Blonde on Blonde: A Folk-Rock Landmark

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You guys! This album is on fire, right from the wild curls and checkered scarf of the cover to the 11-minute, mystifying ode to the “Sad-Eyed Lady of the Lowlands.” There’s horns on the first track, “Rainy Day Woman #12 & 35,” a.k.a. “everybody must get stoned.” Horns! We’ve come so far. The snare-heavy drums, the bluesy steel guitar, the jazzy piano, the cozy bass all whip these tracks through build-ups and crescendos, embellishing always the countrified rock rhythm.

It may have been the sunny 50-degree weather portending spring in Boston, or the delicious tostada de chorizo I’d scarfed down for lunch, but I high-stepped down the Brighton sidewalk, driven by this album’s propulsive momentum. Consider this: in the span of four tracks, Dylan hauls out “Visions of Johanna,” “I Want You,” and “Stuck Inside of Mobile with the Memphis Blues Again”; two tracks later comes “Just Like a Woman.” That roster of songs alone could’ve made a hall-of-fame career.

Do I get it? Is it possible not to get “Blonde on Blonde”? I mean, first-rate songwriting coupled with a killer band in a double album that spread its influence like shockwaves through rock and roll. Do I need to have heard the earlier albums to get it? I hope Al Kooper’s New Critical mindset isn’t rubbing off on me, but it feels like this album has fully shaken off Dylan’s folk origins, as well as whatever reciprocal resentments lingered after he went electric. Dylan has settled into a new style here, one more akin to (and influential to) The Beatles, The Stones, and Jimi Hendrix than Joan Baez, Peter, Paul and Mary, and Woody Guthrie. His vocals have eschewed even a whiff of imitation, the expressive nasal draws more self-confident, more natural and idiosyncratic than ever before. The lyrics employ stream-of-conscious wordplay to uncover bits of story, such as when “jewels and binoculars hang from the head of the mule,” and the “Leopardskin Pillbox Hat” that “balances on your head just like a mattress balances on a bottle of wine.” This is Dylan synchronizing styles into something complete and undeniably his. Do I like it? GTFO.

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