Inside Pulse 12

The Top 75 Bob Dylan Songs (Like a Rolling Stone, Blowin’ in the Wind)

dylan 75

In honor of the 75th birthday of Bob Dylan, the greatest songwriter to ever live, three fanatical Dylan enthusiasts pooled their resources to list the top 75 Dylan songs of all-time. A quick word on the participants:

Jake Ziegler has been writing for Inside Pulse since 2008, mostly in wrestling but occasionally in movies as well. He first discovered Bob Dylan in 1994 when a friend gave him “Bob Dylan’s Greatest Hits” and “Planet Waves” on cassette. He’s been to four Dylan concerts (2000, 2001, 2003, and 2004 – with Willie Nelson), and obsessively listens to Dylan albums in order – even the bad ones.

Scott Slimmer writes for 411Mania.com and is a longtime Bob Dylan fan. He’s been to 17 Dylan concerts over the course of the last 17 years, and he has 66 complete Dylan albums… on his phone. He also wrote all the blurbs for the top 10 songs.

Jonathan Hull is a musician (harmonica and vocals) in Jones Street Station – Facebook.com/jonesststation.

1. Like a Rolling Stone, Highway 61 Revisited

Musical napalm born of a cynic’s sneer and a poet’s tongue, Like a Rolling Stone is weaponized rock and roll. When a legion of angry folkies turned on Dylan after he went electric, this was his answer, a take no prisoners scorched earth evisceration of complacency. Dylan knew that the times had already changed, so he only had one question left for those who had been left behind: How does it feel? Dylan once warned that “you better start swimmin’ or you’ll sink like a stone,” and here he stands defiantly as that stone rolls toward its watery demise. Perhaps the single most defining moment of Dylan’s career came in the Manchester Free Trade Hall on May 17, 1966. A lone heckler gained immortality by branding Dylan as Judas, but Dylan had long since made peace with the fact that evolution was not betrayal. After giving rather succinct instruction to the band, this was his answer. This was his retaliation. This was his liberation. That poor heckler never stood a chance.

2. Tangled Up in Blue, Blood on the Tracks

Tangled Up in Blue – Dylan’s greatest love song is as complex, nuanced, indecipherable, and epic as his catalog as a whole, like fifty years of songs boiled down into seven verses of young love, loss, longing, reconciliation, and yearning. Every verse plays like a scene from a movie, none more so than the fourth verse in which our hero walks into a topless bar, unexpectedly sees his long lost love on stage, and then has to sit uncomfortably as she bends down to tie the laces of his shoe. But for as cinematic as the song may be, it’s true timelessness derives from the fact that the song has continued to evolve for more than forty years. Dylan changes up the lyrics to this day, swaying from first person to third person, adding and deleting characters, and always finding new depth in a story we only thought we knew. My favorite verse is the alternate second verse from Real Live: She turned around to look at him / As he was walking away / Saying “I wish I could tell you all the things”/ “That I never learned to say” / He said “That’s alright, baby, I love you too” / But we were tangled up in blue.

3. Mississippi, “Love and Theft”

Mississippi – Dylan’s Love and Theft band (Larry Campbell, Charlie Sexton, Tony Garnier, David Kemper, and Augie Meyers) was his best band since *the* Band, and their virtuoso musicianship was never showcased better than on the crown jewel of Dylan’s late-career renaissance, Mississippi. This is Tangled Up in Blue with the benefit of a lifetime’s hindsight, not simply a recounting of lost love but also an effort to figure out where it all went wrong. Maybe it’s that their days were numbered, maybe it was dreaming of sleepin’ in Rosie’s bed, or maybe it was simply staying in Mississippi a day to long. There’s regret here, to be sure, but there also seems to be a mysterious hope, and maybe even a little optimism, derived no doubt from the fact that this song is flat out catchy as hell. For casual Dylan fans who may not be familiar with Mississippi, know that it absolutely earned its spot near the top of this list. If you want to go listen to a few new Dylan songs after reading this list, make sure that this is the first one.

4. The Times They Are A-Changin’, The Times They Are A-Changin’

The Times They Are A-Changin’ – Dylan’s one-two punch of folk protest immortality started with Blowin’ in the Wind and finished with The Times They Are A-Changin’. He would obviously write other protest songs throughout his career, but very few songwriters can claim a pair of songs that so concisely encapsulate the cultural zeitgeist of a particular moment in history. If Bob Dylan was the voice of a generation, then these were the two songs in which that voice resounded most clearly.

5. Visions of Johanna, Blonde on Blonde

Visions of Johanna – The standard interpretation of Visions of Johanna is that it tells the tale of man who uses his memories of a former lover, Johanna, to escape the dull reality of his current relationship with Louise. That interpretation certainly makes for a compelling narrative, but I’ve always believed that the secret tragedy of the song is that Johanna and Louise are the same woman. The narrator didn’t lose the love of his life and then settle for someone new; rather, his relationship with Johanna evolved, as all relationships do, but in this case, their love grew so cold and distant that it simply became easier for him to think of her as a completely different person. Losing one love and settling for another can lead to regret, but that regret is nothing compared to the pain of watching your love become someone you don’t even know, leaving you with nothing but fading visions of Johanna.

6. Blowin’ in the Wind, The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan

Blowin’ in the Wind – Blowin’ in the Wind has become such an integral part of the DNA of American music that it’s almost impossible to believe it was written by a 20 year old kid still learning his craft. There may be no more compelling evidence of Dylan’s innate genius than these three timeless verses and a series of questions that after half a century still don’t have any easy answers. If Blowin’ in the Wind was played over a montage of the current events of 2016, it would seem just as relevant today as it did in 1962, possibly even more so.

7. Most of the Time, Oh Mercy

Most of the Time – I can’t remember the first time I heard most Bob Dylan songs. They’re such a part of my life that they seem to have simply been part of my life since the day I was born. But that’s not the case with Most of the Time. I can clearly remember sitting in the Beverly Cinema in Champaign, IL watching High Fidelity and being absolutely mesmerized by the song that was playing as Rob Gordon sat dejected on a park bench in the rain. That song was Most of the Time, and as far as I’m concerned it’s still one of the most perfect pairings of a song and a scene in cinematic history. This is a love song that only Dylan could write, a tale of moving forward while looking back, an admission that we all carry our past with us every step of the way.

8. My Back Pages, Another Side of Bob Dylan

“Ah, but I was so much older then / I’m younger than that now.” One of Dylan’s moist poignant ruminations on aging and regret was written at the world weary age of 23, but then again, Dylan had probably lived more by 23 than many of us do in a lifetime. Age brings experience, and perspective, and maybe even wisdom, but through those lessons can also come a peace never know during the heady and exuberant days of youth. They say that age is only a state of mind, and never has that been expressed as eloquently as through Dylan’s verse. Years before Elton John and Time Rice tackled the subject, this was the original Circle of Life.

9. Mr. Tambourine Man, Bringing It All Back Home

Dylan wrote more culturally important songs, and he wrote songs that better encapsulated all that rock and roll could be, but he may never have written a song so unabashedly poetic, and he certainly never wrote one as pivotal in the development of American music. This was the song that launched the Byrds, and without the Byrds there would be no Flying Burrito Brothers, Eagles, or Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers. The paths to folk rock, psychedelic rock, and country rock all start with this single song, a testament to the world of diamond skies and circus sands that it created.

10. Just Like a Woman, Blonde on Blonde

Dylan’s catalog is deep and diverse and, more than anything else, complex. It offers no simple answers and often asks uncomfortably difficult questions. Nowhere is that as true as with Just Like a Woman. This is not an easy song to defend, and it has rightly come under scrutiny and criticism for half a century now. And yet, like so many of Dylan’s most enduring songs, it cannot be simply classified as black or white, good or bad, right or wrong. Dylan has never actively sought praise or acceptance, often seeming more comfortable provoking and inciting than soothing and unifying. So let lesser artists deal in simplicity; even Dylan’s missteps pay homage to his enduring complexity.

11. Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right, The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan
12. Desolation Row, Highway 61 Revisited
13. All Along the Watchtower, John Wesley Harding
14. A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall, The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan
15. Abandoned Love, Biograph
16. Masters of War, The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan
17. Subterranean Homesick Blues, Bringing It All Back Home
18. Every Grain of Sand, Shot of Love
19. Blind Willie McTell, The Bootleg Series, Vol 1-3: Rare & Unreleased 1961-1991
20. The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll, The Times They Are A-Changin’
21. Idiot Wind, Blood on the Tracks
22. Ballad of a Thin Man, Highway 61 Revisited
23. It’s Alright, Ma (I’m Only Bleeding), Bringing It All Back Home
24. Not Dark Yet, Time Out of Mind
25. Shelter from the Storm, Blood on the Tracks
26. Shooting Star, Oh Mercy
27. Lay Lady Lay, Nashville Skyline
28. Girl from the North Country, The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan
29. Love Sick, Time Out of Mind
30. Make You Feel My Love, Time Out of Mind
31. With God on Our Side, The Times They Are A-Changin’
32. It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue, Bringing It All Back Home
33. I Shall Be Released, Bob Dylan’s Greatest Hits Volume II
34. Highway 61 Revisited, Highway 61 Revisited
35. Boots of Spanish Leather, The Times They Are A-Changin’
36. Love Minus Zero, No Limit, Bringing It All Back Home
37. Positively 4th Street, Bob Dylan’s Greatest Hits
38. Up to Me, Biograph
39. I Want You, Blonde on Blonde
40. Simple Twist of Fate, Blood on the Tracks
41. Tombstone Blues, Highway 61 Revisited
42. Song to Woody, Bob Dylan
43. It Ain’t Me Babe, Another Side of Bob Dylan
44. One of Us Must Know (Sooner or Later), Blonde on Blonde
45. You Ain’t Goin’ Nowhere, Bob Dylan’s Greatest Hits Volume II
46. When I Paint My Masterpiece, Bob Dylan’s Greatest Hits Volume II
47. Hurricane, Desire
48. Tonight I’ll Be Staying Here with You, Nashville Skyline
49. Jokerman, Infidels
50. You’re Gonna Make Me Lonesome When You Go, Blood on the Tracks
51. Honest with Me, “Love and Theft”
52. This Wheel’s on Fire, The Basement Tapes
53. Stuck Inside of Mobile with the Memphis Blues Again, Blonde on Blonde
54. She Belongs to Me, Bringing It All Back Home
55. Lily, Rosemary and the Jack of Hearts, Blood on the Tracks
56. Workingman’s Blues #2, Modern Times
57. Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door, Pat Garrett & Billy the Kid
58. Sad-Eyed Lady of the Lowlands, Blonde on Blonde
59. I’ll Be Your Baby Tonight, John Wesley Harding
60. Tears of Rage, The Basement Tapes
61. Duquesne Whistle, Tempest
62. The Man in Me, New Morning
63. Only a Pawn in Their Game, The Times They Are A-Changin’
64. One Too Many Mornings, The Times They Are A-Changin’
65. One More Cup of Coffee (Valley Below), Desire
66. Love is Just a Four-Letter Word, N/A
67. Isis, Desire
68. Spirit on the Water, Modern Times
69. John Brown, MTV Unplugged
70. You’re a Big Girl Now, Blood on the Tracks
71. High Water (For Charley Patton), “Love and Theft”
72. Absolutely Sweet Marie, Blonde on Blonde
73. When the Ship Comes In, The Times They Are A-Changin’
74. Red River Shore, The Bootleg Series, Vol. 8: Tell Tale Signs
75. Nettie Moore, Modern Times

Album Tally
Bob Dylan (1962) – 1
The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan (1963) – 5
The Times They Are A-Changin’ (1964) – 7
Another Side of Bob Dylan (1964) – 2
Bringing It All Back Home (1965) – 7
Highway 61 Revisited (1965) – 5
Blonde on Blonde (1966) – 7
Bob Dylan’s Greatest Hits (1967) – 1
John Wesley Harding (1967) – 2
Nashville Skyline (1969) – 2
New Morning (1970) – 1
Bob Dylan’s Greatest Hits Volume II (1971) – 3
Pat Garrett & Billy the Kid (1973) – 1
Blood on the Tracks (1975) – 5
The Basement Tapes (1975) – 2
Desire (1976) – 3
Shot of Love (1981) – 1
Infidels (1983) – 1
Oh Mercy (1989) – 2
The Bootleg Series, Vol 1-3: Rare & Unreleased 1961-1991 (1991) – 1
MTV Unplugged (1995) – 1
Time Out of Mind (1997) – 3
“Love and Theft” (2001) – 3
Modern Times (2006) – 3
The Bootleg Series, Vol. 8: Tell Tale Signs (2008) – 1
Tempest (2012) – 1
Unreleased – 1

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