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The 10 Best Bob Dylan Albums

Since completing university, Paul has worked as a bookseller, librarian, and freelance writer. Born in the UK, he now lives in Florida.

Bob Dylan with Joan Baez.  Dylan had a romance with Baez in the early 60s and she helped to bring him increased public exposure.  Later, she wrote the song Diamonds and Rust about their romance.

Bob Dylan with Joan Baez. Dylan had a romance with Baez in the early 60s and she helped to bring him increased public exposure. Later, she wrote the song Diamonds and Rust about their romance.

Bob Dylan has had a long and distinguished career since he burst onto the scene at the start of the sixties.

I personally have been an ardent follower of his for almost 40 years, ever since I was first introduced to his material by my art teacher in the 1980s (although ironically this was probably Dylan's worst decade creatively).

I was soon spending all my evenings listening to tape recordings and LPs, enraptured by Dylan's strange, original and compelling music.

Since 1988, Dylan has been engaged in a series of live events known as the Never Ending Tour, only stopping when serious medical issues hospitalized him in 1997, and then later with the 2020 coronavirus pandemic.

Below are my top 10 selections for the best Bob Dylan albums.

I have drawn on material from throughout Dylan's 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 reverse order are my choices.

10. Street-Legal (1978)

9. Infidels (1983)

8. Time Out of Mind (1997)

7. Live 1966 The "Royal Albert Hall" Concert

6. Desire (1975)

5. Blonde on Blonde (1966)

4. Highway 61 Revisited (1965)

3. The Freewheelin' Bob Dylan (1963)

2. Bringing It All Back Home (1965)

1. Blood on the Tracks (1975)

I give the reasoning behind my selections below.

10. Street-Legal (1978)

This album signaled a change of musical direction at the time it was released. Although the song lyrics seem based upon Bob Dylan’s troubled marriage and social commentary, the language used is rich in religious and mystical references, foreshadowing Dylan’s conversion to Christianity (Dylan's conversion was announced the day after the Changing of the Guards single was released).

The album was digitally remixed/remastered in 1999, which greatly improved the sound quality. Many critics and listeners, including myself, have generally warmed to the album over the years after giving it a frosty reception initially.

Notable song: "Changing of the Guards", a hauntingly beautiful song that tells a biographical story, likely Dylan's own interpretation of his life up to then.

9. 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 traditional Jewish and social themes following his Christian period.

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.

Notable track: "Jokerman". A song that combines biblical imagery with political metaphor to explore the shadowy side of human nature and leadership.

8. 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. The general tone is wistful.

Seen as a comeback album at the time, it came after a seven year barren period when no original material was released..

It features the haunting track, “Love Sick” as its opener. Through the ragged lyrics and sparse musical accompaniment, Dylan presents himself as a kind of world weary troubadour, roughened but resilient.

Notable track: "Highlands". Nobody writes epics like Dylan and this one is everything you'd expect from the man who brought us "Desolation Row" and "It's Alright Ma (I'm Only Bleeding".

7. Live 1966 The "Royal Albert Hall" Concert

This live recording drips atmosphere. It circulated for many years before it was finally officially released in 1998. Despite its name, the concert was actually recorded at Manchester Free Trade Hall, not the Royal Albert Hall, as the original bootleg version claimed.

This recording takes place shortly after Dylan went electric. Dylan's move away from acoustic folk music and the protest scene was seen as a sell-out by some. Angry sections of the crowd can be heard heckling him during the electric section. At one point, an angry crowd member shouts “Judas” at the bemused and increasingly angry Dylan.

Notable song: "Like a Rolling Stone". This song follows a confrontation with a heckler and consequently has an energy not found in the studio version.

6. Desire (1975)

Although maybe not quite as strong as Dylan's previous release, “Blood on the Tracks”, this is definitely a Bob Dylan album that you should own. Much of this album takes the form of short stories set to music and even sees a return to protest songs.

Heartfelt and tuneful, virtually every track on this album is a gem.

Notable song: "Hurricane". This track tells the story of Rubin Carter, who was imprisoned for a murder, a crime that he insisted he didn't commit. Dylan delivers passion and bite. Carter was eventually released in 1985, following his conviction being overturned on appeal.

5. Blonde on Blonde (1966)

One of the greatest rock albums ever made, and the third and final album in the trio of mid-sixties offerings Bob Dylan made which would change the pop music world forever. Dylan would suffer a motorcycle crash not long after, which 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: "Sad-Eyed Lady of the Lowlands". Dylan's paean to his recently married wife, Sara, this epic song uses poetry to paint an image of an otherworldly woman. Dylan would go on to write in the song "Sara" in 1975 that he stayed "up for days in the Chelsea Hotel writin' "Sad-Eyed Lady of the Lowlands" for you".

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

A young Bob Dylan performing at St. Lawrence University in New York.  Dylan began his career playing solo on an acoustic guitar.  It caused great controversy when he switched to an electric instrument and got a backing band in folk circles.

A young Bob Dylan performing at St. Lawrence University in New York. Dylan began his career playing solo on an acoustic guitar. It caused great controversy when he switched to an electric instrument and got a backing band in folk circles.

4. Highway 61 Revisited (1965)

Bob Dylan’s first fully electric album (aside from the final track) and a contender for the best Dylan album of the 1960s. I've put it at number 4 in this list, but on another day, I might have had it at number 1.

This work is packed full of classics. It hits the ground running with the iconic hit, “Like a Rolling Stone”, finishes with the titanic "Desolation Row", and never really dips at any point in between. Everybody should own a copy of this album.

Notable track: “Desolation Row”. This dark and surreal epic song is atypical for the album in some ways, as it's the only acoustic track. It draws on characters from history, the bible, and literature and places them in a grotesque and frightening world.

3. 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.

While his eponymous first album had plenty of energy, it was mainly made up of cover versions. In this work, Dylan took the Woody Guthrie folk-style to another place, adding his own topical lyrics to traditional music backing.

Notable song: "Don't Think Twice, It's All Right". Over a busy fingerpicked guitar and intermittent harmonica, Dylan sings a wry and poignant song about romantic rejection. It was written after hearing from his girlfriend at the time, Suze Rotolo, that she was planning to remain in Italy and not return to New York.

2. 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 managed to alienate a section of his fanbase. Many were angry that he'd changed direction and moved away from the folk genre and direct political songs, instead adopting rock music and a more surreal lyrical style.

The opening track, "Subterranean Homesick Blues" was Dylan's first single to chart in the US, reaching number 39.

Notable track: "It's All Right, Ma (I'm Only Bleeding)". Described by Dylan biographer Howard Sounes as a "grim masterpiece", the song rails against the commercialism, hypocrisy, and consumerism that drives the false reality that bedevils American culture.

1. Blood on the Tracks (1975)

The best Bob Dylan album in my opinion. Deeply personal and moving, and written at a time of personal turmoil for Dylan, having split from his wife, it is difficult to believe Bob Dylan’s protests that the album isn’t autobiographical.

The album tracks a failed romance and all accompanying emotions. “Tangled up in blue” and “Simple Twist of Fate” are songs with real emotional power that once heard are never forgotten.

Notable track: "Simple Twist Of Fate". It's difficult to pick a favorite from this album, but this song perhaps captures the narrative of a relationship that is destined to fail. The story begins in the third person but then shifts into the first person, compounding the sense of personal tragedy.

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

Bob Dylan shakes the hand of President Barack Obama's hand after the "In Performance At The White House: A Celebration Of Music From The Civil Rights Movement" concert in the East Room of the White House, Feb. 9, 2010. (Source: Public Domain Image vi

Bob Dylan shakes the hand of President Barack Obama's hand after the "In Performance At The White House: A Celebration Of Music From The Civil Rights Movement" concert in the East Room of the White House, Feb. 9, 2010. (Source: Public Domain Image vi

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.

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