MUSIC REVIEW | Bob Dylan – Blonde on Blonde (1966)


I don’t get Bob Dylan. I don’t care how many articles I read that declare him, his songs and his albums, up there as the best ever. I don’t care how important he may be or what kind of influence he may have. I just don’t get him. And I’m probably too old now to expect any sort of Dylan epiphany where I finally see the light. But I do get that I am in the wrong here. The whole world and every rock snob in it can’t be wrong. The least I can do, is listen to one of his seminal albums, so next time I’m being berated for not getting Bob Dylan, I can at least say I gave him a chance, with Blonde on Blonde.

Opening in a way I never would have predicted in a million years, Blonde on Blonde kicks off with Rainy Day Women #12 & 35. Starting out like a New Orleans second line, marching toward a funeral, with added folk harmonica. Once Dylan’s whine comes in, it’s more like a drunken sea shanty or something barley slurred in an old timey saloon just before closing. The honky tonk piano and “Everybody must get stoned” refrain is just begging for a group of drunks to join in.

Follow up, Pledging My Time, sounds like it could be played in that same saloon, only 70 years later, once it became a seedy, smokey blues bar. It’s 12 bar blues at its simplest, complete with little harmonica flourishes in between each and every line of lyrics. It’s also a great fit for Dylan’s voice, which I’ve never seen the appeal of before.

A lack of appeal and general Dylan-ness that’s on full display on Visions of Johanna. It’s rambling, it’s loose, it’s in no hurry to tell its story and it is a good example of all the negative preconceptions I have of Bob Dylan. And folk music in general. I guess I just like it more when a singer sounds like they absolutely have to get this song out, right now. Not like it’s slowly dribbling out of them, like molasses. Visions of Johanna is exactly what it would sound like if Saturday Night Live was doing a parody of a Bob Dylan song.

I Want You and Stuck Inside of Mobile with Memphis Blues Again (and later Mostly Likely to Go Your Way) are almost pop songs in their prettiness. In both cases, Robbie Robertson’s guitar makes all the difference between what could have been typically Dylan story songs, and actual melodious, easy on the ear songs that sound as fleshed out sonically as they do lyrically.

As Blonde on Blonde starts to wind down, Fourth Time Around does what I thought it was impossible. It uses everything I hate about Bob Dylan, to make a really nice song that I might actually listen to again. It’s folky, it’s Dylan at his whiniest, it’s aimless and wandering, but it’s somehow the anti Johanna, because all those things work for me here, instead of infuriating me. Maybe it’s the almost complete the lack of harmonica.

I’ve just had a breakthrough, it turns out I hate the harmonica. Because I loved Fourth Time Around until the last 30 seconds or so, when that wheezing bastard of a mouth organ clunks things up.

I still don’t get Bob Dylan. I still don’t expect any sort of Dylan epiphany where I finally see the light. But after listening to Blonde on Blonde, I do have a handful of Dylan songs that I will most probably listen to again, by choice. So that’s not an unsubstantial result.

Bob Dylan

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