Sgt. Pepper’s. If the 1960s weren’t the golden age, it was at least a time of great conversation among artists, framed in musical responses. This is something sorely lacking in today’s musical landscape (well, actually, hip-hop is carrying on this tradition).
Dylan’s genius was instigating this one-upmanship, and he achieved this by not settling for the status quo. Sure, he could have carried on the folk path, playing sold-out shows night after night. But he realized that his art (and his physical and mental health) was suffering because of this. He had to break free, get away, and just chill out for a bit. And by doing so, he gifted so many other artists.
Maybe I’m giving Dylan too much credit. Perhaps he just wanted to relax and not try so hard. Maybe he just wanted to rock out for once. Either way, purposeful or by accident, Highway 61 Revisited started a musical movement we have yet to witness on the same depth and intellect again.
Please visit these other blogs participating in The Rewind Button project: