Top 10 Bob Dylan Songs
Few artists have been as significant for as long as Bob Dylan. Starting in the early ’60s, the singer-songwriter has released great albums every decade since (well, the ’80s were a bit barren, but there’s a couple of keepers there). He’s reworked his voice, style and mannerisms like most people change hairstyles. Dylan went through his reluctant-rock-star phase, his religious period and his “WTF-is-he-saying?” stage. Through it all, he’s remained one of rock’s most influential, striking and polarizing figures. It wasn’t easy, because he was 50 years’ worth of great music to choose from, but we managed to put together a list of the Top 10 Bob Dylan Songs.
‘Visions of Johanna’
The sprawling ‘Visions of Johanna’ is one of ‘Blonde on Blonde”s sturdiest highlights, a cryptic seven-and-a-half-minute epic that comes damn near close to poetry at times. Dylan tested out several different versions of the song at varying speeds during the sessions, eventually settling on a subtle mid-tempo rock shuffle that puts the emphasis on the winding lyrics, just as it should be.
‘Blowin’ in the Wind’
Dylan’s breakthrough song as a songwriter reads like a time capsule of early-’60s anxieties: the Cold War, civil rights and general annihilation are all covered in his 1962 song. It was released on his second album a year later; three months after that, President Kennedy was assassinated, giving ‘Blowin’ in the Wind’ a whole new level of significance.
‘Just Like a Woman’
Only a handful of Dylan’s songs made it into the Top 40. This one climbed to No. 33, one of five singles released from the double-LP ‘Blonde on Blonde.’ For years, it’s been at the center of a feminist argument because of Dylan’s tone and choice of words. But at its heart ‘Just Like a Woman’ is a love song — a pretty and sincere one.
‘Mr. Tambourine Man’
The Byrds released their No. 1 cover of ‘Mr. Tambourine Man’ a month after Dylan’s version appeared on his fifth album, mining the folk-rock gold buried in its melody. Dylan’s original take is longer, wordier and a key acoustic track on an album where he plugged in and showed his rock ‘n’ roll heart for the first time.
‘Tangled Up in Blue’
It’s easy to read Dylan’s separation from his wife in many of ‘Blood on the Tracks” songs. There’s hurt and anger running through many of them. But there’s also a free-form narrative style that pulls from other literary sources. By the time Dylan weaves them into his personal life, the lines between all those sources bleed into each other. ‘Tangled Up in Blue,’ the album’s opening track, bleeds the best.
‘The Times They Are a-Changin’
Like ‘Blowin’ in the Wind’ (see No. 9 on our list of the Top 10 Bob Dylan Songs), ‘The Times They Are a-Changin” chronicles early-’60s turbulence by offering flip-side perspective and viewpoints to sociopolitical issues. And like so many other Dylan songs from the era, ‘The Times They Are a-Changin’ became an anthem for change from a protest singer who never claimed to be one.
The 11-minute closing song on Dylan’s best album paints a portrait of post-apocalyptic dread as he runs down a list of characters who’ve long given up on any sort of salvation. ‘Desolation Row’ is a wasteland of lost souls; Dylan himself plays a casual observer, who may or may not be one of those damned to spend eternity in the godforsaken place. It’s Dylan’s most epic number in a career filled with them.
‘Positively 4th Street’
‘Positively 4th Street’ was recorded during the marathon sessions recorded in a 12-month period that yielded three classics: ‘Bringing It All Back Home,’ ‘Highway 61 Revisited’ and ‘Blonde on Blonde.’ It became a Top 10 single around the time the middle album was released. Throughout, Dylan seethes at the folk fans who turned on him after he plugged in his guitar. But the music is the closest he ever came to pop.
‘Subterranean Homesick Blues’
We’re not mathematicians, but we’re pretty sure Dylan spits more words per second in ‘Subterranean Homesick Blues’ than in any other song he recorded, including the wordy epic ‘Desolation Row’ (see No. 4 on our list of the Top 10 Bob Dylan Songs). It kicks off ‘Bringing It All Back Home’ in an electrifying manner, letting the folkies know that 1965 Dylan is a whole lot different than 1964 Dylan.
‘Like a Rolling Stone’
Clocking in at more than six minutes, ‘Like a Rolling Stone’ doesn’t sound like any other Top 40 single from 1965. Dylan’s lyrical take-down of a mysterious woman making the scene — which he snarls rather than sings — isn’t typical either. But ‘Like a Rolling Stone,’ the opening track on Dylan’s best album and one of the greatest songs ever recorded, somehow made it to No. 2 and influenced generations of singer-songwriters. A milestone recording in the history of rock ‘n’ roll.