When historians look back to the first decade of the 21st Century, they may be surprised to see that the best-selling album of that period was a compilation of what was already 30-year-old music. It was a compilation released in 2000, The Beatles' 1.
Although the compact disc had been around for some 20 years, The Beatles' 1 capitalized on it in a way that was as innovative & obvious-in-hindsight as the Beatles' own best music. The compact disc had always been 80 minutes (allegedly so that a single disc could hold everybody's favorite golden oldie, Beethoven's Ninth), but here was an album that used the running time space to stuff it with a sort of desert-island treasure trove. &, unlike pretty much every other "all-you-need-in-one" comp that followed in its wake, The Beatles' 1 had both the depth & the focus: It purported to be simply a running order of every Beatles UK & US #1 hits (which it wasn't quite, but I digress).
At first, Elvis jumped in the fray with his own defensively-packaged "but I was there first..." (true) & "...& had more #1 hits" (also true) disc called ELV1S, lest anyone had any doubt. Michael Jackson then followed suit with an album of #1 hits...& "Thriller," which technically only made #4. The door was opened for ever-diminishing returns: The Supremes oddly included lengthened edits of their hits (that is, versions that technically didn't hit #1); Mariah Carey's #1 album had all number one hits, but tacked on a few extra (& who really wanted to listen to those—or the old ones either?); The Bee-Gees' "#1" album included songs from albums that hit #1. By the time Three Dog Night did their obligatory all-in-one album, they at least had the decency to call it The Complete Hit Singles (even though one of their number-one songs was CALLED "One").
Out of all of the artists not to take part in the #1 album sweepstakes, the biggest was Bob Dylan, for #1 obvious reason: He has never had a number one hit single ("Like a Rolling Stone" & "Rainy Day Women #12 & 35" each hit #2). The closest he's come is a close-but-no-cigar (& now outdated) "Best Of" album & a second attempted stab with a single disc summary of the three-disc Dylan. Neither of them were perfect, which is all that Dylan deserves.
But have no fear—I've spent time crafting my own "perfect" Dylan career overview—a "Dy1an"—if you will, which lasts 79:11. What follows were my guiding rules:
1. Only one song from each album may be included.
2. Every top 10 US pop hit must be included.
3. Every decade must be included (not counting the one we're currently in).
With that, I made my list. You're welcome.
1. "Blowin' In The Wind," The Freewheelin' Bob Dylan, 1963. His breakthrough composition, & for many, his signature achievement.
2. "The Times They Are A-Changin'," The Times They Are A-Changin', 1964. His second-most celebrated folk anthem—the opening "theme song" of his pre-electric sets & a #9 UK hit.
3. "Mr. Tambourine Man," Bringing It All Back Home, 1965. His last true acoustic anthem &—thanks to The Byrds' legendary #1 cover—one of the few Dylan songs anyone can hum.
4. "Like A Rolling Stone," Highway 61 Revisited, 1965. The greatest rock song ever recorded? Rolling Stone seems to think so, biased though it may be... #2 US & #4 UK.
5. "Positively 4th Street," Single Release, 1965. A #7 US hit (#8 UK) that was his final kiss-off to the folk world, which was never released on a proper studio album.
6. "Rainy Day Women #12 & 35," Blonde on Blonde, 1966. #2 with a bullet (#4 UK), powered by its "Everybody must get stoned!" refrain.
7. "All Along The Watchtower," John Wesley Harding, 1967. The most famous Dylan song that no one's actually ever heard Dylan's version. Probably including Dylan himself.
8. "Lay Lady Lay," Nashville Skyline, 1969. The biggest song of his "Nashville" period as well as his final Top 10 hit (#7 US, #5 UK).
9. "Knockin' On Heaven's Door," Pat Garret & Billy The Kid, 1973. Perhaps the most-covered Dylan song outside of the 1960s, which hit #12 in the US (#14 in the UK).
10. "Forever Young," Planet Waves, 1973. A classic cut from Dylan's first number one album, if you can believe it (I sure as hell can't).
11. "Tangled Up In Blue," Blood On The Tracks, 1975. His finest song since the 1960s off of his finest album since the 1960s, & a minor US hit (#31) to boot.
12. "Hurricane," Desire, 1976. Included only as a nod to its popularity & representing different parts of the span of his career; personally, I find it lackluster & the weakest of all of his stone-cold "classics."
13. "Gotta Serve Somebody," Slow Train Coming, 1978. The best song of his Christian period, as well as his first & best of his "list songs" that he loved to do into the '80s & '90s ("Everything Is Broken," "Dignity," etc.). Also gave him his first Grammy, if you can believe it (I sure as hell can't).
14. "Blind Willie McTell," Infidels Outtake, 1983 (Released on The Bootleg Series, Vol. 1-3 in 1991). What to do about Dylan in the '80s? He had some minor hits & a sort-of comeback album with Oh Mercy, but this song, recorded for Infidels but not released until the early 1990s, is generally considered his finest song of the decade & often polls in the top 10 of critics' lists of the best Dylan songs. & this being Dylan, I like the idea of a song that was a true obscurity, saved by bootlegs, & better than many of his most famous songs.
15. "To Make You Feel My Love," Time Out Of Mind, 1997. Dylan's REAL comeback album & 1st (& only, so far) Album of the Year win at the Grammys. Is it just me or has this song become ubiquitous with movie closing credits?
16. "Things Have Changed," Wonder Boys Soundtrack, 2000. Dylan's 1st (& only, so far) Oscar win. Also my vote for his most underrated song, period. Listen to again. & again. This thing is epic.
17. "Mississippi," Love & Theft, 2001. Dylan's finest song of the new millennium, despite new songs from each new album being marketing ever since. Released on September 11, 2001, it leaves Dylan standing at the brink of a new era, which seems like just the place to leave him.
Plus, I think that every album since Love & Theft has basically sucked.