"Like a Rolling Stone" was Dylan's commercial breakthrough, a #2 hit that blazed twice as long as anything else on the radio. The rest of his sixth album is wall-to-wall classics, too, with jet-propelled Bob rampaging through the history of the blues, declaring the entire territory his own, and populating it with grotesques: John the Baptist, Ma Rainey and Cecil B. DeMille all turn up in "Tombstone Blues" alone. Nearly every song here is still in his repertoire, and the title track — which starts with an argument between God and Abraham, and spirals outward from there — returns at almost every Dylan performance.
Dylan spends a lot of the album making it clear what he's not: "Ballad of a Thin Man" eviscerates a hapless square with a thousand verbal slashes, "Queen Jane Approximately" cuts a girl who thinks she's too good for Bob down to size, and "Desolation Row" is a fantastic panorama that becomes a vicious kiss-off. Even at their cruelest, though, these songs are driven by kaleidoscopic, all-encompassing compassion. ("Just Like Tom Thumb's Blues" maps out a particular shade of gradual psychological self-destruction, sliding between first and second person: the ambitious fool Dylan's mocking might just as well be himself, he suggests.) And the band, led by Mike Bloomfield's wizardly lead guitar, would've upstaged any frontman who didn't have this one's blazing command and utterly assured bray.