Monday, May 24, 2010

Bob Dylan and The Rolling Stones Make It a Double (Exile in May Street Part 5)

Though the Rolling Stones are quick to name-check cats like Howlin' Wolf, Robert Johnson and Chuck Berry as primary inspirations, they also owe a heavy debt to Birthday Boy Bob Dylan, who turns 69 today. For Exile on Main Street, the Stones' sprawling double platter of decadence which we've been celebrating all month long, would most likely not exist were it not for Dylan's Blonde on Blonde, rock's first double album.

Dylan released BoB in May of 1966, completing his electric trilogy that began only a year earlier with Bringing it All Back Home and Highway 61 Revisited. Incredibly, all three were completed before he'd even turned 25.

While not my favorite Dylan record (that would probably be John Wesley Harding), Blonde on Blonde is a kaleidoscopic fever dream of visionary Chicago blues, jilted lovers, and late-night Nashville hallucinations that established the Bard of Hibbing as the oracle of his age. Side One featured perhaps his greatest and literally most visionary song, "Visions of Johanna."

Visions of Johanna from ramonramon on Vimeo.

The four-sided treasure trove also featured some delightful throwaways. like personal fave "Leopard-Skin Pill-Box Hat"

Perhaps most amazingly, it featured "Sad-Eyed Lady of the Lowlands" a thinly veiled, 87-verse ode to his new bride Sara Lowndes that took up all of Side Four.

Bob Dylan 1966 - Legend Video - Sad Eyed Lady Of The Lowlands

Kern ( I Want to Be Dylan ) Little | MySpace Video

Henceforth, the double album became the pinnacle one must attain if he, she or them are to be considered a Serious Musician for the ages. And for the fans, it gave us an evening of pleasure and a nice gatefold which was handy for the preparation recreational substances.

Two years after Dylan, The Beatles dropped the White Album, which showed the Fabs' truly unbelievable ability to write and perform songs in any genre, even genres that hadn't been invented yet.

A year after that, Jimi Hendrix took us to Electric Ladyland and The Who upped the ante with Tommy, a double record that was an opera of all things. It instantly took them from Maximum R&B to the Metropolitan Opera House.

In 1972, after an incredible run of Beggar's Banquet, Let it Bleed and Sticky Fingers, the Stones had nothing left to prove in the single-LP format and gave us Exile on Main Street. Like Dylan's and the Beatles doubles, Exile combines epic tracks, like "Tumbling Dice" with funky curiosities like "Turd on the Run."

In '75, Led Zeppelin took their mystical mix of light & shade up a notch with Physical Graffiti, featuring "Ten Years Gone," their "Visions of Johanna," i.e., the most beloved song by the die-hard fans.

Fleetwood Mac, Pink Floyd, Bruce Springsteen and many others have also made their obligatory double record, but perhaps the best of them all is not by one of the titans of rock listed above but by The Clash. Song for song, in terms of creating a vibe and never letting go, London Calling might be the best double ever.

The art of the double has more or less vanished in the CD era. Smashing Pumpkins made one that was a textbook example of a double that should have been a single. A young Wilco pulled it off with Being There in 1996. And Radiohead could have made one for the ages had they released Kid A and Amnesiac as one. Amazingly, U2, who loves nothing more than to grab the classic rock bull by the horns, has never attempted it. Considering it takes them five years to make a single album, it's just as well.

This takes us to the newest RT poll: What is the greatest double record of all time? Cast your vote now in the upper right hand corner of RT.

Happy Birthday Bob!


Anonymous said...

Songs in the Key of Life - Stevie Wonder - was a dandy of an album too, though less rock and more turtleneck would fit the type of music

Actual Monkey said...

I guess it doesn't officially qualify, but 'All Things Must Pass' is by far my favorite multi-disc album

Jon Clarke said...

Rattle and Hum was a double. It was live/studio but a definite double.