Highway 61 Revisited

Part II: The Music

Overall Sound of the Different Releases

     The original mono album seems the best benchmark for the comparison of other versions, since this is the mix that Dylan probably had the most involvement in. It has a solid, punchy sound, but seems slightly tight and forced in the mid-range. Possibly this is an effect of the compression which was usually applied to mono popular music recordings in the 60s in order to prevent the quieter moments from getting lost on AM radio. All of the tracks, at least on my UK mono copies, are slightly above musical pitch, and therefore sound slightly faster than on stereo releases; whether this was Dylan's intention (as it apparently was on Blonde On Blonde's "Rainy Day Women") is hard to guess. It could be just an error introduced at the vinyl mastering stage. All stereo versions that I have heard run at correct musical pitch, whether on vinyl or CD.

     The unreleased "rough mix" tape is in mono, but has a cruder sound than the released mono LP, with the percussion much more prominent. All circulating copies appear to have an intrusive noise on several of the tracks, which sounds like mains-borne electrical interference; this was probably introduced during an amateur tape-copying operation. As presented on the Highway 61 Revisited Again bootleg CD the speed is slightly below true musical pitch, but since the tape had almost certainly been copied several times in analogue form before being bootlegged, nothing can be concluded from this.

     The stereo vinyl mix has a much weaker, thinner sound than the mono, with a lot less bass. As discussed earlier, this can be attributed to limitations imposed by the stereo cutting and playback equipment of the mid-60s. The bass drum cannot really be heard on any of the tracks. These comments apply equally to the alternative version of the stereo album which has the out-take of "From A Buick 6".

     The standard CD gains some clarity over both mono and stereo vinyl, particular in high frequencies, but it is just as lacking in bass as the stereo vinyl. The result is a very harsh, strident sound. There is noticeable tape hiss in quiet spots, probably because the CD was mastered from a tape several generations away from the original studio tapes. The stereo imaging and presence is also poor, probably for similar reasons.

     The DCC gold CD sounds absolutely right, with the same warmth and solidity of bass that the mono LP had, but with a greater clarity and a much more natural, relaxed sound. The high frequencies are extended but without the harshness and sibilance of the standard CD, there is very little tape hiss and the stereo imaging is excellent. If you haven't already got a copy, go out now and find one; pay whatever you have to.

     The later Japanese 20-bit CD is a noticeable improvement over the standard CD, at least on good stereo equipment; it has a slightly more refined sound and better stereo presence, but to my ears it is no rival to the DCC version. The bass is still very much attenuated, and there is audible tape hiss, so it was probably mastered from one of Sony's many tape copies equalised for vinyl production. The improvements in sound compared with the standard CD are perhaps attributable to the Super Bit Mapping technology.

     The Tracks in Detail

In the following notes the "stereo mix" is that which can be heard on all official CD and stereo vinyl releases; the only exception is that noted for "From A Buick 6". The "mono mix" is that which can be found on all mono LP issues.

     The stereo mix provides a longer version of the track than the original single or the mono LP, fading out around 8 seconds later. The rough mix continues for a further 20 seconds, until the players run out of steam with a final organ chord from Kooper.

An oddity in the stereo mix of this track occurs in the first verse: as Dylan sings ". . . bound to fall, you thought . . .", his voice shifts towards to the right hand side and back to the centre. This flaw must have been introduced at the 1965 stereo mix-down stage, as it can be heard on the DCC gold CD remaster which was taken directly from the original stereo mix tapes. It is also audible on some vinyl releases; the standard CD must have been made from the cutting master used for these. On many vinyl album releases, however, the fault cannot be heard, so at least one stereo cutting master tape must have been made which rectified the fault by momentarily lifting the level of the left-hand channel. This correction has also been attempted, with varying degrees of success, on digitally remastered versions of this track which appear on compilations such as Biograph and the US Greatest Hits.

     This track is the album's finest showcase for Mike Bloomfield's lead guitar playing, and the stereo mix gives us another three seconds or so of his wired-up improvisation on the fade-out. The rough mix tape continues for a further 16 seconds, but Bloomfield goes slightly off the rails and then drops into less inspired riffing before the whole thing falls apart, with the pianist the last to give up.


This lovely song displays the biggest difference between the mono and stereo mixes, with the stereo version nearly 40 seconds longer. While this was a marvellous novelty on first hearing the stereo LP, I don't find it much of a gain in artistic terms. The mono version fades out at a logical point, on completion of the instrumental verse, and wisely leaves you wanting more; the stereo version continues with Dylan (on harmonica) and the band falling into a jam that seems to lose the shape of the song's verse pattern for half a minute or so, until the final repetition of the descending chord sequence. Dylan seems particularly short of ideas for the harmonica on the "flat" stretch, and the only justification I can think of for its inclusion is that the chugging groove is maybe reminiscent of the train in the song's title. The rough mix tape gives us a further 9 seconds before it finally fades out.


Concentrating first on the standard take of the song, the stereo mix adds 9 seconds to the end of the mono version. The rough mix tape, unusually, fades out a couple of seconds earlier than the released mono track; this is perhaps because it was seemingly added to the tape from a 33 rpm acetate rather than directly from the multi-track master reel.

The alternate take on the Japanese and early US and Canadian LPs is a decidedly weaker performance of the song. It starts off with a solo harmonica introduction, then settles into a faster tempo than the normal version; but it is saddled with an insistent and uncharacteristically weedy guitar riff from Bloomfield, and has an overall sound which is thin even in comparison with the other stereo vinyl tracks. The drumming is also decidedly rickety. On the plus side, it does have one or two word changes, most notably "She comes running down the thruway / With her dynamite and her thread". In overall length this version is just a few seconds shorter than the stereo mix of the standard take.


Here the stereo mix extends the fade-out by 6 seconds over the mono version, allowing us to hear at full volume the curious moan Dylan makes before he gets down to some serious glissando work on the piano as the track fades. The rough mix tape has a further 5 seconds which reveal Dylan chuckling, perhaps at what he's doing on the piano, before the tape finally cuts.

The most interesting thing about the rough mix of this song, though, is what it reveals about the released mono and stereo versions: that they both contain a spliced-in section at the end of the penultimate verse. The studio records bear out the fact that an insert was recorded following the final complete take. On the rough mix tape we hear the original unedited Take 3, in which the reason for the splice is apparent: organist Paul Griffin plays an ill-judged chord at the start of Dylan's line "Give me some milk or else go home". In the released composite version the re-recorded insert runs from the start of this line through to the end of ". . . Mr Jones" in the chorus which follows.


This is one of the songs which was most extended in the stereo release: it outlasts the mono mix by nearly half a minute, during which we have to endure some fairly strained harmonica playing in addition to the famously out-of-tune electric guitar. If this was the best version, what were the other three complete takes like? This one must have been chosen in spite of its blemishes, either on the strength of Dylan's vocal performance or for the inspired piano work - probably Paul Griffin again.

The rough mix of this song provides just another couple of seconds, then comes to an abrupt stop.


Here the ten seconds of extended play-out in the stereo mix do at least give us a little bit more singing by Dylan - a sort of hummed blues riff in between his blasts on the "police car" whistle, plus a shout just as the track fades. The rough mix adds another eleven seconds, including some nice guitar runs from Bloomfield, and then fades out.


Once again the stereo mix adds substantially to the harmonica-led instrumental section at the end of the song - around 17 seconds this time, with the rough mix continuing for a further 7 seconds before fizzling out.


The final song of the album, this is the only track which isn't faded out; yet still the ending of the mono and stereo mixes are different. If you listen closely to the very end of the mono version you can hear Dylan give a laugh, presumably in relief at having got through the take. This is much harder to hear on the stereo album, even with the volume turned all the way up.

The rough mix tape, as mentioned earlier, does not contain the released version of "Desolation Row" but rather an earlier version, recorded with different musicians. The released version (which is a spliced composite of two separate takes) has an acoustic second guitar played by Charlie McCoy and a stand-up bass played almost certainly by Russ Savakus. The out-take, recorded a day earlier, has Harvey Goldstein/Brooks on electric bass guitar and Al Kooper playing electric lead guitar (don't forget that when Kooper turned up at the "Like A Rolling Stone" session he came as a guitar player, even though he left as an organist).

Given this different instrumentation you would expect the out-take to have a different feel to it, but in addition it is played a tone lower, and a lot slower - so much so that despite having no harmonica verses it is nearly 40 seconds longer than the released version(1). The result is a very, very dark version of the song, made even more stark by its famous lyric variation: "They are spoon-feeding Casanova / The boiled guts of birds".

(1)Had this version been used for the album it would, at just under 12 minutes, have been Dylan's longest released song up until 1997's "Highlands".

     TThe story of Highway 61 Revisited is very much simpler than that of Blonde On Blonde, at least as far as the music is concerned. There are really only two versions which can be considered definitive: the original mono mix, so far only officially released on vinyl, and the corrected stereo mix containing the standard version of "From A Buick 6". Of the latter, The DCC gold CD is incontestably the best release so far.

     I personally find the more concise endings of the mono version give the album more impact, and there is most definitely a case for Sony reissuing the mono album, mastered from the uncompressed, unequalised mix-down tape, so that Dylan's original intentions can be properly heard. However, so many people are now so familiar with the extended endings that it would be hard to argue for a reissue of the stereo album edited to match the mono version. Now that digital sound editing software is so readily available, those who care enough can do that for themselves.

The ideal reissue would be a double CD containing both mono and stereo versions; this is a precedent that has been set by reissues of many other artists' 1960s recordings. It would also be nice if the package could include the alternative version of Dylan's sleeve notes and the photo from the back of the UK LP sleeve. But of course the most important thing is the sound of the album; and whatever advanced technology Sony's engineers use, that gold CD is the one they have to beat.

Appendix A: Discography of Highway 61 Revisited Releases

The following are the significant vinyl and CD releases of the album that I know about which have at some time been on regular sale in the US, the UK and Japan.

Year Country Label Catalogue No. Description
1965 US Columbia CL 2389 Mono vinyl
1966 US Columbia CS 9189 Stereo vinyl - alternate take of "From A Buick 6" appears on copies with matrix numbers including -1.
1966 UK CBS SBPG 62572 Mono vinyl
1966 UK CBS BPG 62572 Stereo vinyl
Late 60s to late 70s Japan CBS/Sony SONP 50345 SOPL 225 25AP 273 Japanese stereo vinyl issues - all have the alternate take of "From A Buick 6".
1987 US Columbia CK 9189 Standard CD
1989 UK CBS 460953 2 Standard CD
1992 US DCC GZS-1021 Remastered gold CD
1996 Japan Sony SRCS 7904 Limited edition 20-bit SBM remastered CD
1998? UK Absolute Analogue 006 (62572) 180 gram stereo vinyl reissue

Appendix B: Track Listing of the "Rough Mix" Tape
     Some of the songs were listed on the studio recording sheets under their original working titles; these are shown in brackets.

1. Like A Rolling Stone

2. Ballad Of A Thin Man

3. Just Like Tom Thumb's Blues (Juarez)

4. Highway 61 Revisited (Highway 61)

5. Positively 4th Street (Black Dalli Rue)

6. It Takes A Lot To Laugh, It Takes A Train To Cry (Phantom Engineer)

7. Tombstone Blues (Tombstone)

8. Can You Please Crawl Out Your Window? (Look At Barry Run)

9. Desolation Row

10. Queen Jane Approximately (Queen Jane)

11. From A Buick 6 (Lunatic Princess No. 3)

Appendix C: Notes on methods and source materials

Comparison Methods

     Some tolerance has to be allowed when comparing vinyl discs; earlier pressings tend to sound rather better, and the quality of the vinyl used may vary. After allowing for these factors, it is sometimes hard to tell whether the same or different master tapes have been used for vinyl releases.

     Comparing track lengths is particularly difficult. I have ignored the timings printed on album sleeves and labels, as these are very unreliable; and instead of comparing total track lengths, I have concentrated on timing the length of additional music in the longer of two versions; doing it this way, any error will be much smaller. For playing vinyl discs, the turntable speed was set stroboscopically.

Recordings Used
All comparisons were made using the following recordings:
Mono vinyl copies: UK first pressing (CBS BPG 62572);
Highway 61 & Blonde On Blonde Mono Mixes bootleg CD (Gold Standard HM-313).
Stereo vinyl copies: UK first pressing (CBS SBPG 62572); 1970s Dutch pressing (CBS S 62572); 1980s Japanese pressing (CBS/Sony 25AP 273) with alternate "Buick 6".
Stereo CD copies: Standard UK copy (Columbia 460953 2); DCC gold CD (GZS-1021); Japanese 20-bit reissue (Sony SRCS 7904).
Rough Mix tape: 7½ ips open-reel tape (not from bootleg); Highway 61 Revisited Again bootleg CD (92-BD-09-04).

Books and Publications
Information was drawn from the following:
Bob Dylan Songbook, Witmark, 1965
Anthony Scaduto, Bob Dylan, W. H. Allen, 1972
Al Kooper with Ben Edmonds, Backstage Passes, Stein and Day, 1977
M. C. Strong, The Wee Rock Discography, Canongate, 1996
John Bauldie: Interview with Steve Hoffman in issue 44 of The Telegraph, 1992
Rod MacBeath, Looking Up Dylan's Sleeves, Part 1, in issue 50 of The Telegraph, 1994
Michael Krogsgaard, Bob Dylan: The Recording Sessions, Part 1, in issue 52 of The Telegraph, 1995 (this can be seen online at http://www.punkhart.com/dylan/sessions-1.html )
Lars M Banke & David Eckstrom, A Few Notes About Foreign Bob Dylan Albums, Part IV, in issue 23 of Look Back, 1989
Highway 61 Interactive CD-ROM (Columbia / Graphix Zone CDAC 085700), 1995 CD Universe web site (for US CD release dates)

My thanks to Richard Batey, Peter Stone Brown, Fredric J Einstein, BJ Ellis, Andrea Falesi, Richard Feirstein, John Howells, Dan Jordan, Al Kooper, Bob Stacy, Paul Woods and Matthew Zuckerman for information, recordings, opinion or encouragement. Thanks too to anyone else who has posted contributions on the subject to rec.music.dylan over the past few years, and whose name I've overlooked here.

Comments are welcomed, and can be sent via The Bridge or e-mailed direct to rogerford@blueyonder.co.uk .

This is the second part of the Highway 61 Revisited article which was published in Issue 8 of The Bridge. However, as Roger is continually updating the article a more current version may seen on Roger's site Electric Dylan

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