There are singers, and there are songwriters. In some cases, an artist can do both really well–they simply have a knack for the business. Today’s featured artist accomplished major things while doing both. However I don’t think anyone would argue his vocals are what made him famous—that is, unless you most recognize his, well, let’s call it “unique” vocal style.
Robert Allen Zimmerman was born in May of 1941. Born into a mix of Ukrainian and Lithuanian families, he grew up in a small community of Jewish people in Duluth, Minnesota. Having a father with polio, Robert spent much of his time listening to the radio as a child, and was greatly influenced by Little Richard and Elvis Presley.
In high school, he was part of a band that exclusively covered those two artists, and Robert got a taste of what it took to be a performer. In 1959 Robert moved to Minneapolis to attend the University of Minnesota. It was there he found folk rock and his career path did a total 180. Instead of rocking out, he was enamored with storytelling and blues. He kicked the Robert Zimmerman persona out of the way and took a new stage name, Bob Dylan.
We’re going to look at Dylan’s sixth studio album, Highway 61 Revisited, which came out in August of 1965. Dylan had a reasonable amount of success prior to this release, but one could argue he just hadn’t truly caught on in the business. His focus prior to this record had almost been exclusively acoustic so he hired rock musicians to back him up for this album.
The title refers to a major U.S. highway that connects his youth of Minnesota to the area of Mississippi known for being the origin of the Delta blues—a genre that deeply influenced his music. Record execs felt the title was boring and confusing, but Dylan insisted on keeping it and expressed the meaning behind it to them. The execs finally relented, and one of the greatest albums in music history was ready to go.
Critics have commented that this album is impossible to understand. But, when you listen to it, you just know it’s great. I think part of that initial confusion was due to the originality of the sound—no one had ever combined the folk revolution and the poetry that makes it great, with southern blues (let alone blues rock).
Because of the visionary nature of the album, it took a little while for folks to appreciate it. Thankfully, the first single release was ‘Like A Rolling Stone,’ which would go on to be one of the most popular singles of all time. The album is credited for changing the way we think about popular music and how we view folk musicians in the mainstream. One publication even has this as the greatest album of all time which is probably the highest praise you can give to a record.
There is so much more that could be said about Highway 61 Revisited and Bob Dylan. I’m hoping that most out there have already been exposed to his style at some point and this is just a quick refresher into how great his music is. Perhaps not vocally on par with the greatest singers of all time, but potentially the best songwriter of all time. And I’m not sure about you, but I’d pay $5 bucks for that every time.
Top 3 Tracks: