Music / Highway 61 Revisited

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"Something is happening here but you don't know what it is, do you, Mister 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. 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.


Tracklist:

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

  • Album Title Drop:
    Abe said: "Where do you want this killing done?
    And God said: "Just go down there to Highway 61."
    • Also provides one for an album by an entirely different artist: Steely Dan's Can't Buy a Thrill, taken from a line in "It Takes a Lot To Laugh, It Takes a Train To Cry:.
  • As the Good Book Says...: God and Abraham are mentioned in "Highway 61 Revisited"; Cain, Abel, and the Good Samaritan in "Desolation Row"; and 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 at 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 from 1962 he covered a track called "Highway 51". In that sense "Highway 61 Revisited" is a Continuity Nod.
  • Cool Bike: Subtly invoked by the partly-obscured but still visible Triumph t-shirt Dylan wears on the cover.
  • Cover Version: PJ Harvey covered "Highway 61 Revisited" on her album Rid of Me from 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: Four of the nine songs are over six minutes, with the 11:21 "Desolation Row" being the ultimate example. At the time, "Like a Rolling Stone" (6:13) was the longest song ever issued as a single.
  • Face on the Cover: Dylan, posing for the camera.
  • Hypocritical Humor: "And you're sick of all this repetition" in the third verse of the repetitive "Queen Jane Approximately".
  • In the End, You Are on Your Own: The central message of "Like A Rolling Stone".
  • Little People Are Surreal: The one-eyed midget in "Ballad of a Thin Man".
  • Long Title: "It Takes a Lot to Laugh, It Takes a Train to Cry"
  • Lyrical Dissonance: "Like a Rolling Stone" is sung in an energetic tone that contrasts with the lyrics about scrounging for your next meal, living on the streets without knowing how to survive, and having everything stolen from you. The dissonance seems to make the same points the lyrics do, that all these seemingly terrible things are for the better.
  • 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" is about how losing everything one cherishes can ultimately be liberating.
    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" is about a Miss Lonely, a wealthy woman who once was rich enough to hang out with diplomats and never worry about to future, only to be forced to hunt for meals and pawn off her diamond ring for money. Dylan's narrator sings happily about all this, finding the sudden humility of Miss Lonely a good thing.
  • Public Execution: The first line of "Desolation Row" establishes that public hangings are so essential to the Row that they sell postcards of them, implying quite a bit of demand.
  • 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 endorse 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
  • 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
  • Sad Clown: The subject of "Like A Rolling Stone" ignored the fact that all the "clowns" who entertained her were frowning and miserable until she couldn't afford to.
  • 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:
  • 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".
  • The Stars Are Going Out: In "Desolation Row," the moon and stars are disappearing at the same time a fortune teller is retreating into her home, hinting either at a coming darkness or an unpredictable future.
  • 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 mail-train, 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


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