I’ve learned today that Bob Dylan will be coming to town again in July. I saw him when he last rolled through town, and will almost certainly try to see him again. Naturally, my enthusiasm at the news spilled out during lunch and, incredibly, one of my colleagues professed near total ignorance of Bob’s music. At this I was seized with an evangelical zeal and vowed to compile for him a list of the best Bob Dylan songs. This ‘best’ business is a tricky one, of course, for there’s no telling how to strictly decide the matter, but nevertheless I don’t think I’m totally at sea.
Initially he asked for a list of two or three songs, which I denounced as a shameful and wholly impossible demand, offering instead to draw up a ‘Top 10’ list. Now, trying to shoehorn Dylan’s vast and rich body of work into such a small space is either a shimmering piece of audacity or a fool’s errand. After trying it, I see it is the latter.
In the end I’ve compiled two lists of nine. The first contains what I would consider to be his most popular songs. In no particular order, they are:
Like a Rolling Stone [Highway 61 Revisited, 1965]
The Times They Are A-Changin’ [The Times They are A-Changin’, 1964]
Blowin’ in the Wind [The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan, 1963]
Mr. Tambourine Man [Bringing It All Back Home, 1965]
Tangled up in Blue [Blood on the Tracks, 1975]
Subterranean Homesick Blues [Bringing It All Back Home, 1965]
Don’t Think Twice, It’s Alright [The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan, 1963]
A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall [The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan, 1963]
Rainy Day Woman #12 & 35 [Blonde on Blonde, 1966]
The second is a list of my personal favourites. These are the songs that I think best illustrate his humour, lyrical brilliance, or just sheer songsmithery.
Visions of Johanna [Blonde on Blonde, 1966]
Desolation Row [Highway 61 Revisited, 1965]
Love Minus Zero / No Limit [Bringing It All Back Home, 1965]
Girl from the North Country [The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan, 1963]
Fourth Time Around [Blonde on Blonde, 1966]
To Ramona [Another Side of Bob Dylan, 1964]
Talkin’ Bear Mountain Picnic Massacre Blues [Bootleg Series Vol. 1, 1963-ish]
Blind Willie McTell [Bootleg Series, Vol. 3, 1989?]
It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue [Bringing It All Back Home, 1965]
From these lists one might conclude that my favourite of Dylan’s albums are The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan and Bringing It All Back Home, and I think that is a fair assessment. My other favourites are John Wesley Harding, though none of its songs appear here, and Blood on the Tracks.
You don’t have to tell me that I’ve left off a boat-load of gems: All Along the Watchtower, I Want You, Not Dark Yet, Idiot Wind, Tomorrow is a Long Time, Ballad of a Thin Man, and on and on. But if you think I’ve really unjustly overlooked something, or that I’ve included an unworthy, or have any other comments, leave one below.