Wednesday 1 March 2006

Some favourite Bob Dylan songs

If you’ve been visiting Faith and Theology for a while, then you’ll know that I’m something of a Bob Dylan enthusiast.

Bob Dylan is our greatest songwriter. He has written over 500 songs, and, personally, I like just about all of them. But I do have a few favourites. Here are my five personal favourites—these are five songs that I come home to, songs that I inhabit, songs that I can’t imagine ever being without. Here they are, listed chronologically:

1. Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right (1963)
2. Desolation Row (1965)
3. Visions of Johanna (1966)
4. Tangled Up in Blue (1975)
5. Mississippi (2001)

And here are 20 of my other favourite Bob Dylan songs, selected broadly from across his career (and listed chronologically):

1. I Was Young When I Left Home (1961)
2. The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll (1964)
3. To Ramona (1964)
4. Mama, You Been on My Mind (1964)
5. It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue (1965)
6. Mr Tambourine Man (1965)
7. Like a Rolling Stone (1965)
8. Stuck Inside of Mobile with the Memphis Blues Again (1966)
9. Million Dollar Bash (1967)
10. Nobody ‘Cept You (1973)
11. Idiot Wind (1975)
12. Shelter from the Storm (1975)
13. Isis (1976)
14. Angelina (1981)
15. Jokerman (1983)
16. Blind Willie McTell (1983)
17. Brownsville Girl (1986)
18. Dignity (1989)
19. Highlands (1997)
20. Things Have Changed (1997)


Lyn said...

What about Slow Train Coming?

revdrron said...

Forgive a First timer but Dylan encounters and overcomes that which goes against the grain for me.

Do you have a read on Dylan’s born again stuff? Are any of those Xtain songs noteworthy in your estimation?

Moreover, lets’ hear it for A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall & Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door & Just Like A Woman!

Worship & enjoy, ron

Ben Myers said...

Hi Lyn and Ron. You've both mentioned Dylan's gospel music -- and I'm a great admirer of his gospel songs, even though none of them are among my "most favourite" favourites.

But I really like the three gospel albums, Slow Train Coming, Saved and Shot of Love. During his gospel period he also wrote some of his greatest songs (e.g. 'Angelina', 'Carribean Wind' and 'Foot of Pride') which, however, weren't released on the albums. So some of his best songs from the period are now available on Vol. 3 of the Bootleg Series.

As for particular songs: From his gospel albums, my favourites include 'Precious Angel', 'When He Returns', 'Pressing On', 'Saving Grace', 'Groom's Still Waiting at the Altar', and of course 'Every Grain of Sand'.

And from the unreleased gospel songs, my favourites include 'Ye Shall Be Changed', 'You Changed My Life' and 'Ain't No Man Righteous'.

Since his born-again phase, Dylan has also continued to write superb songs about faith -- some of my favourites include 'Jokerman' (1983), 'When the Night Comes Falling from the Sky' (1985), 'Ring Them Bells', 'God Knows' (1990), and the magnificent 'Tryin' to Get to Heaven' (1997).

Does anyone else like his gospel stuff?

T.B. Vick said...

This is my favorite Bob Dylan song and I am surprised you did not include it in your list:

"There must be some way out of here," said the joker to the thief,
"There's too much confusion, I can't get no relief.
Businessmen, they drink my wine, plowmen dig my earth,
None of them along the line know what any of it is worth."

"No reason to get excited," the thief, he kindly spoke,
"There are many here among us who feel that life is but a joke.
But you and I, we've been through that, and this is not our fate,
So let us not talk falsely now, the hour is getting late."

All along the watchtower, princes kept the view
While all the women came and went, barefoot servants, too.

Outside in the distance a wildcat did growl,
Two riders were approaching, the wind began to howl.

Anonymous said...

T.B. Vick's "All along the watchtower" is one of my favourites too - but I equally like Jimi Hendrix's cover version.

Some of the earlier stuff I like that isn't on Ben's very discerning list include:
"Blowin' in the wind"
"The times they are a-changin"
"My back pages"
"Stuck inside of Mobile with the Memphis Blues Again"
"Just like a woman"
"Joh Wesley Harding"
"The Ballad of Frankie Lee and Judas Priest"
"I threw it all away"
"If not for you"
"New morning"
"Forever young"

From Desire: "Hurricane", "Joey" and "Sara"

From Slow Train Coming: "Gotta serve somebody"

From Saved: "What can I do for you?"

Ben Myers said...

These are very nice additions, Kim. But I must protest that I did include "Stuck inside of Mobile" (a song that I love better than almost all others). And for the sake of a broad coverage, I wanted to include "If Not for You" or "New Morning" -- but I just couldn't bring myself to cross anything else off the list! Have you heard Shirley Caesar singing "Gotta Serve Somebody" on the Masked and Anonymous soundtrack? -- it's fantastic.

I think your choice is excellent too, Todd. I love "All Along the Watchtower" -- and I reckon it has one of the best song-endings ever written. It's also a richly evocative biblical song, based on Isaiah 21.

One of the things I like most about Bob Dylan's lyrics is the way they deftly merge the horizon of biblical/apocalyptic language with the horizon of contemporary American society. Phrases from the Bible come alive in a whole new way when Dylan turns them into American street-talk.

Anonymous said...

Get real. Bob Dylan can't even sing.

Anonymous said...

Dylan works well across generations too. Hubby & i are baby boomers but our kids aged 22 to 27 love Dylan too.


Anonymous said...

Sorry, Ben, about "Struck inside of Mobile": my speed-reading let me down!

Re. Dylan and scripture, try: Michael J. Gilmour (a NT scholar), Tangled Up in the Bible: Bob Dylan & Scripture (2004). For me it promised more than it delivered, but it's still worth a perusal.

Ben Myers said...

I enjoyed reading Gilmour's book (the best part is the dedication, where he describes Bob Dylan as his "favourite theologian"). But for real biblical and theological insight, the great books of Christopher Ricks (Dylan's Visions of Sin) and Michael Gray (Song and Dance Man) are still the ones to read.

Tyler, you're right about 'One More Cup of Coffee' -- it's a fine song. In fact, I vividly remember the first time I ever heard it when I was a boy. Right from the first verse, I felt as though a dark and wonderful new world had been opened up before me.

And Michael, I actually came across your piano arrangements some time last year -- I loved them, and I found 'To Ramona' quite breathtaking. I had lost the links to these, so thanks a lot for this.

Thanks for your point of view too, Anonymous. I know plenty of people (definitely not me!) who'd agree with you about Bob Dylan's voice. Here's what the man himself says, in 'She's Your Lover Now':

'My voice is really warm,
It's just that it ain't got no form,
But it's just like a dead man's last pistol shot, baby.'

Lyn said...

Soy Bomb

Lyn said...

(Grammy allusion a few years back, lol)

Ben Myers said...

Yes, Lyn, that sure was a strange one! Typically enough, Bob hardly raised an eyebrow.

Lyn said...

I think he might have been stoned, probably didn't notice! That speech sure was an odd rambling, lol

David Williamson said...

Does anybody else find reading the lyrics to Bob Dylan songs a radically disconcerting experience?

Take the magnificent Series of Dreams for example. For years I thought the final verse went:

"In one, numbers were burning
In another, I witnessed a crime
In one, I was running, and in another
All I seemed to be doing was crying."

Gosh, that last line hit me. In the midst of a lifelong search for transcendence, the poet admitted he saw the world through a veil of tears.

Years later I learned the line is actually: "All I seemed to be doing was climb". Which is fine, but lacks the significance I'd attached to it.

But it's the possibility of the songs sung by that scarcrow dry voice to be dressed up in allusion and significance by the listener which makes Dylan such a timeless and cherished artist. Long after even he has forgotten the original meaning of a song, it becomes only more clear with passing years that he has moulded something meaningful out of words and music.

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