Top 10 Bob Dylan Songs About Women
Bob Dylan‘s most overtly political songs helped galvanize a nation caught between competing emotions, crystallizing the anti-war and Civil Rights struggles with songs like ‘Blowin’ in the Wind‘ and ‘The Times They Are a-Changin.” Dig deeper, however, and you’ll find that Dylan spent just as much time sorting through matters of the heart. That led us to explore these Top 10 Bob Dylan Songs About Women. (Note, however, that one of his most famous tracks, ‘Rainy Day Women No. 12 and 35,’ has nothing to do with women.) As a group, these more personal songs are sometimes sad, sometimes head over heels, sometimes utterly hilarious. Though perhaps doomed to a life in the shadows of Dylan’s protest music, they resonate just as profoundly in their own way.
‘My Wife’s Home Town’
Dylan, working here with Grateful Dead lyricist Robert Hunter, offers a wickedly funny twist on Willie Dixon’s salacious blues classic, ‘I Just Wanna Make Love To You,’ turning it into a fed-up husband’s bitter complaint. Surmising that his spouse’s spell over him “is more potent than a gypsy curse,” he concludes that she must, in fact, be an inhabitant of Hell. It’s as good a place as any to start our list of the Top 10 Bob Dylan Songs About Women.
‘Just Like A Woman’
A song that went through a long, largely improvisational process with organist Al Kooper, ‘Just Like a Woman’ emerged as one of Dylan’s more strikingly inventive paeans to women — as sensually mysterious in the telling as the fair sex can be in real life. Speculation on just whom Dylan was singing about ran the gamut from Edie Sedgwick to Joan Baez, even as the song became a Top 40 hit in the U.S.
‘Lay Lady Lay’
This first-take gem went to the Top 10 in both America and the U.K., though there are likely those who still don’t know this is Dylan, so transformative is his performance. He simply sounds nothing like himself, from the thunderstruck lover’s narrative to the countrypolitan musical setting to his own impossibly low croon — a sound utterly unlike Dylan’s signature nasal whine.
‘Absolutely Sweet Marie’
Dylan uses the image of train travel to illustrate the distance between a lover and his long-lost betrothed. Of course, this being Dylan, it’s not long before ‘Absolutely Sweet Marie’ has gone off the rails, as he turns his attention to a series of scofflaws he’s met along the way. Eventually, Dylan gets back around to the girl, but not before firing off one of his better one-liners: “To live outside the law, you must be honest.“
The rare solo-written Dylan track on an album dominated by collaborations with Jacques Levy, ‘Sara’ closes things out on a shatteringly personal note. By the mid-’70s, Dylan’s relationship with the former Sara Lownds, whom he’d married in November 1965, was in deep trouble, as evidenced on this dark, needful cry of devotion. Before it’s over, he admits to penning the next item on our Top 10 Bob Dylan Songs About Women just for her, too…
‘Sad-Eyed Lady of the Lowlands’
The epic tune once occupied an entire side of the original vinyl double-album release, as Dylan built a towering list of glittering attributes and unknowable questions. Arriving just months after his marriage, ‘Sad-Eyed Lady’ was more than a mash note to Lownds. It elevates his passion for her to talismanic heights, creating a trance-like sense of grace.
This hallucinogenic cowboy odyssey might be the only thing to recommend from a confusingly constructed, justifiably forgotten album project. A brokenhearted Dylan travels on a zig-zagging journey toward the Texas panhandle, collecting adventures and misadventures, friends and double crosses, strange dreams and stunning courtroom drama — all retold, as if in a reverie, while waiting in line for a Western.
‘Leopard-Skin Pill-Box Hat’
This deliriously snarky Lightnin’ Hopkins-esque blues gives Dylan a perfect platform for a series of surrealistic slurs. He seems to be castigating some poor fashion victim — maybe Sedgwick again? — caught in a sadly outdated look most closely associated with former First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy. But then she ends up with his doctor, and things get really nasty.
‘Girl from the North Country’
On an album that will forever be associated with its ’60s anthem ‘Blowin’ in the Wind,’ Dylan pens perhaps his most touchingly lonesome song. The track’s faraway love is believed to be either Echo Helstrom or Bonnie Beecher, both of whom he knew while growing up in Hibbing, Minn. Clearly, ‘North Country’ stuck with Dylan, too: He later returned to it as part of his ‘Nashville Skyline‘ project five years later, duetting with Johnny Cash.
‘Visions of Johanna’
The endlessly visual language of ‘Johanna,’ which tops our list of the Top 10 Bob Dylan Songs About Women, all but necessitated a title change from its original, ‘Seems Like a Freeze-Out.’ Vacillating between two lovers, each as different as can be, Dylan is able to convey this sense of weightless anticipation as if he’s actually caught in midair between the two. Meanwhile, he’s surrounded by a ghostly atmosphere of intrigue — the result, it’s been said, of a writing session during a November 1965 blackout.