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The 15 Best Bob Dylan Albums

September 12, 2012  |  10:49am
The 15 Best Bob Dylan Albums

If you’ve been around a radio, turntable, CD or 8-track player that functionally operates in the last five decades, you know Bob Dylan’s impact on music is immeasurable.

Over the course of his career, the songwriter has wowed listeners with decade-defining singles (“The Times They Are A-Changin’,” “Just Like a Woman”), timeless albums and notably potent lyrics. In celebration of the release of Dylan’s 35th studio album, Tempest, we’re taking a look at our favorite albums. You can weigh in on your own favorites in the comment box below.

15. Oh Mercy
Year: 1989
Oh Mercy saw the re-emergence of Dylan as a darling among critics in the late ‘80s, although that might not have been the case without producer Daniel Lanois, best known for his work on U2’s The Joshua Tree. Lanois’ schedule-free, unconventional sessions lead to a sonically intriguing record that still brings Dylan’s songwriting to the foreground, and it only takes a listen to “Political World” or “Most of the Time” to showcase Lanois’ impact on the legend.

14. Modern Times
Year: 2006
Following on the heels of two critically acclaimed albums, Love and Theft and Time Out of Mind, Dylan delivered once again with Modern Times. After stepping up as producer under his preferred “Jack Frost” pseudonym, Dylan again relied on a palette of bluesy slide guitars and a country-flavored backline. Dylan gets back to the basics for this album, but Modern Times’ 10 tracks don’t ever feel like they could be tagged as just throwbacks.—Taylor Evans

13. Love and Theft
Year: 2001
Love and Theft begins and ends with worlds ending. “Tweedle Dee & Tweedle Dum” concludes with a man dying in a Mardi Gras like party, while “Sugar Baby” ends with the potential of death from a broken heart. On Dylan’s 31st album, released on Sept. 11, 2001, Dylan explores death plenty. But there’s still a sense of optimism, and the proof is that he’s still tinkering around with his style after all these years. Love and Theft is both predictable and completely surprising. It features all the characters and signature Dylan vocal stylings that is to be expected, but songs like “Honest With Me” and the fascinating shifting pace of “Cry a While” show that not only does Dylan have a lot of life left in him and his music, but that he’s still releasing some of his best music.—Ross Bonaime

12. Nashville Skyline
Year: 1969
Dylan took a lengthy hiatus following a near-fatal motorcycle accident in 1966, and out of it came the whimsically laid-back John Wesley Harding. He followed it up in 1969 with Nashville Skyline, which saw Dylan mellowing out even further and taking his most countrified approach to songwriting. On the heartbreaking leadoff track, “Girl From The North Country,” Johnny Cash joins Dylan for a strange but beautifully pastoral duet about a lost love. The forlorn “I Threw It All Away” and sublime “Lay Lady Lay” continue to fill in love’s spectrum of emotions, while songs like “Peggy Day” and “Country Pie” take a more spirited and carefree approach to country living.—Ryan Bort

11. John Wesley Harding
Year: 1967
When psychedelic rock was taking over pop culture, Dylan released John Welsey Harding. The album was named after a 19th-century outlaw that killed a man over a game of craps, and that wasn’t the only thing that made it a far cry from mainstream pop. After changing his sound to electric rock on his previous three albums, Dylan returned to his acoustic folk roots. This album proved that Dylan didn’t need to conform to what was popular to make great music.—Laura Flood

10. Desire
Year: 1976

It’s perhaps one of Dylan’s more collaborative albums, but that doesn’t make Desire any less focused. With Emmylou Harris and bassist Rob Stoner making appearances on the album, we still see classic Dylan shining through on timeless tracks like the driving “Hurricane” and the slow-burning “One More Cup of Coffee.”—Taylor Evans

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