Bob Dylan: Nashville Skyline – [Record 98]
Nashville Skyline is the ninth studio album by American singer-songwriter Bob Dylan, released on April 9, 1969 by Columbia Records.
Building on the rustic style he experimented with on John Wesley Harding, Nashville Skyline displayed a complete immersion into country music. Along with the more basic lyrical themes, simple songwriting structures, and charming domestic feel, it introduced audiences to a radically new singing voice from Dylan—a soft, affected country croon.
The result received a generally positive reaction from critics, and was a commercial success. Reaching number 3 in the US, the album also scored Dylan his fourth UK number 1 album.
1, Girl from the North Country (with Johnny Cash).
2, Nashville Skyline Rag.
3, To Be Alone with You.
4, I Threw It All Away.
5, Peggy Day.
6, Lay Lady Lay.
7, One More Night.
8, Tell Me That it Isn’t True.
9, Country Pie.
10, Tonight I’ll Be Staying Here with You.
By the time Nashville Skyline was recorded, the political climate in the United States had grown more polarized. In 1968, civil rights leader Martin Luther King, Jr. and Senator Robert Kennedy (a leading candidate for the presidency) were both assassinated. Riots had broken out in several major cities, including a major one surrounding the Democratic National Convention in Chicago, Illinois and a number of racially-motivated riots spurred by King’s assassination. A new President, Richard Nixon, was sworn into office in January 1969, but the U.S. engagement in Southeast Asia, particularly the Vietnam War, would continue for several more years. Protests over a wide range of political topics became more frequent. Dylan had been a leading cultural figure, noted for his political and social commentary throughout the 1960s. Even as he moved away from topical songs, he never lost his cultural status. However, as Clinton Heylin would write about Nashville Skyline, “if Dylan was concerned about retaining a hold on the rock constituency, making albums with Johnny Cash in Nashville was tantamount to abdication in many eyes.”
Helped by a promotional appearance on The Johnny Cash Show on June 7, Nashville Skyline went on to become one of Dylan’s best-selling albums. Three singles were pulled from the album, all of which received significant airplay on AM radio.
Despite the dramatic, commercial shift in direction, the press also gave Nashville Skyline a warm reception. A critic for Newsweek wrote of “the great charm… and the ways Dylan, both as composer and performer, has found to exploit subtle differences on a deliberately limited emotional and verbal scale.” In his review for Rolling Stone, Paul Nelson wrote, “Nashville Skyline achieves the artistically impossible: a deep, humane, and interesting statement about being happy. It could well be… his best album.” However, years later in a review for Bob Dylan’s Greatest Hits Vol. II, Nelson would retract his opinion, writing, “I was misinformed. That’s why no one should pay any attention to critics, especially the artist.”
A few critics expressed some disappointment. Ed Ochs of Billboard wrote, “the satisfied man speaks in clichés, and blushes as if every day were Valentine’s Day.” Tim Souster of the BBC’s The Listener magazine wrote, “One can’t help feeling something is missing. Isn’t this idyllic country landscape [simply] too good to be true?”