Bob Dylan – Desire: #462 of best 1,000 albums ever!

Bob Dylan - Desire

So why is Bob Dylan’s Desire on this best 1,000 albums ever thing?

Bob Dylan has produced not just music but astoundingly great music over many decades. I’ll admit that my musical education when it comes to Dylan has been rather a hodgepodge, which has had the happy repercussion of spreading out the miracles of discovering different eras and dynamite Dylan albums over different periods of my own life.

In discovering Desire when I was (probably) somewhere in my 30s, I had that real and exciting and revelatory sense of: there was a time in my life when I had no idea this album existed.

If you’re a music nerd like myself, I imagine you might be nodding a bit right now with some level of recognition. Or maybe you’re just like, “Wow, this guy is bonkers.” Either is an acceptable response, I suppose!

Anyway, my gateway into Desire is the song, “Hurricane,” which is a masterpiece*.

* My honest first thought about “Hurricane” was that “it blew me away,” but then my self-editor was like, “Uh… no.”

I don’t use the word masterpiece lightly. If you’ve been following along on this here best 1,000 albums project, you’ll know that I rarely if ever kick off with talking about lyrics, but “Hurricane” – which was co-written by Dylan and Jacques Levy – lays out the maddening and tragic story of Rubin “Hurricane” Carter, a boxer “who could have champion of the world,” had he not been arrested and later convicted of a triple murder that he was in fact innocent of, according to the song and other accounts.

“Hurricane” has both an epic feel and epic structure, and somehow feels like a lightning fast listen at eight and half minutes. And from a narrative standpoint, Dylan deftly switches from narrator to playing different parts. In this example, he acts as the role of racist cops putting pressure on a potential witness to pin the murders on Carter:

You’ll be doin’ society a favor
That son of a bitch is brave and gettin’ braver
We want to put his ass in stir
We want to pin this triple murder on him
He ain’t no Gentleman Jim

From a musical perspective, the song has an incredible momentum to it that matches the pace of the storytelling. It truly is an achievement that maybe only gets slightly “lost” in Dylan’s catalog because he’s been so prolific for so long.  

There’s sizzling, fabulous violin accompaniment on “Hurricane” and throughout Desire, which a commenter on All Music named Dana Spiardi does a nice job of describing:

No other Dylan LP sounds like Desire – thanks to the contributions of Scarlet Rivera. It’s the mysterious, Eurasian gypsy vibe of her violin that conjures up past lives…that makes me feel like I’m wrapped inside every story-song on this album.

Here’s a live performance of “Hurricane” from 1975 – one year before Desire was released – which is worth watching if only to see some vintage 1970s Dylan footage.

“One More Cup of Coffee” is much slower paced, much shorter, and seemingly holds much lower stakes versus “Hurricane,” and yet maintains its own grand feel that could almost be out of a classic Western film. I dig it more every time I listen to it.

“Isis,” itself a seven-minute journey, has that uniquely great shambling, jangling Dylan sound. As with Desire as a whole, it has a breezy, loose, and eclectic feel – reminding me of The Basement Tapes (an album I have much love for) in that sense.

Some stats & info about Bob Dylan – Desire

  • What kind of musical stylings does this album represent? Rock Music, Album Rock, Singer Songwriter
  • Rolling Stone’s greatest 500 albums ranking – not ranked!
  • All Music’s rating – 4.5 out of 5 stars
  • When was Desire released? 1976
  • My ranking, the one you’re reading right now – #462 out of 1,000

Bob Dylan’s Desire on Spotify

A lyrical snippet from Bob Dylan’s Desire that’s evocative of the album in some way, maybe

Here comes the story of the Hurricane, the man the authorities came to blame.

What does the “best 1,000 albums ever” mean and why are you doing this?

Yeah, I know it’s audacious, a little crazy (okay, maybe a lot cray cray), bordering on criminal nerdery.

But here’s what it’s NOT: a definitive list of the Greatest Albums of All-Time. This is 100% my own personal super biased, incredibly subjective review of what my top 1,000 albums are, ranked in painstaking order over the course of doing research for nearly a year, Rob from High Fidelity style. Find out more about why I embarked on a best 1,000 albums ever project.