Monday, 28 August 2006

Bob Dylan's best songs

Speaking of Bob Dylan, here’s my selection of the two best songs from each decade of his career so far.

Sixties
“Desolation Row” (1965)
“Visions of Johanna” (1966)

Seventies
“Tangled Up in Blue” (1975)
“Idiot Wind” (1975)

Eighties
“Blind Willie McTell” (1983)
“Dignity” (1989)

Nineties
“Highlands” (1997)
“Things Have Changed” (1997)

Noughties
“Mississippi” (2001)
“Ain’t Talkin’” (2006)

19 Comments:

Matt Edmonds said...

Blind Willie McTell is perhaps the most incredible song I have ever heard. I'd have The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll over Desolation Row any day though

luthsem said...

Yeah Blind Willie Mctell is one of the his best songs.

Anonymous said...

70s:
-Tangled Up in Blue
+Shelter from the Storm

90s:
-Things have Changed
+Not Dark yet

Rory Shiner said...

Eighties: Ring Them Bells

Spanish Boots of Spanish Leather needs to be in there too.

Otherwise, an excellent list.

Michael said...

What criteria do you use to determine 'the best?'

I'm with Rory regarding Ring them bells. Another one that always gets me is With God on my side. I also really like If you see her, say hello.

Where do you stop?

Matt Edmonds said...

Rory do you prefer Spanish Boots to Girl from the North Country? I go through stages myself.

Anonymous said...

Too many brilliant songs to make a "best of" from each decade. So much is genius that a list is far too difficult and doesn't do Dylan justice. However, your picks are all great songs.

Michael Westmoreland-White said...

I still have to go with his classic anti-war ballads, "With God on Our Side," and "Masters of War." And "Blowin' in the Wind" didn't even get honorable mention? (Even though Peter, Paul, & Mary sang it better.)

Okay, now I have completely dated myself!

Ben Myers said...

Thanks -- I love these other suggestions. In particular, like Anon., I nearly (and probably should have) chose "Shelter from the Storm" for the 70s, and I agonised over "Not Dark Yet" for the 90s.

Michael: As a Dylan fanatic, perhaps I should be embarrassed to admit that I've never much cared for "Blowin' in the Wind" -- although I love the piano arrangement in the live At Budokan (1978) version.

Among the earlier songs, I prefer "I Was Young When I Left Home", "To Ramona", "Spanish Boots", "Mr Tambourine Man", "Hattie Carroll", "It Ain't Me, Babe" -- but above all, the incomparable "Don't Think Twice, It's All Right".

Rory Shiner said...

Yes, "Don't Think Twice It's All Right" is truly great. And "Tomorrow is a Long Time" is the greatest love ballad every written.

Matt Edmonds: Good call. "Girl from the North Country" is a challenge to Spainish Boots.

And what about "When the Ship Comes In".

It's all too good! The only genius in popular music.

luthsem said...

I just bought Modern times from I-Tunes!!! I am a Dylan fanatic

Anonymous said...

Another great early song: "Lay Down Your Weary Tune."

Brannon Hancock said...

So NOBODY on faith & theology is going to vote for "gotta serve somebody"?? NOTHING from "Slow Train Coming"? What is UP with that? I can't believe it. (Actually, I can.)

It's utterly impossible to pick just 2 Dylan songs from the 60s. Nice try, though. "Desolation Row" would definitely be one of my two, but I'd pick something else over "Visions..." - not sure what. Probably "Blowin' in the Wind" but that might just be because it came around on my iPod today en route to the record store to buy Modern Times.

Also, definitely gotta have "Not Dark Yet" for the 90s. "Things Have Changed", for all it's popularity and it's use in Wonder Boys, is not one of Dylan's best in my opinion. That's accounting, of course, for the fact that a bad Dylan song is still far better than most anybody else's best effort.

Anonymous said...

80s:
- "Dignity"
+ "Most Of The Time"

Andrew Heavens said...

70s: Isis

"I cut off my hair and I rode straight away
For the wild unknown country where I could not go wrong"

"She said, "Where ya been?" I said, "No place special."
She said, "You look different." I said, "Well, I guess."
She said, "You been gone." I said, "That's only natural."
She said, "You gonna stay?" I said, "Well if you want me to, yes.""

Michael Westmoreland-White said...

I still say that "With God on Our Side" has even more topical relevance today than when originally written. Below I've reproduced the original 1963 lyrics. Dylan later added a Vietnam verse, but I can't find it.

This is so contemporary it hurts:


Oh my name it is nothin'
My age it means less
The country I come from
Is called the Midwest
I's taught and brought up there
The laws to abide
And that land that I live in
Has God on its side.

Oh the history books tell it
They tell it so well
The cavalries charged
The Indians fell
The cavalries charged
The Indians died
Oh the country was young
With God on its side.

Oh the Spanish-American
War had its day
And the Civil War too
Was soon laid away
And the names of the heroes
I's made to memorize
With guns in their hands
And God on their side.

Oh the First World War, boys
It closed out its fate
The reason for fighting
I never got straight
But I learned to accept it
Accept it with pride
For you don't count the dead
When God's on your side.

When the Second World War
Came to an end
We forgave the Germans
And we were friends
Though they murdered six million
In the ovens they fried
The Germans now too
Have God on their side.

I've learned to hate Russians
All through my whole life
If another war starts
It's them we must fight
To hate them and fear them
To run and to hide
And accept it all bravely
With God on my side.

But now we got weapons
Of the chemical dust
If fire them we're forced to
Then fire them we must
One push of the button
And a shot the world wide
And you never ask questions
When God's on your side.

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.

So now as I'm leavin'
I'm weary as Hell
The confusion I'm feelin'
Ain't no tongue can tell
The words fill my head
And fall to the floor
If God's on our side
He'll stop the next war.

Ben Myers said...

Hi Michael -- do you also know Dylan's most recent war epic, "Cross the Green Mountain" (2004)? (It was written for the Gods and Generals soundtrack, and it's available from iTunes.) It's a great song.

But I must admit, my favourite of all Dylan's war songs is his cover of "Two Soldiers" (a civil war folk song) on World Gone Wrong (1993). This is the most poignant, most intimate, most subtle, most heartbreaking depiction of war that I've ever heard.

Anonymous said...

Two words that I can't believe I haven't yet seen in this long list of Bobby's best: Wiggle Wiggle

Tim S said...

Ben, I've just discovered your wonderful blog. Quite a spiritual shot in the arm - to discover in one place an imagined conversation between Barth and Bultmann, and a discussion of the top Dylan tracks in each decade!

Now with apologies for reviving an old comments thread, as a fellow Dylan-obsessive I need to put in a bid here for the Basement Tapes material. For me, this (with Blonde on Blonde) is the high water mark of his achievement: the mysterious shadow side of the explosive 1966 touring Dylan, where the weird and fantastic underbelly of his mental world at the time is exposed.

So how about "This Wheel's On Fire", "Tears of Rage" or... if we're getting into the realms of non-canonical material, "I'm Not There (1956)"? For more on the latter, read Greil Marcus' book on the Basement Tapes - if you haven't already done so.

Thanks for the great blog. Keep it up!

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