Blonde On Blonde: Rock’s First Double Album

#3: Blonde On Blonde by Bob Dylan

Blonde On Blonde

Bob Dylan had already been playing his own kind of rock and roll by the time Blonde On Blonde had hit shelves. He was been doing it for an entire half of Bringing It All Back Home and he most of Highway 61 Revisited. The big difference this time around is that he had created the first and perhaps only filler-less double album and perhaps the only straight-ahead pure rock album of his career (his albums afterwards would always be diluted by other influences). Perhaps most importantly the libretto for the album contained 100% accuracy throughout. Bob Dylan was not going to stumble over “lumberjacks when someone attacks your imagination” or the equally cringe-worthy end-rhymed “tax-deductable charity organizations” half-way through and suck all the momentum not only out of the album but de-classic-ify “Ballad Of A Thin Man.”

A couple of concessions need to be made for this album. First of all, the last album had a better opener (the unbeatable “Like A Rolling Stone” which is the greatest rock and roll song of all time) and a better closer, still in his folk vein featuring Charlie McCoy playing perhaps the greatest, most lyrical acoustic lead guitar ever heard on record. What exists in the interim of Blonde On Blonde opposed to Highway 61 Revisited is nevertheless pure stunner. Suddenly the songs were being brought to life by Nashville’s best now that Dylan had followed producer Bob Johnston in a New Yorker hegira to Nashville. No doubt they had that “thin wiry” sound but they were just plain classics. In the heart of country, Bob Dylan would become the ultimate square peg in a round hole.

The second concession is that Bob Dylan had taken in guitarist Robbie Robertson as his lieutenant this time around in lieu of near-virtuoso Mike Bloomfield, who had put in a career-defining performance on Dylan’s last album. What was even more daring was his eschewing of the rest of Robertson’s crack peers, an outfit that later became known as The Band. This group later recorded with Bob Dylan on the most famous bootleg of all time known as The Basement Tapes. Bob Johnston in perhaps his most inspired move, smashed all the clocks. “There ain’t no album can be made under dictation of a clock. I smashed them all!” This is my paraphrase.

The end element of the music, and all that really mattered, is that it worked. The musicians were even more sympathetic to Bob Dylan’s music than ever before (in contrast to the cold fast performances and accompaniment of Bringing It All Back Home) but he had put through true gems in “Visions Of Johanna”, “Fourth Time Around”, “Just Like A Woman”, “I Want You”, “Stuck Inside Of Mobile With The Memphis Blues Again”, the absolutely majestically beautiful “Temporary Like Achilles”, and this was for him was a place where “filler” was a four-letter word.

Bob Dylan’s double-album represents the greatest nexus in which articulate speech meets a nuanced take on rock and roll. To compare it with Sgt. Pepper would almost be unfair, but this album managed to duck the very pretension that created drag for the mentioned album like a parachute deployed too soon. Where the first album on this list finds a rock and roll for adults built by its greatest Byronic anti-hero and the second album represents the single greatest blast a creative force put together, this album is one man hellbent on a masterpiece and almost single-handedly burning down almost everything he built before. He almost blew a gasket on the ensuing tour. All of this adds up Bob Dylan’s definitive statement. Nothing more is needed. So I will say nothing more.

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