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Ranked: Bob Dylan Albums From Worst to Best
The author of a new Dylan biography assesses the canon.
By David Yaffe
Bob Dylan turns seventy today; in celebration, we're ranking his entire studio discography. Assembling the list is journalist and Professor of English at Syracuse David Yaffe, whose latest book, Bob Dylan: Like a Complete Unknown, is just out from Yale.
32. Dylan (1973)
Columbia Records threw together this album of schmaltzy outtakes as revenge on Dylan for defecting to Asylum Records. The sole highlight is a goof on Joni Mitchell's "Big Yellow Taxi."
Listen: "Big Yellow Taxi"
31. Down in the Groove (1988)
The '80s are passing Dylan by. "Silvio," co-written with Grateful Dead lyricist Robert Hunter, is a minor standout on this critically reviled album.
30. Empire Burlesque (1985)
Producer Arthur Baker should be tried for crimes against music, burying some good songs in appalling '80s synths and drums. "Dark Eyes" is a sublime acoustic exception.
Listen: "Dark Eyes"
29. Knocked Out Loaded (1986)
A mostly disposable collection from Dylan's era of collaborating with Tom Petty. The outlier is "Brownsville Girl," a stunning collaboration with Sam Shepard.
Listen: "Brownsville Girl"
28. Self-Portrait (1970)
Dylan said he made this album to get the hippies off his lawn, which didn't work. High points are tracks from a performance at the Isle of Wight Festival with The Band, and the pirate anthem "Days of '49."
Listen: "Mighty Quinn (Quinn the Eskimo)"
27. Together Through Life (2009)
This record hit number one in 2009, but Dylan was Teflon by this point. Still, "Beyond Here Lies Nothin'" was morbid enough for True Blood, and Mike Campbell's guitar is a marvel.
Listen: "Beyond Here Lies Nothin'"
26. Bob Dylan (1962)
Dylan has said that he regretted his debut shortly after recording it, but "Song to Woody" opened the songwriting genie, and "Baby, Let Me Follow You Down" is worth following.
Listen: "Song to Woody"
25. Under the Red Sky (1990)
This slipshod effort that makes more sense when you learn that Dylan was writing nursery rhymes for his four-year-old daughter. That's George Harrison on the title track.
Listen: "Under the Red Sky"