Bob Dylan at 80: The master musician’s 39 albums, ranked

Bob Dylan at 80: The master musician’s 39 albums, ranked

FROM THE BASEMENT TAPES TO ROUGH AND ROWDY WAYS, BOB DYLAN SUPERFAN IAN O’RIORDAN RANKS THE SINGER’S STUDIO ALBUMS

He asked me to check out the used record stores and see had they any early Dylan on vinyl. This was his idea for a cheap Christmas present and sometime around that December of 1991, while in college in the US, I bought the self-titled debut album Bob Dylan as a gift for my younger brother.

So it’s his fault, really, because that first influence started something still not easily explained: from there I borrowed, or else stole, whatever other Dylan albums he had at the time, some on cassette such as Highway 61 Revisited, others such as Desire on vinyl, and after lifting too his copy of Robert Shelton’s biography, No Direction Home, there’s been no looking back.

Maybe Blonde on Blonde wasn’t meant to be listened to for the first time in the summer of 1992, or Saved for that matter, especially not in immediate succession. That made no difference to me.

Ian O’Riordan: ‘That first influence started something still not easily explained’

Within a couple of years, I’d obsessively got hold of Dylan’s entire back catalogue, by then 28 albums. Hearing them for the first time – the creative sustenance of the songs, their phrases and rhymes, the startling authenticity of his voice – simply outplayed anything I’d heard before.

Dylan now has 39 official studio albums to his name, beginning with that self-titled debut, released in March 1962, up to Rough and Rowdy Ways, released in June of 2020. Not forgetting the 15 volumes of his Bootleg Series (another 60 CDs), his 12 live albums (comprising 68 CDs), the countless more non-album tracks and thousands of unofficial bootlegs.

It’s a personal selection, based on what sounded – and still sounds – best to me. If I had ranked them yesterday or if I ranked them again tomorrow, the order could change again, couldn’t it?

39. DYLAN (1973)

Despite the title, and interesting cover portrait, this was a throwaway album with no input whatsoever from Dylan or a single original song, made up of Colombia leftovers after he briefly jumped shop to Asylum Records. Favourite track: The Ballad of Ira Hayes

38. CHRISTMAS IN THE HEART (2009)

I lent my copy of this CD to Daniel Day-Lewis that Christmas of 2009 and never got it back. I’m not too bothered, although every Christmas I swear I can hear that startling old vocal range from across the other side of the Wicklow Mountains. Favourite track: Hark the Herald Angels Sing

37. TRIPLICATE (2017)

His own personal homage to the great American songbook, and beautifully packed, these three CDs and 30 songs are well covered, and covered well enough after one listening. Favourite track: September of My Years

36. DOWN IN THE GROOVE (1988)

I only ever got this on cassette and it’s a proper Dylan late-1980s mess in parts, even if the cheap covers are somewhat redeemed by the songs he co-wrote with the Grateful Dead. Favourite track: Rank Strangers to Me

35. SHADOWS IN THE NIGHT (2015)

The first of his Frank Sinatra cover albums, 10 songs neatly delivered and best to listen to while cooking or making the bed, the live performances were astonishing. Favourite track: Autumn Leaves

34. KNOCKED OUT LOADED (1986)

Somehow I have this on vinyl and cassette, which is odd considering there is only one 11-minute song on the entire album that’s worth listening to in any depth – that favourite track he co-wrote with Sam ShepardFavourite track: Brownsville Girl

More Sinatra covers anybody? This one gets in ahead of Shadows in the Night, if only because Dylan seems to be in better singing voice and mood. Favourite track: Melancholy Mood

32. PAT GARRETT AND BILLY THE KID (1973)

Still love the film and, even if the bootleg version of this is way better, any album that suddenly kicks in on side two with Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door will always hold up. Favourite track: Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door

31. WORLD GONE WRONG (1993)

The second of his successive solo acoustic albums of mostly American traditional folk songs. Dylan is in fine voice, the guitar softly killing, the end result ultimately a little lonely and sad. Favourite track: Two Soldiers

  • Dumbarton woman MT Rainey OBE shares Bob’s birthday today. Best wishes MT from all at The Dumbarton Democrat. Bill H.

 

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