JAMES Thomson's most treasured memories of Highway 61 Revisited are laying in bed at night listening to the album's epic finale, Desolation Row, on headphones.
Bob Dylan's surrealist wordplay of stories about Einstein "sniffing drainpipes and reciting the alphabet" and a blind commissioner whose "one hand is tied to the tight-rope walker, the other is in his pants," spoke to Thomson on a deeper level.
As did the economic, yet brilliant, guitar of blues legend Mike Bloomfield, of the Paul Butterfield Blues Band.
"The imagery in that song is absolutely incredible and such a wonderful way to sign off that record," Thomson says.
Anybody interested in the history or mythology of rock music, would undoubtedly recognise the 1965 album as when "Dylan went electric." In today's genre-fluid landscape it seems incredible that an artist changing their sound would be met with angry boos, but that's exactly that happened when Dylan performed the album's lead single Like A Rolling Stone at the Newport Folk Festival five days after its release.
The acoustic folk singer-songwriter of Blowin' In The Wind was no more. The outrage soon evaporated.
Highway 61 Revisited is often cited as the album that gave legitimacy to rock and pop music being critiqued as a serious art form. Everyone from The Beatles, The Byrds, Neil Young and The Doors were highly influenced by the record's intoxicating mix of driving blues, folk and rock and Dylan's cynical vocal delivery.
"If you're interested whatsoever in songwriting and lyricism, this is the album," Thomson says.
"It's as good as songwriting gets in my opinion and I've spent a many good years delving through dusty record shops and torn second-hand magazines trying to find artists and albums that are lost, for want of a better word.
"I haven't come across anything that gets anywhere close to this in terms of good songwriting."
The album's influence is obvious on Thomson's Americana sound that he's honed across his three albums James Thomson (2012), Cold Moon (2015) and Golden Exile (2020). Thomson also regularly performs Highway 61 Revisited tracks From A Buick 6, Just Like Tom Thumb's Blues and It Takes A Lot To Laugh, It Takes A Train To Cry in his live set with his band The Strange Pilgrims.
Thomson says Dylan's masterpiece taught him the pure freedom of songwriting.
"None of his songs are pop songs, but they are pop songs, just not in the sense of the three-minute radio-friendly thing," he says.
"Desolation Row is 11 minutes long, Like A Rolling Stone is six minutes long and Ballad Of A Thin Man is six minutes and they're very cynical songs. They're snide witticisms and observations. In terms of influence on my writing, it's anything is possible."
James Thomson's third album Golden Exile is out now.
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