Bob Dylan

Visions of Johanna

Song Review by Bill Janovitz

On the cover of the 1966 double album Blonde on Blonde, Bob Dylan is seen in an extremely blurred photo, wrapped up in a winter coat and scarf, possibly scowling (we can't tell for sure). It is perhaps a signal -- sent from Dylan -- that previous impressions and preconceptions of the songwriter may, in fact, be inaccurate. He seems to ask, "You think you have a clear picture of who I am?" On Blonde on Blonde, Dylan continues to throw off the shackles that he felt the folk community had used to constrain him as the traditionalist protest poet. He ventures deeper into electric blues, pop, and folk-rock music forms and more oblique lyrics. Dylan's "Visions of Johanna" is an example of his folk-rock, though other versions featuring just the Spartan accompaniment of Dylan alone on acoustic guitar offer a more traditional folk-balladeer view of the tune. There also exists an unreleased upbeat blues-rock version called "Freeze Out," which is more along the lines of his more rocking songs "Maggie's Farm" and "From a Buick 6." A sprawling (7:27) epic with no traditional pop chorus, "Visions of Johanna" is a view of an unattainable woman set against the backdrop of a mostly nocturnal downtown Manhattan. The lyrics are impressionistic, stream-of-consciousness, druggy, and surreal. The images are fleeting. The singer seems trapped with "Louise" while he desires and seems to chase the allusive Johanna. The journey takes Dylan through lofts, the D train, a museum, empty lots, and through snippets of overheard conversation, as well as a discussion with some "little boy lost," who "takes himself so seriously," and who is "so useless and all/muttering small talk at the wall" (this could possibly be a swipe at a critic). Meanwhile, through all the mundane and absurd, "these visions of Johanna" are haunting the singer. The simple, folky melody and thought of Johanna seem to keep the singer grounded in the face of a slipping reality.

Appears On

Year Artist/Album Label Time AllMusic Rating
Blonde on Blonde 1966 Mobile Fidelity Sound Lab 7:32
Q 5 Star Reviews, Vol. 2 2001 Sony Music Distribution / Columbia 7:30
Blonde on Blonde/Blood on the Tracks/Time Out of Mind 2001 Legacy / Sony Music Distribution 7:33
Bringing It All Back Home/Highway 61 Revisited/Blonde on Blonde 2002 Sony Music Distribution
Bob Dylan [Limited Edition Hybrid SACD Set] 2003 Legacy 7:33
The Collection, Vol. 3: Blonde on Blonde/Blood on the Tracks/Infidels 2005 Legacy / Columbia 7:33
Classics from John Peel's All Time Festive 50 2006
Various Artists
Universal Distribution 7:28
The Original Mono Recordings 2010 Columbia / Sony Music 7:34
The Complete Album Collection, Vol. 1 2013 Columbia Records / Sony Music 7:31
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