Bob Dylan's Fallen Angels (and five other essential Dylan albums)
As a man whose status as one of the most important songwriters who ever lived is practically unchallengeable, Bob Dylan could, had he wanted to, have hung up his guitar a long time ago. This is, after all, an artist who has turned in 36 full-length studio albums since his eponymous debut in 1962, and that's not even counting the numerous compilations, live albums and the seemingly endless number of unofficial bootlegs that have sprang up during the course of a career that spans half a century.
Dylan, though, is not a man with any intention of stopping, or even slowing down. Just in the last decade, the Minnesota-born singer-songwriter has released five albums, including the Billboard chart-topping 2006 LP Modern Times and 2009's Together Through Life, a record that not only repeated that feat in the U.S. but also climbed to the No. 1 spot in the UK album charts too. As if that wasn't impressive enough for a man at the tail end of his seventh decade, he then confounded expectations even further by releasing a Christmas album, of all things.
Here, then, is a man who does things on his own terms and the last couple of years have seen Dylan paying homage to some of the great American singers and songwriters of his youth, with last year's Shadows of the Night comprised entirely of songs made famous by one of his heroes, the late, great Frank Sinatra.
His latest offering, Fallen Angels, arrives in stores this week (Friday May 20th) and continues in a similar vein, with Dylan covering a selection of traditional pop standards by Sinatra and others of the same era. In fact, with the exception of 'Skylark', the album's fifth track penned by Hoagy Carmichael and Johnny Mercer, all of the songs on Fallen Angels were, at one time or another, recorded by Ol' Blue Eyes.
Amongst the other tracks presented here are covers of Mercer and Harold Arlen's 'That Old Black Magic' and 'Come Rain or Come Shine', as well as the album's lead-off single, 'Melancholy Mood', written by Vick Knight and Walter Schumann.
Whether or not we'll look back at these albums as the beginnings of Dylan's equivalent of Johnny Cash's Great American Songbook series is anyone's guess; you get the sense that Dylan is still very much 'The Freewheelin' Bob Dylan' of 1963 and that this isn't anything more contrived than a recent infatuation with a bygone era in popular music, soon to be gone on Dylan's next whim. But his passion for the songs he's chosen is clear and his last two albums have featured some of his most heartfelt vocal performances in years.
To try and predict what Dylan does next would be futile, but for now his breathing new life into some golden oldies is a thing to be savoured for his most dedicated fans. You can find his version of 'Melancholy Mood' below, beneath that we've picked five of the great man's most essential records from his long and prolific career.
Trying to narrow down a career spanning 50 years and 37 albums to just a handful is hard enough as it is, but if you held a gun to our heads and forced us to pick just one then it would probably have to be Blonde on Blonde. Regarded by many as his greatest achievement, this double album makes good on its ambitious offering and taken as a whole this a fantastic piece of work with a lot more range than anything he'd done before, from the bluesy stomp of 'Obviously Five Believers' to the epic, swooning closer 'Sad-Eyed Lady of the Lowlands', this is Dylan at the apex of his powers.
It's hard to imagine anything provoking a similar reaction now, but such was the fury when Bob Dylan first strapped on a Fender Telecaster in place of his trusty acoustic guitar that the first concert with his new band had to be abandoned after just a handful of songs, as Dylan and his backing musicians were forced to flee the stage for their own safety. This, then, is the time capsule that preserves the moment when Dylan 'went electric', and what a moment it is. Including tracks such as 'Like a Rolling Stone' and 'Tombstone Blues', this is the birth of a new chapter in Dylan's career and it still stands up as a work or brilliance decades after it was first released.
The very fact that the title of Dylan's 1975 album has become common parlance when discussing albums dealing with the breakdown of a relationship should be enough to tell you what many Dylan fans already know; Blood on the Tracks is the mother of all break-up albums, dripping bitter heartache from every one of its finely cut grooves. His divorce from his wife Sara is the fuel for the fire here and Dylan's mental and emotional state is laid so bare it's almost embarrassing, as if you're furtively flicking through the pages of his diary. The results, though, are as beautiful as they are heartbreaking and as a statement of pure, unadulterated sorrow, it's a masterpiece that has yet to be equalled.
Dylan probably had no idea that he'd basically invented the lyric video when he released 'Subterranean Homesick Blues', complete with a video featuring Dylan tossing away lyrics written on giant pieces of card, but that song is still one of the best examples of his stream-of-consciousness poetry and it's just one of several classic Dylan songs featured on Bringing It All Back Home, alongside others like 'Maggie's Farm' and Mr. Tambourine Man'. Those three alone are enough to make this a good album, but throw in other gems like 'It's Alright Ma (I'm Only Bleeding)' and this is a must-have for any record collection.
Dylan's reputation as the poet-prophet of the folk scene in the 1960s was largely down to the political nature of many of his lyrics and nowhere is this more apparent than on The Times They Are a-Changin. The title track is a manifesto for swimming against the political tide, as made evident in the song's opening verse, while the scathingly-titled 'You're Just a Pawn in Their Game' pretty much speaks for itself. Poignant then and still relevant now, these are protest songs to stir the heart as well the mind.