They may have passed up my recommendations, but they got it right.

They may have passed up my recommendations, but they got it right.

I have been asked by several people for my reaction to Bob Dylan’s recent Nobel Prize for Literature.  Part of that is because I have written about the Nobel Prize before.  Part of that is because I am a fan of Bob Dylan.  Part of that is because I write a lot about literature and know even more because I’ve read my way through all the great books lists and have made my own lists.  Part of it is just because I’m really opinionated (“the most opinionated of my children” my mother says on days when she forgets that this description also fits three of my four siblings).

Now, I won’t pretend I’m not a little disappointed that none of my five have won the Nobel Prize yet.  They are now all six years older than they were when I wrote this post.  But I am also a believer that literature encompasses more than the Nobel Prize Committee was admitting.  I thought they should have given the award to Ingmar Bergman, and while there’s I suppose still the possibility they could give it to Woody Allen, it was Bergman who was the perfect recipient.  In terms of music, there is no one better than Dylan to win the award.  Leonard Cohen is the most poetic and Paul Simon would also be a good choice, but neither has been nearly as prolific as Dylan.  Springsteen has been prolific, but his songwriting is less poetic than Dylan’s.  Dylan was the perfect person to be the first songwriter to be a recipient.

It is Dylan’s lyrics that have really captured my imagination and the imagination of most people.  At one point I envisioned an entire book of short stories inspired by Dylan quotes, to be called The Dylan Stories.  I wrote several of them and then shoe-horned a couple of other stories into the idea.  But for some stories, the quote was the key to the story, which I’ll get into more detail about lower down.  That’s why it was so easy to get into Dylan through the cover versions – his lyrics are so amazing that everyone with a good voice wants to sing his songs.

I am by no means a huge Dylan fan and I had to slowly grow into appreciating his voice.  For many songs, I definitely prefer cover versions.  But I do have a lot of Bob Dylan CD’s.  In fact, in terms of quantity, he would rank 4th, behind U2 (two shelves), Bruce Springsteen (a shelf and a half) and R.E.M. (most of a shelf).  Dylan takes up almost half a shelf.  Now, that’s not to say that Dylan is my fourth favorite musical artist of all-time, not when the Levellers, the Clash, Pearl Jam, Pink Floyd and the Beatles exist.  The Dylan part of the shelf takes up so much room for a few reasons.  The first is that Dylan has been so prolific for so long.  The Beatles are the greatest and most important musical act in the history of rock and roll, but they only lasted eight years and didn’t leave behind much in the way of unreleased songs (most of the three Anthology discs were remixes, which had a lot of awesome stuff, but didn’t expand their number of total songs).  Even compressing a lot of Dylan (on the shelf, the first Dylan CD is 1962/63, which is a compilation of his first two albums and then 1964, which is a compilation of his next two), it still takes up a lot of space because there have been so many good songs for so long.

Dylan was one of the artists that grew in my collection during the years that I actively collected records on vinyl (1997-2004).  Like so many artists that I had large collections of (Clapton, Neil Young, Peter Paul & Mary, Led Zeppelin, Rolling Stones) it was easy to get most of their work on vinyl if you didn’t mind scratches and cheap copies.  Which was fine, because my goal with all of those artists, was to find out which songs I really liked so I could put together mix tapes.  For a long time, the only Dylan I had on CD were post-1989 works (Bootleg Series Vol 1-3, Greatest Hits Vol. 3, Unplugged, Time Out of Mind) or the albums that were actually hard to get on vinyl (Bringing It All Back Home, Highway 61 Revisited).  I had almost all of his other work from 1962-1989 on vinyl.  Later, I would make a lot of CD’s that encapsulated his best work while also buying certain albums on CD (Blood on the Tracks, for instance).

But, enough with the intro.  Here are my lists.

My Top 10 Bob Dylan Albums:

Note:  By this, I mean, the best studio albums.  So, that doesn’t count greatest hits collections, live albums or any other compilation of Bob Dylan songs.  See the next list for that.

bob_dylan_and_the_band_-_the_basement_tapes#10  –  The Basement Tapes  (1975, though recorded in 1967)

  • I’m already going against the grain of big Dylan fans by ranking this album so low.  I admire the album, but not the same way that many others do and there’s no real stand-out song on it that works for me.  But it is a seminal album and it brought about The Band as The Band and that alone is important.  My favorite track on it is “Odds and Ends”.

bob_dylan_-_another_side_of_bob_dylan#9  –  Another Side of Bob Dylan  (1964)

  • As the Rolling Stone Album Guide put its it, this is where “Dylan began moving away from the explicit to the suggestive, from prose toward poetry.”  Several songs on this album would later be recorded by the Byrds.  “My Back Pages” is the best song as sung by Dylan, but “Chimes of Freedom” is one of the great lyrical songs in the Dylan songbook.

bob_dylan_-_time_out_of_mind#8  –  Time Out of Mind  (1997)

  • This is the only Dylan album I ever bought when it first came out.  It was widely hailed as a return to form when it was released.  The New Rolling Stone Album Guide says “Time Out of Mind shocked the world because it didn’t even echo past glories – it was a ghostly, beautiful new sound, yet another side of Bob Dylan.”  I’d take “Not Dark Yet” as the best track.

bob_dylan_-_the_times_they_are_a-changin#7  –  The Times They Are a-Changin  (1964)

  • Both versions of the Rolling Stone Album Guide give this **** instead of the ***** they give most of my list.  But this album has always worked very well for me.  Yes, it is in the same vein as Freewheelin and not as strong as the previous album, but its depth of protest songs from the title track (the best on the album) to the gut-wrenching “The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carrol” has always moved me.

bob_dylan_-_blonde_on_blonde#6  –  Blonde on Blonde  (1966)

  • There is no question that many people would rank this at the top.  Rolling Stone ranked it 9th all-time (which made it second among Dylan albums).  In the second version of their Album Guide, RS said “it’s his greatest album anyway, a surreal fever dream of a record, racing through his sharpest, slickest, scariest, and most seductive songs at breakneck speed.”  To me there is no question that “I Want You” is the best track on it.

bob_dylan_-_oh_mercy#5  –  Oh Mercy!  (1989)

  • In their first Album Guide, published in 1992, RS gave this ****, noting “it wasn’t until Oh Mercy!, from 1989, that Dylan made an album of anything near his earlier grace” though, by the time of their second guide, in 2004, they had dropped it to ** and described it as “studio-slick mush”.  I think the album is brilliant, and if “Series of Dreams” had been on the album it would be just amazing.  Still, it’s a great album, one that moves from the personal to the political with ease.

bob_dylan_-_the_freewheelin_bob_dylan#4  –  The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan  (1963)

  • The classic album that proved that the young protest singer wasn’t just a Woody Guthrie clone.  It contains several of his best songs, some of which would instantly become classics for other artists.  Even the cover of this album would almost instantly become iconic.  The best song is a hard choice between “Blowin in the Wind”, “A Hard Rain’s Gonna Fall” or “Don’t Think Twice It’s All Right”, but the last is probably the one that Dylan does best.

bob_dylan_-_bringing_it_all_back_home#3  –  Bringing It All Back Home  (1965)

  • One of two 1965 albums that completely re-imagined Dylan.  The first side is electric, beginning with “Subterannean Homesick Blues” and ending with the album’s best track, the hilarious story-song “Bob Dylan’s 115th Dream”.  Then we get that second side, the acoustic side, just four songs, but all of them instantly classics.

bob_dylan_-_highway_61_revisited#2  –  Highway 61 Revisited  (1965)

  • The other 1965 album that reinvented Dylan.  It begins with “Like a Rolling Stone”, the song Rolling Stone ranked #1 of all-time.  It closes with “Desolation Row”, one of the great all-time long songs.  In between are several visionary songs that almost re-invent Dylan as a songwriter.  Rolling Stone ranked this album as the 4th greatest of all-time and would write in their Album Guide “the entire record wasn’t only that of a new Dylan, it was music and words of a force seldom heard in pop music ever before.”

bob_dylan_-_blood_on_the_tracks#1  –  Blood on the Tracks  (1975)

  • Leave it to his personal life to give him the baggage that would provide the fodder for his best album.  Beginning with his best song and moving through to a simple closing number, the album covers a range of emotions, from love to pain to anger.  What is also impressive about this album is how much the songs changed (he re-recorded the entire album after being unhappy with it) and alternate versions of most of the songs have been released, meaning you can even reimagine the album yourself.  I would imagine that before too long the alternate versions of this album will become a new release in the Bootleg Series.

My Top 5 Bob Dylan non-albums:

bob_dylan_-_bob_dylans_greatest_hits#5  –  Bob Dylan’s Greatest Hits  (1967)

  • The original greatest hits recording.  It contains all of the basic hits that you need to know from Dylan’s early career.  It was the first Dylan tape I owned, bought my Freshman year in college, and where I got the first couple of Dylan songs that I put on mix tapes (“Like a Rolling Stone”, “The Times They Are a-Changin”).

bob_dylan_-_the_bootleg_series_volume_7#4  –  The Bootleg Series Vol. 7: No Direction Home: The Soundtrack  (2005)

  • The companion piece to the Martin Scorsese documentary, this covers Dylan’s early years, from high school work, to the bitter live version of “Like a Rolling Stone” at the Royal Albert Hall where Dylan intones his band to “play fucking loud.”  It’s a great retrospective of the early work with live and alternate versions of classic Dylan songs.

bob_dylan_-_the_bootleg_series_volume_5#3  –  The Bootleg Series Vol. 5: Bob Dylan Live 1975, The Rolling Thunder Revue  (2002)

  • Bob Dylan’s Rolling Thunder tour is quite famous but the only live recording from it was Hard Rain which was recorded late in the tour and it showed, as the songs sound tired.  Here they sound vivid and alive with an especially remarkable version of “Sara”.  There have been lots of Dylan live albums, especially with the release of the various Bootleg Series, but to me, this is still the best.

bob_dylan_-_biograph#2  –  Biograph  (1985)

  • Dylan’s first box set is still one of the all-time greats.  First, it has magnificent liner notes from Cameron Crowe (especially memorable when he talks about going to a party where everyone was dressed as a character from a Dylan song).  Second, it doesn’t skimp, giving you 53 songs spread across 3 CD’s (or five records originally).  Third, aside from major songs, it also delves into the archives, with the best being “Abandoned Love”, a song I knew first from the Dylan lyrics book before I ever heard it and loved from the first minute.

bob_dylan_-_the_bootleg_series_volumes_1-3#1  –  The Bootleg Series Vol. 1-3: Rare & Unreleased, 1961-1991  (1991)

  • Dylan, like Springsteen, has always been known for having a treasure trove of unreleased music (if you think Hendrix and Tupac have had big careers after their deaths, just imagine what will happen if all the vaults of Dylan and Springsteen are opened after they die).  The Basement Tapes were famous and circulated for years before they were officially released.  So, Dylan finally started opening the vault in 1991 with this three disc collection of unreleased work.  Some of them are songs that had been copyrighted (and whose lyrics had appeared in print back in 1985), some were alternate versions of classic songs (imagine “Like a Rolling Stone” as a waltz).  And then it ends with the double whammy of “When the Night Comes Falling from the Sky” moving right into one of Dylan’s absolute best songs, “Series of Dreams”, a song which would even appear on his third greatest hits collection.

My Top 30 Bob Dylan covers:

toomuch#30  –  Too Much of Nothing  (Peter, Paul & Mary – 1967)

  • When my sister and I were kids just after moving to California, we shared a room.  My mother used to put us to bed with The Best of Peter, Paul and Mary: 10 Years Together.  I seem to recall listening to it at bedtime every night.  It helped inspire a love for those songs, three of which were written by Bob Dylan, including this one.

#29  –  Shelter from the Storm  (Ed Roland and the Sweet Tea Project  –  2012)

  • In 2012, Amnesty International would release a charity compilation of Dylan covers called Chimes of Freedom.  Ed Roland, the lead singer of Collective Soul, recorded a cover of Shelter from the Storm for the album with his side project, the Sweet Tea Project.  It’s a great cover that really hearkens back to the original recording without being the same at all.

itaintmebabe#28  –  It Ain’t Me Babe  (Johnny Cash and June Carter Cash – 1965)

  • For such a snarky song, it seems kind of revolutionary to use it as a duet by a married couple.  This was also one of the few songs at the 30th Anniversary Celebration that had been previously recorded by the same musical artists.  For an extra bit of fun, you can find here the film version sung by Joaquin Phoenix and Reese Witherspoon which is also damn good.

#27  –  You Ain’t Goin Nowhere  (Brett Dennan – 2012)

  • I first heard of Brett Dennan in 2007.  It was Christmas Eve and I was driving from Arlington back to Quincy to pick up some packages at our old apartment and I was listening to WCBN’s Christmas Eve countdown.  It was where I first heard Spiralling’s mind-blowing version of “Do You Hear What I Hear” (with samples from “Baba O’Riley”), the song “Land of the Glass Pinecones” and Brett Dennan’s “The Holidays are Here and We’re Still at War”.  Listening to Dennan, I thought it was a black female, similar to Tracy Chapman.  Imagine my surprise when I would later find out that Dennan was a white male.  Dennan would also do a song called “Ain’t No Reason” which would be used beautifully in an episode of Scrubs.  This version of Dylan’s song would comes from the Amnesty International charity album Chimes of Freedom.

gnr_heaven#26  –  Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door  (Guns N Roses  –  1991)

  • Dylan seems an odd choice for GnR, but it worked.  In fact, they had been playing it in concert since their first tour and had originally recorded it in 1990 for use on the Days of Thunder soundtrack, then re-recording it for Use Your Illusion II.  While this, surprisingly, didn’t chart in the US, it was a big hit around the world.

mightyquinn45#25  –  The Mighty Quinn  (Manfred Mann  –  1968)

  • Probably one of the best known covers on this list.  This cover even changed the song title (the original title is actually Quinn the Eskimo).  This is one of the most fun Dylan covers and I wouldn’t be surprised if lots of people didn’t even realize this was a Dylan song.

#24  –  Maggie’s Farm  (U2  –  1986)

  • Though U2 has never done a studio version of this song, it was in their playlist for a while in the mid-80’s.  Like Springsteen (see below), they decided to use Dylan while on tour for Amnesty International.  This song is a perfect song for such a tour and Bono really gives it his all here, ending the song with a bit of Lennon’s Cold Turkey.

#23  –  Blowin in the Wind  (Neil Young  –  1991)

  • Certain guitarists have their own traits.  One of the things that helps you know that you’re listening to Neil Young is that he plays notes.  He doesn’t just play chords, he plays actual notes.  That’s what makes his version of Blowin in the Wind so remarkable, as he plays those opening notes on the guitar.  This version was released on his double live album Weld.

#22  –  The Times They Are a-Changin  (Billy Joel  –  1987)

  • One of three versions of this song on the list and I could have included more.  I love other versions of this song.  It’s interesting that many versions of this song cut a verse and what’s more, they don’t necessarily cut the same verse.  Billy Joel cuts the third verse of the song (“Come mother and fathers throughout the land”).

clapton#21  –  Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door  (Eric Clapton  –  1975)

  • Probably the best known cover of this song.  This was a Top 40 hit in the UK though it didn’t even crack the Top 100 in the US.

#20  –  When I Paint My Masterpiece  (The Band  –  1971)

  • This is another of those songs (like much of The Basement Tapes) that would be released as a cover version before the Dylan version would be released (the Dylan version wasn’t on an album and would find its first release on Greatest Hits Vol II).  The Band would also do a great version of this at the 30th Anniversary Celebration.

#19  –  Tangled Up in Blue  (The Indigo Girls  –  1995)

  • This is a live version.  This is really a great version, with the one caveat that the verse where they decide to slow things down doesn’t work for me at all.  But aside from that, I’m a big fan of it.  What’s more, I love that they don’t change the gender, which adds some interesting twists to the song.

#18  –  Bob Dylan’s Dream  (Peter, Paul & Mary  –  1967)

  • The only one of the four Peter, Paul & Mary versions on this list that isn’t on their 10 Years Together.  Quite frankly, I could have included other PP&M covers, like “The Times They Are a-Changin” or “I Shall Be Released”.  When my mother took a Bob Dylan class at the adult learning at San Diego State, I made her two CD’s of Dylan covers, the second of which was entirely PP&M and The Byrds.

#17  –  The Times They Are a-Changin  (Tracy Chapman  –  1993)

  • Tracy Chapman has, for me, been an acquired taste and I haven’t fully acquired it.  But I have gotten used to some of it, partially through her brilliant “Fast Car”, a song that has really grown on me over the years and this cover version of one of Dylan’s greatest songs.  She actually sings the entire song.

#16  –  When the Ship Comes In  (The Clancy Brothers  –  1993)

  • “You never thought you’d hear Dylan with an Irish accent, did you?”  That’s how the Clancy Brothers introduce themselves at the 30th Anniversary Celebration.  Their Irish accents provide the perfect harmony to the beautiful lyrics of this song which originally appeared on The Times They Are a-Changin.

forever#15  –  Forever Young  (Rod Stewart  –  1987)

  • You could make the argument that this isn’t a Dylan song and my mother keeps trying to insist it isn’t.  So, it’s really supposed to be just a complete coincidence that Rod Stewart took basically the chord progression of the Dylan song and several of the lyrics and wrote a completely new song?  Either way, I have included it.  I have always had mixed feelings on Rod Stewart (as opposed to Veronica who hates him) but I have been a big fan of this song since the first time I heard it and it’s absolutely one of my two or three favorite Stewart songs.

likea#14  –  Like a Rolling Stone  (The Rolling Stones  –  1995)

  • How is it that it took so long for this to happen?  I’m sure there must have been times over the years that the Stones sang this song in concert.  But it took until their 1995 live album Stripped before they recorded and released a version of it.

#13  –  Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door  (The Alarm  –  1986)

  • There are certain Dylan songs that seem to cry out for a new cover version.  I have heard a lot of versions of “I Shall Have Been Released” and considered including one on this list but I couldn’t decide between Chrissie Hynde, Peter Paul & Mary and the all-star version from The Last Waltz.  This is another song that always seems to need more because it hasn’t quite been perfect.  The closest I can come is this Alarm version.  They sang it live for years (my brother and sister both heard them perform it live and I have long had a bootleg tape my sister recorded at Irvine Meadows of them singing it) and they finally released a live version on their live album.  Both my brother and sister are in the audience of the video I link to.

thebyrdsmybackpages-1#12  –  My Back Pages  (The Byrds  –  1967)

  • One of the numerous songs from Another Side of Bob Dylan that the Byrds have covered, probably the best known of them and aside from Mr. Tambourine Man, probably the best known Byrds version of a Dylan song.  The Byrds harmony really seems to catch the great line “I was so much older then, I’m younger than that now.”

chimes#11  –  Chimes of Freedom  (Bruce Springsteen  –  1988)

  • Bruce Springsteen started playing this song in preparation for a short tour for Amnesty International.  He played it with the announcement of the tour, a version that was then included on a four song EP.  It was the first time I had ever heard the song and it was one of those songs that made me realize how great a songwriter Bob Dylan was.  Like with many Dylan covers, Bruce has to cut a verse to keep the song from lasting forever (it’s over six minutes even with the cut verse) but I wouldn’t know that until I bought the Dylan lyrics book.

#10  –  License to Kill  (Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers  –  1993)

  • This is another of those performance from the 30th Anniversary Celebration, or as Neil Young calls it in his introduction to Petty, “Bobfest”.  This is a Dylan song that might have slipped through the cracks for me if I had not heard this cover version.

#9  –  All Along the Watchtower  (U2  –  1988)

  • One of the songs played on the Joshua Tree tour and then included in the film and on the album Rattle & Hum.  The video is to the version that is used in the film which is slightly different than the one that was on the original album.

ppm#8  –  Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right  (Peter, Paul & Mary  –  1963)

  • The second of the three Dylan songs on Ten Years Together, this is, of course, another song I grew up listening to.  With the way the melody of the sings works in conjunction with the acoustic guitar, this is one of the most beautiful covers of a Dylan song.  While it isn’t one of the three PP & M songs I originally put on one of my first mix tapes (see below), this one and For Lovin Me were the ones that I really grew to love later on.

#7  –  Masters of War  (Eddie Vedder and Mike McCready  –  1993)

  • The last of the versions from the 30th Anniversary Celebration.  I couldn’t find the video of that performance, but the video linked is the whole band playing the song together on Letterman in 2004.  Eddie’s got a voice that works perfectly for the political anger in this song.

#6  –  The Times They Are a-Changin  (Don Henley  –  1993)

  • On Inauguration night in 1993, MTV, in celebration of Bill Clinton’s victory, threw the MTV Rock and Roll Inaugural Ball.  It had some very memorable performances, like Michael Stipe singing with the 10,000 Maniacs, half of U2 and half of R.E.M. combining to become Automatic Baby and sing a very memorable version of “One”, and Don Henley, backed by the Woodrow Wilson High School choir to sing what is still my favorite version of one of my favorite Dylan songs.  Don Henley cuts the final verse (“The line it is drawn, the curse it is cast”).

tambourine#5  –  Mr. Tambourine Man  (The Byrds  –  1965)

  • The biggest hit ever written by Dylan.  The Byrds song immediately became a classic and has been well-loved for 50 years.  I think this was the third Dylan song I ever put on a mix tape after Blowin in the Wind and A Hard’s Rain Gonna Fall.  Still one of the best songs of the 60’s.

#4  –  Like a Rolling Stone  (Jimi Hendrix  –  1967)

  • Ah, the glory of vinyl.  As I have mentioned, I used to have a large vinyl collection.  Aside from various artists I would try to collect for cheap, I would buy anything that looked interesting and that I didn’t think I could find on CD.  In fact, when I bought the Monterey Pop Festival album the songs weren’t available on CD, so it was a major shock to discover Jimi Hendrix playing Like a Rolling Stone.  The greatest guitarist who ever lived playing what is possibly Dylan’s greatest song?  How could it get any better?  Thankfully by the time I passed my vinyl collection onto my college roommate it had been released on CD and I could put it on a homemade CD (that was the whole point of the vinyl collection – so I would know what songs I would want on a homemade greatest hits collection).  The linked video isn’t Monterey, but it is still Hendrix shredding the song.

blowin_in_the_wind_ppm#3  –  Blowin in the Wind  (Peter, Paul & Mary  –  1963)

  • This was the first Bob Dylan song I ever knew.  Of the three Peter, Paul & Mary songs that really stuck with me when I first started becoming interested in music and making mix tapes this was the only Dylan song (the other two were Puff the Magic Dragon and Leavin on a Jet Plane).  This is a song that has been covered countless times, but this remains my favorite version and probably my favorite Peter, Paul & Mary song.

#2  –  A Hard Rain’s Gonna Fall  (Edie Brickell & the New Bohemians  –  1989)

  • My first year and a half of high school corresponded with a revived interest in music videos because VH-1 had debuted and they actually played videos.  They were mostly lighter fare than what had dominated MTV in the early to mid 80’s, but hey, at least they were playing videos.  So songs like Veronica, Stand and No Myth were ones I watched constantly.  Another was What I Am by Edie Brickell & the New Bohemians, a song that was lyrically interesting but I didn’t love (I like it more now than I did then).  But the next video from Edie was a song for the Born on the Fourth of July soundtrack (annoyingly, I couldn’t find the actual video online) which turned out to be a Bob Dylan cover.  I bought the soundtrack, because it also had American Pie (a cleaner recording than I already had third-hand from siblings) and the John Williams score and this song was amazing.  I absolutely loved it and I put it on Eric Songs VI and you can tell it’s old because I still spelled my name with a ‘c’.  This is still, lyrically, my favorite Dylan song (even if Edie does cut a verse) and I have loved this version of the song ever since.

all_along_the_watchtower_single_cover#1  –  All Along the Watchtower  (The Jimi Hendrix Experience  –  1968)

  • This is one time where I think the popular consensus will be on my side.  Much like Dylan himself, Hendrix was an acquired taste for me because of his voice.  His guitar, on the other hand, was easily acquired and this is possibly the best job he has ever done on guitar.  What he does with the opening riff of this song is simply amazing.  If I were to name my favorite guitar riffs of all-time, it’s easily up there with Layla and Whole Lotta Love.

My Top 40 Bob Dylan lines:

These are a very personal list.  Some of them are deep and meaningful.  With some of them I like the pure poetry.  Some of them are amusing.  Some of them just speak to me.  As mentioned above, many of these were the inspiration for short stories I wrote.  The most important for that is #3, which provided the whole basis for a very long story I wrote and sent out to friends on e-mail back in 1998.  Then #5, combined with a Brett Easton Ellis quote (“THIS IS NOT AN EXIT” – the last line from American Psycho) provided the title and concept for the follow-up story, which was also sent out to friends over e-mail as a serial.
There are some songs with multiple lines on this list.
Because these lyrics say enough on their own, I haven’t included any commentary on why they are included (although some might be mentioned down below in the list of 50 best songs).  Some would surely be on anybody’s list.  Some work just for me.
With the exception of those lyrics from after 1985, all of the lyrics are quoted directly from Lyrics, 1962-1985.  Because of how long I have owned that book, some of these songs I knew by lyric before I ever heard the song.
Some of these lyrics I also first learned in different ways.  The lines from Desolation Row are quoted at the end of the first issue of Watchmen (the second issue is what introduced me to Elvis Costello’s The Comedians).  But, while every issue of Watchmen ended with a quote only two of them were Dylan (and the other, from All Along the Watchtower, doesn’t make my list).  But in high school I also read Green Lantern / Green Arrow: The Collection Volume One: Hard-Traveling Heroes, the first collection of the seminal issues by Dennis O’Neil and Neal Adams.  That collection had a Dylan quote to introduce each of the seven issues.  Though only #8 on my list comes from those quotes, most of the other songs quoted in the issues are also quoted (with a different line) below.

#40  –  Some people thinkin’ that the end is close by  /  ‘Stead of learnin’ to live they are learning to die  –  Let Me Die in My Footsteps

#39  –  Now I wish I could write you a melody so plain  /  That could hold you dear lady from going insane  –  Tombstone Blues

#38  –  Now he’s hell-bent for destruction he’s afraid and confused  /  And his brain has been mismanaged with great skill  /  All he believes are his eyes  /  And his eyes they just tell him lies  –  License to Kill

#37  –  Now the beach is deserted except for some kelp  /  And a piece of an old ship that lies on the shore  /  You always responded when I needed your help  /  You gimme a map and key to your door  –  Sara

#36  –  Mama take this badge off of me  /  I can’t use it anymore  /  It’s gettin’ dark, too dark for me to see  /  I feel like I’m knockin’ on heaven’s door  –  Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door

#35  –  Most of the time I’m strong enough not to hate  –  Most of the Time

#34  –  I know that evenin’s empire has returned into sand  –  Mr. Tambourine Man

#33  –  For all eternity I think I will remember  /  That ice wind that’s howling in your eye  /  You will seek me and you’ll find me  /  In the wasteland of your mind  /  When the night comes falling from the sky  –  When the Night Comes Falling from the Sky

#32  –  I gaze into the doorway of temptation’s angry flame  /  And every time I pass that way I always hear my name  /  Then onward in my journey I come to understand  /  That every hair is numbered like every grain of sand  –  Every Grain of Sand

#31  –  My love she speaks like silence  /  Without ideals or violence  –  Love Minus Zero / No Limit

#30  –  Standing next to me in this lonely crowd  /  Is a man who swears he’s not too blame  /  All day long I hear him shout so loud  /  Crying out that he was framed  –  I Shall Be Released

#29  –  It was gravity which pulled us down and destiny which broke us apart  /  You tamed the lion in my cage but it just wasn’t enough to change my heart  –  Idiot Wind

#28  –  Behind every beautiful thing there’s been some kind of pain  –  Not Dark Yet

#27  –  I was thinking of a series of dreams  /  Where nothing comes to up to the top  /  Everything stays down where it’s wounded  /  And comes to a permanent stop  –  Series of Dreams

#26  –  So now I’m goin’ back again  /  I got to get to her somehow  /  All the people we used to know  /  They’re an illusion to me now  –  Tangled Up in Blue

#25  –  I got a head full of ideas  /  That are drivin’ me insane  –  Maggie’s Farm

#24  –  I asked the captain what his name was  /  And how come he didn’t drive a truck  /  He said his name was Columbus  /  I just said, ‘Good luck’  –  Bob Dylan’s 115th Dream

#23  –  Oh but you who philosophize disgrace and criticize all fears  /  Bury the rag deep in your face  /  For now’s the time for your tears  –  The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll

#22  –  The guilty undertaker sighs  /  The lonesome organ grinder cries  /  The silver saxophone says I should refuse you  –  I Want You

#21  –  Stayin’ up for days at the Chelsea Hotel  /  Writin’ ‘Sad-Eyed Lady of the Lowlands’ for you  –  Sara

#20  –  Starry-eyed an’ laughing as I recall when we were caught  /  Trapped by no track of hours for they hanged suspended  –  Chimes of Freedom

#19  –  And I hope that you die  /  And your death’ll come soon  /  I will follow your casket  /  In the pale afternoon  /  And I’ll watch while you’re lowered  /  Down to your deathbed  /  And I’ll stand o’er your grave  /  ‘Til I’m sure that you’re dead  –  Masters of War

#18  –  You don’t need a weather man  /  To know which way the wind blows  –  Subterranean Homesick Blues

#17  –  Far between sundown’s finish an’ midnight’s broken toll  –  Chimes of Freedom

#16  –  In a many dark hour  /  I’ve been thinkin’ about this  /  That Jesus Christ  /  Was betrayed by a kiss  /  But I can’t think for you  /  You’ll have to decide  /  Whether Judas Iscariot  /  Had God on his side  –  With God on Our Side

#15  –  But goodbye’s too good a word, gal  /  So I’ll just say fare thee well  –  Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right

#14  –  Ah, but I was so much older then  /  I’m younger than that now  –  My Back Pages

#13  –  I met one man who was wounded in love  /  I met another man who was wounded with hatred  –  A Hard Rain’s Gonna Fall

#12  –  Most of the time /  I can’t even be sure  /  If she was ever with me  /  Or if I was ever with her  –  Most of the Time

#11  –  Look out kid  /  It’s somethin’ you did  /  God knows when  /  But you’re doin’ it again  –  Subterranean Homesick Blues

#10  –  At dawn my lover comes to me  /  And tells me of her dreams  /  With no attempts to shovel the glimpse  /  Into the ditch of what each one means  /  At times I think there are no words  /  But these to tell what’s true  /  And there are no truths outside the Gates of Eden  –  Gates of Eden

#9  –  I’ll tell it and think it and speak it and breathe it  /  And reflect it from the mountain so all souls can see it  /  Then I’ll stand on the ocean until I start sinkin’  /  But I’ll know my song well before I start singin’  –  A Hard Rain’s Gonna Fall

#8  –  Well, I spied a girl and before she could leave  /  “Let’s go and play Adam and Eve”  /  I took her by the hand and my heart it was thumpin’  /  When she said, “Hey man, you crazy or sumpin’  /  You see what happened last time they started  –  Talkin’ World War III Blues

#7  –  And every one of them words rang true  /  And glowed like burnin’ coal  /  Pourin’ off of every page  /  Like it was written in my soul from me to you  /  Tangled up in blue  –  Tangled Up in Blue

#6  –  Well the deputy walks on hard nails and the preacher rides a mount  /  But nothing really matters much it’s doom alone that counts  /  And the one-eyed undertaker he blows a futile horn  /  “Come in,” she said  /  “I’ll give you shelter from the storm”  –  Shelter from the Storm

#5  –  There must be some way out of here  –  All Along the Watchtower

#4  –  Now at midnight all the agents  /  And the superhuman crew  /  Come out and round up everyone  /  That knows more than they do  –  Desolation Row

#3  –  One more time at midnight near the wall  /  Take off your heavy make-up and your shawl  /  Won’t you descend from the throne from where you sit  /  Let me feel your love one more time before I abandon it  –  Abandoned Love

#2  –  Come mothers and fathers  /  Throughout the land  /  And don’t criticize  /  What you can’t understand  /  Your sons and your daughters  /  Are beyond your command  /  Your old road is  /  Rapidly agin’  /  Please get out of the new one  /  If you can’t lend your hand  /  For the times they are a-changin’  –  The Times They Are A-Changin’

#1  –  How many roads must a walk down  /  Before you call him a man?  –  Blowin in the Wind

Note:  The answer to #1, by the way, is 42.

My Top 50 Bob Dylan songs (as sung by Dylan):

#50  –  Simple Twist of Fate  (1975)

  • The second song on Blood on the Tracks, it’s acoustic like Tangled Up in Blue, but is different in almost all other ways.

#49  –  Quinn the Eskimo (The Mighty Quinn)  (1967 / 1975)

  • One of the songs from The Basement Tapes that almost immediately became known thanks to a famous cover version.  It’s very different from the Manfredd Mann version but it’s fascinating and it shows off the basement aspect of The Basement Tapes.

politicalworld#48  –  Political World  (1989)

  • This was the only song I heard off Oh Mercy when it was first released.  I didn’t appreciate it much at the time, but when I heard it later, in its place on the album, it grew on me.

#47  –  Isis  (1976 / 2002)

  • The second song off Desire.  I thought it was okay when I first heard the studio version, but I liked it a lot more when I heard the live version from The Bootleg Series Vol. 5.

#46  –  Forever Young  (1974)

  • This was both the last song on the first side of Planet Waves and also the first song on the second side.  There have also been alternate versions released over the years and live versions (the video links to the live version recorded with The Band).

maggies_farm_single_cover#45  –  Maggie’s Farm  (1965)

  • The third song on Bringing It All Back Home and one of the best at merging Dylan’s political protest sensibilities with the new rock sound he had brought to the album.

#44  –  Chimes of Freedom  (1964)

  • The fourth song off Another Side of Bob Dylan.  This is one of his most beautiful songs and thus why it makes for such a great cover version for Bruce Springsteen and The Byrds, who have voices that work with such a beautiful song more than Dylan’s.  They cut verses, of course, because the song is really long otherwise.

bob_dylan-love_sick#43  –  Love Sick  (1997)

  • A dark vision of the world.  This was the first song off Time Out of Mind and gave a first look at where that album would go.  It’s one of the songs that best fits that later, even worse singing voice that Dylan would have in his later career.

#42  –  Buckets of Rain  (1975)

  • The beautiful short song that ends Blood on the Tracks on a much more poignant note after so much dark bitterness through much of the album.

#41  –  It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue  (1965)

  • The final song on Bringing It All Back Home, it’s been covered by lots of bands because of its lyrical strengths and because it is a reminder of the kind of folk music he played before that album but also the later lyrical poetry he was already developing.

#40  –  License to Kill  (1983)

  • I first heard this song sung by Tom Petty at the 30th Anniversary Celebration.  I was worried that the original wouldn’t hold up very well, but it is quite good.  It’s off Infidels, the best album Dylan would record between 1976 and 1989.  It’s either the fourth track or the last track on the first side depending on how you want to count.

#39  –  I Shall Be Released  (1967  /  1971)

  • This song has a complicated release history.  It was written during The Basement Tapes sessions and the first released version was the version by The Band on Music from Big Pink.  The first Dylan version would surface on Greatest Hits Volume II.  Then a live version would be on Before the Flood.  An all-star live version that includes Dylan and The Band would sing it at the conclusion of The Last Waltz.  Other versions have also been released in various forms on multiple albums in the Bootleg Series.

#38  –  Man in the Long Black Coat  (1989)

  • This is the last song on the first side of Oh Mercy (or the fifth track if you’ve got it on CD).  It is a dark, moody song and would show the direction that Dylan would later take with such artistic merit on Time Out of Mind.

#37  –  Lay Down Your Weary Tune  (1963  /  1985)

  • Though this song was written in 1963 for The Times They Are a-Changin, it would not be released until Biograph in 1985.  But it had long been known to Dylan fans because the Byrds included a version of it on their second album.

bob_dylan-not_dark_yet#36  –  Not Dark Yet  (1997)

  • While many prefer To Make You Feel My Love, this has always been my favorite song off Time Out of Mind.  It’s got a vision of the world that perfectly matches what his voice had become by this time.  It’s telling that it was released as a single at a time when Dylan didn’t really sell singles anymore.

stuck_inside_of_mobile_with_the_memphis_blues_again_cover#35  – Stuck Inside of Mobile with the Memphis Blue Again  (1966)

  • This is the sixth track on Blonde on Blonde, which is ironic as my two favorite tracks on the album are then followed by my least-favorite Dylan song ever.  Hunter probably would yell at me for having this so low on the list.  This song was heavily reworked in the studio while the album was being recorded.

#34  –  It Ain’t Me Babe  (1964)

  • The final song on Another Side of Bob Dylan, this is a great bitter song.  This song would kind of set the blueprint for the more bitterly personal songs that would follow years later in Blood on the Tracks.

things_have_changed_single#33  –  Things Have Changed  (2000)

  • Like many great rock stars, Dylan had been passed over by the Academy Awards for eligible songs before, most notably for Knockin on Heaven’s Door.  But, having given the Oscar to Springsteen had kind of opened things up and in 2000, Dylan would win the Oscar.  It doesn’t win the Nighthawk because of the original song from Crouching Tiger, but it does earn a nomination and it’s a great closing song for one of my favorite movies, Wonder Boys.

#32  –  Gates of Eden  (1965)

  • The second song on the second side of Bringing It All Back Home (the acoustic side), this is one of those songs that I actually knew the lyrics of before I knew the song.  It is one of his truly great lyrical songs and the line that is #10 above was the epigraph to one of my actual completed Dylan stories.  This was actually the b-side to the single of Like a Rolling Stone.

#31  –  My Back Pages  (1964)

  • Though it would be the Byrds that would really capture the feeling of this song (one of numerous songs they covered from Another Side of Bob Dylan) but the original Dylan version is also a great song.  Like with I Shall Be Released, the linked video is actually an all-star version, this one from the 30th Anniversary Celebration.

#30  –  The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll  (1964)

  • One of the most famous political Dylan songs, this one builds to its final climactic bitter irony that underscores the need for social justice, a need that has not gone away in the 50+ years since he first recorded this song.

#29  –  When I Paint My Masterpiece  (1971)

  • One of the songs by Dylan that had been released by other artists before he released his own version on Greatest Hits Volume II.  One of the nice things about that second Greatest Hits, which I almost included in the Top 5 non-albums is how much use it made of songs that were already well-known thanks to cover versions but had never been released by Dylan before.

#28  –  When the Ship Comes In  (1964)

  • The eight track off The Times They Are a-Changin, this is one of the early songs that actually merges the political with the personal.  I actually had the Clancy Brothers version of this song before I had Dylan’s original.

#27  –  With God on Our Side  (1964)

  • The third track from The Times They Are a-Changin, this is one of Dylan’s most pointedly political sides.  This song sums up a lot of how I feel about war and god.

#26  –  You Ain’t Goin’ Nowhere  (1967 / 1971)

  • A complicated song.  It’s one of the songs originally recorded for The Basement Tapes but not released.  The Byrds would then cover it in 1968 but they would mess up one of the lines.  That prompted Dylan, when he re-recorded the song for Greatest Hits Volume II (the first release of a Dylan version) to make the little dig at Roger McGuinn.  But there are actually several lyrical differences between the Basement Tapes version and the Greatest Hits Volume II version (the latter of which I prefer).

bob_dylan-dignity_s_1#25  –  Dignity  (1994  /  1995)

  • One of the first CDs of Dylan’s I ever owned was his 1995 Unplugged album.  That was where I first heard this song.  It had been recorded originally during Oh Mercy in 1989 (one of two songs cut from that album that would have moved it considerably up the list had they been included) and then released on Greatest Hits Vol III in 1994 before the live version appeared on Unplugged.  My favorite version is still the live one.

#24  –  Every Grain of Sand  (1981)

  • I am not a fan of the trilogy of Christian albums that Dylan released in the late 70’s / early 80’s after he converted.  The one song that does really stand out among those albums though is this one, a lyrically beautiful song.

#23  –  Idiot Wind  (1975)

  • Like every song from Blood on the Tracks, there are multiple versions of this song.  Every version is long and every version is filled with unbridled anger.

hard#22  –  A Hard Rain’s a-Gonna Fall  (1963)

  • This song began with various lines that Dylan wanted to use to open a song.  He figured that he would never have time to write them all, so he put them all into one song.  It is one of his most lyrically powerful song and was one of the first Bob Dylan songs I knew thanks to the magnificent over by Edie Brickell.

#21  –  All Along the Watchtower  (1968  /  1974)

  • Though originally recorded for John Wesley Harding in 1968, it was the Hendrix version that made this song come to life.  Clearly even Dylan recognized that, as almost all live recordings of this song (of which there are several) reflect the Hendrix version much more than the original version.  My favorite version is the one from the 1974 double live album with the Band, Before the Flood.

#20  –  Mr. Tambourine Man  (1965)

  • In 1965, Dylan would go electric on Bringing It All Back Home.  But many people often forget that only the first side of the album was electric.  On the second side were four fantastic folk recordings, lead by this song.  Ironically, of course, this song would then go electric when the Byrds would use it to help kick off folk rock and turn it into a #1 hit.

blowingunauthorized#19  –  Blowin in the Wind  (1963)

  • One of Dylan’s most famous songs and the first Dylan song I ever knew, though I would know the Peter, Paul & Mary version by heart long before I ever heard the Dylan version.  This was one of the songs that made me think Dylan wasn’t for me, as it was so difficult to listen to his rough voice after years of the wonderful harmonies of PP&M.

#18  –  Masters of War  (1963)

  • The third track off The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan, this was one of the almost instant classics, the modern day protest songs that heralded Bob Dylan as the successor to Woody Guthrie.

#17  –  Hurricane  (1976)

  • We’ve hit kind of a demarcation spot on this list.  Not because this is the only song on this list not written just by Dylan (look most of Desire, which this is the first track on, it was co-written by Jacques Levy).  But it’s because while many of the songs below this point on the list have a definitive version that is sung by someone else, with the songs from here on up, either I don’t know a good cover, or I think the Dylan version is the best one.  The reason for that is because of Dylan’s musicianship.  In his first few albums, his songs bore the unmistakeable influence of Woody Guthrie, not just in the political aspect but also because they relied mostly on an acoustic guitar and harmonica.  When Dylan went electric, he not only changed what kind of guitar he was playing, but he also started incorporating more instruments into his music.  With this song, not only are the lyrics powerful (if not entirely accurate) but the music is powerful.  The violin work of Scarlet Rivera is a key part of the song.  Many of the songs above this one on the list are far more interesting musically in the Dylan versions while with many of his early songs, it was left to the cover versions to do that.

#16  –  When the Night Comes Falling from the Sky  (1991)

  • There’s a reason why this says 1991 and not 1985 (when the song was originally released on Empire Burlesque) and it’s the same reason there’s no linked video.  Dylan originally wrote and recorded this song with several musicians (including Roy Bittan and Steve Van Zandt of the E Street Band) then decided to re-record it as basically a disco song.  That version went on the album (and I really dislike) but the original surfaced on The Bootleg Series Vol. 1-3 as the penultimate song, complete with a great fade out into Series of Dreams.  That version is excellent and shows what you can do with a different take of a song.

shb#15  –  Subterranean Homesick Blues  (1965)

  • Dylan’s voice may never be much but here’s a song that shows how much he can make a song his.  This is the song that took Dylan electric and the music is fantastic.  One of the defining songs of rock and roll, complete with one of the first great videos thanks to the film Don’t Look Back.

bob_dylan_-_knockin_on_heavens_door#14  –  Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door  (1973)

  • Bob Dylan’s performance as Alias in Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid is one of the weakest things about the film.  But his soundtrack is fantastic, both the score and this original song, still one of the greatest original songs written for a film.  The ironic thing is that the song isn’t even on my copy of the film – I have the director’s cut and it excised the song, which is too bad because the scene is really powerful, reminiscent of the classic ending to Ride the High Country.

#13  –  Don’t Think Twice It’s All Right  (1963)

  • The first track on the second side of The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan (or the seventh track).  It’s the highest ranked song on this list from the album because his singing finds just the right tone for the song, one of his best jobs of singing.  I still prefer the PP&M version but Dylan’s is quite beautiful.

#12  –  Abandoned Love  (1975  /  1985)

  • This is a song that I knew the lyrics of before I knew the song and I was glad when it turned out to be excellent.  I had read the song lyrics in my Dylan book and decided that I really loved one particular verse which would later be used as the epigraph for a story (which also foreshadowed the ending of the story).  This is another song which has wonderful music to go along with the lyrics.  This song was a last minute cut from Desire for Joey, which means that Dylan weakened his own album by taking off one of his best songs in order to include one of his worst.

iwantyoubobdylan#11  –  I Want You  (1966)

  • Another song where the music becomes almost as much a part of the song as the poetry of the lyrics.  That’s why I’ve never heard a really satisfying cover.  This is one of those rare Dylan songs that became a Top 20 single.

#10  –  Desolation Row  (1965)

  • This is the last track on Highway 61 Revisited and it’s the perfect ending to an album that began with Like a Rolling Stone.  Both songs are long and epic, both songs are filled with vivid characters and yet, musically they are completely different.  I first knew this song from the quote on the list above that was used in Watchmen.  This is probably my second favorite song of all-time that is longer than 10 minutes in the studio version (behind The End).

#9  –  Bob Dylan’s 115th Dream  (1965)

  • This is the song least likely to appear on anyone else’s Top 10 Dylan list.  It’s the 7th song on Bringing It All Back Home (the last song on the first side).  Sadly, I couldn’t find a video to link to because it’s vitally important to get the studio version, so you should track it down yourself.  There’s a false start as Dylan starts busting up laughing and they have to go again (amusingly enough, that was actually from a different take and they deliberately edited that on to the actual take of the song used on the album).  The laugh is appropriate because this is one of Dylan’s funniest songs.  Lines like “They asked me for some collateral and I pulled down my pants” or “I picked up the phone and this foot came through the line” are hilarious, but even more so as you follow them through the story.  The line up above in my favorite lines is funny enough but as a punchline to the entire story it just makes me bust up every time.

#8  –  Sara  (1976 / 2002)

  • As I have mentioned above, I used to collect vinyl.  I would use those albums to come up with potential lists for greatest hits collections that I would then make.  So I used to have pages and pages (and later on, spreadsheets) of ratings for songs so I could make my lists.  When I first heard Sara as the last song on Desire, I thought it was a good song.  But when the Bootleg Series Vol. 5 was released in 2002 I realized that this was a great song and that the studio version didn’t really do it justice.  The video linked is not that version because I couldn’t find it but it is a live version.

thetimessweden#7  –  The Times They are A-Changin  (1964)

  • The one early folk song without other musicians that makes the top of this list.  That’s because, no matter how much a better job other singers do with this song, the original still possess incredible powers.  To me, this is the definitive Dylan protest song, defining those early few years before Bringing It All Back Home.

#6  –  Tombstone Blues  (1965)

  • The second track off Highway 61 Revisited and one of his rocking songs.  I wonder if Columbia Records or Dylan’s people have tried to wipe his songs off the web, because I had considerable trouble finding videos for a lot of the songs and I couldn’t find the original studio version for this one.  I first heard this when I bought the album on CD in 1996.  Loved it right from the start.  Have always loved the line “My advice is to not let the boys in”, mainly because I then imagine the preacher peaking out the window, watching for the boys and then sneaking off (kind of like the narrator in So Long It’s Been Good to Know Ya who “put on my coat and tiptoed out the door” after learning that his intended can’t cook or sew).

#5  –  Most of the Time  (2000)

  • I wish I could have found the video I wanted for this one.  Actually, I did, but the audio had been removed due to copyright violations, making me think I’m right in my previous song.  Anyway, there are some songs that you hear and then you later hear again through a new lens.  A perfect case in point is that my original Greatest Hits tape for Queen, made back in the 90’s did not have Don’t Stop Me Now, but by the time I made a Greatest Hits CD for Queen, sometime in 2004, Shaun of the Dead had been released and that song had taken on a new meaning for me.  The song hadn’t hanged, but my appreciation for it had.  The same goes with this song, which I liked when I first heard it, but when I first saw High Fidelity, that like turned to love.  It is one of Dylan’s most powerful songs and that film gave a new level to it for me.

#4  –  Shelter from the Storm  (1975  /  1996)

  • I think there was a stretch where this was my favorite Dylan song.  It still was one of the few I considered for the #1 spot.  Lyrically, in spite of all the amazing things Dylan wrote in the early and mid 60’s, it might be my favorite Dylan song.  I slightly prefer the alternate version of the song (as I have said before, all of the songs from Blood on the Tracks have alternate versions) that first found release on the Jerry Maguire soundtrack.  This song inspired one of my Dylan Stories, the plot of which I took from New Mutants #41, because it seemed to perfectly embody #6 in my lyrics list above.

220px-bob_dylan_series_of_dreams#3  –  Series of Dreams  (1989  /  1991)

  • I mentioned above on Dignity that if the two outtakes from Oh Mercy had been on the album, it really would have improved that album in my estimation.  I just can’t understand how this song was left off, and after it appeared on The Bootleg Series Vol. 1-3, it was highly regarded enough to end up on Greatest Hits Vol 3.  On The Bootleg Series, When the Night Comes Falling from the Sky continues directly into this song (like it was something off Dark Side of the Moon) and it’s an amazing 1-2 punch to end that collection.  I gave serious consideration to making this my #1 Dylan song.  This song is a good example to give to someone who doesn’t think that a producer is important.  How do you make someone like Dylan sound, musically like U2?  Give him Daniel Lanois as a producer, the same man who co-produced The Joshua Tree.  That is probably part of why I love this song so much.

bob_dylan_-_like_a_rolling_stone#2  –  Like a Rolling Stone  (1965)

  • Yeah, it’s never the obvious one with me.  This is a truly incredible song, both lyrically (think back to Cameron Crowe’s liner notes to Biograph and that party he attended and how many characters for a party you can do just from this song alone).  Then think about what this song does musically.  And think about it’s importance in musical history.  It charted to #2, which makes Dylan, like Springsteen, a man who hit #2 but in spite of one of the greatest careers in music history, never hit #1 (Springsteen of course will eventually have his own list, but since this Dylan one took me most of a month, the Springsteen one might take me the better part of a year).  It kicks off one of Dylan’s greatest albums (what many would people call his greatest album) with a magnificent start.  And yet, unlike some truly great songs, it also works live.  Specifically, listen to the version on The Bootleg Series Vol. 4 (and also on Vol. 7).  Listen to how he’s called a Judas by fans in the Free Trade Hall and how he responds (“I don’t believe you.  You’re a liar.”) and then how he turns to the band and says “Play fucking loud” before kicking off one of the greatest live versions of any song, let alone one so perfectly constructed in the studio.  Is the best measurement of this song that Rolling Stone ranked it #1 on their list of the 500 Greatest Songs of All-Time, that a song over six minutes in length went all the way to #2 in the short song era of the middle 60’s (behind my favorite Beatles song Help) or that in the six disc version of The Bootleg Series Vol. 12, an entire disc is devoted just to the recordings for this one song.

tangled_up_in_blue_cover#1  –  Tangled Up in Blue  (1975)

  • So how could Like a Rolling Stone not end up at #1?  Because quite frankly, this song moves me more.  I won’t argue with anyone who prefers my #2 but this is my #1.  Part of it is that it is the perfect opening to the album I ranked the best of Dylan’s storied career.  Part of it is that is so lyrically beautiful, yet manages to tell a fascinating story at the same time.  Part of it is that you can listen to the original version and see how different it is and see how similar it is as the same time.  Like with all the songs on the album, it presents a new experience while also allowing you to sink into an old familiar classic.  I think, when it comes down to it, one line in this song sums up Dylan for me, both in embodying the poetry in Dylan’s lyrics but also in the way the lyrics move me personally: “And every one of them words rang true  /  And glowed like burnin’ coal  /  Pourin’ off of every page  /  Like it was written in my soul from me to you.”
Advertisements