Highway 61 Revisited  Revisited By Mobile Fidelity at 45rpm

Dylan's previous album Bringing It All Back Home arguably contains the first rap song ("Subterranean Homesick Blues") and is associated with the first rock video—the one where he holds up those cue cards with some of the lyrics—but this album made Dylan a rock star. The cover photo remains iconic and enigmatic: Dylan as The Mona Lisa?

Bringing It All Back Home and "Subterranean Homesick Blues" may have pricked the thick, redneck skin of America's straight mainstream, but this album released late summer of 1965 was the mortal wound that changed the perspective of America's youth and sent the mainstream reeling even as the electricity shocked Dylan's early supporters and left them recoiling in disgust.

Like The Beatles from this period we're left today wondering how the previous album could have led to this one. Other than pot smoke, what was in the air? Dylan's liner notes may explain it but has anyone, including Dylan, yet figured out what he's saying in that annotation? Long live the mouths!

Dylan's once gravel-y, world-weary old man's voice became a nasty, nasally sarcastic snarl that could cut through the hardest rock backdrop, here provided by Mike Bloomfield, Al Kooper Charley McCoy and Russ Savakus among others. A year earlier Savakus had played bass on Ian & Sylvia's folk classic Northern Journey. That couldn't have prepared him (or anyone else in that studio) for this!

The vitriol Dylan spews on the "Like A Rolling Stone", combined with the hard rocking backdrop and its length make for an unlikely hit single and Columbia was hesitant to issue it as such but it leaked out and demanded release, hitting number two on the Billboard charts. The handwritten manuscript written on hotel stationary sold last week for two million dollars.

On "Tombstone Blues" Dylan spits lines like "the sun's not yellow it's chicken" and populates the surreal environment with Paul Revere's horse, Jack the Ripper, the outlaw Belle Starr and a doctor who advises the hysterical bride who's just been made "to not let the boys in." Good idea!

"It Takes A Lot to Laugh, It Takes a Train to Cry" and "From a Buick 6" continue the pattern of basic blues overloaded with surreal, disturbing lyrical spew and then Dylan throws down the gauntlet to straight America (which at the time probably included large swaths of his audience) with the truly disturbing, ridicule-laden "Ballad of a Thin Man". Talk about a song that resonated with the era's young people—or at least those who sensed that something unusual was rumbling in the cultural undergrowth. Madras shorts wearing, crew cut college kids in frat houses were playing the record, innocently singing along and before they knew what was happening, finding themselves unmoored from what they had assumed was solid ground.

"When your mother sends back all your invitations /and your father to your sister he explains/that you’re tired of yourself and all of your creations" could be Dylan's personal complaint but what to the listener seemed unlikely as a personal experience, for many soon became very real as alienation, rejection and disgust became commonplace.

The title tune comically alludes to a magical road where even the most difficult of challenges could be solved including selling forty red white and blue shoe strings and a thousand telephones that don't ring. Even the next world war could be successfully promoted—all you have to do is put some bleachers out in the sun on Highway 61.

For a generation brought up mostly on love songs these images, like a Salvador Dali painting both disturbed and delighted listeners. "Here is your throat back thanks for the loan" sums up how many exhausted listeners felt once the arm on their Silvertone record changer had returned to its rest.

Where the master tape went is anyone's guess because it is gone. Was it used for the 2003 SACD set? Or for DCC Compact Classic's gold CD edition? DCC claims yes, so where did go from there? Back to "Iron Mountain" where Columbia/Sony stores its tapes?

If so where did it go from there that it got lost? No use crying over lost tapes....wait a minute! Hell yes, there's plenty to cry over when tapes like this get lost. The loss of this one is disgusting because you can bet your left ball that it's on the shelf of some rich fuck who paid someone plenty for it.

We have the stationery on which Dylan wrote "Like A Rolling Stone" but the master tape is "missing"? I don't believe it is "missing". Someone has it.

Mobile Fidelity cut this double 45 from, as they say, "the best available (analog) source but they are not saying what that is. The original 1A pressing of this album is now "the master tape" and it contains a different version of "From a Buick 6" than is here, or is on most pressings. It's faster and higher in energy and why it was removed and replaced with a slower version is anyone's guess including at this point probably Dylan himself.

The point is: if you have an original 1A pressing you're set. It has an organic fullness and midband cohesion that this otherwise excellent double 45 lacks, though this mastering, somewhat brighter and instrumentally more separated, has its own sonic attractiveness. Interestingly, the DCC Compact Classic CD sounds timbrally and texturally closer to the 1A pressing than does this double 45 LP, though it too has the slower "From a Buick 6". It still sounds like a CD though.

Listening to this double 45 you'll kind of know you're not listening to a master tape or even to a copy thereof, in my opinion, but as with The Band's second album, Mobile Fidelity's high resolution mastering chain works its own magic so unless you can get a clean original 1A, 1B or so this one's the one. I have a 1A a 1B and a 2B. The 2B gives way to this reissue. And there you have it: something is happening but you don't know what it is.

Music Direct Buy It Now

Cartel's picture

What about the Sundazed LP?

"Sundazed Music is proud to present this seminal album in its rare mono form. It has been sourced directly from the original Columbia analog mono masters to provide a superior listening experience."

Michael Fremer's picture
Both Sundazed and Sony have issued the mono versions. That's something else. In this case Sundazed did have them cut from tape but the majority of Sundazed issues, while "sourced" from original tapes are cut from digital, at, I believe, CD resolution. "Sourced" from and "cut" from can be two different things.
firedog55's picture

The version form the "Original Mono Recordings" sounds great, IMO. Is it not from a master?

Michael Fremer's picture
Yes of course it is from a master. The mono master. This is a review of the stereo version.
Cassius's picture

The stereo tape is the one that was used to death for the last 4 + decades, not the mono one, so I could believe it might have worn thin or whatever, but hey I love the feeling behind this statement "you can bet your left ball that it's on the shelf of some rich fuck who paid someone plenty for it."

My extra clean orig copy with the alt From a Buick 6 has always sounded great to my ears, as well as the 2A for completion sake.
Thanks for saving me $


Michael Fremer's picture
Based on the DCC Compact Classic CD said to have been cut from the original tape, the tape was in great shape. It "went missing" somewhere along the line.
Cassius's picture

I was trying to help the folk above who were asking why the two recent mono ressiues claim to have used a master tape. As we are talking 'bout a different tape. The mono master is still available, the stereo is the one that is MIA.

Re the mono resissues:

The Sundazed I can't vouch for, but the box set done cut by STERLING from a few years is really fucking good IMO. The new reissue is really close and is on much quieter vinyl than the 60's Columbia stuff. Listening to my 1b/1b mono H61 and this recent mastering the original is more pleasing with more warmth and presence in the bass and the vocals but it's not an ass kicking.I would atrribute the difference to the mastering chain tube gear vs modern solid state gear, and the fact that Columbia was cutting from a fresh tape in '65. The quiet surfaces and detail contained on the new Sony reissue are exceptional, and if I had to guess it sure doesn't sound like it was sourced from a dub or copy tape. Occasionally Amazon or PopMarket will offer this set for a great price, as such it's well worth grabing as an adjunct to the 60s originals.

Michael Fremer's picture
Absolutely stellar box set that I reviewed either here on on musicangle.com. Definitely worth owning.
YoMama's picture

Hoffman now claims that he used a copy tape for the DCC, because he knows he's been outed...again...for not using an original master.

PeterPani's picture

I was too young for being part of the fan club of the younger Dylan. I dicovered Dylan around 2003 and from than on I visited one live concert of Dylan every year. Still, I don't care much about Dylans old records (never-the-less I own all of them by now). It is the Dylan today that fascinates me. Last Saturday he played a live gig here in Vienna. And - oh boy! - what a concert. Seeing surely more than 50 live acts per year from young artists up to stars like Prince or operas with Netrebko or anythin close. Nothing - really nothing catches something like the meaning of life so purely as Dylan and his band in these last years. Their instrumental playing is humanistic like a Mozart score. And Dylans voice cuts through your brain and your heart. Lots of young people have been there. Astonished and deeply moved have been there faces. Go out, see and listen to Dylan today! And what we need is a huge vinyl box with live acts of Dylan between 2010 and 2015!

Joe Harley's picture

I 100% agree PeterPani. The recent (last 3 years) Dylan sets I've seen have been transcendent events, unlike anything else on the road. Check bobolinks.com to keep up with Dylan day by day on the Never Ending Tour.

johnmotex's picture

It is Dylan himself who holds up the cards with some of the lyrics. Allen Ginsberg is only seen in the background.

Michael Fremer's picture
i haven't seen it in a long time (obviously)
thomoz's picture

I don't have them handy, is the mono version of "from a Buick six" the same speed as the faster first pressing stereo, or the later slower second pressing? Inquiring minds want to know.

Cassius's picture

Only the stereo was issued of that one, not sure if it was mistake or a change of heart

SimonH's picture

I think Mo-Fi must be griven some credit for disclosing the OM wasn't found - they told me the same when I enquired some weeks ago.

Thanks Michael for another good review and much better than one I read in a magazine rack. Comparing against a mint 1A/2C Stereo 360 Pressing; for my money the Mo-Fi wins in terms of detail and seeing inside the recording. Both versions do make you wonder about the recording tho' . And hell where are you going to get a 1A/1A in any decent condition at a reasonable cost.

mauidj's picture

Are you referring to the mono box from Sony/CBS Legacy?

Cassius's picture
wao62's picture

Noticed that the Mofi issue of The Times They Are A-Changin' also has the "Mobile Fidelity Sound Labs" banner. Wonder about the source material used for that album. One of my favorite Dylan albums!

Martin's picture

where the stereo tape is

And which rich fucks shelf it is sitting on

Would be fascinating to know. And somebody must. This is not the sort of thing nobody would know. First, someone had to hand the thing over, second, money, a lot of it would have to change hands, third, it would be hard for the guy not to occasionally "mention", "Oh, I've got the...."

PeterPani's picture

usually these reels and boxes don't look very special. A not knowing person around such a rich guy could easily think that that reel is not important at all...

DigitalIsDead's picture

The 1/A pressing as good as it may sound, is not the tape. We have instances where years later we get better sound from a remaster AAA then the 1/A. We want to improve and not be routed in a particular pressing.

Martin's picture

someone made the point that the original tape was shitty scotch tape of the time that was subject to oxidation and not too robust.
is it possible the actual master just disintegrated at some point???

sonodyne's picture

I was just over 18 when I got an old scratchy LP of Highway 61; back in Calcutta, in the late eighties, this was a rare find & I must have listened to it hundreds of times since then. Since moving to the west, I have owned a few copies of Highway 61 on compact discs; in my opinion, the best sonic fidelity was part of the SACD box set release. They say (other than the fact that everything can be replaced!) that a good system is something that makes you fall in love with your music – and I must stress that listening to the SACD release on my Parasound combo (Halo P5/ A31) with an Oppo source / Monitor Audio RX8 speakers, has been a sheer satisfaction – sonic nirvana of sorts. I have never owned this masterpiece on high Vinyl (other than having the scratchy aforementioned LP, back in India and it didn’t matter much back then); thanks for this great review (and the ones on Blonde on Blonde/ Blood on the Tracks etc on this site); I will be ordering this soon from Amazon. Mr Fremer – could you please share the link of your review of the Mono box set?

Paul Boudreau's picture
sonodyne's picture

Thank you!

AnalogAudioInc's picture

I have read all of the comments (such vitriol!) regarding the "original" master tapes for this (and other) albums and I thought it was time to set the record straight about what you can REALLY expect reissues to be made from.

Lets discuss Columbia, since Highway 61 was released by them. The album was recorded in 1965. I have never had the tape in my hands but I would bet the ranch that it was recorded on Acetate tape. Most likely it was recorded on Scotch LR 1278, which was an experimental tape that later became 201 or actually on Scotch 201. Neither one of these types of tape held up very well. Both were subject to "pinning" (see Richard Hess's web site) and warping. By the mid 1970s Columbia engineers had already found that MANY of the early masters recorded on this tape (and Scotch 111) had begun to deteriorate and would no longer wind properly on reels. They called these "bad winders" and started making dubs of these tapes as protection copies and new masters. They instituted a filing system whereby the new tapes had a "dash" number. So, the first copy from an old master was labeled "Dash-2". If a copy was made of the Dash-2 it was called Dash-3 and so on. It's a pretty good bet that if a tape of Highway 61 does exist the best case scenario is that it's a Dash-2 and more likely a Dash-3 or Dash-4.

Starting around 1983 they started digitizing the entire library. A project that was headed up by Columbia Engineer, Larry Keyes (look him up). Even by then, many of the original 2 track masters were so badly deteriorated that he had to go back to the original 1/2" 3 track masters (if available) and do new mixes to 2 track in order to be able to do the digital transfer.

Now, in case you haven't noticed, a LOT of time has passed since 1983. Consider that if the tapes were in bad shape then, what condition are they in NOW? The answer is somewhere between unplayable and not good enough to use for mastering. Either way, for the purposes of pressing new records they are useless.

There are other types of tape that also turned out to have a very short shelf life. Audio Devices (AudioTape), Reeves Soundcraft, Kodak and others all made mastering tape that simply was not what it was cracked up to be. If a master was recorded on those types of tape it's probably done and been done a very long time. Lets not even GET INTO the sticky shed problems of Ampex 406/407 & 456/457, OK?

Fortunately, not all tapes were bad. Starting in the later 1960s Scotch came out with 202, which was a polyester based version of 201. It is amazingly hearty tape and most masters recorded on 202 still play as well today as they did when they were recorded. The same thing applies to Scotch 206. Ampex had some good formulations back then as well, before they started using carbon back coating. I have handled plenty of masters recorded on those formulations and they play as well today as ever. So, the problem is the "old stuff", recorded before any given studio switched over to the "newer" tape formulations.

Now, before you go on hating collectors for stealing master tapes consider this. in MOST cases, where tapes are actually missing (as opposed to unusable), they were thrown out and are now land fill in Staten Island or some where else. When Bell Sound, in New York, closed it's doors in the 1980s letters were sent out to every record company that had tapes stored there. Very few actually collected their tapes and almost 9 THOUSAND masters were tossed in the garbage! That's a REAL number. I'm not making it up. That scenario has occurred many times since so who knows how many have been lost. When the "bean counters" took over running the record labels they figured that the cost of storage was no longer worth keeping the tapes and after making the digital copies, out they went. So you see, it is the record companies themselves that are more responsible for the tapes being missing then anyone else!

In fact, collectors have been, at least in some part, responsible for saving some of these old tapes. At least one smart guy recovered a bunch of tapes including early Roy Orbison & Del Shannon tapes and sold them to Rhino. All of the Rhino re-issues of these artists came from those tapes (and NO, it wasn't me). There are other examples of this too but I won't get into it now.

In closing, if you are looking at a new pressing of a record recorded after about 1969 or 1970 there's a really good chance that there is some kind of decent original tape somewhere. Prior to that time, good luck!

Bcreeve's picture

If pre 1969 master tapes aren't any good anymore then how do you explain that Dylan's Mobile Fidelity Blonde on Blonde recorded in 1966 and mastered with the original master tape sounds so damn good? It sounds like that tape must have been in great shape!

AnalogAudioInc's picture

I'm not sure why, but everyone seems to take comments made here as absolutes. Nowhere in my comments did I say that ALL tapes recorded at that time are bad. For instance, I have seen badly warped reels of Scotch 111 and rolls that played like new. It depends on how they were stored, how many times they were run and so forth. Some of them ARE still good. Also, not ALL tapes manufactured at that time have these problems. If the original was recorded on Scotch 120 or 202, which to correct a statement I made in my prior post, actually was introduced in 1962, it's probably (again, no definite) in great shape.

I've never had the Blonde On Blonde master in my hands so I don't know what it was recorded on. That being said, my bet would be that the tape that Mobile Fidelity used was PROBABLY not the first generation 1/4" master that was made. In all likelihood it was a dub of that master. I just know that I'm going to get flack over this but, none-the-less, PROPERLY recorded dubs of original masters even three generations down sound just as good as the originals. The human ear simply isn't sensitive enough to hear the difference. By the fourth generation SOME people can hear a difference. You can argue this point all you want but It's still a fact.

PeterPani's picture

I read comments like Yours all over the internet place. But I am wondering why especially prerecorded commercial tapes on r2r are nearly never worn out and play like new. I own around 1000 prerecorded r2r. The earliest tapes are from 1954 and the newest from 1985 from all record companies. I do not own one single tape that does not play like new. I never got one from ebay that lost some audio. In the meantime I do not even expect that there are tapes sold that are not near to perfect. So why is it, that masters shall be so desolate, when cheap commercial tape plays like new, even if stored for the most time of the last 50 years in non climatised rooms like mine?

PeterPani's picture

My comment should have been a reply to "Let's set the record straight" submitted by AnalogAudioInc

jamesg11's picture

Explanation of 1A, 2A, etc ...? Thanks.

Michael Fremer's picture
This is a subject of some debate but what's not is that 1A is the first lacquer and so is the "original pressing". There are some who claim Columbia cut 3 "first" lacquers, one for each of its 3 pressing plants so that 1A was for its NJ plant, 1B was for its Terre-Haute Indiana plant and 1C was for its California plant (though this too is subject to dispute). Thus 1A, 1B, 1C were are "first pressings." However, I have a few records with 1A on side one and 1B on side two so not sure about that. Beyond that, Columbia's numbering system went 1A-L (minus "I") and then to 1AA through 1AL, then 2A etc.
Martin's picture

A question, mine is a 1B / 1D.
Does that mean I have a real first pressing for side 1 and a later cut for side 2?

jamesg11's picture

Thanks, assumed it would be something of that ilk ...

My aged 2 copies are Columbia Australia & UK - the dead wax for Oz is "MX146549 SBP233279-1" "... / -2" & for UK is "S S 62572 A2" / "SPB6 62572 B2". The latter is in mint nick!

Interestingly, for my own personal provenance info, the Oz has got "Allan's" (big Melbourne music store for decades post-war) & the UK has got "Blossom Music" respectively printed on the labels. Never noticed before.

AnalogAudioInc's picture

That's a great question. I have owned hundreds of commercial reel to reel tapes and I can't say that I've been as lucky as you. I have had MANY bad ones that I have either junked or returned to eBay sellers. This is not to say the sellers were trying to rip me off. It's just that most of them have no idea of what they are selling and have no way to play the tapes back.

I would be VERY surprised if you told me that you went through your entire collection and EVERY tape wound up with a perfectly flat pancake after playing it through to the tails out position. I think you'll find most of the early tapes recorded on acetate (Hold the tape up to a light. If you can see light through it it's acetate.) wind with very uneven edges. perfectly OK for home playback but NOT for mastering where the tolerances are so much more stringent. Another reason that the commercial tapes seem to play back better is that most (not all) were recorded on 1 mil tape, which is more flexible then 1.5 mil tape. 1 mil tape was rarely if ever used in a studio back in the 1950s.

Later commercial tapes were manufactured on 1 mil polyester backed stock and this tape has held up better then the acetate base stock. In the case of Columbia, their tapes were recorded on Scotch 150, which while great for home and commercial recordings, did not work well enough for studio recording mostly, I THINK because it stretched too easily. Scotch 203 WAS used occasionally for Studio recording. It was better tape.

PeterPani's picture

thank you. Very informative. Regarding buying from ebay - with time some finds trusted sellers. And if there are no pictures of the reel I do not buy. Tapes I like the sound most are the british reels (HMV, brit. Columbia) from the late mid-50's. The difficulty about commercial tape replay is: you need at least three different tone heads (2-track, 4-track, twin-track), 3 speeds on this machine (3,75-7,5-15ips), a dozen different reequalisation-settings (a must to get the best out of the tapes at their speeds) and to me a must is that the chain is all tubed. Never-the-less, such a chain cost around $4000 to $6500. And that's it. From that point on there is nearly nothing to improve (bit by bit cables and caps). A new tone head lasts longer than a cartrideg, costs around $200 and still sounds better than a $7500 MC-cart. And you will not break it by accident. No pops and clicks during replay. No distortion when Callas hits a high note. If you get a commercial tape it is nearly always a "first press" original - there are simply no others around. Everybody should at least one time have the chance to listen to Leonhard Cohens "Love and Hate" or Miles Davis "Kind of Blue" on commercial tape compared to original records. What are the draw-backs: record covers are bigger and an art in itself - tape boxes are always a bit boring with only few information, from the 80's on tape vanished and I have to stick to the records. And the main draw-back: access to single songs. You have to listen to the whole tape for one special song. So tape listening needs more time, but this can be a huge advantage, too!

longlivethequeen's picture

Best version of Hwy 61 rev. on Johnny's CAPTURED LIVE? I think so.
RIP White Lighting