Music: Highway 61 Revisited

Something is happening here, but you don't know what it is, do you, Mr. Jones?

Highway 61 Revisited is the sixth studio album by Bob Dylan, released in 1965. It is best known for the hits and fan favourites "Like A Rolling Stone", "Ballad Of A Thin Man", "Highway 61 Revisited" and "Desolation Row".

Many fans and rock historians consider it to be one of his masterpieces, if not his one and only Magnum Opus. Rolling Stones list of the 500 Greatest Albums of All Time ranks it at number four. Time Magazine included the album in its list of 100 timeless and essential recordings.


Side One

  1. "Like A Rolling Stone" (6:13)
  2. "Tombstone Blues" (6:00)
  3. "It Takes A Lot To Laugh, It Takes A Train To Cry" (4:09)
  4. "From A Buick 6" (3:19)
  5. "Ballad Of A Thin Man" (5:58)

Side Two

  1. "Queen Jane Approximately" (5:31)
  2. "Highway 61 Revisited" (3:30)
  3. "Just Like Tom Thumb's Blues" (5:32)
  4. "Desolation Row" (11:21)

Tropes with no direction home

  • Albert Einstein: Apparently "disguised as Robin Hood", according to the song "Desolation Row".
  • Album Title Drop:
    Abe said: "Where do you want this killing done?
    And God said: "Just go down there to Highway 61."
  • As the Good Book Says: God and Abraham are mentioned in "Highway 61 Revisited". Cain, Abel and the Good Samaritan in "Desolation Row". Jezebel, John The Baptist, The Philistine King and Delilah in "Tombstone Blues".
  • Ballad of X: "Ballad Of A Thin Man"
  • Body Horror: "Ballad Of A Thin Man"
    Well, the sword swallower, he comes up to you
    And then he kneels
    He crosses himself
    And then he clicks his high heels
    And without further notice
    He asks you how it feels
    And he says: "Here is your throat back, thanks for the loan"
  • Circus of Fear: "Ballad Of A Thin Man", if we would take the lyrics literally, takes places a creepy carnival circus.
  • Clingy MacGuffin: Mack the Finger who, in the song "Highway 61 Revisited" claims to have "forty red white and blue shoe strings and a thousand telephones that don't ring" and desperately tries to get rid of them.
  • Call Back and Continuity Nod: On Dylan's debut, Bob Dylan (1962) he covered a track called "Highway 51". In that sense "Highway 61 Revisited" is a Continuity Nod.
  • Cover Version: PJ Harvey covered "Highway 61 Revisited" on her album Rid Of Me (1993).
    • It's a fairly safe bet that every single song on the album has dozens, if not hundreds, of cover versions.
  • Cyclops: The one-eyed midget in "Ballad Of A Thin Man".
    Now you see this one-eyed midget shouting the word: "Now"
  • The Ditz: The clueless Mr. Jones in "Ballad Of A Thin Man".
    And you know something is happening
    But you don't know what it is
    Do you, Mister Jones?
  • Drunken Song: "Just Like Tom Thumb's Blues" : it has a kind of drunken vibe from the very beginning, but the final verse confirms it:
    I started out on burgundy
    But soon hit the harder stuff
    Everybody said they'd stand behind me
    When the game got rough
    But the joke was on me
    There was nobody even there to bluff
    I'm going back to New York City
    I do believe I've had enough.
  • Epic Rocking: The 11:21 "Desolation Row".
  • Face on the Cover: Dylan, posing for the camera.
  • In the End, You Are on Your Own: The central message of "Like A Rolling Stone".
  • Long Title: "It Takes A Lot To Laugh, It Takes A Train To Come"
  • Lyrical Dissonance: "Like A Rolling Stone".
  • Magical Seventh Son: Briefly mentioned in "Highway 61 Revisited".
    But the second mother was with the seventh son
    And they were both out on Highway 61.
  • Meaningful Title: Highway 61 runs from Dylan's childhood home in Minnesota to the home of the Blues in New Orleans and the Mississippi river.
  • Mind Screw: Most of the lyrics.
  • Morality Ballad: "Like A Rolling Stone"
    When you got nothing, you got nothing to lose
    You're invisible now, you got no secrets to conceal
  • Ode to Intoxication: An ambiguous one in "Just Like Tom Thumb's Blues;" there's a lot of drunkenness in that song, and it's not entirely negative or positive.
  • One Man Song: "Ballad Of A Thin Man".
  • One Woman Song: "Queen Jane Approximately"
  • Perpetual Poverty: Georgia Sam in "Highway 61 Revisited".
    Well Georgia Sam he had a bloody nose
    Welfare Department they wouldn't give him no clothes
  • Princess in Rags: "Like A Rolling Stone"
  • Reasoning with God: Abraham and God in "Highway 61 Revisited".
  • Reference Overdosed:
    You used to be so amused at Napoleon in rags and the language that he used
    The city fathers they're trying to endorset the reincarnation of Paul Revere's horse
    (...) The ghost of Belle Starr, she hands down her wits
    To Jezebel the nun she violently knits a bald wig for Jack the Ripper (...)
    (...) Well, John the Baptist after torturing a thief
    Looks up at his hero the Commander-in-Chief (...)
    (...) The king of the Philistines his soldiers to save
    But jawbones on their tombstones and flatters their graves
    (...) Gypsy Davey with a blowtorch he bums out their camps
    (...) The geometry of innocence flesh on the bone
    Causes Galileo's math book to get thrown
    At Delilah who sit worthlessly alone
    But the tears on her cheeks are from laughter
    (...) Then send out for some pillars and Cecil B. DeMille
    When Ma Rainey and Beethoven once unwrapped their bed roll
    She walks like Bo Diddley and she don't need no crutch
    You've been through all of F. Scott Fitzgerald's books
    You're very well read, it's well known
    Cinderella, she seems so easy
    "It takes one to know one", she smiles
    And puts her hands in her back pockets
    And in comes Romeo, he's moaning
    (...) The fortune telling lady has even taken all her things inside
    All except for Cain and Abel and the hunchback of Notre Dame
    (...) And the Good Samaritan, he's dressing
    (...) Now Ophelia, she's 'neath the window
    For her I feel so afraid
    On her twenty-second birthday she already is an old maid
    To her, death is quite romantic
    She wears an iron vest
    Her profession is her religion
    Her sin is her lifelessness
    And though her eyes are fixed upon
    Noah's great rainbow
    She spends her time peeking into Desolation Row
    Einstein, disguised as Robin Hood with his memories in a trunk
    Passed this way an hour ago, with his friend, a jealous monk
    (...) The Phantom of the Opera
    In a perfect image of a priest
    They're spoonfeeding Casanova
    To get him to feel more assured
    Then they'll kill him with self-confidence
    After poisoning him with words
    And the Phantom's shouting to skinny girls
    "Get outa here if you don't know
    Casanova is just being punished for going to Desolation Row
    (...) They be to Nero's Neptune
    The Titanic sails at dawn
    (...) And Ezra Pund and T.S. Eliot fighting in the captain's tower
    • Tom Thumb is mentioned in the title of "Just Like Tom Thumb's Blues".
  • Refrain from Assuming: "Ballad Of A Thin Man" is not called "Do You, Mr. Jones?"
  • Riches to Rags: "Like A Rolling Stone": in the first verse the woman who once "dressed so fine" and "threw the bums a dime" is now "scrounging for your next meal".
  • Roman Clef: "Desolation Row" hints that the entire album is one, prompting much Wild Mass Guessing about who's who.
    All these people that you mention... yes, I know them; they're quite lame
    I had to rearrange their faces and give them all another name
  • Screw This, I'm Outta Here!: "Just Like Tom Thumb's Blues"
    I'm going back to New York City, I do believe I've had enough.
  • Second-Person Narration: Three songs on this album: "Like a Rolling Stone," "Ballad of a Thin Man," and "Queen Jane Approximately".
  • Shout-Out:
    • In The Beatles song "Yer Blues" on The White Album (1968) John Lennon sings "I feel so suicidal/just like Dylan's "Mr. Jones", which is a reference to the title character in "Ballad Of A Thin Man".
    • A stanza of "Highway 61 Revisited" is narrated in The Hunted (2003) by Johnny Cash at the beginning and at the end of the movie.
    • The title From a Buick 8 was an obvious tip-of-the-hat by Stephen King to "From a Buick 6".
    • The Rolling Stones covered "Like A Rolling Stone", as was to be expected one day, on their live album "Stripped" (1995).
    • Martin Scorsese named his 2005 documentary about Dylan: "No Direction Home", after the phrase from "Like A Rolling Stone".
  • Shout-Out to Shakespeare: "Desolation Row" refers to both Romeo from Romeo and Juliet and Ophelia from Hamlet.
  • Something Blues: "Tombstone Blues" and "Just Like Tom Thumb's Blues".
  • Super Speed: The famous siren whistle sound that kicks of the song "Highway 61 Revisited" and reappears at various moments throughout the song.
  • The Team Wannabe: Al Kooper's organ riff on "Like A Rolling Stone" is one of the most recognisable in music history. Despite the fact that he didn't know how to play the organ and wasn't supposed to be on the record at all, but basically walked into the studio, sat down at the organ and started fooling about because nobody explicitly told him not to. Dylan liked it and kept it.
  • Title Track: "Highway 61 Revisited''
  • Train Song: "It Takes A Lot To Laugh It Takes A Train To Cry"
    Well, I ride on a mailtrain, babe
    Can't buy a thrill
    Well, I've been up all night
    Leanin' on the window sill
    Well, if I die on top of the hill
    And if I don't make it
    You know my baby will
  • World War III: "Highway 61 Revisited"
    The rovin' gambler, he was very bored
    trying to create a next world war