Bob Dylan’s Birthday Eve: 70 songs for 70 years

This is a post for which some of you may want your money back because it has little, if anything, to do with Knoxville. I’ll gladly process your requests.

Tomorrow is Bob Dylan’s seventieth birthday. Those of you who have followed this blog no doubt aren’t surprised to see some mention of it here. Tomorrow I will discuss why this man is so important to me and why I chose to name this blog after one of his songs. Attempts at naming the greatest or most important Dylan songs are doomed from the outset because it is all personal, so I’m giving you the seventy songs which are most meaningful to me. Of course, ask me tomorrow and the list will change.

Civil Rights March on Washington, D.C. closeup...Image via Wikipedia
Bob and Joan at the March on Washington, 1963

Still, what other artist could you name whose top seventy most meaningful songs would leave off some that you love? I’ll link and give comments to all the songs that time allows. If you click a link it will take you to Amazon where you can hear thirty seconds of the song and/or make a purchase for your itunes – which I highly recommend.

70. Seven Days (1980’s)
69. Positively 4th Street (1960’s) The best farewell to a friend who betrayed you. “You’ve got a lot of nerve to say you were my friend. When I was down, you just stood there grinning.”

68. When The Night Comes Falling From The Sky (1980’s)

67. Make You Feel My Love (1990’s) No, he did not cover Garth Brooks.

66. What Can I Do For You? (1980’s) Bob’s best studio recorded harmonica solo.

65. To Ramona (1960’s)
64. Is Your Love In Vain? (1970’s)

63. If Not For You (1960’s) Does anyone know that Dylan writes amazing love songs?

62. I And I (1980’s)

61. Watching The River Flow (1970’s) Zen to go with your born again.

60. Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right (1960’s) One of the best kiss-off songs to a lover ever. Break up and listen to these words and start to heal, “I’m not saying you treated me unkind. You could have done better, but I don’t mind. You just kind of wasted my precious time, but don’t think twice, it’s alright.”

59. Baby, Stop Crying (1970’s)
58. Heart Of Mine (1980’s)
57. Don’t Fall Apart On Me Tonight(1980’s)
56. Farewell, Angelina (1960’s)
55. Girl From The North Country (1960’s)
54. Sweetheart Like You (1980’s)

53. If You See Her, Say Hello (1970’s) If this song doesn’t break your heart, you may need to see a cardiologist.

52. Changing Of The Guards (1970’s)

51. When He Returns (1970’s) His most specific religious, apocalyptic song. Just Bob, a piano and vocals delivered straight from the bottom of his soul.

50. Political World (1980’s)
49. Caribbean Wind (1980’s)
48. Tomorrow Is A Long Time(1970’s)
47. One More Cup Of Coffee (1970’s)
46. Blind Willie McTell (1980’s)
45. When I Paint My Masterpiece (1960’s)
44. Love Minus Zero/No Limit (1960’s)
43. Sara (1970’s)
42. Beyond Here Lies Nothin’(2000’s)
41. Groom’s Still Waiting At The Altar (1980’s)
40. Simple Twist Of Fate (1970’s)
39. Dark Eyes (1980’s)
38. Buckets Of Rain (1970’s)
37. I Want You (1960’s)
36. Man In The Long Black Coat (1980’s)

35. Silvio (1980’s) I heard Dylan do this live probably a dozen or more times live and I never got tired of it. I know the eighties are felt to be Dylan’s weakest decade, but these lines are among his best, “I can tell you fancy, I can tell you plain: You give something up for everything you gain. Since every pleasure’s got an edge of pain, pay for your ticket and don’t complain.”

34. Shooting Star (1980’s) Alone and thinking of lost love? This song says what you can’t articulate.

33. Series Of Dreams (1980’s)
32. Workingman’s Blues #2 (2000’s)
31. Jokerman (1980’s)
30. My Back Pages (1960’s)
29. Standing In The Doorway (1990’s)
28. Tangled Up In Blue (1970’s)
27. Things Have Changed (1990’s)
26. Tears Of Rage (1960’s)

25. When The Deal Goes Down (2000’s) Who knew Dylan could waltz? I’ll never hear it the same again after dancing the father/daughter dance with Urban Girl at her wedding. “We eat and we drink, we feel and we think, far down the street we stray. I laugh and I cry and I’m haunted by things I never meant nor wished to say. The midnight rain follows the train, we all wear the same thorny crown. Soul to soul, our shadows roll, and I’ll be with you when the deal goes down.”

24. Every Grain Of Sand (1980’s) I love this song. It’s from the “born again” period, but I love this version the most. It’s a home demo with Dylan on piano, Carole Bayer Sager on harmony vocals and Bob’s dogs barking occasionally in the background. As sincere a gospel song as was ever written.

23. Ballad Of A Thin Man (1960’s)

22. Mr. Tambourine Man (1960’s) If this song only had one verse, it would be one of the best songs ever written. I generally fall into the camp that says Bob is a songwriter, not a poet, but then there are these lines, “Then take me disappearin’ through the smoke rings of my mind, down the foggy ruins of time, far past the frozen leaves, the haunted, frightened trees, out to the windy beach, far from the twisted reach of crazy sorrow. Yes, to dance beneath the diamond sky with one hand waving free,
silhouetted by the sea, circled by the circus sands, with all memory and fate driven deep beneath the waves. Let me forget about today until tomorrow”

21. All Along The Watchtower (1960’s) Bob did not cover Jimi Hendrix. Have twelve lines ever conveyed more foreboding? I don’t think so.

20. A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall (1960’s)
19. Just Like Tom Thumb’s Blues (1960’s)

18. Mississippi (2000’s) – Released on September 11, 2001. I bought it at midnight and didn’t understand that Bob was telling in this song everything that would happen in the following hours. I know I sound crazy. Listen to the song and think about it.

17. Trying To Get To Heaven (1990’s) Funny and chilling. How do you do that? “I’m just trying to get to heaven before they close the door.”

16. Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door (1970’s) Bob did not cover Gun’s N Roses.

15. Señor (Tales Of Yankee Power) (1970’s) – A haunting from possibly my favorite Bob Dylan album, Street-Legal. While not generally thought of as among his best, I felt he created an entirely new and different musical world. As for this song, is it about the U.S. and Central America? Is it about the end of the world? Probably, yes.

14. Queen Jane Approximately (1960’s)

13. Stuck Inside Of Mobile With The Memphis Blues Again (1960’s) – This is the song that inspired the title of the blog. I grew up in Mobile and took the song for its longing for escape from the conservative mores that drowned me there, but never took the song as an insult to the city. I never get tired of hearing this song.

12. It’s Alright, Ma (I’m Only Bleeding) (1960’s) – Probably the most quotable Dylan song ever, which is a large statement. Look up the lyrics if you doubt me. My favorite memory of this song is hearing Dylan do it solo acoustic in 1981 in Tampa, Florida. I stood literally at his feet in open wonder. Here is one stunning verse among many, “Disillusioned words like bullets bark as human gods aim for their mark, make everything from toy guns that spark, to flesh-colored Christs that glow in the dark. It’s easy to see without looking too far that not much is really sacred.”

11. I Shall Be Released (1970’s)

10. Blowin’ In The Wind (1960’s) – This song has meant so much to so many from the Civil Rights Era onward, that it becomes difficult to hear it with fresh ears. Simple, poignant and stunning to have been written by a twenty-one year old, though we now know he has an ancient soul. If you accomplish this song by twenty-one, what do yo do with the rest of your life? My favorite memory of this song is hearing a small child in Gainesville, Florida in 1981 sing the song as he meandered down a grassy hillside. I thought there might be hope for the world.

9. Just Like A Woman (1960’s) – This song changed my life. I loved it for many years, but one night in the mid-nineties in the Tennessee Theater, Bob sang the bridge for me and I was never the same, ” It was raining from the first and I was dying there of thirst, so I came in here. And your long-time curse hurts, but what’s worse is this pain in here. I can’t stay in here. Ain’t it clear that I just can’t fit? Yes, I believe it’s time for us to quit. When we meet again, introduced as friends, please don’t let on that you knew me when I was hungry and it was your world.”

8. Forever Young (1970’s) Written for his son, Jacob, this song has meaning for anyone for whom you mourn, love and long to have comfort, safety and a righteous life. “May you build a ladder to the stars and climb on every rung. And may you stay Forever Young.”

7. Shelter From The Storm (1970’s) A stunning song from a stunning album, Blood On The Tracks. I love its quite, intense mystery. Who is this woman offering shelter? Is she a woman at all? Can you trust her? I also love the raw live version from Hard Rain. This, like so many of his songs is teeming with gorgeous images, like those in these lines, “Suddenly I turned around and she was standin’ there
With silver bracelets on her wrists and flowers in her hair. She walked up to me so gracefully and took my crown of thorns. “Come in,” she said, “I’ll give you shelter from the storm.””

6. Dignity (1990’s) – I love the jaunty rhythm of this song as Bob explains there is absolutely no dignity to be found anywhere in this world. Check out these lines, “Wise man lookin’ in a blade of grass, young man lookin’ in the shadows that pass, poor man lookin’ through painted glass, for dignity,” and the conclusion, “So many roads, so much at stake, so many dead ends, I’m at the edge of the lake. Sometimes I wonder what it’s gonna take to find dignity.” Bob’s not trying to make you feel better.

5. Visions Of Johanna (1960’s) One of his longest and most complicated songs, but one of his most rewarding. I don’t know what it’s all about, but some of the lines are stunning and the cumulative emotional impact is immeasurable. This song has so many quotable lines it should be illegal. Here’s how it opens, “Ain’t it just like the night to play tricks when you’re tryin’ to be so quiet? We sit here stranded, though we’re all doin’ our best to deny it. And Louise holds a handful of rain, temptin’ you to defy it.” And my favorite, “Inside the museums, infinity goes up on trial. Voices echo this is what salvation must be like after a while.” Think about that for a while.

4. Ring Them Bells (1980’s) – Perhaps the best of his many incredible apocalyptic songs. Jesus wept, Bob weeps, we all weep for a lost cause. Every line is a good one, here’s a taste: ” Ring them bells St. Peter where the four winds blow. Ring them bells with an iron hand so the people will know. Oh it’s rush hour now on the wheel and the plow and the sun is going down upon the sacred cow.”

3. Not Dark Yet (1990’s) – “It’s not dark yet, but it’s getting there.” Not the most hopeful of sentiments, but so true in so many ways when you consider popular culture or some facet of your own life. Ultimately, it carries the story of our mortality. As powerful as anything he wrote thirty-five years earlier.

2. Desolation Row (1960’s) – I always come back to this hodge-podge of characters and jumbled words when I need to find the missing key. It’s sum is greater than its parts. Yes, I’ve spent some time on Desolation Row, haven’t you? Great lines: “And though her eyes are fixed upon Noah’s great rainbow,
She spends her time peeking Into Desolation Row.”

1. Like A Rolling Stone (1960’s) – I thought I would rank this one lower because I don’t get to it that often, having heard it so many times, but it is just to stunning, especially when you put it in the context of the silly rock songs that came before it. Besides, who hasn’t felt “like a complete unknown?”

So, there you go. Not a definitive list for anyone else, but mine for the moment. Tomorrow it could be an entirely different story. There’s a Bob Dylan song for every situation, need and emotion. But that’s what I’ll talk about in the next post. Happy Birthday Eve, Bob.

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