For his 17th studio album, Bob Dylan decided to record with the same musicians that he used for the famous Rolling Thunder Revue tour. He always wanted to stay with a single band, after seeing Patti Smith perform on June 26, 1975. Thankfully, it worked as Desire reached #1 on the Billboard charts on this date in 1976 and is currently certified double platinum. It is ranked #174 on Rolling Stone's list of the 500 Greatest Albums of All Time. Let's take a closer look at this classic release.
The album starts with its most popular song, "Hurricane," protesting the conviction of boxer Rubin 'Hurricane' Carter in 1966. Dylan wrote the long story-song after reading Carter's autobiography The Sixteenth Round that Carter sent to him, based on Dylan's support of the civil rights struggle. Written as a moderately fast waltz in B flat major, Dylan actually plays piano on "Isis," which uses a sparse arrangement (piano, harmonica, violin, drums, bass) to help the Mixolydian feel. The lack of chorus and autobiographical lyrics are very typical Dylan traits. Reaching #54 on the Billboard charts, "Mozambique" originally started as a game, with Dylan and his co-writer Jacques Levy trying to see how many words they could use that rhymed with "-ique."
Covered numerous times by artists ranging from Robert Plant to the White Stripes, "One More Cup of Coffee" is a duet between Dylan and Emmylou Harris and uses the harmonic minor scale to create a Middle Eastern feel in the melody. A concert favorite, "Oh Sister" was the first time Dylan invoked God as a method of wooing a woman. Harris also appears on the tune. The longest song on the record is also the most controversial. "Joey" was written about gangster Joey Gallo (not Callo) and the lyrics have been repeatedly accused of not accurately reflecting Gallo's life.
Covered by an Italian singer and a Brazilian singer, "Romance in Durango" talks about a Bonnie-and-Clyde scenario, while being compared to "the climax to an unmade Sam Peckinpah movie in song." Heavily inspired by Joseph Conrad's Victory, "Black Diamond Bay" tells the story of a tiny island's destruction, but also the newscaster's indifference to the story he's reporting. The album ends with the autobiographical "Sara" that Dylan wrote especially to his wife, who sadly still filed for divorce in March 1977.