Fifty-plus years later, Bob Dylan’s Nashville Skyline remains the crown jewel of his three-album stint in Music City. The record, released on April 9, 1969, edges out 1967’s John Wesley Harding and 1970’s covers-heavy Self Portrait.
The folksier John Wesley Harding introduced the rock world to the future Jimi Hendrix hit “All Along the Watchtower,” while Self Portrait ambitiously celebrated a wide range of popular songs. However, Nashville Skyline is unquestionably a country album, steeped in the genre’s history and starring some of its finest session musicians.
Read on to see how the songs on Dylan’s 10-track masterpiece — released back when Nashville slowly began embracing outside influences from rock ‘n’ roll and the folk revival — stack up against each other.
Something must come in last when ranking a great album, and in the case of Nashville Skyline, that booby prize goes “Peggy Day.” The whimsical love song sounds like it’s backed by Ernest Tubb’s ace honky-tonk outfit, the Texas Troubadours.
(Editor’s Note: This song is only available in cover versions on YouTube. You can find it on Spotify and Google Play.)
“One More Night”
One of the album’s trademarks remains those solid bass lines that really stand out when listening through a pair of headphones. None other than Country Music Hall of Famer and fiddler extraordinaire Charlie Daniels slaps them strings on this track and other trips down memory lane.
Although Dylan’s lighthearted, nonsensical lyrics harken back to classic fiddle tunes, his detour through Nashville sounds best when he’s addressing matters of the heart.
“Tell Me That It Isn’t True”
Dylan’s guitar-picking skills go well with some of Nashville’s best musicians. At the time, he offered them a chance to craft something on Music Row aside from the often safe, if not cheesy, Nashville Sound.
“Tonight I’ll Be Staying Here With You”
The steel guitar wizardry of Pete Drake sets apart what otherwise might sound like something off the brilliant Blood on the Tracks or any of Dylan’s other less-folk, more-rock albums to come.
“I Threw It All Away”
Had Glen Campbell gotten first crack at this tale of heartbreak, accentuated by the pop-friendly strings of the Nashville Sound, it might rank up there with his most beloved songs from the late ‘60s.
“Nashville Skyline Rag”
What’s the fun in gathering some of Nashville’s all-time best musicians at Columbia Records’ Nashville studio without letting them loose for a freewheeling instrumental jam?
“To Be Alone With You”
Dylan cast a wider net when seeking inspiration for this track, discovering that the rowdy, piano-led rock of Jerry Lee Lewis and such blues idioms as “nighttime is the right time” suited his country music odyssey.
“Girl From the North Country”
Dylan gained near-infinite country music cred by blending his lower, twangier vocal delivery from this period with the familiar, booming voice of Johnny Cash.
“Lay Lady Lay”
Everything you’d want from this album, from Dylan’s unmistakable vocal delivery to an era-spanning celebration of country music played by the Nashville Cats, makes this one of the sturdiest building blocks of country-rock.