Bob Dylan is one of the most influential artists ever, full stop.
But those words have become ubiquitous in music and popular art. What’s more interesting is the discography itself – the body of work that ranges from godly to human, all too human. The highs and lows of Dylan’s discography represent the most base components of art, evolution, and integrity. No matter what the prevailing trends of the time were, Bob always did what felt right, which usually encapsulated the unexpected. He constantly reinvented his musical identity and public image, and his art was all the better for it.
So, if you want to take the brave trek into his complete discography, it is a journey that will, by and large, pay off. Get stoned if you wish, and dive in deep.
- Bob Dylan
- The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan
- The Times They Are a-Changin’
- Another Side of Bob Dylan
- Bringing It All Back Home
- Highway 61 Revisited
- Blonde on Blonde
- John Wesley Harding
- Nashville Skyline
- Self Portrait
- New Morning
- Pat Garrett & Billy the Kid
- Planet Waves
- Blood on the Tracks
- The Basement Tapes
- Slow Train Coming
- Shot of Love
- Empire Burlesque
- Knocked Out Loaded
- Down in the Groove
- Oh Mercy
- Under the Red Sky
- Good as I Been To You
- World Gone Wrong
- Time Out of Mind
- “Love and Theft”
- Modern Times
- Together Through Life
- Christmas in the Heart
- Shadows in the Night
- Fallen Angles
- Rough and Rowdy Ways
Released: March 19, 1962
When a young Dylan left his home in Minnesota for New York City in early 1961 to find Woody Guthrie, he went to where the music was, performing in the hip folk-music bars in Greenwich Village, networking and building his repertoire and talent. Finally, the aspiring songwriter and guitarist struck lightning by landing a record deal.
The album that got recorded was a selection of covers and only two original cuts, most notably “Song for Woody,” which Dylan wrote an homage to his folk hero, whom he met shortly after arriving in New York. Though at first considered a failure, it became popular on the heels of Dylan’s breakout second album.
- “Song for Woody”
- “Talkin’ New York”
- “See That My Grave Is Kept Clean”
The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan
Released: May 27, 1963
Freewheelin’ turned Dylan into a celebrated songwriter, unrivaled poet, and countercultural icon effectively overnight. Almost all of the songs included were original compositions, and several were protest tunes or love ballads – and they all hold up today.
“A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall” is one of the earliest examples of Dylan’s most profound compositions. It made acclaimed poets weep, and folk singers everywhere wish they had written it. While most people assumed it was about the Cuban Missle Crisis, Bob has pushed back against these claims, arguing that the hard rain mentioned is more ambiguous, elemental, etc. That’s a recurring feature in his protest music you’ll find.
“Blowin’ in the Wind” became the ultimate game-changer, though, adopted as a folk anthem for the Civil Rights movement and by other established acts covering the tune – making Dylan substantially richer in the process. It was drastically different from, and somehow right at home with, the scathing “Masters of War” and lovesick “Don’t Think Twice, It’s Alright.”
- “Blowin’ in the Wind”
- “A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall”
- “Masters of War”
- “Don’t Think Twice, It’s Alright”
- “Girl from the North Country”
The Times They Are a-Changin’
Released: January 13, 1964
Times further cemented Dylan’s status as an untouchable literary and musical giant. It delivered profound protest tunes still applicable today. On the other hand, Dylan was pouring his heart out, crooning, often lovesick and introspective (“Boots of Spanish Leather,” “Restless Farewell,” “One Too Many Mornings).”
The title track became another hit protest anthem that would become a standard for countless artists to cover, ringing true, no matter what generation hears it. But other tunes explored increasingly complex subjects and angles, like racism, classism, and warmongering.
In “Only a Pawn in Their Game,” Dylan explores the intersection of race and class to explain how white supremacy festers among lower-class whites and breeds racial conflict. It was an angle that, by most accounts, NEVER existed in music – while “With God on Our Side” explores hyper-nationalism from a satirical point of view. “The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carrol,” however, might be the standout protest gem.
- “The Times They Are a-Changin'”
- “The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carrol”
- “Only a Pawn in Their Game”
- “With God On Our Side”
- “Boots of Spanish Leather”
Another Side of Bob Dylan
Released: August 8, 1964
Not many artists feel the need to perform an about-face after only four records.
But Another Side holds a unique place in the artist’s discography because it lacked any protest tunes – at least in the conventional sense. He made a conscious effort to distance himself from the folk/protest movement for reasons ranging from safety to artistic ambitions. But two songs (“My Back Pages” and “Chimes of Freedom”) became protest songs ABOUT protest songs, effectively creating a new genre.
Bob wrote many of the songs while on vacation in Greece, then recorded the album in one night while drinking among friends. It gives the album a more laid-back and intimate feeling, so the songs hit differently. But though Another Side was unfathomable in the eyes of folk purists because of the lack of straightforward protest tunes, it still sold well.
A few songs broke through the mainstream thanks to artists like Johnny Cash, The Byrds, and Cher covering them. It’s not hard to see why it’s a fan favorite among a select group of Dylanologists, as it represents a carefree yet passionate transition period in Dylan’s career.
- “It Ain’t Me, Babe”
- “All I Really Wanna Do”
- “My Back Pages”
- “To Ramona”
- “Chimes of Freedom”
Bringing It All Back Home
Released: March 22, 1965
Bringing It All Back Home began what is commonly referred to as his Electric Trilogy, as he fully embraced rock instruments and drums, combining two elements and arguably inventing what we now know as folk-rock. Interestingly, the first half features the “rock” side, while the second half features acoustic numbers that are easily among his best and most celebrated.
Side A saw the fast-paced Chuck Berry-inspired “Subterranean Homesick Blues,” which became a massive hit and one of the first music videos. The two tracks “She Belongs to Me” and “Love Minus Zero/No Limit” are among his finest love songs, and the laid-back sound paved the way for Highway 61’s and Blonde on Blonde’s textures.
Side B has the unforgettable “Mr. Tambourine Man” and “It’s Alright Ma (I’m Only Bleeding),” both of which became pivotal in establishing an evolving Dylan as an icon. But the two other acoustic songs, “Gates of Eden” and “It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue,” are not to be forgotten, either.
- “Mr. Tambourine Man”
- “It’s Alright Ma (I’m Only Bleeding)”
- “Subterranean Homesick Blues”
- “It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue”
Highway 61 Revisited
Released: August 30, 1965
Dylan’s most celebrated album might even be his best.
The short run-time has so much going for it that it’s impossible to catch everything during the first, second, or twentieth listen. Part of that is due to the singer’s advanced lyricism and performance with a voice at its peak. But the other part has to do with the band itself, carefully crafted to portray a garage rocking blues sound, featuring a ghostly organ and whimsical piano, and of course, Bob’s signature harmonica shrills.
The opening track is easily the most accessible of all the tunes. “Desolation Row” might be the critical favorite, though, with an eleven-minute run-time that allows the listener to become immersed in the poetry and surreal imagery. The beautiful accompanying busy lead guitar doesn’t hurt, either. Ultimately, Highway 61 has the songs, the sound, and the attitude to last forever.
There’s a reason Highway 61 Revisited has consistently been in the top five of Rolling Stone’s Greatest Albums of All Time list, usually right up there with Abbey Road, Revolver, and Pet Sounds.
- “Like a Rolling Stone”
- “Desolation Row”
- “Highway 61 Revisited”
- “Just Like Tom Thumb’s Blues”
- “Ballad of a Thin Man”
- “Queen Jane Approximately”
Blonde on Blonde
Released: June 20, 1966
Marking the completion of his Electric Trilogy, this album sees the bard explore a more distinct and unfamiliar musical and lyrical style. However, Blonde on Blonde is considered to be one of the best albums of the 60s. Many of the songs were recorded in the middle of the night, written on manifold uppers. The bard pushed himself as far as he could, and there’s a reason why, shortly after this album’s release, he underwent a complete tonal shift in his life, his music, and his standing in popular culture.
Songs venture in and out of the subject of love with detours into subtle hints at politics and community. The style of the words oscillates between a modernist view of Shakespearean language and characters, heady and psychedelic stoner ventures, or straight-up Moon/Spoon/June rhymes.
The focused sound sets this album apart in the discography – prominently mixing garage rock with twangy, country elements (a la the Nashville session musicians). It gives the music a tender and otherworldly feeling, of which Bob Dylan himself famously said: “It’s that thin, that wild mercury sound. It’s metallic and bright gold, with whatever that conjures up.”
He also memorably remarked this was the one album that got closest to the sound floating around inside his head, a feat that all artists strive for. It just so happened to also resonate with generations of listeners with beatnik or garage rock tendencies.
- “I Want You”
- “Just Like a Woman”
- “Rainy Day Women #12 & 35”
- “Visions of Johanna”
- “Most Likely You Go Your Way and I Go Mine”
- “Stuck Inside of Mobile with the Memphis Blues Again”
John Wesley Harding
Released: December 27, 1967
For his eighth studio album, Bob Dylan went back to basics. Yes, John Wesley Harding marked yet another change in his style, and it was influenced not only by a conscious creative decision but also by drastic lifestyle changes. For one, he had a kid. For two, he had grown tired of the unsustainable touring life that included drugs, among other impulsive and self-destructive habits.
So, for many, John Wesley Harding is a breath of fresh air and symbolizes a form of spiritual and musical maturity because it displays Bob in a more traditional acoustic-driven three-piece band, singing better than ever, some might argue. It even produced “All Along the Watchtower,” which, two years later, got covered by Jimi Hendrix, who, in Bob’s words, essentially transformed the song.
- “All Along the Watchtower”
- “The Ballad of Frankie Lee and Judas Priest”
- “I Dreamed I Saw St. Augustine”
- “Dear Landlord”
Released: April 9, 1969
Nashville Skyline might be in the top three oddest Bob Dylan albums, but this one is arguably the one that works the best. The cover art displays the ultra-rare smiling Dylan, and inside its sleeves is a record of, well, country music! Johnny Cash joins Bob for one official track, a duet re-imagination of “Girl From the North Country,” and Dylan premiered and performed his original “I Threw It All Away” live on the very first episode of The Johnny Cash Show in 1969.
The most popular song from the record, by and far, is “Lay Lady Lay,” which became an early country-rock staple, influencing the likes of Madonna. Some of the tracks might miss the mark, but this album will always be a classic if nothing else but for creating the batch of tracks that gave birth to that fiery tune.
- “Lay Lady Lay”
- “I Threw It All Away”
- “Girl From the North Country”
Released: June 8, 1970
Self Portrait might go down in history as one of the most hated Bob Dylan albums, though its critical evaluation has improved somewhat among critics and fans. Still, it’s impossible to divorce the failure from its release. But that fall represented the space to start over, which gave the songwriter a new and necessary purpose after hitting what many consider his artistic peak during the mid-sixties.
It’s also not hard to see why people STILL don’t like this record. While it is cool that Bob Dylan painted the cover art, it seemed like more originality went into that than in crafting the songs. There were covers, there was that country voice again, and sometimes it becomes evident that the album might have been an ironic and intended dud. Still, there are some good tracks, even if they are few and far between.
“The Mighty Quinn” became the most well-known song from this release due to its translation as a pop song a la Manfred Mann. It’s merely unfortunate that the crux of this track relies on what is considered a racial slur by Indigenous peoples of the Arctic.
- “Copper Kettle”
- “The Mighty Quinn”
Released: October 21, 1970
New Morning was released only four months after his prior album, Self Portrait, and though it contained some artistic risks, it starkly contrasted its predecessor. Mainly, Morning became well-received publicly almost immediately. Old/new fans and critics generally hailed New Morning as a breath of fresh air, especially in response to the previous release, which felt antithetical and anti-climactic.
With the hit songs “The Man in Me” and “If Not For You,” New Morning displays a wide range of emotions that end on a positive note. The first number received a boost from its popular inclusion in two sequences in The Big Lebowski (1998). It is easy to see Bob Dylan felt he had more to say, as he always does. But perhaps New Morning is the unofficial quote-un-quote Volume II to Self Portrait.
- “The Man in Me”
- “If Not For You”
Pat Garrett & Billy the Kid
Released: July 13, 1973
When it came time for Bob Dylan to create his first motion picture soundtrack, it became no ordinary event, as Dylan himself starred in the film. And while most of the music created for the soundtrack is instrumental in form, the batch of songs crafted yet another iconic and infinitely covered (dirge) tune. That song is “Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door.”
And while many erroneously know it as a Guns N’ Roses track, it appeared first during an emotional and climactic scene of the western Pat Garett & Billy the Kid. In that scene, an old sheriff dies in an epic gunfight, and the lyrics and vocal performance of the accompanying composition elevate the scene in that rare way only music and film can.
- “Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door”
Released: November 16, 1973
Dylan is widely considered among the most anti-Bob Dylan records ever, earning the ire of anyone in earshot of the album’s lore and musical contents. A huge reason? The album is merely an assortment of outtakes – and most damning, not from the sixties – and Dylan himself didn’t even provide any input. Yes, the thirteenth studio album in Bob’s discography draws from the two weakest points in his career – Self Portrait and New Morning.
Its proper historical context is interesting. Columbia put out Dylan to fulfill a contract – a contract that Bob Dylan had grown to resent. Dylan himself was leaving for a new record label, Asylum – a move that would not last. Plus, he was getting ready to announce his first tour since 1966, which would become one of the pivotal moments in rock concert history up to that point. Bob had spent the summer of 1973 practicing and recording with his old 1966 touring band, which had since become respected in its own right – The Band!
- “The Ballad of Ira Hayes”
Released: January 17, 1974
Planet Waves is a solid and underrated album, especially if you happen to be a Bob Dylan fan that also loves The Band, as the two careers share a storied, intertwining past.
But if you know about Blood On The Tracks and Desire – his two most celebrated 70s albums – then you are bound to appreciate this album, arguably part one of a trilogy (not including The Basement Tapes) that would elevate Dylan once again to the top during this second period in his career. It was also his only album released by the Asylum record label.
Here, the artist and all-but-Canadian rock group join once again for their first proper studio album, with Dylan at the helm. The songs themselves have again found their purpose – usually to embrace joy and laziness, which Dylan and the gang nail.
If you are a listless 60s Dylan fan awaiting his return to form, track one “On A Night Like This” can immediately hit you as jarring. It is, after all, more of the same swampy sound that fans came to associate with the artist since Nashville Skyline and arguably even John Wesley Harding.
Still, there is no denying that all performers sound invested – and the results are oddly captivating. But track two, the ballad-y “Going Going Gone,” reassures: there is bound to be some undeniable depth to this record. “Forever Young” is the most celebrated track, though, and there are two versions that each do the song justice, though the slow version is lauded and quick on the heartstrings. Pick your favorite!
- “Forever Young”
- “Going Going Gone”
Blood on the Tracks
Released: January 20, 1975
Blood on the Tracks is why many Bob Dylan fans are comfortable saying his best output belongs to his 70s period. And it’s a fair enough – if a bit ahistorical – viewpoint. The entire first half of the record is gold, as Dylan introduces a new level of lyrical depth to his songwriting, much of which he himself attributed to his painting lessons at the time, headed by a world-class painting instructor.
The instrumentation on the record was fraught with recording difficulty, as just when Dylan thought he had the backing tracks down, he assembled new members to re-record what wasn’t working. So, the album is a combination of two periods during the making of this record.
But of course, the content itself is perhaps the most alluring – it chronicles one messy divorce, immortalizing it with so many captivating chapters that blend truth with fiction in a truly Dylanesque way. Some of the breakup songs are bitter and acerbic, some are plain heartbreaking, and one or two present humble moments of optimism.
From an emotional standpoint, regarding lyrics and vocal delivery, nothing can quite compare, least of all anything outside of the discography.
- “Tangled Up in Blue”
- “Simple Twist of Fate”
- “You’re Gonna Make Me Lonesome When You Go”
- “Shelter From the Storm”
- “Idiot Wind”
The Basement Tapes
Released: June 26, 1975
Most diehard Bob Dylan fans will swear that the 1975 official release is not quite the quote-un-quote real Basement Tapes that circulated via bootlegged records which displayed his works between Blonde on Blonde and John Wesley Harding. Still, this iteration has its merits, the least of which include eight previously unreleased tracks.
The Band backs Dylan on most of these songs, including staples like “You Ain’t Going Nowhere” and “This Wheel’s On Fire.” But many argue that leaving out “The Mighty Quinn” and “I Shall Be Released” – in addition to the presence of eight mid-tier Band songs – represent fatal flaws.
- “You Ain’t Going Nowhere”
- “This Wheel’s On Fire”
- “Nothing Was Delivered”
Released: January 5, 1976
Desire is considered one of the best Bob Dylan albums by many, and it again represents a pivotal release during his resurgent second period during the seventies. This time, Dylan enlisted a proper band to record and tour his songs, immortalized in the Rolling Thunder Revue tour and the 2019 Scorcese documentary of the same name.
The most notable aspect of this band is the inclusion of violinist Scarlet Rivera and vocalist Emmylou Harris, making this a genuinely collaborative and inventive effort. But of course, an album is only as strong as its songs.
The most well-known from the album is “Hurricane,” a protest song that proved that Dylan could still pen a passionate tune for a cause. And it did have tangible effects, as it brought awareness to the public consciousness about a specific murder case, which subsequently led to the release of wrongly convicted boxer Ruben “Hurricane” Carter. But while it conveys urgency, some of the lyrics – notably the use of the N-word – while well-intentioned, fail to hold up today.
Overall, though, there are a lot of excellent tracks threaded together with strong artistic vision and production, making this arguably the most standout sounding record in Dylan’s discography.
- “One More Cup of Coffee (Valley Below)”
Released: June 15, 1978
After the success of Desire, Street-Legal may come as a bit of a letdown. While it performed well from a commercial standpoint – it is a certified Gold record, after all – one might say it lacked the tenacity captured in the previous release – in performance and memorable songwriting.
But that is somewhat understandable, as Bob Dylan had too much on his plate to produce a quality work of art. He finalized a messy and public divorce as written about on Blood on the Tracks and Desire and endured critical lambasting after his misfired directorial and acting debut captured in the ill-fated Renaldo and Clara film.
Still, songs like “Where Are You Tonight” and “Changing of the Guard” showed that Dylan became more comfortable with his role in the music industry as an aging artist. If anything, this album proves that Bob was determined to play the long game in music. And sometimes that means putting out an album that is just okay, and receiving the golden muse whenever it comes.
- “Where Are You Tonight? (Journey Through Dark Heat)”
- “Changing of the Guard”
Slow Train Coming
Released: August 20, 1979
Slow Train Coming marked a significant departure for the artist, initiating a controversial trilogy of born-again Christian rock songs, alienating much of his audience. And while that may be enough for most of us to cringe, especially when coupled with his toxic on-stage outbursts, there are still some solid songs on these records.
“Gotta Serve Somebody” is one of the best songs on this album and from this born-again period, arguably because it eases the listener into this new religious mindset using poetic and often ambiguous language. It won the Grammy for Best Male Rock Performance in 1980, which is no small feat.
- “Gotta Serve Somebody”
- “Man Gave Names to All the Animals”
Released: June 23, 1980
Part two of the born-again trilogy saw Bob Dylan dive deeper into curious artistic choices, further alienating his critical and casual audience. For many, Saved is more of the same, perhaps even a step down from the previous release, as the album lacked a strong radio-friendly single like “Gotta Serve Somebody.”
Still, it reached number 3 on the UK charts and 24 in America, with praise directed at his backing band, who displayed an unapologetic gospel sound, and some respect for his continued public plunge into the Christian faith.
- “A Satisfied Mind”
Shot of Love
Released: June 23, 1980
Once again, Dylan got lambasted by the critics for Shot of Love, the last of his born-again trilogy. It represented a decline in commercial and popular success for Dylan, especially in the US, but fared well in the UK, reaching number 6 on the charts.
Even still, critics showered Dylan with praise for the album closer, “Every Grain of Sand,” which Bono of U2 fame has stated is one of his favorite songs (he also praises the singing on this record). The production process was particularly troubled, as Bob Dylan and new producer Chuck Plotkin could not agree on how to mix the album until the last minute.
- “Every Grain of Sand”
- “The Groom’s Still Waiting at the Altar”
Released: October 27, 1983
Infidels marked a step in the right direction for Dylan.
Not only did he actively distance himself from outwardly religious music, but he once again sought to reinvent himself as an artist in the public sphere. Songs like “Jokerman,” “Sweetheart Like You,” and “I and I” became at once appreciated for their songwriting and performances and are still critically acclaimed today, considered some of his best works (interestingly, they all contain subtle spiritual and political meanings).
Infidels also marked an intriguing divergence in the sound of his records, as he employed musicians more closely associated with reggae music, specifically by including the duo Sly & Robbie in the backing band. Additionally, Bob Dylan hired Mark Knopfler of Dire Straits to produce the record, a move that would prove incredibly fruitful and universally praised.
But critics note one grave mistake: Bob Dylan omitted one of his greatest blues songs recording during these sessions on the final product, “Blind Willie McTell.”
- “Sweetheart Like You”
- “I and I”
Released: June 10, 1985
Empire Burlesque is another divisive Eighties Dylan record for its blend of gospel and blues with a distinct sound reminiscent of the era. Regardless of the ones put off, it remains unique in his discography because Bob Dylan essentially produced it himself.
He did it with the help of some A-list session musicians, most notably: members of Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers. “Dark Eyes” recalls some of his earlier work, featuring Dylan alone, accompanied only by his guitar and harmonica. While some may dismiss it as lukewarm, the songwriting is some of the most impressive since 1975 Dylan, for better or worse.
- “Tight Connection to My Heart (Has Anybody Seen My Love)”
- “Dark Eyes”
Knocked Out Loaded
Released: July 14, 1986
Knocked Out Loaded is another mixed bag at best. It’s arguably the weakest collection of songs from this era of Bob Dylan, with one exception – “Brownsville Girl.” That track kicks off the second side of the record, towering over the two remaining songs that follow, thanks to its eleven-minute runtime, packed with excellent, visceral poetry that’s some of his best in years, perhaps ever.
But one takes that with the lows of this album cycle. Three cover songs and two co-compositions turn down the heat a little, as far as consistency is concerned – especially for a specific class of Dylan listeners, as Bob tends to be at his best when he and he alone helms the compositional wheel.
- “Brownsville Girl”
Down in the Groove
Released: May 30, 1988
For Down in the Groove, Bob Dylan once again employed several collaborators to help achieve the final listing of songs, and critics infer the recordings span nearly six years. And yet again, several critics and fans argue this is his worst output – with Rolling Stone magazine going so far to say that this is definitively the worst Dylan record of all time in 2007.
But even a rotten album by the bard succeeded somewhat commercially in the UK and US, reaching 32 and 64, respectively. And it’s disappointing, too, given the A-list of rock and folk talent that appears on this thing – Jerry Garcia and Bob Weir of the Grateful Dead, Ronnie Wood of the Rolling Stones, Eric Clapton, and Randy Jackson, to name a few.
“Silvio” is a bright spot, though.
Released: September 12. 1989
Dylan fans will be happy to know that Oh Mercy is easily the best album from this 80s era, narrowly defeating Infidels with songs that feature strong songwriting coupled with keen production via Daniel Lanois, known for his work with U2. Lanois knew how to get a unique set of sounds and performances from Dylan and the band, with critics noting a lush production sound that elevated songs like “Shooting Star” and “Ring Them Bells.”
Perhaps because Bob Dylan wrote all the songs – in contrast to the previous few albums – it led to an immediate increase in the quality and warmth of its reception. It peaked at number 6 and 30 in the UK and US, respectively.
- “Political World”
- “Everything Is Broken”
- “Man in the Long Black Coat”
Under the Red Sky
Released: September 10, 1990
Under the Red Sky was sadly considered a disappointment to Bob Dylan’s prior release. But while not considered one of Dylan’s most memorable albums, as far as his growth as an artist, it shows a return to simplicity and that he welcomed different influences for the conceptual narrative thread.
Most notably, and much to the chagrin of critics, these tracks had a certain quality reminiscent of nursery rhymes for children. From tracks like “Wiggle Wiggle” to the title track, you will likely find this album worth listening to with an open mind and ear. After all, the only difference between a song like “Blowin’ in the Wind” and “Wiggle Wiggle” is perhaps the stakes of its lyrical subject.
But the guest performances of George Harrison, Elton John, David Crosby, and even Slash, to name a few, make this an enjoyable listening experience for anyone who loves older folk and rock musical stylings.
- “Under the Red Sky”
- “Wiggle Wiggle”
Good as I Been to You
Released: November 3, 1992
Good As I Been To You represents a return to roots for Bob Dylan. Here was his first entirely solo acoustic album since Another Side, released nearly 30 years ago. For that reason, it provides significant value to loyal Dylan fans as it proves his ability to cover traditional folk classics in his famous soulful and mysterious style.
Meanwhile, his song selection shows Dylan’s appreciation for the very roots of American Folk Music, with “Hard Times,” originally written by Stephen Foster in 1854, being a standout. It reached the 18th and 51st chart positions in the UK and the US, respectively.
- “Hard Times”
World Gone Wrong
Released: October 26, 1993
World Gone Wrong continued the thread established in Good As I Been to You, providing continuity with its traditional folk acoustic style – nothing but guitar and harmonica. The album was well-loved, won a Grammy Award for Best Traditional Folk Album, and received warm critical and fan reception.
“Blood In My Eyes is an emotional yet flirtatious song, with a deeper meaning left to interpretation. Bob Dylan chose to film the music video in black and white, giving off an air of mystery and contemplation as we see Dylan meandering through the city, wondering why the blood rests in his eyes. A lovely cinematic expression to match an equally invoking song.
- “Blood In My Eyes”
Time Out of Mind
Released: September 30, 1997
In late September of ’97, Bob Dylan released his best album of the Nineties. Winning two Grammy Awards – Album of the Year & Best Contemporary Folk Album – Time Out Of Mind was a success and a great way to celebrate his 30th studio album.
Adele famously covered “Make You Feel My Love,” doing it a fair amount of justice – but while the two versions are not in competition, there is nothing like the original. And many of these songs have made regular appearances in live performances, most notably “Love Sick.”
- “Make You Feel My Love”
- “Not Dark Yet”
- “Love Sick”
- “Cold Irons Bound”
“Love and Theft”
Released: September 30, 1997
“Love and Theft” was released on one of the most tragic days in American history, September 11th, 2001. But despite the shadow lingering over its rollout, the album won a lot of love and recognition as Bob Dylan continued on his refound road to Americana/Folk. It also landed number five on the charts.
Dylan felt no need to draw out the recording sessions, as the twelve songs got recorded in merely twelve days. In this case, that was indicative of intuitive, urgent artistic fire.
However, several academics and music critics have heaved accusations of plagiarism at the lyrics on the album, pointing to the similarities to the book Confessions of a Yakuza. And considering how well-read Dylan is and the resemblance that threads itself through the entire project, the accusation holds weight.
But still, this is Dylan we are discussing. That move may be intentional, representative of a specific artistic intention that he makes no bones about, perfectly transparent in a tongue-in-cheek fashion on the very name of the record, right down to the quotation marks. Perhaps all art is love and theft. You decide.
- “Summer Days”
- “Honest with Me”
- “High Water (For Charley Patton)”
Released: August 29, 2006
Modern Times continued where “Love and Theft” left off. Notably, it drew more controversy where songwriting credit is concerned, and on the other hand, it was another swing and a hit in terms of musical quality. Bob Dylan takes all the credit for the writing, even though the lyrics throughout the record hold striking similarities to several songs spanning generations of popular and traditional folk, blues, and gospel music.
Despite the sustained accusations, it was another well-received record during this resurgence of the great songwriter in his mid-sixties.
- “Thunder on the Mountain”
- “Spirit on the Water”
Together Through Life
Released: April 28, 2009
Nobody saw it coming when this became a number one record in not just one but several countries.
This time around, Bob Dylan once again enlisted the songwriting talents of others, including Robert Hunter, noted songwriter for the Grateful Dead, whom he had worked with before. He also brought in Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers again. But unlike times before, it wasn’t too many cooks in the kitchen: the collaboration sparked a fire in Dylan, and the results speak for themselves.
Together Through Life received two Grammy nominations, one for Best Americana Album and one for Best Solo Rock Vocal Performance.
- “Beyond Here Lies Nothin'”
- “Forgetful Heart”
Christmas in the Heart
Released: October 13, 2009
Who would have thought this Jewish-born protest singer would write a Christmas album, only for it to be a commercial success.
But all the proceeds of Christmas in the Heart went straight to multiple charities, and it’s not a shabby yuletide album, either. It shot straight to the number one spot on the Holiday Album charts, in addition to five, ten, and 23 on the Folk, Rock, and overall album charts.
If you want to mix up your holiday playlist, satisfy your burning curiosity, or be proud of Bob Dylan for doing something for others, play this record and let the cheer in unapologetically.
- “Must Be Santa”
Released: September 10, 2012
Tempest was another successful release for Bob Dylan. It charted at the third position and received nearly universal critical praise for its traditional folk stylings and mysterious melancholic lyrics. Rolling Stone even voted it the fourth-best album of the year. This time around, Dylan wrote all but one of the songs, and it would be the last time he released original music for eight years.
- “Early Roman Kings”
- “Pay in Blood”
- “Soon After Midnight”
- “Duquesne Whistle”
Shadows in the Night
Released: February 3, 2015
Shadows in the Night is an odd one – if you consider a Frank Sinatra cover album out of the ordinary, that is. But if you are a Bob Dylan and Sinatra fan, this is the record for you. It helps that it’s a quality release, too, filled with superb song selections and performances across the board.
Critics agreed: it topped the UK charts, setting a record, as Dylan became the oldest male solo artist to accomplish such a feat. It also received a Grammy nomination for Best Traditional Pop Vocal Album.
- “Full Moon and Empty Arms”
- “Stay with Me”
Released: May 20, 2016
Fallen Angels is another tasteful album of covers. Yet again, almost all of these songs got popularized by Ol’ Blue Eyes – Frank Sinatra. And just like its predecessor, it was well-received by critics and received a Grammy nomination for Best Traditional Pop Vocal Album.
The album arrangement, in particular, drew praise, as they at once breathed new life into these traditional songs and provided a unique musical landscape for Bob Dylan’s soulful croaking crooning.
It topped the charts in Austria and racked up twelve other top ten positions internationally.
- “Melancholy Mood”
Released: March 31, 2017
Triplicate is an aptly named collection of covers, as the triple album release contains three sequences of ten songs each. It also completes the trilogy of unoriginal songs – and does so with a bang. The album received widespread critical acclaim upon rollout and another Grammy nomination for Best Traditional Pop Vocal Album, and it cut through the top ten in 12 different countries.
And the youngsters could learn a thing or two from the production, as Bob Dylan and the touring down laid down all tracks without overdubbing extra parts in the studio. What you hear is precisely what they performed live. Maybe that is why it comes across as so refreshing.
- “I Could Have Told You”
- “My One and Only Love”
Rough and Rowdy Ways
Released: June 19, 2020
Rough and Rowdy Ways, the latest Bob Dylan album, delivers some much-needed compositional originality. Gone are the years of releasing nothing but cover songs, and back is the music he penned himself. And it helped that the songs were heavy hitters, seen most vividly in the track “Murder Most Foul,” a song about JFK that came out of nowhere and gave Dylan his first number one tack in the US.
Hopefully, we get another record from the songwriting genius. But if this is the last collection of originals, he will have left the game on a high note.
- “Murder Most Foul”
- “I Contain Multitudes”
- “False Prophet”
No matter what the prevailing trends of the time were, Bob always did what felt right, which usually encapsulated the unexpected. He constantly reinvented his musical identity and public image, and his art was all the better for it. Bob Dylan would even interject his opinions of public matters in many of his songs. Many of these songs are known as his protest songs. But those words have become ubiquitous in music and popular art. What’s more interesting is the discography itself – the body of work that ranges from godly to human, all too human. Regardless, Bob Dylan is considered one of the most influential artists ever.