Friday, July 29, 2011

A Dylan Eleventary

By Nick
Dig That Purple Bowtie.
It is impossible to pick a top eleven songs from Bob Dylan. First off I like so many of his songs that it’s hard to pick just 11. Secondly, Bob Dylan’s output has been so diverse that it’s not right to compare his work from one era to that from another. Instead of trying to narrow out Bob’s eleven best, I’ll just pick out eleven that I really like.
11. Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door: One of the shortest hit songs ever, only bested by “Mercedes Benz” by Janis Joplin. I appreciate the reggae version by Eric Clapton, and the version by Guns ‘n’ Roses is…unique, but Bob’s is still the best. On the Unplugged version he sings “Knock knock knockin’ on heaven’s door/just like all the other times before.” Huh?
10. Tangled Up In Blue: This song is a rara avis, a long narrative song by Dylan that actually makes some sort of sense. I read somewhere that it was about the history of cubism. I don’t want to know what the song is about; that would spoil it. Best moment: when the woman hands the singer the book of poetry “written by an Italian poet of the 13th century.” Dante and Dylan: what a great combination.
9. It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue: Bob Dylan could write great melodies. It’s a pity he couldn’t sing them. I’ve always thought this song could have been a pop smash had it been redone by another band. Favorite lyric line: “The emptyhanded painter from the streets/is drawing crazy patterns on your sheets.”
8. Positively 4th Street: The perfect takedown. What else can I say.
7. All Along The Watchtower: I like Bob’s version better than Jimi’s. (Still like Jimi’s though.) This song has some of the best atmospheric lyrics in the rock music world. Dylan builds up an engaging story, and as soon as you get into it, he ends it. Why are the riders approaching? What are the princes on the watchtower looking for? One of the reasons I like Dylan is because he’s mysterious: You can find out all about a song by Breaking Benjamin or whoever, but you’ll never totally figure out a Dylan song. (If it makes you feel better, Dylan has probably never figured out a Dylan song.)
6. To Make You Feel My Love: Some British Chick named Adele or something has made a sugary-sweet remake of this. Dylan sounds much more authentic on his version. Dylan was a rare artist in that he could take pop music and make something meaningful out of it.
5. Not Dark Yet: But it’s getting there. Don’t take my word for it, just listen to the song.
4. Maggie’s Farm: More timely than ever. Unlike so many Dylan wannabes, Dylan was able to write songs that you could crank up loud. If I had a car with huge speakers I would blare this song out like it was rap.
3. Subterranean Homesick Blues: Dylan invented rap. This song is generally known as the first white rap song. The first non-white rap song was actually by Muhammad Ali and It’s called “Theme from Muhammad Ali and his gang Vs. Mr. Tooth Decay.” (Personally, I’m going for Mr. Tooth Decay.) Anyway, “Subterranean Homesick Blues” is probably the one song that I feel defines the 60s vibe, and it also has one of the coolest titles ever.
2. John Brown: Dylan was often called a poet, usually in reverent, hushed tones. (“He was a poet.) Most of Dylan’s so called poetry is incoherent and insensible. However, occasionally, in between the “Tombstone Blues” and “Quinn The Eskimos” he came out with something that really was good poetry. This song, from the Unplugged album, is one of the best anti-war poems I’ve heard, putting Dylan in the ranks of e. e. cummings and Wilfrid Owen. I think he would be proud.
1. Dig It by The Beatles: From the Let It Be album. This is the best Dylan song ever. If you’re a Dylan fan you have to listen to it.

If Only This Had Been A Real Album
 Favorite Dylan song that’s not a Dylan song: “Girl From North Country” by Johnny Cash and Bob Dylan. Bob doesn’t even sound like himself on this duet. This is just a flat-out great song, even if both the legends singing on it had a deficient sense of rhythm and couldn’t harmonize with each other no matter how hard they tried.

Two American Legends

And did you realize that "Like A Rolling Stone" wasn't on this list?


  1. Daddy Ben says,
    You think you are ready for college. Yet, you did not mention "Gotta Serve Somebody' (one of the best Christian songs since "Mighty Fortress," or "Slow Train" or "When You Gonna Wake Up," or "Saved" or "Pressing On" or "Covenant Woman" or "Saving Grace." I am very concerned.
    Great post even with the glaring omissions.

  2. The reason I neglected to mention those is that I could not come up with just one or two or three songs from those two albums. I find them better if they were taken as a whole. The next Dylan article will reference "Gotta Serve Somebody."