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Bob Dylan Vinyl Records

Bob Dylan Studio Print by Alan Perry

Born as Robert Allen Zimmerman in 1941, now known as a titan in music as Bob Dylan. This giant of the industry has sold multiple millions of albums. He has written over 500 songs which have been recorded by more than 2000 artists. He essentially set a bar for lyric writing, he’s performed all over the world and in 2016 won the Nobel Prize for Literature. He’s got plenty of awards to his name, such as the Presidential Medal of Freedom and has been inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame as well as the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame.

Needless to say, he’s got an immensely impressive resume. And we didn’t even cover all of it! It’s no wonder his name is so legendary, but all legends have to start somewhere, don’t they? We’re going to have a quick dive into the history of Bob Dylan and look at some of his albums.

Where It All Started

Dylan’s ventures into music started as early as high school. He formed multiple bands that played covers of songs by artists like Johnny Ray, Elvis Presley and Little Richard. One talent show performance being so loud that the principal apparently cut the mic cord. During this time is when he would have received his first guitar, in the year 1955.

Just before starting his further education at the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis, he spent a small amount of time as pianist for the rising star at the time, Bobby Vee. However during his time at university, he discovered a new connection to folk music and to a singer of the genre, Woody Guthrie. Guthrie at the time was in hospital in New Jersey, Dylan dropped out of his first year at university and moved to the East Coast in hopes of meeting him.

By this point he had adopted the last name of Dylan, with influence from the name of a Welsh poet, Dylan Thomas. He stated in an interview regarding his change of name: "You're born, you know, the wrong names, wrong parents. I mean, that happens. You call yourself what you want to call yourself. This is the land of the free.”

While Dylan did get to meet Guthrie, he did have to endure a harsh New York winter in the process. He got by reasonably by charming the East Coast with his performances which provided him well with food and shelter. As well as visiting Guthrie, he also befriended Ramblin’ Jack Elliot, Guthrie’s own student.

Finding his feet, it only took four months for someone to reach out for Dylan for his musical talent. He played the harmonica during a Harry Belafonte recording session. Following this, a review of one of Dylan’s live shows got him found by John Hammond of Columbia Records in September 1961. Everything had fallen into place to make way for his first album.

The History Behind the Music

Taking in his surroundings to learn from the artists around him while playing in clubs for a while to build up his material, Dylan came to release his first, self titled album Bob Dylan. It sold about 5000 units in a year and received mixed reviews from critics. They didn’t know what to really make of him at first. The turnaround was only just enough to come out positive.

Come Dylan’s second album, "The Free Wheelin’ Bob Dylan", his name started getting out more as a singer and songwriter. A certain divide formed between generations regarding the messages of his songs, with their rebellious themes. In fact, these new songs were soon used as anthems for protests. Guthrie’s influence shined brightly here. “Oxford Town” accounted the situation of James Meredith, the first black student to enroll at the University of Mississippi. “Blowin’ in the Wind” gives reference to the slave song, “No More Auction Block”. This album and its deep conscious songwriting marked Dylan’s name as a songwriter, and paved the way for meaningful and imagist lyrics fused with traditional folk song. It saw much better feedback and turnout than his first album. An early pressing of the "Freewheelin" album containing 4 withdrawn tracks is not just a very, very rare Dylan album to find but a highly sought after record by any artist commanding prices of between £10,000 and £25,000 depending on if a Mono or Stereo pressing.  Check yours - you just never know.

However at this point, Dylan’s untrained voice was a turnoff for some and an eye opener for others. His music quickly found itself played by other artists, including Joan Baez, who would later become Dylan’s lover.
Dylan set his political profile in May of 1963, where he walked out on The Ed Sullivan Show. While rehearsing, he was advised against playing his song “Talkin’ John Birch Paranoid Blues” as it would possibly disrespect the John Birch Society. Dylan walked out and refused to appear on the show after.

“The Times They Are A-Changin’” swept onto the scene in August 1963. The album followed much more politically charged writing. Including “Only a Pawn in Their Game” and “The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll”, both of which directly addressed murders that happened close to the time as well as “Ballad of Hollis Brown” and “North Country Blues” which reflected on a looming depression of the state of both farming and mining communities.

In June 1964, “Another Side of Bob Dylan” came about after being recorded in just one evening. Compared to the previous album, it had a much lighter mood. It saw Dylan bring back his sense of humour into his music with “Spanish Harlem Incident” and “Motorpsycho Nightmare”. With more love songs too, interestingly, this album was the first hint of rock n’ roll in Dylan’s music that would later be his predominant genre.

“Bringing it All Back Home” in 1965 granted Dylan his first experience with electric instruments. The single “Subterranean Homesick Blues” he found a lot of influence from his roots of interest in beat poetry as well as some inspirations from rap and hip-hop. This song received an early music video to celebrate Dylan’s 1965 London tour. Rather than mime in the video, Dylan threw cue cards on the ground with keywords from the song on them. A technique that has since been imitated. 

“Like a Rolling Stone” hit the scene in July of 1965. A 6 minute long single that almost entirely shed Dylan’s folk music skin for the sound of some rock n’ roll. This song saw his entrance into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame as well as receiving praise from Bruce Springsteen. The next album “Highway 61 Revisited” included the single as its opening song and smashing charts and sales. His previous history of protest songs had started to wash away.

Fans didn’t accept the change well. Various performances such as at the Newport Folk Festival and Forest Hills New York saw he and his crew heckled and booed for their electric sound over their traditional folk sound. While “Like a Rolling Stone” had dominated the charts, and even appeared to be well received in performance, it was followed by booing. These tours continued for a while, until in summer of 1966 Dylan suffered from injuries of a motorcycle crash and vanished from the scene for about two years.

In 1967, Dylan’s band moved to Woodstock to be closer to him. They managed to convince him to play with them in their basement. Recordings of these sessions would later become “The Basement Tapes'' in 1975.

Dylan slowly emerged back into the eye of the public. His first recording back was of “Nashville Skyline” 1969. It performed extremely well and reached number 3 in the charts, but Dylan continued to be met with criticism. His lyrics had lost their deeper meaning: People wondered, has he lost his old muse?

From this point forward, Dylan’s recordings and tours became more randomly timed. Though between this, he was also in the process of writing his first book and exploring art.

“Blood on the Tracks” from 1975 came in as a return to lyrical form. Questions of Dylan’s songwriting ability soon fizzled back out. It smashed the Billboard album chart, as did “Desire” which was released in 1976.

After a few more bumps in the road during the 80s he returned back to proper form in 1989 with “Oh Mercy”. It easily became his most well received recent album at the time, and saw glowing praise for his previous talent of songwriting showing itself in full once more.

There are a few more notable albums after this period such as “Love and Theft” in September of 2001, which did exceptionally well and received glowing praised from critics and fans alike and even found itself nominated for several Grammy Awards. But this just about highlights most of the bigger moments and albums of Dylan’s career.

What are Bob Dylan’s Best Albums?

A subjective question, but we’ve made sure to look into plenty of people’s sources and opinions to pick some out. These aren’t really ordered, just some top picks from our own, and others consensus!

Blood on the Tracks (1975)

While Dylan had some great luck with singles in the 70s, his albums weren’t performing well. Fans and critics saw a man who had lost his touch, a washed up star of the 60s. But then this album came along. A return to his lyrical genius and an emotional trip into the pain of lost love. The hurt in songs like “You’re a Big Girl Now” is prevalent through Dylan’s performance.

Blonde on Blonde (1966)

The 60s were a massive success for Dylan. Every album, every song, every show was a roaring success for him. Blonde on Blonde is absolutely no different. Dylan himself has stated that this album features a very particular sound that he could hear before he even made it. “Sad-Eyed Lady of the Lowlands” is reportedly a tribute to his at-the-time wife, whereas there are much more surreal and adventurous tracks on the album like “Most Likely You Go Your Way And I’ll Go Mine”.

Highway 61 Revisited (1965)

Kicking off with the legendary single “Like a Rolling Stone”, this album was Dylan’s biggest footstep into the rock n’ roll genre. Despite what seemed to be a failure of being booed by his crowds, he still finished up the album after performing “Like a Rolling Stone” and even with criticisms, this record flew off the shelves and into the charts.

Bringing it All Back Home (1965)

Dylan worked on this album during a transformative time for himself as a performer. This was around the time he’d started moving away from folk and stepping into the scenes of electric and rock music. Despite the cries of folk fans, “Subterranean Homesick Blues” and its surreal theming found massive success with everyone else. The album also features “Mr Tambourine Man”, one of Dylan’s most popular and important songs, and ends on “It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue”.

Summary

Bob Dylan has led a massive and long career, with plenty of ups and downs on the way. No success is linear after all, it comes in bumps and waves. Regardless, Dylan has done more than enough to cement himself as a legendary artist to this day. Whether you prefer his protesting, political folk music with direct and powerful lyrics or his ventures into rock n’ roll with much more melodic songs, we can’t deny the legacy that Dylan has left behind.

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