Not often can one person single handedly define a year in music, but that is exactly what Bob Dylan did in 1965. By ‘65 Dylan was already the ‘spokesman of a generation’, his early folk albums were filled with hard hitting and deeply political songs, where his nasal voice was accompanied by acoustic guitar. On 25th July Dylan was due to play at Newport Folk Festival, having played the previous two years alone on stage with his guitar and a harmonica hanging around his neck. But in ‘65 Dylan outraged the folk world and sent shock-waves throughout the world of music by appearing backed by a fully electric band. Dylan had gone electric!
Dylan was also making waves in the studio as well as riling up his once ardent fans. The first of the two albums he released in ‘65, Bringing It All Back Home, showcased his new electric music to the world for the first time. Side one begins with what is arguably the first rap recording, Subterranean Homesick Blues is a fast and frantic song with a flood of words uttered in Dylan’s sardonic drawl. Before the second side, containing four songs in a more familiar style for Dylan’s fans, is one of Dylan’s must humorful songs, Bob Dylan’s 115th Dream, which tells the story of him landing in America in its infancy and ending with “I asked the captain what his name was and how comes he didn’t drive a bus/he said his name was “Columbus” I just said “good luck””.
The second album is possibly one of the most influential albums released, Highway 61 Revisited. Indeed, Rolling Stone magazine named the first track, Like a Rolling Stone, the greatest song of all time. The eclectic mix of styles on the album are testament to the breadth of Dylan’s creativity; there are a number of blues’, a piano ballad (Ballad of a Thin Man), and the 11 minute acoustic marathon, Desolation Row. After the release of Highway 61 Dylan embarked in his infamous 1965-66 tour where, in Manchester, an angry fan would call him Judas.
The effect that the Dylan of 1965 had on music cannot be understated, but, while he overshadowed most of what happened that year, there were also many other significant releases. In jazz, John Coltrane released A Love Supreme, which is regarded as one of the most influential jazz albums – even Miles Davis claimed that its influence transcended jazz as a genre, high praise indeed. Equally, momentous was Herbie Hancock’s Maiden Voyage. A number of the songs on it became jazz standards, and it was arguably a more accessible album than Coltrane’s.
The Beatles’ Rubber Soul marked a turning point in their career. Scott Plagenhoef describes the album as “the most important artistic leap in the Beatles’ career”. It was the first step toward Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band and Abbey Road, arguably the band’s most refined works. Also in Britain, Mick Jagger and Keith Richards of The Rolling Stones wrote (I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction which went on to become the Stones’ fourth UK number one and possibly also became their seminal work.
In the world of blues, the ‘King of the Blues’ B.B. King released what is now considered the best live blues recording, Live at the Regal. A recording from the previous year, it shows off King’s guitar playing and is one of the most atmospheric live albums ever released. The Paul Butterfield Blues Band released their first eponymous album, an energetic and somewhat frantic record that was put Butterfield and his band at the forefront of a new generation of blues artists breaking onto the scene.