Posts Tagged ‘Rankings’

Ranking Bob Dylan Songs, #87: You’re No Good

“You’re No Good” has the distinction of being the first track on the first album of the greatest musician of the last century. But it’s kind of a worthless distinction. Despite its placement, “You’re No Good” was probably not the first Bob Dylan song that most Dylan fans heard. His first album sold only modestly, as was typically the case with folk acts, and Dylan would not become a musical sensation until his second album, The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan. Even most loyal folk music fans from New York had probably seen Dylan, who had been performing in Greenwich Village for a few months before the release of the first album, in concert already, and few of the songs on his first album were mainstays of his live performance. Continue reading

Ranking Bob Dylan Songs, #55: Rainy Day Women #12 & 35

This song is a joke. Not in a bad way. The whole song hinges on one joke, and a pretty basic one at that, which is repeated again and again throughout each verse. The crux of the song, if you couldn’t figure out Dylan’s usual subtlety, is a pun on the word “stoned.” Get it? “Everybody must get stoned”? It’s a drug reference!

Dylan’s sense of humor often gets overlooked, but this is probably his most famous joke. It’s also his most hokey. But if you listen to the song enough, you stop hearing the pun.

I’d be lying if I said that I’m favoring this song because it’s the lead track on Blonde on Blonde; if this song were on Bringing it all Back Home, or even Highway 61 Revisited, I’d probably dismiss it as almost as one note as “Nashville Skyline Rag.” But placed where it is, it ends up setting the tone for Dylan’s best album. As a result, I’ve listened to it more than enough times to get beyond the joke. Continue reading

Bob Dylan Rankings, #107: Highway 51 Blues

There’s not a whole lot to say about this song: Highway 51 will never be the highway Dylan is best remembered for. As I mentioned last week, Bob Dylan only wrote two of the tracks on his debut album—“Song to Woody” and “Talkin’ New York.” On some of the folk standards that he includes, Dylan took a songwriting credit for the musical arrangement he came up with, but on this song, only Curtis Jones is credited. The song itself is rather simple—Dylan recorded it in one take while recording the album. Continue reading

Ranking Bob Dylan Songs, #18: Ballad of a Thin Man

I really like the lyrics to this song. I mean, I get that I probably appear to like Dylan’s lyrics all the time, but I really like them in this song. They’re caustic and clever and cogent. Just the refrain itself is a beautiful piece of simple, forceful poetry: “Something is happening here/But you don’t know what it is/Do you, Mr. Jones?”

The song is pretty clearly directed at a music critic, which may seem petty or small-minded of Dylan, particularly since Dylan himself admitted that “Mr. Jones” is a real person who would have been known by name when the song was released (although you have to take anything Dylan said to the press at that time with, like, 87 grains of salt). But it’s not petty. Not at all. Because Mr. Jones isn’t just a music critic—he’s a tastemaker, a peddler, a card-carrying member of the establishment and the status quo. Continue reading

Ranking Bob Dylan Songs, #95: Talkin’ New York

Greil Marcus once remarked that it is somewhat surprising that none of the puppet masters who got their hands on Elvis Presley ever tried to fabricate or glamorize his upbringing, the way some teen idols did in those days. The simple explanation for this, according to Marcus, is that no embellishment could have improved on the real thing. The story of a poor kid from Memphis who worked as a truck driver and turned into a rock star really couldn’t be improved upon.

Well, I feel like the same thing is true about Dylan. A kid from the Midwest drops out of college to go visit his idol—Woody Guthrie—who’s dying in a hospital. He starts performing in Greenwich Village and, by the time he’s 23 years old, he’s become the biggest folk music star in the world. You can make that stuff up, but it would sound like a cliché. Continue reading

Ranking Bob Dylan Songs, #47: 4th Time Around

“4th Time Around” is an easy song to forget about, coming towards the end of Side Three* of Blonde on Blonde, sandwiched between two more up-tempo, absurdist numbers, “Absolutely Sweet Marie” and “Obviously 5 Believers.” On an album as groundbreaking and epic as Blonde on Blonde, “4th Time Around” is something of a throwback: a breakup song set in simple waltz time.

*It’s a little odd that we still refer to “sides” of albums that originally came out on vinyl, even though hardly anyone still listens to it regularly in that format anymore.

This song is often compared to The Beatles’ “Norwegian Wood,” with some going so far as to call it an “homage” or “parody” of John Lennon’s tune. Lennon himself even implied as much in interviews. Such comparisons are probably a stretch—I don’t think Dylan was ever concerned with responding to The Beatles the way The Beatles were concerned with responding to Dylan—but there are a lot of similarities in the songs: the waltz time, conversational lyrics, etc. For The Beatles, though, such a song was a notable step forward—for Dylan it was more of a return to form. Continue reading

Ranking Bob Dylan Songs, #30: Subterranean Homesick Blues

Bringing It All Back Home, the album that begins with “Subterranean Homesick Blues,” marked a major sea change in Bob Dylan’s career, for two main reasons. The first reason is well-known and much-discussed: Dylan went electric. The first side of the album, including “Subterranean,” was all electric, alienating many of his loyal folk fans.

Along with that change, though, came a more subtle change in the kind of lyrics Dylan was writing. As a folk singer, his songs had been of a more traditional folk variety: Most of the songs on Dylan’s first four albums could be classified either as love songs or protest songs.

Of course, Dylan stretched the definitions of both of these classifications, coming at them from new perspectives and angles (“Blowing in the Wind,” generally considered a prototypical “protest” song, for example, doesn’t actually “protest” anything in particular), but he was generally working within an established genre or framework; the lyrics to his early songs are straightforward and at times even literal.

“Subterranean Homesick Blues” changed all that. Continue reading