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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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Today I thought I would share this lesser known song by The Beatles – “Free As A Bird”. It was released in 1996, when The Beatles put together their Anthology series of CDs, book and TV series. By this time, of course, John Lennon had been dead for 16 years. The other Beatles got in touch with Yoko who gave them a recording that Lennon had made of this song. They added their own voices and musical accompaniment to his original track, to create the closest thing possible to a new Beatles song. There are also some lyrics added by Paul McCartney, the parts that he sings on his own, rather than in harmony to Lennon’s voice.

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The Beatles single “Free As A Bird” was released in 1996, to coincide with the release of the Anthology CDs, book and TV series

Free as a bird
It’s the next best thing to be
Free as a bird

Home, home and dry
Like a homing bird I’ll fly
As a bird on wings

Whatever happened to
The life that we once knew?
Can we really live without each other?

Where did we lose the touch
That seemed to mean so much?
It always made me feel so…

Free as a bird
Like the next best thing to be
Free as a bird

Home, home and dry
Like a homing bird I’ll fly
As a bird on wings

Whatever happened to
The life that we once knew?
Always made me feel so free

Ah…
Ah…
Ah…

Free as a bird
It’s the next best thing to be
Free as a bird
Free as a bird
Free as a bird
Oooooo

Free…

[Turn out nice again, mother.]

The video to accompany “Free As A Bird” is fascinating. For aficionados of Beatles trivia, there are all kinds of obvious and less obvious references to Beatles songs in the video. See how may you can spot?

Enjoy!

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Today I will continue with my series of blogposts of some Bob Dylan songs, in celebration of his winning the 2016 Nobel prize for literature. I am concentrating on songs which are on  his official Vevo channel, as other songs of his which are uploaded to YouTube are almost always swiftly removed.

The song I am sharing today is “Beyond Here Lies Nothin'”, which appears on his 2009 album Together Through Life. According to his website, he first performed this live in July 2009 and the most recent live performance was earlier this year, in July 2016. As of my writing this, he has performed it 398 times!

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“Beyond Here Lies Nothin'” appears on Dylan’s 2009 album Together Through Life.

 

Here are the lyrics to this song, which you can find here on Dylan’s official website.

I love you pretty baby
You’re the only love I’ve ever known
Just as long as you stay with me
The whole world is my throne
Beyond here lies nothin’
Nothin’ we can call our own

I’m movin’ after midnight
Down boulevards of broken cars
Don’t know what to do without it
Without this love that we call ours
Beyond here lies nothin’
Nothin’ but the moon and stars

Down every street there’s a window
And every window made of glass
We’ll keep on lovin’ pretty baby
For as long as love will last
Beyond here lies nothin’
But the mountains of the past

My ship is in the harbor
And the sails are spread
Listen to me pretty baby
Lay your hand upon my head
Beyond here lies nothin’
Nothin’ done and nothin’ said

Here is the official video of “Beyond Here Lies Nothin'” from Dylan’s Vevo channel. Enjoy!

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At number 1 in Rolling Stone Magazine’s list of the 100 greatest Beatles songs is “A Day in the Life”. This song is the last track on the band’s seminal album, Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, which is consistently rated the best album of all time by many different experts and lists. See, for example, my own blogpost about Rolling Stone’s greatest albums of all time, here.

It may come as a surprise to many of you that this is the song Rolling Stone Magazine have chosen to be the greatest Beatles song of them all. In some ways it surprises me. Although I like this song a lot (I would put it in my top 20 Beatles songs), there are others which I would put above it based on the assumed criteria which Rolling Stone Magazine have used to rate Beatles songs, which seem to me to be

  1. impact
  2. inventiveness and/or originality and
  3. just a great song

Based on these assumed three criteria, I would say that “I Want to Hold Your Hand” is clearly the song which had the biggest impact on the music world and on The Beatles, because it was their break-through song in the United States. No other song by The Beatles had such a profound effect on the course of popular music, or on the band’s own destiny.

In terms of inventiveness, I would say that, for example, “Tomorrow Never Knows” and “Strawberry Fields Forever” are more inventive songs than “A Day in the Life”. Yes, “A Day in the Life” is an inventive song, but there isn’t really anything in it that The Beatles had not already done in terms of studio techniques.

It is, definitely, a great song. No arguing with that, in my opinion. And it is one, if not the, last example of a collaboration between Lennon and McCartney. In fact, it is two unfinished songs stitched together. Lennon had composed a song based on some newspaper stories, real-life events and his recent experience of acting in the movie “How I Won the War”, but it didn’t have a middle-eight or chorus. McCartney had started on a very different type of song, a whimsical ditty based on his memories of going to school on the top deck of the bus. The band decided to put the two very different songs together, to create a masterpiece.

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At number 1 in Rolling Stone Magazine’s list of the 100 greatest Beatles songs is “A Day in the Life”

Here are the lyrics of “A Day in the Life”. There has been much speculation as to who the man was who blew his mind out in a car. Most experts seem to agree that it was socialite Tara Browne, who died at the tender age of 21 when he drove his Lotus Élan into the back of a parked van. The “4,000 holes in Blackburn, Lancashire” comes from a newspaper story which Lennon read about potholes in the roads in Lancashire. The line “Now they know how many holes it takes to fill the Albert Hall” is just pure genius.

I read the news today, oh boy
About a lucky man who made the grade
And though the news was rather sad
Well, I just had to laugh
I saw the photograph

He blew his mind out in a car;
He didn’t notice that the lights had changed
A crowd of people stood and stared
They’d seen his face before
Nobody was really sure if he was from the House of Lords

I saw a film today, oh boy;
The English army had just won the war
A crowd of people turned away
But I just had to look
Having read the book

I’d love to turn you on

Woke up, fell out of bed
Dragged a comb across my head
Found my way downstairs and drank a cup
And looking up, I noticed I was late

Found my coat and grabbed my hat
Made the bus in seconds flat
Found my way upstairs and had a smoke
And somebody spoke and I went into a dream

Ah I read the news today, oh boy
Four thousand holes in Blackburn, Lancashire
And though the holes were rather small
They had to count them all
Now they know how many holes it takes to fill the Albert Hall

I’d love to turn you on

Added to the lyrics which Lennon wrote is the beautifully haunting sound of his voice. With a little bit of echo, it floats in space. No one has a voice like John Lennon, it has a magical quality to it which is there in spades in this song. An ethereal, haunting quality to it. With lyrics like “I’d love to turn you on” and “…had a smoke….and went into a dream”, the song was banned from many radio stations for supposed references to drugs and getting high. Both Lennon and McCartney have denied that their lyrics had anything to do with drugs, and not long after this song they became fairly open about their drug taking, so had no reason to lie.

Thankfully, this hauntingly beautiful song is available on The Beatles’ official Vevo channel, so here is a link to it which will presumably not be removed. Enjoy!!

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Continuing my series of articles on the 30 greatest Bob Dylan songs according to the Daily Telegraph, today I am blogging about the songs which they have placed from 15 to 11.

  • 15 – All Along The Watchtower
  • 14 – Blind Willie McTell
  • 13 – Senor (Tales of Yankee Power)
  • 12 – Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right
  • 11 – Masters Of War
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Bob Dylan granted his first interview since being awarded the 2016 Nobel prize in literature to Edna Gundersen.

15. All Along The Watchtower (1967)

In my option, this is one of the most perfect songs which Dylan has ever written. I would place “All Along The Watchtower” higher than 15, it is in my top 10 of favourite Dylan songs. Although the version which Jimi Hendrix did is much more famous, I prefer Dylan’s original version. Don’t get me wrong, I  like Hendrix’s version a lot; it is just that the sparsity and simplicity of Dylan’s original is, to me, more profound.

The song leaves just enough to the imagination. Who are the two riders who are approaching? When Dylan wrote the songs for John Wesley Harding, he had been recuperating from his motorcycle crash and doing a lot of reading of the Bible. The album is full of obvious and less obvious Biblical references, and this song is no exception. Many Dylanologists thing the song is about the book of Exodus. Maybe, Dylan has never explained the song, which in some ways adds to its beauty.

It was Jimi Hendrix’s flaming version that turned this into a mystic rock epic but even in the bare bones simplicity of the original it has the inscrutable fascination of an ancient parable. The ending strikes a typically Dylan note of ambiguity, sucking listeners deeper into the song’s mysteries. Who are the two riders approaching in the distance as the wildcat begins to howl?

14. Blind Willie McTell (1991)

This song was recorded by Dylan in 1983 during the sessions for his album Infidels, but was not released until 1991 on one of his Bootleg series of albums. “Blind Willie McTell” is about the blues and ragtime singer Willie McTell, who recorded in the 1920s, 30s and 40s. This is a beautiful song, showing wonderfully how brilliant Dylan is at telling a story in his songs.

Dylan dwells on the darkest history of America, conjuring up burning plantations, cracking whips and the ghosts of slavery ships – centuries of injustice that gave voice to the blues. Proving he is no judge of his own material, he dumped this masterpiece from 1983’s Infidels and left it unreleased until 1991.

13. Senor (Tales of Yankee Power) (1978)

As the blurb from the Daily Telegraph says, Dylan’s 1978 album Street Legal may be one of his most underrated albums. It was one of the first Dylan albums which I bought, and in fact the single “Baby, Stop Crying” was a hit in the Disunited Kingdom at a time when I was just becoming aware of Dylan. It got as high as number 13, and received quite a bit of airplay. “Señor (Tales of Yankee Power)” is another great song on an album which is full of great songs.

Street Legal may be Dylan’s most underrated album, full of lyrically complex songs set to lush arrangements featuring horns and soulful backing vocals, and showcasing Dylan’s singing voice with a strength and suppleness he has rarely equalled. At the centre of this hallucinatory depiction of American imperialism, Dylan strips and kneels before a gypsy with a broken flag and flashing ring who tells him, “Son, this ain’t a dream no more, it’s the real thing”.

12. Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right (1963)

Is this the ultimate put-down song? Dylan has clearly been jilted by a woman, and has not taken it very well. This 1963 song, written when Dylan was just 21, is the first song on the second side of his second album, The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan. Most of the songs on this album are protest songs, but a few are love (or anti-love) songs, including this one. The last line of “Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right” is “you just kinda wasted my precious time” is a stinging message on which to end the song. Ouch!

Cynical and world-weary in a way only a 21-year old can be, Dylan’s romantic put down has become a pop standard, covered by hundreds of artists. In a voice that already sounds ancient, he sings of forgiveness for a failed love affair but lands a killer blow like a casual afterthought” “you just kind of wasted my precious time.” That’s gotta hurt.

11. Masters Of War (1963)

Another song from his second album The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan, but this one is very much a protest song. In verse after verse, Dylan vents his anger at the machinery which perpetuates the conflicts and wars around the world. And, this was written before the war in Vietnam had escalated, in fact Dylan probably hadn’t even heard of Vietnam in 1963. For a song written by a young 21/22 year old, the lyrics are mature and compelling. Already Dylan’s genius to create a memorable turn of phrase or line were evident.

A relentless, attacking dirge, pouring scorn and contempt on warmongers. It is scary how fully formed Dylan sounds as a scruffy young protest singer newly arrived from the Midwest and ready to hold a mirror up to America’s soul. “I see through your eyes / And I see through your brain / Like I see through the water / That runs down my drain.”

Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right (number 12)

The song of these five which I am going to share today is number 12, “Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right”. There is a video of it on YouTube which has been up for some 30 months, so hopefully it will stay up a bit longer to allow you to listen to this song. Dylan wrote “Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right” in 1962, and recorded it in November of 1962. As I said above, it is on his second album The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan, but it was also released as a single in August of 1963 (the album was released in May 1963).

As you can see from the lyrics below, Dylan has been rejected by a lover, and he is not happy about it. He clearly wants this woman to ask him to stay, but she has made it clear that she wants him out of his life, so he is going and he isn’t about to look back. “Still I wish there was something’ you would do or say / To try and make me change my mind and stay / We never did too much talkin’ anyway / So don’t think twice, it’s all right.”

But, Dylan saves his ultimate anger for the last few lines “I ain’t sayin’ you treated me unkind / You could have done better but I don’t mind /You just kinda wasted my precious time /But don’t think twice, it’s all right”. Ouch! This is not a love song, it is an anti-love song; 14 years before he would expose his bleeding heart in his 1976 album Blood On The Tracks.

It ain’t no use to sit and wonder why, babe
It don’t matter, anyhow
An’ it ain’t no use to sit and wonder why, babe
If you don’t know by now
When your rooster crows at the break of dawn
Look out your window and I’ll be gone
You’re the reason I’m trav’lin’ on
Don’t think twice, it’s all right

It ain’t no use in turnin’ on your light, babe
That light I never knowed
An’ it ain’t no use in turnin’ on your light, babe
I’m on the dark side of the road
Still I wish there was somethin’ you would do or say
To try and make me change my mind and stay
We never did too much talkin’ anyway
So don’t think twice, it’s all right

It ain’t no use in callin’ out my name, gal
Like you never did before
It ain’t no use in callin’ out my name, gal
I can’t hear you anymore
I’m a-thinkin’ and a-wond’rin’ all the way down the road
I once loved a woman, a child I’m told
I give her my heart but she wanted my soul
But don’t think twice, it’s all right

I’m walkin’ down that long, lonesome road, babe
Where I’m bound, I can’t tell
But goodbye’s too good a word, gal
So I’ll just say fare thee well
I ain’t sayin’ you treated me unkind
You could have done better but I don’t mind
You just kinda wasted my precious time
But don’t think twice, it’s all right

I am not sure how long this link will stay working, so my apologies if it gets removed.

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Today, 8 December, marks the 36th anniversary of John Lennon’s senseless murder in 1980. It is always a poignant time for me; I had heard him on BBC Radio 1 the day before (7 December 1980) telling listeners of the interview which he had just recorded with Andy Peebles. I was full of excitement that my hero was returning to public life; I was too young to remember the time when he had stepped off the treadmill to bring up his son Sean (which he did in 1975).

I woke up the following morning to hear the news that he’d been shot dead outside his home in New York City. I blogged a little about that a year ago. I had already bought his ‘comeback’ album Double Fantasy. One of the most tender songs on this album was this song here, “Beautiful Boy”. After his murder the song’s lyrics became even more poignant.

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Some of the most poignant lines from John Lennon’s 1980 song “Beautiful Boy”. Within a few months of writing this song, he had been murdered.

The lines “life is what happens to you / While you’re busy making other plans” seemed prophetic. And the lines “I can hardly wait / To see you come of age / But I guess we’ll both / Just have to be patient” almost too sad to hear.

How could Sean even begin to understand suddenly losing his father at only 5 years of age? The answer, of course, is that he couldn’t.

Close your eyes,
Have no fear,
The monster’s gone,
He’s on the run
And your daddy’s here,

[2x]
Beautiful, beautiful, beautiful,
Beautiful boy,

Before you go to sleep,
Say a little prayer,
Every day
In every way,
It’s getting better and better,

[2x]
Beautiful, beautiful, beautiful,
Beautiful boy,

Out on the ocean sailing away,
I can hardly wait
To see you to come of age,
But I guess we’ll both
Just have to be patient,

‘Cause it’s a long way to go,
A hard row to hoe
Yes, it’s a long way to go
But in the meantime,

Before you cross the street,
Take my hand,
Life is what happens to you,
While you’re busy making other plans,

[2x]
Beautiful, beautiful, beautiful,
Beautiful boy,

Before you go to sleep,
Say a little prayer,
Every day
In every way,
It’s getting better and better,

[2x]
Beautiful, beautiful, beautiful,
Beautiful boy,

Darling, darling,
Darling Sean.

Here is the official video of “Beautiful Boy”, a song which takes on so much additional poignancy after the events of 8 December 1980.

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At number 2 in Rolling Stone Magazine’s list of the 100 greatest Beatles songs is “I Want to Hold Your Hand”. People reading this may be wondering why this song is so high in Rolling Stone’s list. The reason is simple, this was the song which saw The Beatles break through in the United States. They went from being unknown there to being the biggest band the country had ever seen in terms of their popularity. Their success in the USA is, more than anything else, what has ensured that they are the biggest selling musical act in history. Ever.

Thus, in terms of impact, “I Want to Hold Your Hand” is one of the most important songs that The Beatles ever recorded. Who knows whether they would have been as massive as they became if it were not for this song, we will never know. But, this song catapulted them to superstardom in the USA, and they became the first British band to ever crack the US market.

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At number 2 in Rolling Stone Magazine’s list of the 100 greatest Beatles songs is “I Want to Hold Your Hand”

As the text above (taken from Rolling Stone Magazine) says, this song “changed everything”. Previous to this song, The Beatles had singles released in the US, but none had achieved any chart success. Then, in late 1963, they signed to Capitol Records. Maybe due to this switch of record label, maybe the song itself with its upbeat message, maybe the death of John F. Kennedy, maybe some luck, maybe a combination of all or some of these things, but “I Want to Hold Your Hand” captured the youth of America in a way that no song had done since Elvis’ early days.

Based on the chart success of this song, The Beatles arrived in the United States in early February 1964 and appeared on the Ed Sullivan TV show to the largest audience that programme has ever seen. As they say, the rest is history…..

Oh yeah, I’ll tell you something
I think you’ll understand
When I say that something
I wanna hold your hand
I wanna hold your hand
I wanna hold your hand

Oh please, say to me
You’ll let me be your man
And please, say to me
You’ll let me hold your hand
You let me hold your hand
I wanna hold your hand

And when I touch you I feel happy
Inside
It’s such a feeling that my love
I can’t hide
I can’t hide
I can’t hide

Yeah, you’ve got that something
I think you’ll understand
When I say that something
I wanna hold your hand
I wanna hold your hand
I wanna hold your hand

And when I touch you I feel happy
Inside
It’s such a feeling that my love
I can’t hide
I can’t hide
I can’t hide

Yeah, you’ve got that something
I think you’ll understand
When I feel that something
I wanna hold your hand
I wanna hold your hand
I wanna hold your hand
I wanna hold your hand

Unfortunately, I cannot find any Beatles versions of “I Want to Hold Your Hand” on YouTube. If you do not know this song, you can listen to it via one of your favourite music streaming services.

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