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John Wesley Harding

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iTunes Review

This 1967 album transcended easy categorization as Bob Dylan moved from the experimentation and rock of his few previous releases. Cut in Nashville with a loose-limbed backing trio, the songs are mostly country-folk parables that, even at their most jaunty, like the plainspoken title track, are filled with mystery and distrust—from the occasional violence (the lightning that destroys a courthouse in the roiling “Drifter’s Escape”) to the biblical (“Wicked Messenger”). There are heavily covered love songs too, such as the brilliantly restrained “I’ll Be Your Baby Tonight.”

Customer Reviews

My favorite

I am a big Dylan fan, and have been for many years. “John Wesley Harding” is my favorite Dylan album, even beating out “Blonde on Blonde” for me. This album has a very insular feel, especially juxtaposed with the freewheeling experimentation and extroverted electric music Dylan had been making for the preceding few years, yet lacking none of his earlier works’ force or ambition. Dylan’s lyrical conceits during those “electric years” were overflowing with evocative imagery, yet their ultra-hipster feel could seem superficial and jokey without real substance (yet it’s still brilliant). To me, this album meditates on something profoundly human, piercing into the world of the human spirit, of our relationship with God, with our small space in the sweep of history, and with our fellow man. In my mind, this is where Dylan “gets real”, and is no longer content to be merely cleverer-than-thou. Even though the music is stripped down and acoustic, relentless drumming punctuates Dylan’s lyrics in most of the songs, giving this music a contemporary punch in spite of its more meditative spirit. BTW – I especially love this album’s inscrutable cover, especially in the wake of Sgt. Peppers, Their Satanic Majesties Request, Disraeli Gears,et al. – it’s just so snotty in its dismissal of psychedelia. Killer.

An Album That Influenced Two Major Artists

Regardless of your views on Dylan, one cannot overlook the giant influence he has had on Rock 'N Roll. This is one of his lesser know albums to the casual fan, but Dylan influenced two very big acts with this record. Jimi Hendrix covered "All Along the Watchtower" from this album, giving the world one of the greatest guitar solos in recorded history. Dylan even preferred Jimi's version to his. The song "The Ballad of Frankie Lee and Judas Priest" gave the ledgendary Metal band Judas Priest its namesake. This just goes to show how incredibly influential Bob Dylan is. Not many people would assume that a pioneering Metal band would listen to artists like Bob Dylan, but they do. Dylan's footprints are all over the roadmap that we know and love as Rock 'N Roll.

One of the Primordial Alt-Country Records

I love Dylan from "Highway 61" to "Nashville Skyline," including "The Basement Tapes." Oddly enough, "John Wesley Harding" is my favorite of them all during this period, and the album makes my list of what I call "primordial Alt. country" -- records that were "countrified" without being conceived as actual country records. The Byrds' "Sweetheart of the Rodeo" gets the critics' nod as "the first alt. country album," but to me, it's really just a straight country record. "John Wesley Harding," on the other hand, has all of these tunes steeped in traditional country themes (the title track is based on the classic traditional American ballad "John Hardy," just as "Maggie's Farm" is a spin-off of the traditional "Penny's Farm"), yet the bass and drums are totally whacked-out, funky, groovy, and pretty progressive for 1967! Listen to the bass and drums on the 1st and 2nd tracks -- they don't sound "country" at all! Only "I'll Be Your Baby Tonight" really rings of Nashville-style country. My favorite track is "The Wicked Messenger," which features that unison pentatonic riffage. There is no other song in the world that I have ever heard which sounds like it. Adding to this the brilliant imagery and melodies that we come to love from Dylan, it really is quite an impressive and PROgressive album of the 1960s. Note: Paul McCartney wrote "Rocky Raccoon" after listening and digesting "John Wesley Harding."


Born: May 24, 1941 in Duluth, MN

Genre: Rock

Years Active: '60s, '70s, '80s, '90s, '00s, '10s

Bob Dylan's influence on popular music is incalculable. As a songwriter, he pioneered several different schools of pop songwriting, from confessional singer/songwriter to winding, hallucinatory, stream-of-consciousness narratives. As a vocalist, he broke down the notion that a singer must have a conventionally good voice in order to perform, thereby redefining the vocalist's role in popular music. As a musician, he sparked several genres of pop music, including electrified folk-rock and country-rock....
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