The album, which followed several years of lukewarm reception for Dylan's work, was greeted respectably by fans and critics. In the years following its release, it has come to be regarded as one of his very best albums — making it quite common for subsequent records to be labeled his "best since Blood on the Tracks. It is also commonly seen as a standard for confessional singer-songwriter albums; though Dylan has denied that the songs are autobiographical, his son Jakob Dylan has stated: "The songs are my parents talking." Most of the lyrics on the album revolve around heartache, anger, and loneliness.
The album reached #1 on the Billboard U.S. pop charts and #4 in the UK. The single "Tangled Up in Blue" peaked at #31 on the Pop singles chart. The album remains one of Dylan's all-time best-selling studio releases, with a double-platinum US certification to date.
The songs are largely seen as inspired by Dylan's personal turmoil at the time, particularly his separation from his then wife Sara Dylan.
All ten songs on the album were originally recorded at New York City sessions produced by Phil Ramone. With Columbia set to release the LP, Dylan pulled back at the last minute, and at year's end re-recorded five of the ten songs in Minneapolis with a crew of area session musicians assembled by his brother, David Zimmerman.
Dylan's fans theorize endlessly about his reasons for revamping the album, with one unconfirmed view being that the musical feel of the album had been monotonous, with too many songs in the same key and the same languid rhythm. It has also been said that, just two weeks before the release of Blood on the Tracks, Dylan played an acetate of the record for his brother, his ensuing comments leading Dylan to re-cut the album.
Told of the album's lasting popularity, Dylan was later to say (in a radio interview by Mary Travers): "A lot of people tell me they enjoy that album. It's hard for me to relate to that. I mean, it, you know, people enjoying the type of pain, you know?"
In Dylan's 2004 memoir, Chronicles, Vol. 1, he claims that although one album of his songs was entirely inspired by short stories by Anton Chekhov, many of his fans and critics treat it as autobiographical. This passage is often cited as a reference to Blood on the Tracks.
The song "Up to Me", which plays like a companion of "Shelter from the Storm" (and perhaps a bookend to the record), was not released on this record but appeared on Biograph.
In Shakey: Neil Young's Biography, Jimmy McDonough relates how, prior to releasing Blood on the Tracks, Dylan visited Young in his home in Florida to showcase the songs on the album and seek out Young's opinion of them.