I have no idea what the first Bob Dylan song I ever heard was, or what my reaction to it might have been. I’m certain it would have been something on the radio.
I do know what the first Dylan album that I ever listened to was: Blood on the Tracks. I can probably even guess that it would have been around 1983.
My parents were not big music collectors. I can sort of count on one hand the times I remember my father bringing home music (specifically, I remember one day that he brought home albums by Charlie Pride and Freddie Fender and Loretta Lynn when I was a kid). For some reason up at our cottage in central Ontario we had a bunch of cassette tapes – like maybe twenty of them. They were on a side table that had a little shelf, and we had a little radio/tape-player combination that got rarely used (we could only get one radio station at the cottage and it was the dreadful CHAY-FM, so it wasn’t on often).
Sometime around the time I was thirteen or fourteen I must have decided to play those tapes. Where did they come from? I believe, though I will have to check, but I believe that they came from the Columbia Record of the month deal. You know, buy ten for a penny, and then three more at full price. I guess this because I do think that they were all Columbia artists. This seems like something my father might have done before I was old enough to recall it.
I remember four of those tapes: Kenny Rogers’s Greatest Hits. Johnny Cash Live at San Quentin. Blood, Sweat and Tears something or other. Bob Dylan Blood on the Tracks.
If I’m being honest, the albums we liked best were Rogers and Cash. Further, the songs we liked were all the terrible ones (“The Gambler”, “Coward of the County”, “A Boy Named Sue”). We were kids and we had bad taste, but we would often play these when it was raining and there was nothing else to do but play cards and listen to “Lucille”.
I know that the Dylan didn’t immediately take. I don’t remember listening to it that much. More than Blood, Sweat and Tears, but less than Cash (I can probably still sing “A Boy Named Sue” from memory). It was likely the next year that the Dylan started sinking in. It was probably the third summer that I realized how good the whole thing was and started buying Dylan albums myself (first one: Empire Burlesque. On cassette. Not an auspicious debut).
Why did my parents own a copy of Blood on the Tracks? No idea. I know that my father has indicated to me that he never liked Dylan (he was in his 20s when “Like a Rolling Stone” hit, always more an Elvis fan than a fan of any rock stuff from the 1960s). The album was a #1 hit, so it could have just been its ubiquity when they were ordering – a tenth choice for a penny when nothing else looked that interesting. That would be my best guess.
That’s the secret origin of the Dylan blog. Somehow, mysteriously, I came across Dylan’s best album at a time when I had access to about five albums and a lot of spare time.
And, yes, I do think it’s his best album, even despite “Lily, Rosemary and the Jack of Hearts”.