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Best Bob Dylan albums of all time

  • Best Bob Dylan albums of all time

    In 1975, folk-rock icon Bob Dylan embarked on a concert tour of epic proportions. Reportedly inspired by the booming sound of thunder, he named it the Rolling Thunder Revue. His intention was to “play for the people” and, furthermore, provide an experience those people would never forget. For the task, Dylan employed a number of backing musicians from his as-yet-unreleased album “Desire,” which came out in January 1976 between legs of the tour. The band was joined at its live shows along the way by a rotating cast of supremely talented guest performers including Joni Mitchell, Joan Baez, Ramblin' Jack Elliott, and Roger McGuinn.

    The result was a concert series for the ages, with two new releases to show for it. One is a monolithic, 14-CD “Bootleg Series” box set consisting of five complete, professionally recorded performances from the first leg of the tour. The second is Martin Scorsese's acclaimed Netflix documentary, which interweaves fact with fiction to relatively seamless effect. Indeed, viewers are still deciphering which parts of the documentary were real and which were conceived as a clever ruse. What's definitely authentic are the thrilling live performances, capturing Dylan in a state of truly inspired frenzy. Covered in makeup and flanked by a full cavalry of talent, he belts out energized versions of old classics and new tunes alike.

    Of course, the Rolling Thunder Revue is merely one among a legion of milestones for Dylan, whose decades-spanning career has undergone numerous ebbs and flows. Armed with an intensely deep knowledge of American music, he first emerged from the Greenwich Village folk scene as the voice of dissent against various institutions of oppression. When he plugged in at the Newport Festival in 1965, the world's foremost protest singer received some backlash of his own.

    All was forgiven over the following years as he churned out classic album after classic album, sliding from one style or story to the next with unparalleled ease. To this day, he's still touring and putting out albums with surprising consistency. Like a modern-day Shakespeare, Dylan's created a canon so vast and vital that one need not peer behind the curtain to reap its endless rewards. That's not to mention his profound influence on a slew of contemporaries, including everyone from The Beatles to Bruce Springsteen. Put simply, the last half-century of music wouldn't be remotely the same if not for this artist.

    In honor of the recent Rolling Thunder Revue releases, Stacker is celebrating the best Bob Dylan albums of all time. The data was culled from Best Ever Albums (last updated June 2019), where overall rank is determined by calculating the aggregate position of each album from over 38,000 different top album charts. The 38,000 charts referenced are a blend of publications' charts (e.g. Rolling Stone, New Music Express, Stereogum, The Quietus) and people's personal charts. In theory, the more charts that an album has appeared on and the higher its rank score, the better it will be. Only solo studio albums were considered, meaning no live albums, shared billings, or compilations.

    Without further delay, here are Bob Dylan's 25 best albums.

    You may also like: Best Grateful Dead albums of all time

  • #25. Good As I Been to You (1992)

    - Overall album rank: #7,304
    - Rank in decade: #1,435
    - Rank in year: #149
    - Appears on: 45 charts

    Dylan's first entirely acoustic effort since 1964 was also his first complete album of song covers. Almost every track is a traditional number, meaning a song that was passed down over time and rarely credited to an original source. In addition to lukewarm reviews, the album garnered controversy when avid folk music fans accused Dylan of lifting arrangements from other artists. As always, he brushed it off and moved on.

  • #24. Self Portrait (1970)

    - Overall album rank: #5,415
    - Rank in decade: #953
    - Rank in year: #104
    - Appears on: 58 charts

    Not only was this sprawling double album panned upon its release, but Dylan himself would become one of its biggest detractors. He later referred to it as a conscious “joke” that was crafted in hopes of turning off his most overzealous fans. Nevertheless, “Self Portrait” has undergone something of a critical reappraisal in recent years. Divided between original songs and covers, it features a slew of guest personnel and finds the artist singing mostly in “crooner” mode.

  • #23. Shot of Love (1981)

    - Overall album rank: #4,946
    - Rank in decade: #773
    - Rank in year: #91
    - Appears on: 50 charts

    Jewish-born atheist Dylan converted to Evangelical Christianity in the late 1970s, resulting in a trilogy of Christian-themed albums. This third and final installment adopts a somewhat looser stance than its predecessors and sounds slightly more like traditional rock. Tracks such as “Every Grain of Sand” are considered some of Dylan's best work of the time. Drummer Ringo Starr and guitarist Ronnie Wood make brief appearances, while Benmont Tench of Tom Petty's Heartbreakers plays keyboards throughout.

  • #22. Together Through Life (2009)

    - Overall album rank: #4,939
    - Rank in decade: #1,125
    - Rank in year: #114
    - Appears on: 67 charts

    Grateful Dead alum Robert Hunter co-wrote the lyrics for this latter-day effort, which reached #1 on the Billboard charts. It was recorded by Dylan and his touring band, with additional help from David Hidalgo of Los Lobos and Mike Campbell of Tom Petty's Heartbreakers. Featuring weathered vocals and a palpable blues influence, the album plays like elevated bar music. Critical reactions ranged from mixed to positive.

  • #21. New Morning (1970)

    - Overall album rank: #3,737
    - Rank in decade: #692
    - Rank in year: #74
    - Appears on: 109 charts

    Released just four months after the somewhat disastrous “Self Portrait,” Dylan's 11th studio album delivered both a return to form and a path ahead. It also saw the complete revival of his original voice, now imbued with a raspier edge. Featuring frequent collaborators David Bromberg and Al Kooper (among others), “New Morning” was ushered in on a wave of critical praise. Fans of “The Big Lebowski” will surely recognize the song “The Man in Me,” as it was used to memorable effect during that film's opening credit sequence.

  • #20. Planet Waves (1974)

    - Overall album rank: #3,615
    - Rank in decade: #679
    - Rank in year: #61
    - Appears on: 95 charts

    Reuniting with roots-rock outfit The Band, Dylan delivered his first #1 album on the Billboard chart. Unlike previous collaborations between the two iconic acts, this one strikes a more intimate and relaxed tone. While arguably dispensable when compared to Dylan's better work, “Planet Waves” still makes for a quality listening experience. Highlights include “Forever Young” and “On a Night Like This,” among other songs.

  • #19. Infidels (1983)

    - Overall album rank: #3,356
    - Rank in decade: #530
    - Rank in year: #48
    - Appears on: 103 charts

    In the wake of his Christian-themed trilogy, Dylan returned to form once again on his 22nd studio album. Along for the ride was Dire Straits frontman Mark Knopfler, who co-produced and provided guitar. Former Rolling Stones guitarist Mick Taylor also lent his unique talents. The end result is a relatively consistent effort, which pairs vivid lyrics and Dylan's original vocal style with an early 1980s production sound.

  • #18. Tempest (2012)

    - Overall album rank: #3,337
    - Rank in decade: #465
    - Rank in year: #64
    - Appears on: 111 charts

    Most of Dylan's 21st-century albums are stylistically indebted to a range of American music traditions, and this one is no exception. Drawing upon everything from blues to rockabilly, it walks the line between influence and originality. There's also a variety of moods on display, as the album swings from somber to playful from one track to the next. After an epic song about the Titanic, it closes with an ode to the legendary John Lennon.

  • #17. Bob Dylan (1962)

    - Overall album rank: #2,288
    - Rank in decade: #200
    - Rank in year: #4
    - Appears on: 157 charts

    Picking up where his heroes left off, Bob Dylan emerged from New York's Greenwich Village scene as a singular force in folk music. That said, his debut album went largely overlooked upon its initial release. Consisting primarily of classic covers, it finds his raspy vocals in an early and emulative stage of development. The album also introduced listeners at home to his deft harmonica and acoustic guitar playing.

  • #16. Slow Train Coming (1979)

    - Overall album rank: #2,263
    - Rank in decade: #457
    - Rank in year: #45
    - Appears on: 121 charts

    In the wake of his religious conversion, Dylan delivered the first album in his Christian-themed trilogy. Rife with spiritual overtones and dogmatic teachings, it was arguably his most concerted effort since 1975's “Blood on the Tracks.” The song “Gotta Serve Somebody” landed Dylan his first Grammy Award. Mark Knopfler (of Dire Straits fame) plays lead guitar.

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