Top 5 Bob Dylan Songs of All Time

Bob DylanFolk hero, poet, voice of a generation, painter, author, awkward rock n roll star and most recently, Noble Prize winner. At 76, this man has already given the world so much, and still, he keeps rolling on his ‘never-ending tour’. With over 5 decades of music to his name, long ago he cemented his legacy for generations to come. I’m talkin' 'bout Bob Dylan, and you are about to read what I know will be a hellish journey, as I try to pick 5 Bob Dylan songs that have moved me, changed me, left me in awe and sometimes, fits of laughter.

"Like a Rolling Stone"

At the top of the pile, for me: “Like a Rolling Stone”. At a time when radio was only playing squeaky clean three-minute pop songs, Dylan came along with his rock'n'roll inspired masterpiece. At over 6 minutes long he single-handily changed the way we listen to music. Up to that point, Dylan was regarded as a folk artist and the ‘voice of a generation’ having released music with political notions of racial tension and segregation; something he grew tired of being expected to represent. So, in the spring of 1965, Dylan set to work in turning pages of extended verse into “Like a Rolling Stone”. From the opening drum cue, the listener is met with a force of instrumentation that never takes its foot off the gas; as Dylan spits dissatisfied lyrics between harmonica howls. At first, many begrudged Dylan’s new sound; but he’d already moved on and left the title of ‘voice of a generation’ somewhere in the gutter of redemption.

Now, as keen as Dylan was to break free from the folk shackles of the 60s, you can’t ignore his flair for lyrical wisdom; saying so much with just his voice and guitar. And the next two songs, both taken from the seminal album, The Freewheelin, demonstrate his ability to move between topics that are complete opposites, with ease and style.

"Masters of War"

A song that still resonates today, with powerful anti-war anecdotes, thanks to supreme global plums like Trump, Kim-Yong Un Putin is “Masters of War”. Here, you get to fully feel the wrath of Dylan’s mind, as he expresses pure disgust at those responsible for building the guns, death planes and bombs. But what makes this song so powerful is how Dylan calls out these world destroyers: “You hide in your mansion, while young people’s blood spills out of their bodies and is buried in the mud." It’s such a poignant, timeless line, that fully embodies the atrocities of war with Dylan finally declaring: “And I’ll stand while you’re lowered, down to your death bed, and I’ll stand over your grave, till I’m sure that you’re dead."

"I Shall Be Free"

I’m not sure how grumpy Bob Dylan is. I’ve certainly seen my fair share of uninterested interviews with one word answers and cocky downbeat replies. So, for those who have grown tired of the uncertainty that surrounds his persona, I can prove, within reasonable doubt, that Bob Dylan has a sense of humour. “I Shall Be Free” is the last track on The Freewheelin. I guess, simply put, it’s the ramblings of a man having life complications at every avenue he turns. Strange encounters with women, political satire, celebrity culture all feature in these hilarious poetic stanzas: “Well, my telephone rang it would not stop, it’s President Kennedy calling me up. He said, my friend Bob what do we need to make a country grow? I said my friend John, Bridget Bardot, Anita Ekberg, Sophia Lauren. Country’ll grow."

"Spirit on the Water"

I’m going to fast forward 45 years to Dylan’s first number one album since 76’s Desire. At a mature time in his career, proceeding this accolade were two very well received albums: 97’s Time Out of Mind and 01’s Love And Theft. The accomplishment of Modern Times is the result of those two previous albums delighting fans and critics. Poetry in music, if you haven’t gathered by now, is his thing. And if you don’t believe me, put some headphones on, lie down and get your head around seven and a half minutes of “Spirit on the Water”. Words have never sounded so beautiful in this lost-love classic, as Dylan’s band recite with perfection his imperfections.

While I’m talking about failed romance in Dylan’s world, I have to mention “Just Like a Woman”. It’s not often a harmonica solo has such story-telling, tender emotion; but that doesn’t count, just a nudge in the right direction.

"Subterranean Homesick Blues"

In keeping with the poetic storytelling side of Dylan and not giving you anything from his religious period, I’m going to bow out with “Subterranean Homesick Blues”. Endless reams of rhyme at rapid speeds make this one of Dylan’s finest compositions. Taken from Bringing It All Back Home, this was the first album to see Dylan play with a band; yet before the catcalls of Judas. A moment in time when Dylan was at the top of the world and still climbing: “Oh, 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."

With such a healthy back catalogue this has not been easy, and I feel I could have easily given you another 5 songs of equal greatness. Still, 5 songs and a 1000 words is an easy introduction for those unfamiliar. The recurring argument I have with people is whether Dylan can sing. These days he sounds, as I imagine Kurt Cobain would, had he lived to 30; rough, gravely and near the end of time. Truth is, Dylan has had many voices over the years, and I hope you can find an era that agrees with your precious earlobes. I do understand, that for most; you either love him in the 60s, hate him now or vice-versa. The reason I’m writing this article is because I love both and I’m convinced that when his time is up, even his death rattle will be poetic. Long live the king (of words).


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