Highway 61 Revisited (song)

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"Highway 61 Revisited"
Single by Bob Dylan
from the album Highway 61 Revisited
A-side "Can You Please Crawl Out Your Window?"
Released August 30, 1965
Recorded Columbia Studios, New York, August 2, 1965
Genre Folk rock, garage rock[1]
Length 3:30
Label Columbia
Writer(s) Bob Dylan
Producer(s) Bob Johnston[2]
Highway 61 Revisited track listing

"Highway 61 Revisited" is the title track of Bob Dylan's 1965 album Highway 61 Revisited. It was also released as the B-side to the single "Can You Please Crawl Out Your Window?" later the same year. In 2004, Rolling Stone magazine ranked the song as number 373 in their 500 Greatest Songs of All Time.[3]

Influence of Highway 61[edit]

Highway 61 runs from Duluth, Minnesota, where Bob Dylan grew up in the 1940s and 1950s down to New Orleans, Louisiana. It was a major transit route out of the Deep South particularly for African Americans traveling north to Chicago, St Louis and Memphis, following the Mississippi River valley for most of its 1,400 miles (2,300 km).

Meaning[edit]

The song has five stanzas. In each stanza, someone describes an unusual problem that is ultimately resolved on Highway 61. In Verse 1, God tells Abraham to "kill me a son".[2] God wants the killing done on Highway 61. This stanza references Genesis 22, in which God commands Abraham to kill one of his two sons, Isaac. Abram, the original name of the biblical Abraham, is the name of Dylan's own father. Verse 2 describes a poor fellow, Georgia Sam, who is beyond the helping of the welfare department. He is told to go down Highway 61. Georgia Sam may be a reference to Piedmont blues musician Blind Willie McTell, who occasionally went by Georgia Sam when recording.

In the third verse, a "Mack the Finger" has this problem of getting rid of particular absurd things: "I got forty red white and blue shoe strings / And a thousand telephones that don't ring". "Louie the King" solves the problem with Highway 61. Verse 4 is about the "fifth daughter" who on the "twelfth night" told the "first father" that her complexion is too pale. Agreeing, the father seeks to tell the "second mother", but she is with the "seventh son", on Highway 61.

The fifth and last verse is the story of a bored gambler, trying "to create the next world war". His promoter tells him to "put some bleachers out in the sun / And have it on Highway 61". There is an evident political undertone in this absurd tale.

There is a pause in each verse while Dylan waits for some event in the story to finish; in the third verse, for example, the pause occurs while Louie the King attempts to resolve the shoestring-and-telephones problem. Between each verse Dylan is heard blowing an imitation police whistle, known as a "Siren Whistle",[4] brought in by Sam Lay who was drummer on the Highway 61 sessions as noted by Tony Glover in the liner notes to Live 1966. Other accounts say that the whistle was brought in by Al Kooper. It is said that he had originally brought in the "siren whistle" to police the sessions. Supposedly, if someone were to begin doing drugs he would go into a corner and blow on the whistle. He later suggested to Dylan that he use the whistle in this song instead of his harmonica.

Cover versions[edit]

In 1969, Johnny Winter covered "Highway 61 Revisited" on his second Columbia release, Second Winter. Winter's rendition is regarded as "a career-defining track," and the song continues as a live standard of his.[5] A 10-minute version of the song appears on his 1976 live album, Captured Live!, and he also performed it live in 1992 for the The 30th Anniversary Concert Celebration album, which saluted Dylan's three decades as a recording artist.[6][7]

Ex-Dr Feelgood guitarist Wilko Johnson included "Highway 61 Revisited" in his concert sets in the late 1970s and released a live recording of the song on an EP given away with his 1978 album Solid Senders. The recording now forms part of the album's CD release.[8] In 1987, Dr Feelgood also covered the song for their album Classic, a track Allmusic describes as "utterly inspired."[9]

The song has been recorded by P.J. Harvey on her 1993 album Rid of Me. Paste magazine selected this version as the 15th best cover of a Dylan song of all time, while also paying homage to "Johnny Winter's classic electric-blues version."[10]

"Highway 61 Revisited" has been covered by Billy Joel. The song highlights a selection of covers that appear on his 2005 box set My Lives.[11]

Terry Reid recorded a version of the song.

The song has been recorded by Steve Gibbons on his 1998 Dylan Project album. This album features 14 Dylan songs along with one Gibbons composition. Gibbons and his supporting musicians (Simon Nicol, P.J. Wright and Dave Pegg) toured with the songs from this album and release a second set of Dylan songs as The Dylan Project.

Film performances[edit]

  • William Friedkin's 2003 film The Hunted opens with a reading of "Highway 61 Revisited"'s first verse by Johnny Cash.[12]
  • The song was featured briefly in the Johnny Cash biopic Walk the Line in 2005.
  • In 2007, Karen O contributed vocals to a version of the song for the I'm Not There film soundtrack, backed by an all-star ensemble dubbed the Million Dollar Bashers.[13]
  • The first verse of the song was also used in Bill Maher's 2008 documentary Religulous.
  • The song was featured briefly in the beginning scenes of "Where the Buffalo Roam" starring Bill Murray as Hunter S. Thompson

References[edit]

  1. ^ "Highway 61 Revisited review". Allmusic. Retrieved 2011-05-15. 
  2. ^ a b Gilliland, John (1969). "Show 32 - Ballad in Plain D: An introduction to the Bob Dylan era. [Part 2]" (audio). Pop Chronicles. Digital.library.unt.edu. 
  3. ^ "Bob Dylan, 'Highway 61 Revisited'". Retrieved 2008-08-08. 
  4. ^ http://www.acmewhistles.co.uk/sounds/small_siren_147.mp3
  5. ^ Koda, Cub. "Johnny Winter: Second Winter". AllMusic. Retrieved 2011-03-03. 
  6. ^ Ruhlmann, William. "Johnny Winter: Captured Live!". AllMusic. Retrieved 2011-03-03. 
  7. ^ Ginell, Richard S. "Various Artists: The 30th Anniversary Concert Celebration". AllMusic. Retrieved 2011-03-03. 
  8. ^ "Wilko Johnson: Solid Senders". AllMusic. Retrieved 2011-03-03. 
  9. ^ Thompson, Dave. "Dr. Feelgood: Classic". AllMusic. Retrieved 2011-03-03. 
  10. ^ Jackson, Josh (2009-04-08). "50 Best Bob Dylan Covers". Paste. Retrieved 2011-03-03. 
  11. ^ Erlewine, Stephen Thomas. "Billy Joel: My Lives". AllMusic. Retrieved 2011-03-03. 
  12. ^ "The Hunted". IMDB. Retrieved 2011-03-03. 
  13. ^ stereogum: New Karen O - "Highway 61 Revisited" (Stereogum Premiere)

External links[edit]