The album cover for “Blonde on Blonde,” released May 16, 1966. (Columbia Records)

Fifty years ago, Bob Dylan released “Blonde on Blonde.” Was it the best Dylan album ever? Probably, and certainly it was the most Dylan album ever — 14 songs on two discs, what was said to be the first studio double LP in rock music. Just less than a year after he shocked fans by going electric, “Blonde on Blonde” melded folk, rock and country for what Dylan himself would later call “that thin. . . wild mercury sound. It’s metallic and bright gold.”

[From Rolling Stone: ‘Blonde on Blonde’ at 50: Celebrating Bob Dylan’s Greatest Masterpiece]

It was Dylan at his most playful (“Leopard-Skin Pillbox Hat”), Dylan at his most yearnful (“I Want You”), Dylan at his most cutting (“Just Like a Woman”), Dylan at his most rocking (“Obviously 5 Believers”), Dylan at his most cryptic (“Visions of Johanna”). It features not only the world’s most therapeutic breakup song (“One of Us Must Know”), but the catchy jingle that I like to think of as entry-level Dylan, “Rainy Day Women #12 & 35” — you know, the one with the chorus of “everybody must get stoned.” It routinely hits the higher heights of the “best albums of all times” compiled by various professional music nerds.

So I thought we’d take a look back at The Washington Post’s complete coverage of “Blonde on Blonde” from 1966. Ready?


Did you miss it? You may want to take a magnifying glass to the full-page ad Hecht’s ran on the Sunday after Thanksgiving that fall, but there it is . . .

dylanad2

Hey, at least it got a star.

It’s fair to say that The Post’s rock coverage was a little lacking in the mid-1960s — an era that the world came to quickly recognize as one of the most fertile time for pop music in American history.

It’s not that we weren’t wise to Bob Dylan yet. While he was famously discovered first by the New York Times in 1961 — admittedly, the young Greenwich Village troubadour was a local story for them — The Post did catch on to Dylan by the time of his second album, and first hit, in 1963.

“Someone to be reckoned with,” wrote Leroy F. Aarons in the Arts section of August 18, 1963. “Dylan could well become this generation’s James Dean. . . It’s Dylan’s message, combined with an almost animal sensuality, that sparks his audience. (For all his untidiness, he has sex appeal — or is it because of it?) Many older listeners are repelled, but his young following finds in Dylan an expression of their own half-formed protest against the injustices that outrage the innocent.”



Dylan in November 1963. (AP)

 

But seven months later, the charm was wearing off for this same Post critic. “Is it time to become impatient with the precocious Bob Dylan?” Aarons wrote in March 1964. He was not a fan of “The Times They Are a-Changin’,” it turned out. “Each song suffers from repetition and at times a childish petulance,” he wrote of the album that produced “Boots of Spanish Leather” and “Only a Pawn in Their Game.”

For the next couple years, the Post largely ignored Dylan except for a couple of passing references here and there.

A page-filling brief from The Washington Post of 1965.
A page-filling brief from The Washington Post of 1965.

Which is unfortunate because these years coincided with a period of explosive creative growth and productivity for Dylan. He was like a young Mozart during these years — releasing four albums of his most accomplished music and biggest hits in a span of less than two years: “Another Side of Bob Dylan,” “Bringing It All Back Home,” “Highway 61 Revisited,” and “Blonde on Blonde.”

Aarons, who eventually went on to a long career on the Post’s National staff, during the years when the Pentagon Papers and Watergate broke, was still reviewing music in these years. But he remained focused on folk music — Odetta, Judy Collins, Peter Paul & Mary — a genre that Dylan had markedly drifted away from.


Dylan in 1965 (AP)

I could find no indication of the Post reviewing any of these landmark albums — though in fairness, the Post also seems to have ignored two of 1966’s other historic releases, the Beach Boys’ “Pet Sounds” and the Beatles’ “Revolver.”

A July 1966 motorcycle accident (also unnoted by the Post) took Dylan away from touring or recording for a while. He was back on our radar with the release of “John Wesley Harding” at the very end of 1967, but a different Post critic trashed it as boring. Aarons, who died in 2004, grudgingly wrote about Dylan again in January 1968 when he played a Carnegie Hall tribute to the late Woody Guthrie — but Aarons was appalled when Dylan did an electric treatment of some of the folk legend’s song: “An electrocution. . . a “jazzed up, hoked up, pseudo-rock pastiche”

It took another year for the Post to warm to Dylan again. With the release of “Nashville Skyline,” our critic at the time, William C. Woods, declared him “the greatest poet popular music has ever produced.”

More from the archives:

The time Prince gave a free concert at a college for deaf students

Here’s how big a news event the O.J. Simpson verdict was in 1995

20 years ago, a startling front page, but not just because of the Unabomber