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Archive for May, 2017

Continuing my countdown of the 30 greatest Bob Dylan songs according to the Daily Telegraph, today I am covering the songs from numbers 10 to 6. These are

  • 10 – Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door
  • 9 – Ballad Of A Thin Man
  • 8 – Hurricane
  • 7 – Visions Of Johanna
  • 6 – Like A Rolling Stone
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Bob Dylan granted his first interview since being awarded the 2016 Nobel prize in literature to Edna Gundersen.

10. Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door (1973)

This song has become very well known through cover versions, in particular the versions by Bob Marley and Guns ‘n’ Roses. As with most cover versions of Dylan songs, I have to say that I prefer the original (but I also know that I’m biased!). There is a simplicity and starkness to Dylan’s original, which is lost in the two more famous cover versions.  After saying that, I do think both cover versions are great, and the Guns ‘n’ Roses version is one of the few songs done by them that I like.

From the soundtrack of a violent Sam Peckinpah western, in which Dylan once again demonstrated that acting is not one of his many talents, comes this elegiac classic. It rides on a simple, repetitive chord progression and has a ridiculously swift fade out but conveys such a spirit of bittersweet farewell to life it has become one of rock’s most universal anthems.

9. Ballad Of A Thin Man (1965)

This song is believed to be a cutting criticism of an out-of-touch newspaper reporter, and was written during a period when Dylan was showing a different side to his song writing. A side in which he was laying bare his frustrations with the people who didn’t understand him, or the societal changes which he was spearheading. When he sang this song in concert during his infamous world tour of 1965-66, the anger in his voice was clear to all who listened (rather than those who were booing him for “going electric”).

It is comical to consider that Sixties Dylan is so associated with the peace and love ethos of the hippies. Over an ungainly, almost lumpen piano motif, Ballad Of A Thin Man heaps surreal scorn on some self-regarding representative of the straight world baffled by the inscrutable counter-culture. Dylan’s vocal drips contempt. “Something is happening and you don’t know what it is, do you, Mr Jones?” He sounds like the original punk.

8. Hurricane (1976)

Is there a songwriter who can weave a story as masterfully as Dylan? The story in this song, however, is shockingly true. It tells of the incorrect conviction and imprisonment of Ruben Carter, a boxer who was also known as the Hurricane. The song is the opening track on Dylan’s 1976 album Desire, which is one of my favourite Dylan albums. A movie was later made of Carter’s life, with this as the opening song.

“Pistol shots ring out in the barroom night…” Hurricane marked a thrilling late flourish from Dylan the protest singer, moved to write by the flagrant framing of champion black boxer Ruben Carter (finally exonerated in 1985). The dramatic temperature of this forensically bitter narrative (composed with Jaques Levy) is matched by wild violin flourishes from beautiful novice Scarlet Rivera, who Dylan picked up walking in the street on the way to the recording session.

7. Visions of Johanna (1966)

This song is simply mesmerising. The opening lines “Ain’t it just like the night to play tricks / When you’re trying to be so quiet” are masterful. Although I like the studio version which appears on Blonde on Blonde a lot; when I heard the acoustic version that he did in concert in May 1966 in Manchester (the famous “Royal Albert Hall” concert, with the Judas heckle), I was simply blown away by the haunting power of that live version. Bear in mind that, when he performed this in May 1966, the audience didn’t know the song at all as Blonde on Blonde had not yet been released.

“Inside the museums, infinity goes up on trial.” Dylan at his most expressive and elusive, slipping in and out of the cracks of his own lyrics as he holds contrasting romantic muses in the balance. “I do know what my songs are about,” he insisted to an interviewer from Playboy magazine. “Some are about four minutes, some are about five minutes, and some, believe it or not, are about eleven or twelve.

6. Like A Rolling Stone (1965)

In Rolling Stone Magazine’s list of Dylan’s greatest songs, as well as their list of the greatest songs of all time, “Like A Rolling Stone” is at number 1. The Telegraph puts it at number 6, so you will have to wait and see which songs they put above it. When released in 1965, this song was the longest song ever released as a single. It was also Dylan’s biggest chart success. He finished the set of each concert in his 1965-66 world tour with it. Sometimes, the incessant booing which accompanied the second half of the show (the “electric” half) would cease during this song, as it was such a big hit in the USA and Europe.

“That snare shot sounded like somebody’d kicked open the door to your mind” is how Bruce Springsteen recalled first hearing this at 15 years old. This thunderous six-minute rock epic marks the moment when the young protest singer emerged as something popular music had never witnessed before. The vocal is as fierce and relentless as the flowing, spitting lyric, a tale of a fallen society princess adjusting to a disorientating new reality. “How does it feeeel?” Dylan demands. Many of us are still wondering about that.

Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door

The song which I have chosen to share today is “Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door”, as it is the only one which is on Dylan’s official Vevo channel. This version is from his MTV Unplugged concert, which he did in the mid-1990s. Enjoy!

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