I agreed to write a post on the top ten Bob Dylan songs before I stopped to think what a daunting task might be. I quickly googled other top 10 Dylan lists (there were lots of them), and this relieved my fears a bit. They vary widely. This is in part due to the massive catalog of songs to choose from, but it also depends on your criteria. This list is for me the top ten Dylan songs I can’t do without. Partly favorites, partly essentials. Some of them for the lyrics, some for the music, some of them for what they have meant and continue to mean culturally, and some for what they mean to me. So, knowing that your list would be different, here goes:
10. Lay, Lady Lay. This song wouldn’t have made my top 10 based only on the original version. But I heard Dylan sing this a few years ago live. It works better for me now with his retrograde pipes and smokin’ band. And it’s a great lyric.
Stay, lady, stay. Stay with your man awhile…
His clothes are dirty but his hands are clean
And you’re the best thing he’s ever seen.
9. Cold Irons Bound. This song stands in for me for a lot of Dylan’s most recent stuff. Hard to choose one and harder to list them all. Love Sick, Spirit on the Water, Workingman’s Blues, Beyond Here Lies Nothing. All great songs from his recent catalog. But if I had to choose, I’d go with Cold Irons Bound. You can almost smell the nicotine.
8. Ballad of a Thin Man. This song scratches an itch for me. It’s the perfect song about that guy who is missing his feedback loop. You know the one. The one who thinks he’s on top of it all, but hasn’t got a clue about what is really going on. More than anything else, I don’t want to be that guy. One of the great characters ever developed in a Dylan song. (And another song that sounds great with his new band).
Something is happening here
But you don’t know what it is
Do you, Mr. Jones?
7. Masters of War. This should probably be rated higher. But you can’t listen to this song that often, it’s so powerful and raw. It’s just as relevant today as it was when Dylan first performed it in the 60’s. Others have covered this with some effect (Pearl Jam, for instance), but Dylan’s howl of this song is without comparison.
You might say that I'm young
You might say I'm unlearned
But there's one thing I know
Though I'm younger than you
That even Jesus would never
Forgive what you do.
6. Make You Feel My Love. Probably one of Dylan’s most covered songs recently. Garth Brooks made it big and currently Adele has a pretty great version of it. But it’s a Dylan song, and in my opinion best delivered with some of the pretty knocked off of it. Definitely higher on the list if this is just a list of my favorites. And, definitely, my favorite love song lyrics.
I’d go hungry, I’d go black and blue
I’d go crawling down the avenue
There’s nothing that I wouldn’t do
To make you feel my love
5. Things Have Changed. This song doesn’t show up on many top 10 lists, but its one of my favorites. Such a great groove. This is classic Dylan. Tongue in check critique. A little personal apocalypticism. I’m down with this.
People are crazy and times are strange
I’m locked in tight, I’m out of range
I used to care, but things have changed
4. Just Like a Woman. I’m not saying that Dylan understands women, but a few of my female friends who listen to Dylan list this song as one of their favorites. Dylan’s vocal, the melody, the lyrics—they all come together on this one.
3. Most of the Time. You can’t be a great artist unless you have a great post-breakup song, and this is the best of all-time. I found it on the High Fidelity soundtrack (my favorite movie) and then later on Dylan’s album, Oh, Mercy (my favorite Dylan album). Some people you just never get over.
Most of the time…
I can smile in the face of mankind
Don’t even remember what her lips feel like on mine
Most of the time
2. The Times They are a Changin’. If you believe in the Kingdom of God, you have to like this song. I’ve always said that the one thing that ties all of Dylan’s work together is an apocalyptic thread. The current world is doomed and a new age is emerging. You can’t be a part of the old and participate in the new. That’s gospel. And it was the anthem for a very important generation. Huge song.
1. Like a Rolling Stone. Part of the soundtrack of the 60’s. And here’s the thing that makes this the quintessential Dylan song. Lots and lots of Dylan songs get covered, and often times we know the cover better than the Dylan version—All Along the Watchtower, Blowin’ in the Wind, Make You Feel My Love, Knocking on Heaven’s Door—you get the idea. Others have covered this song as well, but Dylan’s version is the definitive one. You don’t think of anyone else when you hear this song. It’s Dylan’s, and it’s a classic.
How does it feeee-ul?