Music Article

Dylan Catalog Revisited

Bob Dylan's discography -- We review every Dylan album including his self-titled debut, ''Highway 61 Revisited,'' ''Blood on the Tracks,'' and more

Bob Dylan's discography

The records Dylan made at the height of his influence transformed American pop music; the best of them are among the best rock albums ever. So, to make distinctions within the body of his studio work, we're holding Dylan to the absurdly high standard of his own greatest work — a B+ by Dylan's standards would be an A by anyone else's. His later records have a bad rep, but the best probably would have been acclaimed if they'd been made by any artist who didn't carry the Dylan myth on his shoulders.

BOB DYLAN (1962)
A 21-year-old kid singing traditional folk songs. Only the great talent scout John Hammond, who signed Dylan to his first record contract, could have heard genius waiting here. B

THE FREEWHEELIN' BOB DYLAN' (1963)
Genius arrives. ''Blowin' in the Wind'' and other gems reveal the kid's startling gift for songwriting. A-

THE TIMES THEY ARE A-CHANGIN' (1964)
Dylan the Protest Singer. Some fine songs, but the finger-pointing tone gets a little strident. B

ANOTHER SIDE OF BOB DYLAN (1964)
Dylan left the folk and protest crowd behind with songs that were more personal (tunes like ''It Ain't Me Babe'' inspired James Taylor) and impressionistic (songs like ''Spanish Harlem Incident'' inspired Bruce Springsteen). B+

BRINGING IT ALL BACK HOME (1965)
Dylan goes electric! Stream-of-consciousness classics (''Mr. Tambourine Man,'' ''Subterranean Homesick Blues'') and a whole new kind of unsentimental love song (''She Belongs to Me''). A

HIGHWAY 61 REVISITED (1965)
Opens with ''Like a Rolling Stone'' and never lets up. At the height of his powers, sailing on inspiration and adrenaline. There is no better rock album. A+

BLONDE ON BLONDE (1966) A double album shot through with late-night brilliance, both raucous (''Everybody must get stoned!'') and sublime (''Visions of Johanna''). This and Highway 61 are the jewels in Dylan's crown. A+

THE BASEMENT TAPES (1967; released 1975)
After his motorcycle accident, Dylan and the Band camped out in Woodstock and made earthy, funny, back-to-basics music. Terrific, but horribly recorded. A

JOHN WESLEY HARDING (1968)
The album that killed psychedelia through its return to simple musical values. Strangely comforting parables (''All Along the Watchtower'') in spare acoustic arrangements. A

NASHVILLE SKYLINE (1969)
A crooning country LP (''Lay Lady Lay'') important at the time for social reasons (by recording with Nashville star Johnny Cash, Dylan introduced the counterculture to country conservatism) but mostly a curiosity today. B-

SELF PORTRAIT (1970)
Dylan set out to record new songs — and released a double album of cover versions he fooled around with between takes! Pretty silly, overall. C-

NEW MORNING (1970)
The songs he shelved while making Self Portrait. ''Sign on the Window'' is a beauty; everybody covered ''If Not for You.'' B

PAT GARRETT & BILLY THE KID (1973)
A movie soundtrack that loses a lot without the movie. ''Knockin' on Heaven's Door,'' ''Billy,'' and a whole lot of background music. C+

DYLAN (1973)
Dylan left CBS records to sign with Asylum; CBS punished him by putting out this album of gruesome Self Portrait outtakes. F

PLANET WAVES (1974)
Dylan and the Band rushed to record new songs before launching their huge 1974 comeback tour. ''Forever Young'' aside, it sounds rushed. C+

BLOOD ON THE TRACKS (1975)
Loss, pain, and resolution were the subjects; shifting narrative perspectives was the device. A triumphant return to form. A

DESIRE (1976)
Rolling Thunder Revue songs that worked better onstage; the crappy recording, sawing fiddle, and sweet but inappropriate harmonies make listening tough. B-

STREET-LEGAL (1978)
Many people loathed this hot, dark, claustrophobic album. But songs like ''Where Are You Tonight?'' are harrowing. No wonder this bleak night of the soul was followed by religious conversion. B+

SLOW TRAIN COMING (1979)
Dylan's first Christian record was a big hit — but that may have had less to do with born-again lyrics than with sharp production, powerful singing, and Dire Straits' crisp work as Dylan's backup band. B+

SAVED (1980)
Dylan followed the success of Slow Train with a roof-raising, hellfire-and-brimstone gospel tour. He should have recorded that instead of this tired studio session. C-

SHOT OF LOVE (1981)
''Every Grain of Sand'' was Dylan's finest Christian song, and ''The Groom's Still Waiting at the Altar'' a welcome return to rock & roll. But the rest is a very mixed bag. B-

INFIDELS (1983)
One or two clunkers, but most of this album shines. Dylan's Christianity becomes one aspect of his vision, not the whole picture. A-

EMPIRE BURLESQUE (1985)
Struggles under the weight of overproduced arrangements. Would be easy to shrug off if it didn't include ''Dark Eyes,'' one of Dylan's best songs. C+

KNOCKED OUT LOADED (1986)
Tracks from many different sessions make a haphazard album. But a couple of songs with Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers are fun and ''Brownsville Girl'' — an 11-minute epic Dylan wrote with Sam Shepard — is wonderful. B-

DOWN IN THE GROOVE (1988)
Another loose collection of different sessions. Wildly unbalanced. C+

OH MERCY (1989)
Delicate production enhances muted, elliptical songs that pack a cumulative emotional punch. A-

UNDER THE RED SKY (1990)
Tight, radio-ready sound (courtesy of producers Don and David Was) and superstar guests (George Harrison, Slash). But Dylan's lyrics were mostly like nursery rhymes, sung with no apparent attention. C

MISCELLANY: Five live albums, of which Real Live, with Mick Taylor and Carlos Santana, is the most coherent. Dylan's two greatest-hits albums were made redundant by Biograph, a 1985 boxed set that combines his most famous songs with critical favorites and fascinating rarities. Some of Dylan's rowdiest, funniest recent work has been with the Traveling Wilburys, whose Vol. 1 was a great party and whose second album, Vol. 3, was the hangover afterward.

Originally posted Mar 29, 1991 Published in issue #59 Mar 29, 1991 Order article reprints