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The Non-Expert

The Answer, My Friend

Experts answer what they know. The Non-Expert answers anything. To help a reader determine which Dylan album is best, we arrive at every possible solution. Introducing “Your Best Bob Dylan Album Calculator.”

Illustration by Jennifer Daniel

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Question: What is the best Bob Dylan album? —RFranco

Answer: This is one of the toughest questions ever posed to me in this column, and brother, that is saying a lot.

Let’s start with the sheer number of albums: 34 in all. Bob Dylan has 34 studio recordings for shit’s sake, including his recently released album of traditional Christmas songs and a few jaunts into pseudo-gospel, ’80s pop, and otherwise ill-advised experimental-ish projects. (Still, you have to count these—even his worst albums sold astoundingly well in the United Kingdom.) Tack onto that countless greatest-hits compilations, bootlegs, and a dozen or so live albums, and the morass thickens to an even more impassible mess.

As easy as it would be to say The Essential Bob Dylan and be done with it, I am not going to cheat you like that. I could tell you which is my favorite, and why, but that’s not what you really want to know. Most likely you’ll have your favorite Dylan album (and I’ll have mine). And yours is what we’re out to determine here.

Given my decent knowledge of Dylan’s oeuvre, I’ve constructed what I call the “Your Best Bob Dylan Album Calculator.”1 For this exercise, however, let’s ignore all compilations and omit anything from the live genre. In fact, take that second stipulation to heart in perpetuity: With the exception of a few live recordings—for example, Live at Carnegie Hall 1963—disregard any Bob Dylan album with “Live” or “Budokan” or “the Dead” in the title. Please, if not for yourself, then for the sake of those around you who happen to be in the possession of ears.

Your Best Bob Dylan Album Calculator

 

 
 

1This idea is inspired by my brother, whose never-designed “Steely Dan Calculator” was supposed to deduce by characteristic and theme which Steely Dan song was the best. I am not surprised this never materialized, because obviously the answer is: Duh, all of them!