Here’s another from my 1960’s vinyl collection, I assume that everyone has  heard this perhaps dozens of time as I have but I wanted a cut that was representative of that period Dylan. Like a Rolling Stone and Desolation Row were both first choices but there are dozens/hundreds more, all wonderful so I poked around with ‘Freewheelin’, ‘ a Changin’, ‘Bringing it all Back Home’ and ultimately I settled on ‘Highway 61 Revisited’. If you were not there you can’t imagine the effect that the release of this album had, it was unlike anything that you see today, the times were indeed a changin’.  It contains so many great songs, all recorded right after the fiasco at the Newport Folk Festival where he ‘went electric’, it contains both of my initial choices, it starts with ‘Stone’ and finishes with ‘Desolation’ but I decided to choose another favorite, “It Takes a Lot to Laugh, It Takes a Train to Cry”, a real slow country blues that relates directly to the album’s title, Highway 61. That’s the highway that runs from Minnesota to New Orleans running parallel to the Mississippi much of the way; there’s a lot of blues connections on Highway 61, it’s also the route that many black Americans took to escape the poverty of the Delta and how jazz migrated from New Orleans to Chicago. 

 Musically, “It Takes a Lot to Laugh” has a lazy tempo driven by session drummer Bobby Gregg, a barrelhouse piano part played by Paul Griffin, a raunchy bass part played by Harvey Brooks, an electric guitar part played by Mike Bloomfield and a harmonica part by Dylan.

By 1965 Dylan was into his sixth album, a huge archive of great music but here I wanted to select just one cut to epitomize that era, an impossible task: which cut would you have chosen?



  1. HI GF ! ! !

    I really love it when I find tracks that show the similarity and differences between cultures ! ! !.

    Of course, I will say that my views maybe well undersold in relation to Bob Dylan but they may also be well mis-understood.

    I think BD is a fantastic song writer. But I do not think he is a great singer . My Favourite BD tracks are always by other people never his originals.

    But . . .

    Maybe this is an exception because I really do love this track.

    In the west song about trains and railways tend to be so nostalgic, But in Japan, trains represent our achievements in technology and modernity,

    The shinkensen trains have some like magical significance for us. I must admit I do really feel the tears in my eyes when I see them come into the stations, and really they are important in the now.

    In country like Japan which is very long and mountainous in the middle, communications were really difficult, the shinkansen united Japan linking cities that for centuries were isolated from each other,

    After the March 11 earthquake, the re-starting of the shinkansen was so symbolic of recovery. More than 25,000 people waved the Kyushu shinkansen on its first journey north.

    This video, I think, shows the importance of the skinkansen to the Japanese people.

    And if you have never seen one, the second video shows I think how impressive emotionally they are.

    The Kyushu Shinkansen

    And some western people experiencing the shinkensen effect

    Next week for my stupid job I will begin a tour of ten cities in Japan. I will travel mostly by train.

    Every time I know I will have an emotional reaction when the train arrives in the station.

    So maybe, it takes a lot to cry and it takes a train to laugh is the more appropriate title for a Japanese version of the song ! ! !

    • If you listen to the Tallest Man On Earth, Bob’s vocal stylings sound quite beautiful by comparison.

      Percy’s Song remains on top of my (small) Top Of The Bob chart & his only tune to make my (virtual) all-time chart.

  2. I’ve always liked Just like Tom Thumb blues best. It just “rolls” along so nicely, lyrically and musically.

  3. There’s a Graun blog about ‘the best decade for music’ at the moment; Dylan’s early albums almost form the justification for the sixties on their own.
    I slightly prefer Blonde On Blonde to Highway 61, as that has even more great songs on it, but both albums should form part of the school syllabus.

    When they came out I was a little too young to appreciate them and, later, when others played them to kill off a party (if no Leonard Cohen was around), I was probably put off by his voice. Now, I see them as treasure.

  4. “Like a Rolling Stone” is perhaps, for me, the greatest song ever written. “It’s Alright Ma (I’m Only Bleeding)” is perhaps the song I’d pick as my favourite Dylan song if I was trying to pick one that not so many people would pick.

    But I think for the purposes of this question I’m going to go for “Subterranean Homesick Blues”. I came to it 3 decades late, but I think whatever era you first heard it in, you’d be left in gaping amazement.

  5. Sakura; Thank you for that really interesting comment, but please let me make one suggestion. The idea that BD is not a good singer has been made so many times throughout his lifetime, but I’m not sure what that really means. does it mean that Sinatra who had perfect phrasing and tone would do it better; or Ella who also was perfect? Of course not, BD is perfect for the type of songs he writes, as was Woody Guthrie, another singer songwriter very similar to Bob. As was Janice Joplin and all the Delta blues singers, Classical perfection or whatever you use to describe a ‘good singer’ just wouldn’t do it with Dylan’s songs, only Dylan can sing them the way they should be sung. though I do have to admit that some of his later bootlegs do cause one to waver.
    Shoey: Percy’s song was high in the running, another of my all time favorites.
    Ubu; agreed, Tom Thumb was another top choice.
    SR: Total agreement, Desolation was/is my all time favorite particularly the Columbia version with that beautiful gtr. throughout by Charlie McCoy. The original version with Al Cooper was rejected, but released on a bootleg some years later, it’s not even close to the McCoy version which is flawless. A genuine masterpiece.
    And then Thin Man, I was tossing up on that one for several days, another great cut.
    Chris: Thanks for the Guardian tip, I’d missed it. Blonde/Highway, they’re all treasures that should be in all educational curriculums.
    Barbryn: Stone is another and Alright ma is also up there, SHB, of course, it was an era of amazing music.
    I spent several days on this playing lots of early Dylan and one thing that I can tell you is the guy’s an earworm machine, they’re running through my head all day long. The ‘worst’ of the bunch is Chimes of Freedom, can’t get it out of my head, not that I’m really trying.

  6. Chris; Just read your contribution to the ‘Best decade’ column over at the G, you nailed it, hit all the bases, nothing more to be said.

  7. I’m always bewildered when I read or hear that Dylan’s not a good singer. What do people expect him to sound like?

    Course, it’s always better if you have a good harmony singer

    Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door by Bob Dylan with Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers

  8. Desolation Row edges Like a Rolling Stone for me on the lyrics but both are immense songs. The Beatles never got near either.

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