In the ’70s and ’80s, knowing Bob Dylan was one of the most crucial skills of being a good rock critic, right alongside “a smug sense of entitlement” and “snorting this whole table of blow.” But how does he fare among a new generation of critics? For young rock writers, Bob is basically an influence on Iron & Wine and something for will.i.am to sample in Pepsi commercials. This week, our panel consisted solely of critics under the age of 40 — the kids whose first exposure to Dylan was probably “Oh word, Jakob’s dad?” They were given this brain-buster:
Bob Dylan made nine studio albums in the 1960s. How many can you name?
Shouldn’t be too difficult, right? Pretty much the most epochal records ever made if you’re the type of person to listen to NPR for any reason beyond “by accident.” We cobbled 13 professional and semi-professional rock critics and gave them the usual rules:
1. I will not identify you AT ALL, so it is OK to be wrong. [We will say that our esteemed panel edits magazines, websites, and alt-weeklies. They have written for pretty much every outlet you’ve ever heard of, from Rolling Stone, Spin, and Billboard on down to random Tweets.]
2. You can’t use Google.
So did these rainy day men and women end up bringing it all back home? Find out below:
The correct answer: Bob Dylan, The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan, The Times They Are a-Changin’, Another Side of Bob Dylan, Bringing It All Back Home, Highway 61 Revisited, Blonde on Blonde, John Wesley Harding, Nashville Skyline.
Out of 13 polled:
Number of critics that got all nine albums: 3
Number of critics that got eight albums: 3
Number of critics that got seven albums: 2
Number of critics that got six albums: 2
Number of critics that got three or fewer: 3
Most forgotten album: Another Side of Bob Dylan, missed seven times
Most correct album: Highway 61 Revisited, correct all 13 times
Number of critics that guessed Self-Portrait (1970): 2
Number of critics that guessed Blood on the Tracks (1975): 4
Of the three critics that ran a clean sweep, number that listed them chronologically: 2
Number of critics who cynically asked if this question had something to do with SOTC Dylan week: 2
Best incorrect answers (real-sounding division): At Big Pink, The Young Bob Dylan, Like a Rolling Stone, Sings the Blues, I’m Not There
Best incorrect answers (fake-sounding division): Bob Dylan in Jail, Bob Dylan and the Peppermint Dream Machine, A Young Man and his Harmonica, The Johnny Cash Record.
Number of critics who admitted “The first time I knowingly heard Bob Dylan was when I sought out the source material for PJ Harvey’s ‘Highway 61 Revisited’ cover”: 1
Number of critics who admitted they only knew the cover of Freewheelin’ from Vanilla Sky: 1
Number of critics who started complaining about Saved (1980): 1
Number of critics who swore that we not tell Rob Sheffield that he couldn’t do all nine inside a minute: 1
Like its title implies, 1964’s Another Side of Bob Dylan was the first Dylan record to move away from “finger-pointin'” protest jams of his youth and into the emotional labyrinths he would explore for the next half-century. So we all don’t forget this awesome album again, here are the Ramones covering the “My Back Pages.”
Maybe you would like to prepare yourself for next time? More on Bob Dylan: