Revisiting Bob Dylan’s First Album

Even the cover art of Bob Dylan’s 1962 debut self-titled LP is jarring when juxtaposed with the Bob Dylan that we know today. The guy on the front kind of resembles Dylan, I suppose; his characteristic profile undercut by the baby fat still deposited at his cheeks. Couple that with the fact that this kid looks like he just stepped out of a Minnesota bus station, and it becomes clear that we’re dealing with a prototypical Bob Dylan, a demo version that is by no means for commercial sale. 

As a performer, Dylan had already found the characteristic nasal voice and casual, almost laconic line delivery that would come to define his best work. Songs like “You’re No Good,” while not original compositions, become Dylan tracks in his hands. The main difference between this record and all the ones he made after is that this would be the first and last  record of Dylan’s 60’s output that did not feature primarily original songs. While there’s novelty value in hearing that distinctive voice strain to its upper limits in “In My Time of Dyin'” or tackling “Pretty Peggy-O” (which I legitimately thought was an original Grateful Dead song), you don’t go to a Bob Dylan record for his interpretations of songs by other artists (much more frequently it’s the other way around). Accordingly, the most engaging tracks are his two originals, “Talkin’ New York” and “Song for Woody.”

Obviously, Bob Dylan’s first album is nobody’s favorite. It’s definitely a promising debut and lays some of the groundwork for his first masterpiece (his very next album The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan), but its value is mostly as an historical curio. That being said, even a larval, nascent Bob Dylan has a better body of work than 90% of other artists. Check it out, if for no other reason than for completion’s sake. That and it was released 56 years ago this week. I feel like those reasons are sufficient.

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3 comments to “Revisiting Bob Dylan’s First Album”
  1. “The main difference between this record and all the ones he made after is that this would be the first and last Bob Dylan record that did not feature primarily original songs.” Seriously? What about Self Portrait 1970 (mostly covers), Good As I Been To You 1992 or World Gone Wrong 1993 (entirely covers)? Also, his first album later did become a favorite — at least for me. I am overjoyed you have visited his first attempt, but please listen to his entire catalog before publishing such an assumption — your efforts will be awarded.

    • Excellent point, David!
      The statement I made was factually inaccurate. Call it a critical research failure on my part combined with my desire to convey the large leap between Dylan’s first and second albums. I have edited the line so it now reflects reality. Good catch and thanks for reading!

  2. This has always been one of my favorite Dylan albums. It highlights his ability to fuse various musical forms into new, exciting works of art.

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