Ranking Dylan’s Studio Albums

This list is my ranking of the studio albums of Bob Dylan. It doesn’t include any live releases, greatest hits packages, or any of the bootleg series of his work.

32. Dylan (1973)
Columbia Records threw together this album of schmaltzy outtakes as revenge on Dylan for defecting to Asylum Records. The sole highlight is a goof on Joni Mitchell’s “Big Yellow Taxi.”

31. Under the Red Sky (1990)
This slipshod effort that makes more sense when you learn that Dylan was writing nursery rhymes for his four-year-old daughter.

30. Empire Burlesque (1985)
Producer Arthur Baker should be tried for crimes against music, burying some good songs in appalling ’80s synths and drums. “Dark Eyes” is the sublime acoustic exception.

29. Knocked Out Loaded (1986)
A mostly disposable collection from Dylan’s era of collaborating with Tom Petty. The highlight is “Brownsville Girl,” a stunning collaboration with playwright/actor Sam Shepard.

28. Self-Portrait (1970)
Dylan said he made this album to get the hippies off his lawn, which didn’t work. High points are tracks from a performance at the Isle of Wight Festival with The Band, and the pirate anthem “Days of ’49.”

27. Together Through Life (2009)
This record hit number one in 2009, but Dylan was Teflon by this point. Still, “Beyond Here Lies Nothin'” was morbid enough for True Blood, and Mike Campbell’s guitar is a marvel.

26. Saved (1980)
Dylan’s most hardcore salvation album went as deep into Gospel as he would ever get; the title track testifies with the insistent beat of the church chorus. On “In The Garden,” he’s Jesus’ lawyer.

25. Down in the Groove (1988)
The ’80s are passing Dylan by. “Silvio,” co-written with Grateful Dead lyricist Robert Hunter, is a minor standout on this critically reviled album.

24. Infidels (1983)
Dylan dumps Christianity and reconsiders the world of his fathers.

23. Modern Times (2006)
This album hit number one on the chart. “Ain’t Talkin’,” the spooky closer, is a masterpiece, with dashes of Ovid thrown in.

22. Shot of Love (1981)
Rolling Stone panned this album, but “Every Grain of Sand” later won acclaim from both Bruce Springsteen and Elvis Costello.

21. Slow Train Coming (1979)
Bob found Jesus and won his first Grammy. “Gotta Serve Somebody” doesn’t quite convince; “Gonna Change My Way of Thinking” is more like it, hypnotic and compelling.

20. Nashville Skyline (1969)
Decades before alt-country, many found this uncool, but “Lay Lady Lay” was a deserving hit, not to mention the Johnny Cash duet “Girl from the North Country,” and a crooning vocal delivery that wouldn’t last long.

19. Good as I Been to You (1992)
Thirty years later, Dylan delivered the kind of traditional folk album people expected in 1961. He nails every track, as if he were strumming in Washington Square. “You’re Gonna Quit Me” is the ultimate guilt trip.

18. World Gone Wrong (1993)
All folk, with the weight of the world very apparent, this album uses the downward spiral of the Earth as an excuse for being no good.

17. Bob Dylan (1962)
Dylan has said that he regretted his debut shortly after recording it, but “Song to Woody” opened the songwriting genie, and “Baby, Let Me Follow You Down” is worth following. Also, some pretty interesting covers such as “House of the Rising Sun” and “See That My Grave is Kept Clean.”

16. Planet Waves (1974)
Dylan’s first number-one album was his only album-length collaboration with The Band, a charming collection of songs cobbled together in about as long as it takes to listen to them. “Forever Young” is for keeps.

15. New Morning (1970)
Dylan attempted to undo some of the damage of his disastrous “Self Portrait” album, and succeeds for the most part. George Harrison plays call and response on “Time Passes Slowly,” and the title track celebrates domestic pastoral.

14. Street Legal (1978)
Dylan’s last pre-Christian album has some powerful songs haphazardly recorded. “Senor” is my favorite on a lot levels, and I think of Dylan’s most under appreciated songs ever. The finale, “Where Are You Tonight?,” is a devastating and desperate cry.

13. Oh Mercy (1989)
Producer Daniel Lanois helps Dylan approach fifty; the result is stuffed with masterpieces. “The Man With The Long Black Coat” is classic balladry, and “Most of the Time” devastates.

12. Love and Theft (2001)
“Mississippi” is Dylan’s greatest song of the new millennium, getting more bleak all the time.

11.The Basement Tapes (1975)
These are the most legendary demos ever filled with songs that have been covered more than most Dylan albums over the years.

10. Time Out of Mind (1997)
Dylan nearly died of heart disease in ’97, and when he didn’t, this return to songwriting after seven years was greeted like a miracle. So much so that it won the Grammy for best album of the year.

9. John Wesley Harding (1967)
Dylan decides to ignore the ’60s and quote the Bible in allegory and metaphor. Filled with quiet, acoustic reflection and a certain hope-filled gentleness not often heard in the world of rock and roll.

8. Desire (1976)
With lyrics cowritten by Jacques Levy, Desire also shines via young Emmylou Harris’s backups.

7. Another Side of Bob Dylan (1964)
Recorded in one night, Another Side finds Dylan moving on from politics while getting intoxicated on his own vision. He was so much older then, he’s younger than that now.

6. The Times They Are A-Changin’ (1964)
Dylan, in castigating mode, points fingers at those who “philosophize disgrace.” Times includes many of Dylan’s greatest early songs.

5. The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan (1963)
This is where Dylan became Dylan, leaving obscurity behind forever. At twenty-one-years old, he opens with “Blowin’ in the Wind” and leaves scorched earth with “Don’t Think Twice.”, “Hard Rain” and more.

4. Blonde on Blonde (1966)
Is it the devastation of “Just Like a Woman?” The dreamlike mystery of “Visions of Johanna?” The hypnotic incantations of “Sad Eyed Lady?” Yes, and much more.

3. Bringing It All Back Home (1965)
Dylan goes electric on side one, but gets visionary on acoustic side two. The influence of the poetry of Rimbaud met up with the modernity of Ginsberg poetry and it all came together on the grooves of this record.

2. Blood on the Tracks (1975)
This is the best dissolution of a relationship album ever. Filled with self-blame, searching for answers as to what went wrong, and some hope for reconciliation. Some of Dylan’s best lyrics ever, most melodic tunes, and outstanding and emotive vocals.

1. Highway 61 Revisited (1965)
Dylan completely retooled the world of rock music with this fantastic onslaught of sound, and stream-of-consciousness poetry set to music, while challenging everything about both folk and rock and roll. There’s not a weak song on the album.

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