Since completing university, Paul has worked as a bookseller, librarian, and freelance writer. Born in the UK, he now lives in Florida.
Bob Dylan has had a long and distinguished career since be burst onto the scene at the start of the sixties.
I personally have been an ardent follower of his for 25 years, ever since I was first introduced to his material by my art teacher in the 1980s (although ironically this was probably Dylans worst decade creatively). I was soon spending all my evenings listening to tape recordings and LP's, enraptured by Dylan's strange, original and compelling music.
At the time of writing Dylan has switched from guitar to keyboards and is still moving from town to town on his never-ending tour (he take a brief break in May 2012 to receive a Medal of Freedom from President Obama).
Below are my top 10 selections for the best Bob Dylan albums. I have drawn on material from throughout Dylans career, although the mid 1960s was probably the period when he was at his most captivating and influential.
Top 10 Bob Dylan Albums
Here in no particular order are my choices.
- Street Legal (1978)
- Infidels (1983)
- Time Out of Mind (1997)
- The "Royal Albert Hall" Concert
- Desire (1975)
- Blonde on Blonde (1966)
- Highway 61 Revisited (1965)
- The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan (1963)
- Bringing It All Back Home (1965)
- Blood on the Tracks (1975)
I give more details on my selections below.
1. Street Legal (1978)
Another change of musical direction, the song lyrics is themed around Bob Dylan’s troubled marriage and social commentary, but also sees for the first time an increase in religious and mystical references, possibly foreshadowing Dylan’s conversion to Christianity.
The album was digitally remixed which greatly improved the sound quality in 1999.
Anybody can be specific and obvious. That's always been the easy way. It's not that it's so difficult to be unspecific and less obvious; it's just that there's nothing, absolutely nothing, to be specific and obvious about.
— Bob Dylan
2. Infidels (1983)
An underrated Bob Dylan album, in my opinion, Infidels features some great songs and strong musical backing.
Co-produced by Mark Knopfler with reggae superstars, Sly Dunbar and Robbie Shakespeare supplying the drums and bass, this album signified Dylan’s return to more Jewish themes after his Christian period. Notable track: "Jokerman".
Some critics are argued that three of the strongest tracks recorded for the album were wrongly missed off it. They would later be released on The Bootleg Series Volumes 1–3 (Rare & Unreleased) 1961–1991.
The 1980s in general were not a good decade for Dylan, however.
A lot of people can't stand touring but to me it's like breathing. I do it because I'm driven to do it.
— Bob Dylan
3. Time Out of Mind (1997)
The best Bob Dylan album of his later period, in my opinion, Time Out of Mind is a deeply atmospheric album that won three Grammy Awards when it was released.
Seen as a comeback album at the time, it features the haunting track, “Love Sick” as its opener.
4. The "Royal Albert Hall" Concert
This live recording circulated for many years before it was finally officially released in 1998. Despite its name, the concert recorded actually took place at Manchester Free Trade Hall.
Taking place shortly after Dylan went electric, angry sections of the crowd can be heard heckling him, at one point labelling him, “Judas”. Notable song: "Like a Rolling Stone".
5. Desire (1975)
Though maybe not quiteas strong as “Blood on the Tracks”, Desire is definitely a Bob Dylan album that you should own. Most of this album takes the form of short stories set to music and even sees a return to protest songs.
Heartfelt and tuneful, Desire is a must for any Dylan collection. Notable song: "Sara".
6. Blonde on Blonde (1966)
The third and final album in the trio of mid-sixties offerings Bob Dylan made which changed the pop music world forever. Dylan suffered a motorcycle crash not long after and it seemed to permanently alter his musical approach.
The blend of blues rock and surreal lyrics is faultless. This release is also the best-selling double album of all time. Notable song: "Just Like a Woman".
I paint mostly from real life. It has to start with that. Real people, real street scenes, behind the curtain scenes, live models, paintings, photographs, staged setups, architecture, grids, graphic design. Whatever it takes to make it work.
— Bob Dylan
7. Highway 61 Revisited (1965)
Bob Dylan’s first fully electric album (apart from the final track!) and maybe the best Dylan album of the 1960s, it is packed full of classics.
It starts off with his iconic hit, “Like a Rolling Stone”, finishes with the dark and surreal, “Desolation Row” and never dips at any point imbetween. Everybody should own a copy of this album.
What did I owe the rest of the world? Nothing.
— Bob Dylan
8. The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan (1963)
This album was only Bob Dylan’s second, but it has everything that you’d want from an album of his – memorable tunes, plus beautifully surreal and insightful lyrics with a large portion of biting wit.
He took the Woody Guthrie folk-singing influence to another place. Somewhere that nobody had been before (or since?) Notable song: "Bob Dylan's Blues"
In ceremonies of the horsemen, even the pawn must hold a grudge.
— Bob Dylan
9. Bringing It All Back Home (1965)
With its iconic cover and unusual structure of having one side largely acoustic and the other electric, this album was both ground-breaking and seminal.
It also proved to be controversial for some of Bob Dylan’s hardcore folk and protest song fans, who saw Dylan’s new direction as a sell-out. Notable track: "It's All Right, Ma (I'm Only Bleeding)"
Mr. Tambourine Man (Live at Newport Folk Festival 1964)
10. Blood on the Tracks (1975)
The best Bob Dylan album in my opinion. Deeply personal and moving and written at the time of his split from his wife, it is difficult to believe Bob Dylan’s protests that the album isn’t autobiographical.
“Tangled up in blue” and “Simple Twist of Fate” are tracks with real emotional power that you never forget once heard. Notable track: "Simple Twist Of Fate".
Bob Dylan - Tangled up in Blue
You're going to die. You're going to be dead. It could be 20 years, it could be tomorrow, anytime. So am I. I mean, we're just going to be gone. The world's going to go on without us. All right now. You do your job in the face of that, and how seriously you take yourself you decide for yourself.
— Bob Dylan
A Very Revealing Bob Dylan Interview
I consider myself a poet first and a musician second. I live like a poet and I'll die like a poet.
— Bob Dylan
© 2014 Paul Goodman
New Guestbook Comments
Jean Bakula from New Jersey on July 25, 2017:
I love Bob Dylan, and you made some great choices here. I have The Complete Album Collection and it has over 45 CDs. There I discovered songs I never heard before. Sadly, when you buy a "Best of Dylan" CD, you often get the old, though still relevant, Blowin' in the Wind, The Times They are A Changin' Like a Rolling Stone and the like. I never heard Every Grain of Sand, Abandoned Love, Caribbean Wind and other gems until then. I didn't appreciate his Christian phase, although I know he raised his children Jewish and references The Torah often. I want to make a double set of all my favorites on those. Most have only 8 songs, two that are wonderful and the rest so-so.