Bob Dylan and 15 of His Finest Moments
Mon, 23 Aug 2010 17:20:55
Bob Dylan is arguably the most prolific musician in the business. With nearly 50 years of experience and over 30 studio albums under his belt it’s not a mere opinion, it’s a fact. He’s toured the world, racked up numerous platinum and gold albums and built a fanbase that is still undeniably strong today.
In honor of the man and his remarkable achievements I offer you a list of 15 Dylan tracks that are true must-haves for any fan, new or old. You’ll likely recognize a few of these songs, as a handful were bona fide hits for the folk-rocker legend. Other’s may be more obs cure, but I assure you, every song featured in this article is nothing shy of superb.
#15. “Tangled Up In Blue”: “Tangled Up In Blue” is an obvious no-brainer pick. One of Blood On The Tracks’ most successful singles, the song helped propel the album toward extreme success. While the single failed to break into the Billboard Charts Top 10 Pop Singles, it did climb to number 31 and aided in the overall success of one of Dylan’s greatest albums released. Blood On The Tracks has been certified two times platinum in the U.S, once platinum in Canada and gold in the U.K.
#14. “Early Mornin’ Rain”: Self Portrait was an album that earned a truckload of flack from critics, who called it “uninspired” and “lazy” (amongst many other things). When judging the album as a whole, I suppose there’s a small level of validity in some those statements. However, whether the album meets the standards of fans and critics bares no relevance to this specific piece; Dylan’s cover of Gordon Lightfoot’s original “Early Morning Rain” is a seamlessly assembled, infectious piece of work that shines amongst the collection. Only a fool would overlook this diamond.
#13. “Meet Me In The Morning”: So, another offering from the beloved Blood On The Tracks album makes the list. “Meet Me In The Morning” didn’t receive the commercial push that the aforementioned “Tangled Up In Blue”, but it’s a great tune that blends elements of rock & roll and jazz in a perfect display of early genre-crossovers.
#12. “Stuck Inside of Mobile With the Memphis Blues Again”: Blonde On Blonde is one of the few classic albums that will always be in demand. Nearly the entire record is impressive, and picking standout tunes in this case is a legitimate challenge. That being said, I’m going to illuminate personal favorites; one of which is the seven minute ballad “Stuck Inside of Mobile With the Memphis Blues Again”, a song that exercises some foreshadowing of roads and sounds yet to be ventured, which ultimately culminated in the creation of 1976’s genuine masterpiece (and one of Dylan’s most successful albums to date) Desire.
#11. “Slow Train”: Slow Train Coming, Dylan’s first record since becoming a born again Christian was what some critics initially branded a failure. Ironically enough this “drab” album went on to sell more than three million units. Driven by the albums lead single “Gotta Serve Somebody”, Slow Train Coming drew the attention of a previously indifferent demographic: Christians. Several tracks seemed to ring true for Dylan’s newest followers, but for this Dylan obsessed music freak, “Slow Train” reigns supreme amongst all of the album’s other offerings.
#10. “The Man In Me”: Dylan ushered in the 1970’s with two releases, Self Portrait - which we’ve discussed a bit already - and the criminally underrated, and often forgotten New Morning. The latter is a superlative record that (in my personal opinion) stands second only to Desire. “The Man In Me” is just one of many stars the album has to offer, and despite the recordings reaching their 40th birthday in just under two months, there’s an oddly current feel to the makeup of this record. “The Man In Me” is a fine example of a timeless treasure.
#09. “Joey”: “Joey” is a heartbreaking ballad that found it’s home on the ingenious Desire. An 11 minute tale of mafia wars loosely based on the life of “Crazy Joey“ Gallo. Humanity and the savagery of the street-life are simultaneously anchored by darkly melodic acoustics and haunting back-up vocals. “Joey” offers imagery that rivals the most vivid lyrics Dylan has ever written. Desire went on to become one of Bob Dylan’s most successful studio albums selling nearly four million units worldwide, and this specific track played a key role in the albums recognition and eventual success.
#08. “Mr. Bojangles”: Dylan’s cover of Jerry Jeff Walker’s monumental tune appeared on the Dylan record in 1973. It’s popped up in several soundtracks over the years and received nods from some of today’s most recognizable names such as Stephen King who’s an admitted fan of the track. The album itself, which showcases a few cover songs amongst a handful of impressive original compositions has become a tough find over the years. However, with tracks like “Mr. Bojangles”, “The Ballad of Ira Hayes”, “Lily of the West” and “A Fool Such As I”, tracking down the album is a worthwhile mission.
#07. “Going, Going, Gone“: This deeply somber song strikes a chord in the heart like few other Dylan tracks manage. It’s the perfect ballad to cap off a night of turmoil, or separation, and actually makes for a flush fitting companion piece to Lynyrd Skynyrd’s “Tuesday’s Gone”. Planet Waves reunited Dylan with The Band, and managed to climb to #1 on the US Billboard charts. Over the years “Going, Going, Gone” has been covered by numerous bands including Son Volt in the late 1990’s.
#06. “Visions Of Johanna”: Another standout song featured on 1966’s Blonde On Blonde, “Visions of Johanna” is pure poetry, from the opening stanza to the final lyric. “Ain’t it just like the night, to play tricks when you’re trying to be so quiet/We sit here stranded, but we’re all doing our best to deny it” Dylan croons as the song takes off. It’s a simple set of lyrics that serve as the legs to a behemoth of audible and lyrical beauty.
#05. “Changing of the Guards”: Street-Legal hit the shelves in the summer of 1978. The album, which featured a full rock band and background vocalists broke the traditional ’Dylan mold’, but still managed to find great success commercially (specifically in the U.K.). Amongst the reasons for the album’s warm embrace lies “Changing of the Guards”, which boasts an appealing arrangement, a nice crisp recording and truly catchy lyrics. An easy album favorite for me, “Changing of the Guards” still garners repeated play from this critic.
#04. “Jokerman”: Following a string of religion influenced albums, Dylan made his return to the secular circle of music with Infidels (though plenty of religious references can be picked up on, particularly within the lyrics of “Jokerman“), a solid album that reinforced Dylan’s musical relevance, whether the times they were a-changin’ or not. Though Infidels fell short in the minds of many critics, it still managed to sell well over a million units worldwide, and it also provided fans with one of Dylan’s most recognizable singles, that has gone on to appear in a few media formats over the years.
#03. “Tough Mama”: “Tough Mama” is and will forever be a favorite of mine. An aggressive acoustical approach and excellent drum pattern paired with clever lyrics that just about any family man (and more importantly woman) can relate to make this an unforgettable tune. While there’s a slight dated feel to the song, I have no issues seeing this one garner attention in today’s musical landscape.
#02. “Went To See The Gypsy”: Having spent plenty of time on the road touring in the past, this song resonates with me in a major way. While the song isn’t any form of road-life blueprint, there’s a sense of nostalgia that strikes precise within this tale of a visit to a gypsy in a small Minnesota town. Relaxing melodies carry the weight of this brief ballad wonderfully, and Dylan’s relatable lyrics are not only catchy, but rather moving as well.
For the record, I had one hell of a battle choosing the #1 spot, as both number one and two are equally deserving, in my personal opinion.
#01. “Hurricane”: Based on the life of professional boxer Rubin “Hurricane” Carter, this protest tune tells of a man wrongfully accused and imprisoned for murder. Controversy and lawsuits swirled rampantly around this specific song, as Dylan and co-writer Jacques Levy cited many leaked case facts and put quite a few people under the gun, even going so far as to use their actual birth names. This 8 minute track was recorded with no editing enhancements, and was actually the second version of “Hurricane“. The original, which contained statements that were unverified, and potentially false caused Columbia to pressure Dylan into recording an alternate version with certain lyrics omitted to avoid potential legal issues.
Controversial or not, “Hurricane” is an immensely powerful story that invokes a storm of emotions that just about anyone is likely to be affected by. The fact that it has arguably become Dylan’s most recognized song speaks for itself.
Compiling this list I couldn’t help but stumble back upon the same thought repeatedly: this man is still releasing great music! After nearly five full decades musicians are lucky to be alive and remembered; to continue to release chart topping albums at this stage is practically unparalleled. So, cheers are in store for a true living legend.
By: Matt Molgaard