Posts Tagged ‘30 greatest Dylan songs’

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

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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Since winning the 2016 Nobel prize for literature, Bob Dylan has remained very quiet. An acknowledgment of his winning the prize briefly appeared on his official website, before it was quickly removed. Numerous attempts by the Swedish Academy to speak to him apparently failed, but on 29 October The Telegraph newspaper published what it claimed was a world exclusive, the first interview with Dylan since his Nobel prize was announced. Here is a link to that interview, conducted by Edna Gundersen.

The Telegraph has also produced a list of what it considers to be the 30 greatest Dylan songs. As with any list, it is subjective and is obviously not going to be the same as the top 30 in the list produced by e.g. Rolling Stone Magazine, which I blogged about here. But, it is interesting to look at the list produced by The Telegraph. Below is the beginning of the list, from 30 to 26. The text in quotes being from the text written by The Telegraph for each song, the other stuff is me!


Bob Dylan granted his first interview since being awarded the 2016 Nobel prize in literature to Edna Gundersen.

The Telegraph list, 30 to 26

I have decided to break the list up into 6 parts, so this week I will cover 30-26, next week from 25 to 21, then 20-16 the week after, etc.

From 30 to 26 the list is

  • 30 – Subterranean Homesick Blues
  • 29 – You’re Gonna Make Me Lonesome When You Go
  • 28 – Just Like Tom Thumb’s Blues
  • 27 – Ring Them Bells
  • 26 – Scarlet Town

The year next to each song title (in the text below) is the year that the song was officially released, which in some cases is not the year that the song was composed, or even recorded. Where these differ I will mention it in the text that I write about each song (the part that is not in a block quote).

30. Subterranean Homesick Blues (1965)

The opening track on Dylan’s 1965 album Bringing It All Back Home, this song announced to the world that Dylan had ‘gone electric’. “Subterranean Homesick Blues” was recorded in January of 1965, and the album was released in March 1965. Bringing It All Back Home had an electric first side and an acoustic second side. When Dylan played some of the electric songs at the Newport Folk Festival in August of 1965 he was booed off stage. The booing continued when he took this new rock sound on his world tour in 1966, culminating in the famous Judas heckle in May 1966 at the Manchester Free Trade Hall, which I blogged about here.

Is this the first hip-hop song? Lyrics cascade in a relentless motormouth gush over jittery blues, with Dylan tearing up social norms in a surreal deadpan blizzard of internal rhymes. Don Pennebaker’s single camera black and white promo film established a perennial image of mid-Sixties Dylan’s skinny amphetamine cool.

29. You’re Gonna Make Me Lonesome When You Go (1975)

From Dylan’s 1975 album Blood On The Tracks, possibly the greatest break-up album ever. This song was recorded in December 1974 and is one of the more upbeat songs on the album, yet it still shows Dylan’s pain at the breakup of his marriage. For an intensely private man, Dylan laying bare the pain in his heart in this seminal album is startling.

Written during a period of personal crisis, adultery and romantic complication that eventually led to divorce from wife Sarah Lowds, Blood On The Tracks is Dylan’s most fully realised masterpiece, crammed with lyrical blood and thunder and piercing observations. You’re Gonna Make Me Lonesome is its simplest, breezing song – yet it remains heartbreaking in its almost carefree surrender to the inevitability of romantic pain.

28. Just Like Tom Thumb’s Blues (1965)

Recorded in early August 1965, it was released on Dylan’s album Highway 61 Revisited, which came out in late August. “Just Like Tom Thumb’s Blues” is the penultimate track on the album, just before his epic “Desolation Row” (which I am amazed to see is not in this ‘top 30’ list!)

“When you’re lost in the rain in Juarez and it’s Easter time too / And gravity fails and negativity don’t pull you through…” Dylan’s hard, keen vocal holds the centre of this travelogue of mental and physical disarray as his band tumble and cascade around him, a freefall of piano and slide guitar conjuring up the “wild, mercury sound” that only Dylan could hear.

27. Ring Them Bells (1989)

From Dylan’s 1989 album Oh Mercy, “Ring Them Bells” is the 4th track on the first side. Oh Mercy is not an album I know that well; I have it but have not listened to it that much.

Written off by many after a period of indifferent Eighties albums, with Dylan later admitting to a profound artistic crisis, the bard found a new voice with producer Daniel Lanois. With its stately piano chord progression and lyrics of Biblical richness and elegance, Dylan offers up a post-apocalyptic gospel prayer for redemption and salvation.

26. Scarlet Town (2012)

Tempest is Dylan’s most recent album of original songs, released in September 2012. “Scarlet Town” is the 6th track on the album. Since Tempest, Dylan has released a number of albums in his bootleg series, along with two albums of cover versions.

On his most recent album [of original material], Tempest, the 71-year old contemplates the dismal state of the world with the morbid glee of a visionary perversely satisfied that, as predicted, the worst has come to pass. Dylan’s leathery voice depicts the bleak Scarlet Town as a frontier settlement on the edge of hell. “Help comes,” Dylan drily notes, “but it comes too late.”

Subterranean Homesick Blues (number 30)

The song of these five which I am going to share in this blogpost is number 30, “Subterranean Homesick Blues”. As I said above, this song is the opening track on Dylan’s 1965 album Bringing It All Back Home, and announced to the world that he had ‘gone electric’ (his going electric was behind the “Judas” heckle which I blogged about in May).

Dylan recorded this song on 14 January 1965, and it was released as a single on 8 March of the same year. Bringing It All Back Home was released just a few weeks later, on 22 March 1965.


“Subterranean Homesick Blues” is the opening track of Bob Dylan’s 1965 album Bringing It All Back Home. The ground breaking promotional video was shot in an alley-way next to the Savoy Hotel in London. Just at the left of the image poet Allen Ginsburg and musician Bob Neuwirth are visible.

“Subterranean Homesick Blues” was Dylan’s first top 40 hit in the USA, it peaked at number 39. It got into the top 10 in the Disunited Kingdom. The song’s lyrics are essentially a stream of consciousness, and the delivery is often considered to be a precursor to rap and hip hop; “Subterranean Homesick Blues” has been called the first rap or hip hop song. The line “You don’t need a weatherman / To know which way the wind blows” gave the name to the underground 1960s radical left-wing group the Weathermen.

Johnny’s in the basement
Mixing up the medicine
I’m on the pavement
Thinking about the government
The man in the trench coat
Badge out, laid off
Says he’s got a bad cough
Wants to get it paid off
Look out kid
It’s somethin’ you did
God knows when
But you’re doin’ it again
You better duck down the alley way
Lookin’ for a new friend
The man in the coon-skin cap
By the big pen
Wants eleven dollar bills
You only got ten

Maggie comes fleet foot
Face full of black soot
Talkin’ that the heat put
Plants in the bed but
The phone’s tapped anyway
Maggie says that many say
They must bust in early May
Orders from the D.A.
Look out kid
Don’t matter what you did
Walk on your tiptoes
Don’t try “No-Doz”
Better stay away from those
That carry around a fire hose
Keep a clean nose
Watch the plain clothes
You don’t need a weatherman
To know which way the wind blows

Get sick, get well
Hang around a ink well
Ring bell, hard to tell
If anything is goin’ to sell
Try hard, get barred
Get back, write braille
Get jailed, jump bail
Join the army, if you fail
Look out kid
You’re gonna get hit
But users, cheaters
Six-time losers
Hang around the theaters
Girl by the whirlpool
Lookin’ for a new fool
Don’t follow leaders
Watch the parkin’ meters

Ah get born, keep warm
Short pants, romance, learn to dance
Get dressed, get blessed
Try to be a success
Please her, please him, buy gifts
Don’t steal, don’t lift
Twenty years of schoolin’
And they put you on the day shift
Look out kid
They keep it all hid
Better jump down a manhole
Light yourself a candle
Don’t wear sandals
Try to avoid the scandals
Don’t wanna be a bum
You better chew gum
The pump don’t work
’Cause the vandals took the handles

The two videos to accompany “Subterranean Homesick Blues” which I have included here are the two versions which D.A. Pennebaker shot for his Dylan fly-on-the-wall documentary Don’t Look Back. In fact, the movie opens with the more famous video of this song, the first one which I’ve included below. It features the innovative idea of Dylan leafing through a series of cue-cards with keywords from the song; at the time it was one of the most ground-breaking music videos created. It was Dylan’s idea to do this, and it is an idea which has been copied by many others over the years.

Here is the alternative video. It also features the same cue-card idea!

Which of these 5 songs is your favourite?

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