Warehouse Eyes Overview
A synoptic look at the recorded work of Bob Dylan containing links to an
in-depth evaluation of each of his albums. Click on the album title for a review of that album or here for an overview of all the greatest hits albums.


gerdes folk city
A young Dylan performing
at Gerde's Folk City in 1961

Now into his fifth decade as a recording artist, we have seen many faces of Bob Dylan. From his frankly unremarkable debut album "Bob Dylan" in 1962 to his creative renaissance over the last few years his career has seen as many wonderful highs as it has dismal lows. Of the thirteen tracks on his eponymous first album only two were written by Dylan himself, the poignant "Song to Woody" and the bitingly funny "Talkin' New York," but they gave us a taste of what was to come. By the time "Freewheelin'" was released less than a year later the twenty-one year old Dylan was becoming a well known figure in the folk cafes of New York, and this largely self-penned album was creating interest, but Dylan was already beginning to outgrow his roots. Eight months later saw the release of "The Times They Are A-Changin'" Dylan's first overtly political album, in which he tackled many social and political issues of the day and acquired his "protest singer" tag.

A change of focus brought "Another Side of Bob Dylan," which would be his last acoustic set for some twenty-eight years. It was recorded quickly and Dylan's almost cursory approach seems to suggest that he was ready for a bigger challenge. However, stand-out tracks include "Chimes of Freedom" and "It Ain't me Babe."

recording studio 1965
Recording "Bringing It All Back Home" - New York 1965

The mid sixties saw Dylan hit his first creative peak with three ground breaking albums in an astonishing fourteen month period. His writing was his best ever, his voice still had its arrogant potency and if there was a cooler person on the planet no one was telling Bob Dylan.   "Bringing It All Back Home" (March 1966) was a major work of experimentation. The second side (or last four tracks for the CD generation) is a mini masterpiece, containing of course the classic "Mr Tambourine Man."   "Highway 61 Revisited" (August 1965) is regarded by many as one of the classic rock albums of all time. What more can be said about an album that opens with "Like a Rolling Stone" and closes with "Desolation Row"?   Last but by no means least "Blonde on Blonde," a double album of almost seventy five minutes duration, fourteen quintessential Dylan songs and an amazing sound that brought the whole thing together.

However, the punishing life style was beginning to take its toll. Constant touring, writing, recording and his abuse of drugs and alcohol could well have seen his career cut tragically short.   In July of 1966, at the end of the controversial "electric" tour, a motorcycle accident (the severity of which differs according to who you believe) forced him to slow down. He did not release an official album until two years later, although time would show that these were not wasted years (CBS consequently released the first "Greatest Hits" album during these years)."John Wesley Harding" is I believe one of Dylan's most underrated albums. Bucking the psychedelic trend of the times it is a deeply spiritual album, in many ways more so than "Slow Train Coming," the album that brought the knives out twelve years later. JWH was followed a few months later by "Nashville Skyline," the kindest way to describe that would be that it was "different." The track "Lay Lady Lay" was reportedly written for John Schlesinger's movie "Midnight Cowboy" but was not finished in time and had to be replaced with Fred Neil's "Everybody's Talkin'."

country bob
Dylan in 1968 outside his Byrdcliff, Woodstock home

Dylan then hit an artistic low point (unfortunately not his lowest) with the risible "Self Portrait." Cobbled together from out-takes, covers and four live tracks from his recent Isle of Wight appearance, its a mystery to most people how this double album ever saw the light of day. The rush release of "New Morning" a mere four months later suggests that Dylan (or CBS) felt the same. Although by no means a classic Dylan album, it helped to re-establish his credibility as a serious artist.

A long wait of two and a half years for Dylan's next official album resulted in CBS plugging the gap with a second greatest hits album "Greatest Hits Vol 2." This was a double album that contained a previously unreleased live version of "Tomorrow is a Long Time."   July 1973 saw the release of the next album, it was the soundtrack to Sam Peckinpah's "Pat Garrett & Billy the Kid" in which Dylan himself played the part of a character called "Alias."   The album was seen as something of a disappointment, however it did produce one of Dylan's most well-known and enduring songs "Knockin' on Heaven's Door."  That same year David Geffen managed to poach Dylan from CBS and they responded by releasing "Dylan," an album of poor quality out-takes and studio run throughs. It was a spiteful move that resulted in the Asylum release of "Planet Waves" early in 1974. This was a strong album, and many saw it as a return to form with songs such as "Forever Young," two versions of which appear on the album and which was to become a concert standard for many years. Prior to releasing the album, Dylan announced that he was going on the road for the first time since 1966. 658,000 tickets for forty concerts in twenty one cities went on sale and estimates of applications were as high as twelve million according to promoter Bill Graham. The resulting double album, "Before the Flood" was Dylan's second for Asylum and his first official live album. Unfortunately, the majority of the material on the album was taken from the final shows in Los Angeles when the tour had passed its peak, and there is very little subtlety in Dylan's approach to some of his classic songs. However, it is interesting as a chronicle of the tour.

with emmylou harris
With Emylou Harris during the recording of "Desire"

Re-signing to CBS, Dylan released "Blood on the Tracks" early in 1975 marking a career high equal to the one of ten years earlier. Domestic upheaval and subsequent divorce proceedings got his creative juices flowing, although he denied that many of the songs on the album were as personal as most people took them to be. He followed this with "Desire," an equally strong album partially inspired by boxer Rubin Hurricane Carter, for whom Dylan wrote the song "Hurricane." Carter was serving a life sentence for murder. Songwriter and producer Jacques Levy co-wrote many of the songs on the album, the first time Dylan had collaborated with anyone in his career, and it became his biggest selling album to date. Sandwiched between these two great albums is "The Basement Tapes," a double album of material recorded by Dylan with The Band during his recuperation from his accident. Recorded supposedly in the basement of the Band's house (The Big Pink of their debut album title) these songs were possibly not meant for official release. They did however provide rich pickings for cover artists.

The "Rolling Thunder Revue" was an idea that Dylan had been kicking around for some time. Using the nucleus of the "Desire" crew and a whole host of names from the current music scene, this travelling circus hit the road playing smaller venues around New England and Canada.

baez guthrie elliot
Rolling Thunder pit stop with Joan Baez, Arlo Guthrie and Ramblin' Jack Elliot
The revue culminated in a benefit concert for Carter in Madison Square Garden on December 8th 1975. Rolling Thunder spawned a TV special, a live album "Hard Rain," and was the basis for Dylan's strange movie "Ronaldo and Clara," which has been shown in various edits over the years to an increasingly bewildered public. The album was an adequate though not great record of the tour, the TV special (same name, different track list) was better. A second version of the revue was mounted in 1976 but the impetus had been lost, and it was a pale imitation of the first. Carter was granted a re-trial and was again found guilty, he was eventually released in 1985.

In 1978 Dylan toured the far east and played a series of concerts at the Budokan the famous concert venue in Tokyo. A double live album "Bob Dylan Live at Budokan" released that year showed Dylan in great voice rearranging many of his classic songs. Later that same year saw the release of "Street Legal," using the same musicians that he had used on tour. Lyrically the album was close to being a masterpiece with strong and complex writing, but it suffered badly from poor production. It was however very well received.

1980
Dylan onstage towards the end of his Christian period

Bob Dylan has had many changes of direction over the years, but perhaps the biggest and most surprising was his conversion to Christianity and the subsequent "Slow Train Coming" album in 1979. It was not very well received at the time, but today it stands out as one of the jewels in Dylan's crown. Strong writing and committed delivery from Dylan; masterful production from veteran Jerry Wexler and use of some of the best session men around (including members of British band "Dire Straits") all helped to make this a tour de force. He followed it with "Saved," an out and out gospel album that was even less well received, and his stage shows at this time consisted purely of religious material and lengthy sermons. Ironically, some of these shows were among the best of his career. A year later, with the release of "Shot of Love" (with possibly the worst album cover in Dylan's entire catalogue) religious obsession seemed to be waning. It was a patchy album, but it did contain "Every Grain of Sand," one of the strongest vocal performances he has ever recorded. For his next album Dylan turned again to Mark Knopfler of Dire Straits for production, as he needed somebody in touch with modern recording technology and Knopfler is certainly a product of the digital age. "Infidels" is credited as a co-production that would have been a better album if Dylan had not tinkered with the track listing and had allowed Knopfler to finish the mix. The almost criminal omission of "Blind Willie McTell" and "Foot of Pride" resulted in it not being the album it could (and should) have been. Fortunately both of these songs were made available at a later stage.

Dylan toured Europe in 1984 playing in huge arenas, and "Real Live" was the obligitary live album that followed the tour. As with "Before the Flood", the wrong shows were chosen to record and the resulting album gave little or no indication of the quality of Dylan's live work.

1985 saw the start of a four year low in the recording history of Bob Dylan. The album that began this unhappy chain of events was "Empire Burlesque" which Dylan hired Arthur Baker to produce (or in this case over produce). Baker had worked with Bruce Springsteen among others, and was thought of as the man of the moment, but his eighties production approach was not suited to Dylan. The high point of the album, "When the Night Comes Falling From the Sky" is an example of less being more, made worse by the ridiculous video that accompanied it. Dylan has never been at home in the music video medium and it shows on this and the other videos from this album.

80's bob
Dylan's 1980's look - a trendy pop star

"Biograph," a five album retrospective of Dylan's back catalogue was released in November 1985. Along with already available material, it contained many previously unreleased songs and alternate or live versions of others. It was surprisingly popular in America where it became only the second such collection to be awarded a gold disc (the first being an eight record collection "Elvis Aaron Presley," released five years earlier). It was evident from "Knocked Out Loaded," the next official album, that Dylan was struggling with his writing. Just about everything from the dreadful title to the uninspired content made this one of Dylan's real bombs. Comprised mainly of studio leftovers and hastily written filler, only "Brownsville Girl" saved it from going straight to obscurity. Dylan had been working on this song (co written with friend Sam Shepherd) for a while, under the working title "New Danville Girl," and the version that appears on the album is sublime. There was talk at the time of turning it into a movie, but as with "Lily, Rosemary and the Jack of Hearts" from "Blood on the Tracks," this never happened.

Things went from bad to worse with the release of "Down in the Groove" some eighteen months later. Writing (such as it is), song selection and all round lack of interest make this a really awful record. Some people referred to it as "Self Portrait#2" but where that album had generated some interest (albeit negative) this had the ignominy of being virtually ignored. As sad as this state of affairs was for someone of Dylan's talent, it is astonishing to realise that this was not his worst album! That dubious distinction must go to "Dylan and the Dead," the absolute nadir of his recording career. Dylan had toured with the Grateful Dead early in 1987, they played six shows together and if this chronicle (released in 1989) is anything to go by it was six too many.  The fact that Dylan himself picked the tracks for this abomination can only make one wonder as to the quality of the material that was rejected.

copenhagen 1987
Onstage in Copenhagen 1987 - the year before The Neverending Tour began

Some degree of sanity returned with the release of "Oh Mercy" in September 1989, thanks in no small part to producer Daniel Lanois, renowned for his work with U2, Peter Gabriel and Robbie Robertson. Dylan was in fine voice and his quality of writing had improved dramatically. Songs like "Most of the Time" and "Shooting Star" proved that in his late forties he could still cut it. Seeming to be on something of a roll, Dylan put out "Under the Red Sky" less than a year later, bringing in Don Was to produce. It received an (unjustified) critical panning, the title track coming in for most attention.

The following year saw the release of the first of what would become a series of "bootleg" albums. "Bootleg Series Volumes 1-3" helped to cash in on Dylan's return to form and it would be hard to think of a better way to do it. Covering the period 1961 to 1989 this three C.D. (or five L.P.) collection comprised no fewer than fifty eight previously unreleased tracks of a quality so high as to make one wonder why they were not issued sooner. With songs like "Angelina"  left off  "Shot of Love" and similarly "Series of Dreams" off  "Oh Mercy," this collection alone could confirm Bob Dylan's place in twentieth century music history. Needless to say, everyone raved and suddenly remembered what a great artist he was.

1992 saw the release of  "Good as I Been to You," Dylan's first fully acoustic album since 1964. Comprised of old folk and blues songs and produced by Dylan himself, it was not well received and most people seemed to focus more on the sad decline of his vocal range. This was followed the next year by "World Gone Wrong," the closest Dylan has ever really come to a follow up album. This received a kinder reception and is probably the better of the two, but the nineties were beginning to look like a bleak decade.

unplugged
Onstage at Sony Music Studios for the "Unplugged" sessions

A paucity of original material prompted the release of "Greatest Hits Volume 3" (a misnomer, as all of these albums are because Dylan has not really had any hits in the true sense of the word), which contained the previously unreleased "Dignity," an out-take from "Oh Mercy." The inclusion of "Series of Dreams" seems strange considering it was the closing track on "Bootlegs Vol.3" only four years earlier. That aside, this is a good compilation with "Silvio" being the only weak track. The "MTV Unplugged" album was released the same year (1995), but turned out to be something of a missed opportunity. This showcase for acoustic music was ideally suited to Dylan and several people had used it to their advantage, however this set comes across as tired and uninspired (although the audience reaction suggests something different).

With nothing new on the horizon we were treated to "The Best of Bob Dylan" in 1997, a totally unnecessary release coming as it did only two years after "Greatest Hits Vol.3" (followed 3 years later by an equally unnecessary "Best Of Vol.2"). Apart from an alternate version of "Shelter From the Storm" (and an unremarkable one at that), there is nothing new on the album and the reason for its release has to be financial. Finally in 1997 came the award winning "Time Out of Mind," Dylan's first album of new material for seven years. This was a world weary Dylan, his beautifully ravaged voice showing in songs like "Not Dark Yet" and "Trying to get to Heaven" just how unique he can be. The album closes with the audacious "Highlands"; at nearly seventeen minutes long, this is surely one of his most off the wall yet compelling pieces of work. A classic album, this is an artist answering critics who had written him off in the best possible way.

A year later, after more than thirty years we eventually got to hear the official recording of "The Albert Hall Concert." Recorded in Manchester in May 1966 the name was kept in order to maintain the myth surrounding what is probably the most important live album ever recorded. Various versions of this concert had been available for some time illegally, and why Columbia sat on these tapes for so long is anybody's guess. With the concise title "The Bootleg Series Vol.4 Bob Dylan Live 1966 The 'Royal Albert Hall' Concert," this double CD with its pristine sound quality gives us a twenty four year old Bob Dylan at his very peak and chronicles the precise moment when folk music met rock and roll. The year 2000 saw the release of another greatest hits package entitled "The Essential Bob Dylan."

elder statesman
The elder statesman of rock music - Colorado 2001

Dylan continued to silence his critics with the 2001 release of "Love and Theft." This album was nothing short of brilliant; a tight band that he had been touring with for some time, strong lyrics, on the button delivery, even a joke or two. He produced the album himself using the name Jack Frost, and titles such as "Mississippi," "Honest With Me" and "Sugar Baby" help to make this one of Dylan's top five albums. The bootleg issues continued with "Live 1975-The Rolling Thunder Revue," a lavishly packaged double CD set. Recorded in Massachusetts and Montreal this caught the essence of Rolling Thunder far better than 1976's "Hard Rain". Not surprisingly, it draws heavily on "Desire," Dylan's album of the time, and re-works several songs that would have been more familiar to the audiences of 1975. Perhaps not as essential as the previous live bootleg release, but an important addition to Dylan's live catalogue, as is 2004's release of "Live 1964 Concert At Philharmonic Hall" (also known as the halloween concert), which sees a very young performer giving one of his last fully acoustic concerts and is highly recommended. The bootleg releases continued in 2005, a year that saw renewed interest in Dylan. October of that year saw the release of "No Direction Home - Bootlegs 7" a "soundtrack" album of Martin Scorsese's television film/DVD of the same name that examines Dylan's musical journey from 1959 to 1966. This album, with twenty-eight tracks (twenty-six previously unreleased) of live recordings, outtakes and alternate versions is an essential addition to any Dylan collection.

with elton john
Oscars party with Elton John - Los Angeles March 2002

Dylan's musical renaissance continued in August 2006 with the much anticipated release of the critically acclaimed Modern Times, his first studio album of new material in 5 years.

This then is the official catalogue of Bob Dylan from 1962 to 2005. Forty nine albums (plus "Masterpieces," a triple album released in Japan in 1978 to coincide with his far east tour of that year) spanning a forty year period. Love him or hate him, there is no denying his place in rock music history. Sixty three years old (at the time of writing), Dylan is one of the hardest working men in the business. Touring, recording and continually reinventing himself, lets hope we can still be amazed by this outstanding artist.



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Warehouse Eyes - The Albums of Bob Dylan




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