“Highway 61 Revisited” is the sixth studio album from songwriting legend Bob Dylan released on August 30, 1965. Returning from an exhausting tour of the U.K., Dylan was feeling very uninspired and contemplating giving up singing all together. Furiously scribbling twenty pages of loose verse, Dylan channeled his dissatisfaction into a poetic manifesto of sorts, eventually editing it down to four verses and a chorus to produce his milestone single “Like a Rolling Stone.” Up until this point, Dylan had primarily only released acoustic records. Oscillating between the feelings of both cynicism and rebelliousness, Dylan decided to take a new route on his latest project by backing nearly every song with a band. This inclusion of electric guitars and organs supporting Dylan’s free flowing wispy delivery alienated a lot of his core audience at first. However, once the track list had been arranged, listeners buckled up for a musical road trip beginning on Highway 61, traversing the influences of the Mississippi Blues Delta, and tumbling all the way south to the point of “Desolation Row.” It was important for Dylan after the construction of “Like a Rolling Stone” to carve out a musical path along the infamous American highway to tell a contemporary story of a blues vagabond that reflected the chaotic cultural and political climate of the time. In the past, composing a ballad about Highway 61 was a rite of passage within the blues community. Notable contributions include Francis Blume, Roosevelt Sykes, and Mississippi Fred McDowell. This notorious stretch of highway passes through Dylan’s hometown of Duluth, into St. Louis, Memphis, and all the way down into New Orleans. Dylan titled his project “Highway 61 Revisited” to pay homage to this legendary network of cultural melting pots but in a way that solidified his place amongst a historical canon of musicians, bringing in some of the first electric cords ever struck in the tradition. Capitalizing on the musical vacuum created post-Beatles, Dylan’s relatable metaphor of a rolling stone engaged a new generation of music fans discovering the rich storytelling and laments of blues ballads for the first time. His added modernity of electric instruments and infusion of a jangly folk aesthetic captivated the enormously large audience of disenchanted American youth that were desperately seeking an outlet coinciding with their own experiences of disillusion and rebellion. “Highway 61 Revisited” is earmarked as one of the greatest records of all time, selling over one million copies, consistently topping critics’ “Best of All Time” lists, and is fondly remembered as one of the earliest sparks that ignited the counter-culture revolution. Revisit this classic yourself to hear tracks like “Desolation Row,” “Tombstone Blues,” and Rolling Stone’s number one song of all time “Like a Rolling Stone” (go figure) now on Spotify!
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