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Bob Dylan’s Entire Discography

Clay: Once every few years an idea strikes me. It is really more of an obsession. An overwhelming, indescribable, need. I have to listen to Bob Dylan’s entire catalogue. Yes, I do this with other artists too—Phil Ochs, Fiona Apple and The Indigo Girls being mainstays. Oh yes, and the entire Stephen Sondheim collection. But let’s be real, for each of those artists there are so few albums that it isn’t really a daunting task. And the albums that do exist are somewhat stylistically or qualitatively consistent.

None of that is the case with Dylan. Even disregarding the thousands of unofficial bootlegs, compilations, and one-offs the task is enormous. In Bob Dylan’s discography there are 39 officially released studio albums, 12 officially released live albums, and 15 volumes of the Bootleg Series (so far). And the quality varies from possibly the greatest albums of all time to… well… not that.

Also, when I decide to do so, my compulsion insists upon doing it right. Which means that is required that I listen to every single album, in its entirety, in chronological release order. Sure, I’ve been tempted to skip the second half of Self Portrait from time to time. But I can’t do it. I can’t turn it off halfway through. There is also no way to skip some of the lower tier ‘80s Dylan like Empire Burlesque or Down in the Groove. But no, one can not just skip things during this obsessive re-listen. Listening to just the great albums and songs is something anyone can understand. Those first organ notes of “Like a Rolling Stone” are cathartic and spectacular anytime for anyone who cares for this kind of music. I once spent a lost summer listening to nothing but Blood on the Tracks and Desire over and over on repeat. But those highs are never quite as high as the highs of discovering something new in the depths of the catalogue.

So far this time I’m taking it slow. I just finished listening to Nashville Skyline to close out the 1960s and I must say, I’m already surprising myself with what has struck me. First and foremost there is 1965. In that year alone Dylan was unstoppable. He released Bringing it All Back Home (which is either my all time favorite album or at worst my second favorite) in March. Then he performed the most important Folk Festival moment of all time at Newport where he literally made the haters lose their minds. He started the world tour that would create “The Band” and leave everyone else in the dust. Then he released another top ten all time record, Highway 61 Revisited. (Listen to those two records if you have a chance, there is not one moment of slag or downtime in either of them.) Then before the year is out he started the recording sessions for Blonde on Blonde. Which, while it isn’t my one of favorite albums, is still considered one of the greatest albums of all time. By anyone. And that’s not even getting into the fact that I think the 1968 to 1969 run of John Wesley Harding to Nashville Skyline may be just as good.

And to think, things are just getting started.

Written by TV Obsessive

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