Later this month, Nobel prize winning singer-songwriter Bob Dylan will release Triplicate, his first three-disc album in a career spanning six decades.
That Dylan should be delivering this kind of output at this stage in his career is nothing short of remarkable.
Then again, it probably shouldn’t be that surprising.
After all, this is Bob f’n Dylan we’re talking about, a man who’s back catalogue comprises no less than 38 studio albums.
Add in countless live albums, official and unofficial bootlegs, rare cuts and studio out takes, and what you have is a seriously colossal body of work comprising both original material and inspired reworkings of long-forgotten folk staples.
Throw in the 30 cover songs that make up Triplicate (along with more covers on his last two records), and it’s fair to say the Hibbing, Minnesota native has produced more music in his lifetime than most folks could listen to in theirs.
When I say most folks, I do, of course, mean me.
I was born in 1984, a good few years after Dylan’s 60s/70s heyday, and didn’t fully begin to appreciate the man’s musical and lyrical genius until some 20 or so years later.
Now in my early 30s, I’ve had a lot of catching up to do.
Blonde on Blonde, Blood on the Tracks, Bringing it All Back Home, John Wesley Harding, those classic albums – and a fair few more besides- have all spent some serious time on my stereo as I get to know every hook, every chord, and every wonderfully poetic turn of phrase.
Yet just when I think I’m almost caught up, Dylan comes along with a three disc album of American classics and gives me more work to do.
Whilst I’m busy getting on with that, I wanted to take a moment to stop, reflect, and pay tribute to what I consider the top five best Bob Dylan songs of all time.
As with all my music related posts, this one is based on nothing more than pure personal enjoyment.
I don’t care if one song sold more copies than another, or if “experts” deem it to better than something else.
This is simply a list of the five Bob Dylan songs I enjoy the most.
It looks like this:
5) Lily, Rosemary and the Jack of Hearts
Coming straight from 1975’s incredible Blood on the Tracks album, this absolute gem of a song combines three things I love about Bob Dylan’s songs:
- Engaging storytelling
- Magnificent wordplay
- Music that gets beneath the skin and stirs something in the soul.
Add that jovial bassline that bounces happily along as the very cornerstone of this entire epic, and what you’ve got is one of the best songs on an album packed full of timeless musical treasures.
True story time:
It was only very recently that I realised I’d been hearing a line from this song incorrectly. For years, I believed that Rosemary combed her hair and took a CABBAGE into to town, rather than a CARRIAGE.
Yes, I know a carriage would make much more sense, but this is the world of Bob Dylan we’re talking about. In this world, just about anything goes, so it seemed entirely possible to me that Dylan would be singing about a lady taking a cabbage into town.
Truth be told, even though I now know the correct lyrics, I’m still going to sing about a cabbage.
Why? Because it just makes me laugh, that’s why.
4) Tangled Up in Blue
Sticking with Blood on the Tracks for the time being, what I love the most about this one is the sheer variety in the way it is performed.
Yes, the studio cut that appears on the album is a great song in its own right, but you know what?
I actually prefer the version from Volume 2 of The Bootleg series. There’s something about the slower pace of the guiatar arrangement and the way that Dylan switches to a third-person perspective for the first half of the song that really transforms Tangled Up In Blue from just another folk song into a masterful piece of story telling.
Then there’s the version you’ll hear in the video above, which adds a sense of urgency and excitement to the story that is utterly enjoyable.
It doesn’t end there either. The cover version of this song by KT Tunstall is an absolute joy, and remains possibly my favourite cover of a Bob Dylan song ever.
What I’m getting at here, is that no matter which version you here, Tangled Up In Blue is a truly wonderful song.
3) Like a Rolling Stone
Truthfully, I’ll never listen to Like a Rolling Stone without recalling the amazing time I had at the Dylan Days Festival in Dylan’s hometown of Hibbing, Minnesota back in 2017. .
That said, fond memories aren’t the only reason why this epic rock ‘n’ roll song holds such a special place in my heart.
The other reason is simply this:
It’s a fantastic song.
With a rich musical tapestry wrapped lovingly around an irresistible chorus and lyrics that beg you to just sing along at the top of your lungs, Like a Rolling Stone is just a sheer joy to listen to.
Full of atmosphere, the song positively bursts from the record with a life of its own, filling every room in which is played with a vibrancy that is truly infectious.
By the way, did you ever see that official interactive video for Like a Rolling Stone? It not, you really should. It’s awesome.
I imagine that for some people, it was the lavish arrangements and boldness of Like a Rolling Stone, the tender poetry of Blowing in the Wind or the ever-lasting magic of Mr. Tamborine Man that turned them into life-long Bob Dylan fans.
For me, it was Hurricane.
As I mentioned earlier, it wasn’t until I was in my 20s that I was first turned on to Dylan by way of a compilation CD a work colleague burned for me.
All the classics were on there, and sure, they all sounded good, but it wasn’t until I heard Hurricane that I new I was about to become a big Bob Dylan fan.
Again, this had the sense of narrative that I find such a captivating part of his music, it managed to deliver an important message without ever once preaching, and it delivered the whole thing with some dark, powerful music that ensured the song would linger in your head long after you’d finished listening to it.
Again, this isn’t just about fond memories. I can still listen to this song over and over again today, and it sounds just as good now as it did when I first heard it a decade ago.
1) Tombstone Blues
Last but not least we come to the one track that I consider to be the very best Bob Dylan song of all time.
Because it makes me feel good.
Unlike other songs on this list, there’s no story to explain why I love Tombstone Blues, nor do I have any particular desire to deconstruct the song and heap praise upon its individual components.
All I want to do is to tell you that the sum of all those components is a truly joyous song that stops me in my tracks every time I hear it.
Seriously, this blog post took me at least twice as much time to complete as it should have done, all because Tombstone Blues came on and I had to stop everything and sing a long.
I’ve always maintained that the hallmark of any good song is that it should have that ability to get under your skin, to get in your soul, and to make you feel something.
It doesn’t even matter what it is. It could make you feel sad, angry, worked up, horny, whatever.
If it makes you feel good, if it makes you feel alive, if it makes you want to throw your head back, your chest out, and laugh out loud for no particularl reason, than even better.
This one makes me do all of those things, and for that reason alone, it’s what I would consider to be the best Bob Dylan song ever.
Then again, maybe it isn’t.
After all, I’ve only been listening to Bob Dylan for a decade, and with six decades of music to get through, I’ve still got a long way to go. Who knows, maybe I’ll find something that makes me even happier than Tombstone Blues. I doubt it, but as I go back through Bob Dylan’s expansive back catalogue, I’m certainly looking forward to finding out.