Bob Dylan’s 60 Greatest Songs: Chosen by Paul McCartney, Bono, Patti Smith, Nick Cave, Chris Martin and more!

Music's biggest names pick their favourite Dylan tracks.

Bob Dylan 1966

by MOJO |
Updated on

Picking a favourite Bob Dylan song is in many ways an impossible task. This being Dylan, an artist who five decades in is still producing some of his finest work, a list of just 60 tracks means that some of the greatest songs ever composed might not be present (whaddayamean there’s no Dear Landlord/I Want You/Mississippi?!?). But by handing the choices over to Dylan’s fellow musicians and songwriters, we feel we’ve given a different perspective (another side of, if you will) on Dylan’s craft and enduring genius. And these aren’t just any musicians, either.

Some of the names below played on and helped record many of the songs featured, while modern-day acolytes including BeckBono , Coldplay's Chris Martin and Lucinda Williams have lined up to pick their favourite Dylan numbers. The closest we have to the heirs to his crown, Nick Cave and Patti Smith reveal a fresh perspective on his work, while Dylan’s one-time mentor Pete Seeger reveals the true story behind Dylan’s decision to go electric.

Elsewhere, East Coast rapper Nas recalls his teenage conversion to Bob, while contemporaries like the late David CrosbyJimmy Webb and Paul McCartney (arguably the only serious challenger to Dylan’s status as the world’s greatest living songwriter) recall first-hand the seismic changes brought on by Dylan’s songs.

Last year’s Shadow Kingdom showed that Dylan’s mercurial magic is as potent as ever, so no doubt we’ll be back here again soon with more revered artists waxing lyrical about their favourite song off his next masterpiece. Until then…

60.

Lonesome Day Blues

(Love And Theft, 2001)

As selected by The WaterboysMike Scott

“If Dylan had recorded this in the mid ‘70s when I longed above all things for his return to electric rock’n’roll, I’d have been thrilled.  But good things come to them what waits.  I was just as thrilled when I heard it the day it came out in 2001, a teasingly mid-paced barnstormer with a killer blues riff both humorous and sombre that runs like a monolith through every line, and graced by the master’s wittiest, dryest lyrics since Blonde On Blonde. I’ve sung it live myself and it’s a supreme joy the way the lines want to tumble off the tongue, so well-constructed, full of rhythm, sass and cunning.”

59.

Talkin’ Bear Mountain Picnic Massacre Blues

(Time Out Of Mind, 1997)

As selected by Badly Drawn Boy

“It’s Bob Dylan’s funniest song all about how he buys tickets to a picnic but ends up corralled into this ship, which sinks. He wakes up on the shore: ‘My arms and legs were broken, my feet were splintered, my head was cracked, I couldn’t walk, I couldn’t talk, smell, feel, couldn’t see, didn’t know where I was. I was bald.’ He was bald!  Dylan’s great at going that one step further than anyone else. Like rhyming the same rhyme. – in The Lonesome Death Of Hattie Carroll, when he rhymes ‘table’ with ‘table’ twice in a row!”

58.

Po’ Boy

(Love And Theft, 2001)

As selected by This Is The Kit’s Katie Stables

“Po’ Boy is one of my favourite songs to listen to with my family, everyone waiting for the next punchline and then loving it when he delivers. It’s always great to hear Bob Dylan letting himself have fun with lyrics and rhyming and wit. It’s what he does best. This song feels like an excellent exercise in storytelling, where you choose a word and then build the story up and around it to finish on the rhyme you want to get. The punchline. I of course have no idea how he really went about writing this song, but I really love imagining it. It feels quite cosmic. A stream if narrative consciousness and two-liner dad jokes. There’s such pleasure in the list like nature of the way he rolls out all the anecdotes in the song. The line about Othello and the poison wine has become something of a family catchphrase in our household. It rolls along musically in such and easy going and amicable way that just goes so well with the irony of the lyrics. The twinkle in his eye. The ever-present twinkle in his excellent eye.”

57.

This Wheel’s On Fire

(The Basement Tapes, 1975)

As selected by Siouxsie Sioux

“I chose this for our covers album [1987’s Through The Looking Glass] because I thought Julie Driscoll had written it. I’d seen her perform it on Top Of Pops as a kid and I loved her Joan Of Arc look. Then I found out it was by fucking Bob Dylan! I liked the song, so it stayed anyway.”

56.

Sign On The Window

(New Morning, 1970)

As selected by The Black CrowesRich Robinson

“It’s just Bob on piano at first, then his band are trying to catch up. It comes off in such a great way. Lyrically there’s a lot of reflection on city life. He’s trying to figure out the world and ends up looking for he simple, things. “Build me a cabin in Utah / Marry me a wife, catch a rainbow trout’. That’s beautiful and concise but it has meaning on a greater level. Musically, it’s textured to the point where it sounds like it had earth in it. I covered this song live when I did some solo touring and it made me thing that whatever artists you’re talking about it’s all about the subtleties. And Bob’s music is full of subtlety.”

55.

Song To Woody

(Bob Dylan, 1962)

As selected by Donovan

“I particularly like this song because I was so influenced by Woody Guthrie before I heard Bob’s first record. I was 16 and living rough on the road with my best friend Gypsy Dave. I went home for a bit and Gyp wrote to me and said he’d found a record of a new American folk singer who was doing what I was doing, singing Woody Guthrie songs and wearing a cap and a harmonica harness. I was already kind of committed to the mission before I heard Bob, but Song To Woody confirmed to me that I was not alone in wanting to bring true poetry and new, meaningful, social lyrics back to popular culture. Joan Baez introduced me to Bob. The famous scene in Don’t Look Back where we’re both playing our songs, you’ve got to look closely. There’s a drunk in the room who’s berating Bob about him stealing the tune for With God On Our Side from Dominic Behan. Then Bob turns to me and I sing To Sing For You. Notice he takes not one drag of his cigarette all the way through... he’s listening. Then I ask him to sing a song for me and he does [It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue]. What people miss is that he listens all the way through to my song, acknowledges that it’s good, but not with too many words. He was a bit curious and a little amazed that there was another Guthrie disciple arising out of Europe. But we were no threat to each other. When they used to say I was the British Bob Dylan, I used to quip, ‘No, I’m the Scottish Woody Guthrie.'”

54.

Lily Rosemary And the Jack Of Hearts

(Blood On The Tracks, 1975)

As selected by Ronnie Wood

“I first heard this when I was making my first solo album [1974’s I’ve Got My Own Album To Do] and it strikes me now as it did then – strong mini-novel with twists and dark turns like something Ray Bradbury would have written. I love that it gathers momentum and the lyric makes you picture mysterious mining town incidents, bank robbers and hookers. Dylan’s very impressionistic as a painter as well as a songwriter, and fun to play with live. You never quite know where you are – which suits me fine! His band rocks and before going on stage, he always says to the MD, ‘Just give Woody the keys to the songs and once he’s on stage he stays ‘til we finish’. He gave me a cowboy hat, thrown on stage when we played Kilkenny, and he said to me, ‘Every time you play with me you get a free hat.’”

53.

Most Of The Time

(Oh Mercy, 1989)

As selected by David Gray

“I got into Dylan when I was 13, and I loved the early, simple stuff best. By the time of Oh Mercy in 1989, I’d stopped buying Dylan albums and I only got it on a friend’s recommendation but, as soon as I heard Everything Is Broken, I knew he was back. Most Of The Time is a beautifully simple song. You get this central idea that most of the time he’s on the case, stronger than all that bullshit he has to deal with, but then it becomes a love song and you get this sense of a man with deep sense of longing, thinking of someone he lost long ago. I’s not a pop song, but it’s getting that way. I talked Daniel Lanois about making that album and he said Dylan spooked him, he felt Dylan was inhabiting him like some ghost.”

52.

With God On Our Side

(The Times They Are A-Changin’, 1964)

As selected by Linton Kwesi Johnson

“It speaks of the wicked ness of the strong against the weak, of powerful nations and what they do – what the American settlers did to the Indians, the Spanish-American war, the American Civil War and First World War. It goes. To the heart of how little we value human life, how we kill for power, for greed, and invoke the name of God while doing so. In a way the song explores a kind of helplessness in the face of evil. It’s the voice of the weak. He’s obviously faced with a conundrum at the end and that’s part of the song’s power, that paradox – ‘If God’s on our side / he’ll stop the next war’. You have to see. It against the backdrop of a world in turmoil – the proliferation of nuclear weapons, anti-colonial struggles going on in Africa and elsewhere, and the Cold War at its height – but the strength of the song is that it’s relevant and still speaks to the conflicts of our time. For me, that’s why Dylan is the greatest protest lyricist ever.”

51.

Simple Twist Of Fate

(Blood On The Tracks, 1975)

As selected by Neko Case

“There are some moments here – like where the guy is sitting on the park bench having these weird realisations – that you can actually feel them as he’s having them. The way he sings the lines – ‘She looked at him and he felt a spark tingle to his bones / ‘Twas then he felt alone and wished that he’d gone straight’ – it’s just devastating. There’s so many moments like that which are so painful, but they’re really honest and they’re said in a way that I don’t think anyone had said before… or since. I don’t think Dylan even knows where songs like that come from. A lot of his songs seem born of that spirit.”

50.

Pretty Saro

(Another Self Portrait: The Bootleg Series Vol. 10, 2013)

As selected by The Coral’s James Skelly

“It’s my favourite Dylan vocal. Anyone who says he can’t sing, listen to Pretty Saro. It’s like Percy Sledge crossed with Hank Williams. It’s got all the mystery that you want from Dylan, you can’t quite figure about what it’s about. Either the girl is from a higher social class or aspires to be, and he knows that he can never give her the security that she wants. And then at the end he says if I was the dream version of myself, the poet, I’d be eloquent enough to explain it to you, but the fact that he got close enough to touch the dream was enough and that’s what he’ll take away with him. I don’t know how much of the lyrics are his and how much are from the traditional version, but it’s got that romantic and mysterious thing from Dylan which is what I like, it means you get to project your own version onto it. Self Portrait was slated at the time, but it’s all part of it. Real greats can see 30, 40 years ahead. You throw this curveball, but then that’s what gets you to Blood On The Tracks or whatever. Sometimes you’ve got to write and you’ve got to move three moves to get to where you want to.”

49.

Only A Pawn In Their Game

(The Times They Are A-Changin’, 1964)

As selected by Pete Seeger

“Back in 1963 I got together with Bob and Theodore Bikel for a voter registration rally in Greenwood, Mississippi. A friend of mine was making a little documentary film there and the mayor told him, We never had a nigger problem here, it’s outside agitators cause the trouble. Well, we had a little song festival in a cotton field and Bob sang Only A Pawn In Their Game which he’d just written about Medgar Evers, the Mississippi Civil Rights activist who was murdered three weeks earlier. The song says just putting the murderers in jail wasn’t enough, It was about ending the whole game of segregation. It was the first song I heard that connected the position of the black field hands with that of the poor whites in the South: ‘He’s taught in his school /From the start by the rule /That the laws are with him /To protect his white skin /To keep up his hate /So he never thinks straight / ‘bout the shape that he’s in.

Generally, Bob wanted to make a record that would make people think. He was very curious and quick to learn. He told me he’d seen me singing when he was at university [University Of Minnesota, 1959-1960]. I remember that was a night when we were picketed by the American Legion - which got us a lot of free publicity. But I must have first met him in New York up in the Broadside magazine’s office [Dylan’s Talkin’ John Birch Paranoid Blues appeared in the first edition, Feb, 1962]. I remember sitting there and Bob and Phil Ochs played their songs and I was thinking, I’m in the same room as two of the greatest songwriters in the world! Two weeks later I had Bob on at a Carnegie Hall Hootenanny and there were so many artists on I had to tell everyone they were limited to 10 minutes and he smiled and said, I’ve got one song that lasts 10 minutes’- and he did A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall.

I was always impressed by his independence. He wasn’t going to be any child of the lefties. One night someone introduced him saying, ‘He’s one of ours, and Bob got up and said, ‘I don’t belong to anyone.’ I realised he was a genius turning out one great song after another. Blowin’ In The Wind is still one of the greatest songs of the 20th century. I used to sing Masters Of War occasionally myself and Hard Rain. Bob had drawn lessons from Woody, he knew a good song tells a story or paints a picture and, like Woody, he could combine tragedy and humour. And he didn’t try to be too specific or too clear. I have a little skating rink in my yard and when John Wesley Harding came out I remember skating around listening to it over and over on the outdoor speakers thinking, What does this mean? A good song is like a basketball backboard, you bounce your life against it and you catch new ideas rebounding back at you.

There are a lot of reports of me being against him going electric at the ‘65 Newport Folk festival, but that’s wrong. I was the MC that night. He was singing Maggie’s Farm and you couldn’t understand a single word because the mike was distorting his voice. I ran over to the mixing desk and said, Fix the sound, it’s terrible! The guy said, ‘No, that’s how they want it.’ And I did say, If I had an axe I’d cut the cable! But they didn’t understand me. I wanted to hear the words. I didn’t mind him going electric.”

48.

I’ll Be Here Staying Here With You

(Nashville Skyline, 1969)

As selected by Beck

“I didn’t get too deep into his music until I got into the Nashville records. Those are the ones that really got to me, because I was so into country music when I was younger and hearing those records for the first time... I always liked his kind of throwaway love songs. For somebody who’s a giant like him, who writes those great cinematic songs like Visions Of Johanna that draw you into a strange world, to just toss out a good little tune...that’s an aspect of Dylan I always really appreciated.”

47.

Jokerman

(Infidels, 1983)

As selected by legendary reggae drummer Sly Dunbar

“Bob Dylan always does songs in different keys, like he’ll change three, four different keys in a song, and he will change the lyrics on the fly, so when we cut Jokerman, we recorded it and then we had a break overnight. He came in the morning and said, ‘Oh, gentlemen, could you just run Jokerman for me again?’ Nobody know the tape was spinning; we were just running down the music and he said, ‘OK, that’s it’ - it was the take we didn’t know we were taking that he used. It was a surprise; I think we were playing the run-down a bit looser, ‘cos it was just a run-through, but he probably liked something about it.”

46.

Changing Of The Guards

(Street-Legal, 1978)

As selected by Patti Smith

“I’ve always cherished this song. The first time I heard it was when I’d just moved to Detroit and was living in a hotel room with Fred [‘Sonic’ Smith]. I put on Bob’s new record, and Changing Of The Guards was the first song... it just moved me to tears. I would never presume to know what his songs are about, but it has such a mix of tarot card and Joan of Arc imagery. The song starts, ‘Sixteen years...,’ and Joan of Arc was 16 when they shaved her head and burned her at the stake. No matter how bitter or melancholy his songs are, there’s always so much resilience, a sense of him striking back. Like the line that goes, ‘Gentlemen, he said, I don’t need your organisation, I’ve shined your shoes.’... The downtrodden hero always manages to have the last word. I don’t really analyse his songs, but I’ve been following him since I was 16-years-old and I don’t question what he does. He can do what he wants as far as I’m concerned.”

45.

Lay Down Your Weary Tune

(Biograph, 1985)

As selected by The Byrds/The Flying Burrito BrothersChris Hillman

“This has always, always been a favourite Dylan song of mine. The Byrds got an acetate because our manager Jim Dickson knew Bob. At the time I didn’t like it, but Roger, then known as Jim McGuinn and always an insightful guy, picked it to record on Turn! Turn! Turn!. Such a great opening verse, really a beautiful lyric all around. It is kinda like Dylan Thomas poetry, as if he wrote lyrics for popular music.”

44.

Million Dollar Bash

(The Basement Tapes, 1975)

As selected by Green On Red’s Chuck Prophet

“Whenever I hear that song, I always picture Dylan on the balcony of some high-rise Manhattan penthouse, kicking it with Marlon Brando and Lenny Bruce and a gaggle of long-legged socialites, taking it all in and just dreaming of fishing by a stream somewhere. Now here he is in Woodstock with his friends - look at The Basement Tapes cover: what a joker Bob is, how are you gonna play a mandolin with a bow? And they look like the kind of guys you’d want to invite over to your parents’ for a barbecue and a softball game. This was one of the times, I think, when Dylan knew he was going to have to take an interest in his own music, and seized the moment to just play with his friends. Perhaps he’s looking back on all those interchangeable people at the million dollar bash and nursing the motherlode of all hangovers - the ‘60s.”

43.

You’re A Big Girl Now

(Blood On The Track, 1975)

As selected by Richard Hell*

“Talking about Dylan is too complicated for just a few words. You can see why everybody writes books about him. It seems that anyone who likes him at all has a relationship with him, whether they admit it or not. He’s been that useful, meaningful and exasperating all your life long. No wonder he resents his fans. And this song is the one for me that’s the most revealing of his bewildering powers because it’s the one that has the greatest distance between its emotional impact and its actual words. How does he make those silly words so affecting? ‘Time is a jet plane, it moves too fast.’ Where is the poetry in that? The metaphor is obvious and the observation commonplace. But in the song it breaks your heart. I think maybe it’s something about both his openness and the way his mind skips around in his condition, somehow indicating the shape of everything, and I mean everything. It’s how the lines turn into each other. For instance, the whole beginning of that stanza goes, ‘Time is a jet plane, it moves too fast/Oh, but what a shame if all we’ve shared can’t last/I can change, I swear.’ No one line is much more than banal, but it’s how they follow from each other that makes that ‘I can change, I swear’ choke me up every time. Or is it his delivery? Or the melody? Or the weird way saying ‘You’re a big girl now’ is inherently sarcastic, when obviously what’s going on is he wants her more than anything? It’s all the currents, in something apparently so simple and ordinary. There’s no explaining it.”

42.

Isis

(Desire, 1976)

As selected by Johnny Marr

"I could choose almost anything off Desire, an amazing album with an atmosphere that was unique at the time; classic and offhand at the same time. My favourite track from it is Isis. Brilliant imagery as always and evidence of Bob Dylan as an ace vocalist. The live versions of Isis from this time are great too, as can be seen on the Rolling Thunder Review documentary. Who writes songs like these ? So many tried but just couldn’t do it.”

41.

Talkin’ World War III Blues

(The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan, 1963)

As selected by Robert Plant

“‘Some time ago a crazy dream came to me /dreamt I was walkin’ into World War Three.’ I love where he goes - ‘And I drove 42nd Street in my Cadillac / Good car to drive after a war’. For a guy who wanted to be in The Teddy Bears with Phil Spector, he’s certainly moved some minds and mountains, hasn’t he? I’ve got his autobiography [Chronicles Vol.1], but I don’t want to read it. I read something about him being a piece of work who lied and danced with Mimi Farina a bit too often. I thought, I don’t need to know this; I just need to know A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall.”

40.

I’ll Keep It With Mine

(Rare And Unreleased: The Bootleg Series Vol. 1-3, 1991)

As selected by Devendra Banhart

“To me, the folk scene immediately after Bob Dylan was a lot of Bob Dylan impersonators, impersonating someone who was already impersonating someone else. Then, immediately after that, Bob became Bob and did something so completely Bob that no-one could imitate him. I got The Witmark Demos bootleg from Currituck Co.’s Kevin Barker and I love the sound of that version [from June, 1964] too. It sounds like it was recorded on a Radio Shack hand-held tape recorder. They were recorded for Witmark Publishing, not for Dylan to release but for other people to listen to and hopefully record. I’ll Keep It With Mine was written for Nico and like all of Dylan’s tunes it’s perfect. To go with the song, Kevin, a musicologist extraordinaire, also showed me some footage of a party where The Byrds are doing keg stands and, over there in the corner, you can see Dylan and Nico making out.”

39.

Not Dark Yet

(Time Out Of Mind, 1997)

As selected by Gang Of Four’s Andy Gill*

“I first heard Not Dark Yet on holiday in Sri Lanka at Christmas. Somebody had the album and I just got obsessed with that track. In some respects, it’s not as brilliant lyrically as some earlier songs, but those have an air of pretentiousness to them. Like on Blonde On Blonde, you think, is that exactly what Dylan wanted to say? I don’t think he needs allusions to intellectual content to convince us he’s clever. But the lyrics to Not Dark Yet are really simple. It’s exactly what he is: an old man and he’s tired. It’s Dylan speaking authentically from where he is now, in this time of life, looking at what he’s been and seeing where he is at, and expressing it in terms which resonate with many people: ‘Shadows are falling and I’ve been here all day / It’s too hot to sleep, time is running away’. I don’t think I’ve ever heard music quite as languorous. It feels very big-old-river, moving very slowly, like the Mississippi when it gets very close to the sea, edging along. It’s very Louisiana, hot and sweaty. It’s the most incredible atmosphere that you get drawn into. You absolutely sense that the sun is just beyond the horizon, it’s not quite dark, but it’s just going down and he’s sitting there, hot as fuck, and it’s the end of his life.”

38.

Knockin On Heaven’s Door

(Pat Garrett And Billy The Kid, 1973)

As selected by Dylan’s then drummer Jim Keltner

“When we did Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door, that was such a moment. We were in the dark, looking at a big screen with the film showing, and Bob’s playing this song, with these changes, and those words. My God! Then, the fact that Katy Jurado, the Mexican actress, she’s got these big ole eyes like my mom, and her husband is this white guy, this sheriff, and he’s dying at the edge of the river. And Bob’s singing... and, man, I just started crying. I’m playing, but I’m crying hard. And I’m thinking, Don’t blow it, don’t blow the take! A few years later, I did Short People with Randy Newman. And I was in the same situation, but I was laughing instead of crying. I was hearing Randy say these words that had me cracking up, and I’m thinking, Don’t ruin it, this is a good take!”

37.

Tombstone Blues

(Highway 61 Revisited, 1965)

As selected by Teenage Fanclub’s Norman Blake

“It’s just relentless, as a six-minute torrent of surrealistic images. You can tell it was written at the height of Pop Art, with these incredible iconic characters: Galileo, Cecil B. DeMille, Beethoven all thrown together. And there’s a lot of humour in it – all that stuff about knitting a bald wig for Jack The Ripper. There’s a real punk quality to it too – Dylan had youthful energy pouring out of him and the band are missing cues. I was listening to it and it struck me how much Dylan influenced the early Velvet Underground. There’s a really similar sound and intensity.”

36.

Brownsville Girl

(Knocked Out Loaded, 1986)

As selected by Bono

“Brownsville Girl, I would suggest, is a song that altered songwriting. It’s a completely new kind of song and also has this spectacular line, because he can always make you burst out laughing: ‘If there’s an original thought out there, I could use it right now.’ Brownsville Girl is a beautiful rhapsody about this Hispanic woman with her teeth like pearls, and then, in the middle of the song he says, ‘She ain’t you, but she’s here and she’s got that dark rhythm in her soul.’ So this song is not really about the Brownsville Girl, but rather it’s addressed to this other woman who seems to be his muse. And his muse, of course, he refers to obliquely in Tangled Up In Blue, where he talks about the Italian poet whose every word came off the pages like burning coals. And at some point you realise that – of course!- this Italian poet is Dante. Every word that Dante wrote was for his muse, Beatrice, and there’s a Beatrice there in most Bob Dylan songs. Whether she’s real or imagined isn’t important to me, but it’s extraordinary. In your twenties you’re not so much interested in ideas like that: you’re more interested in The Times They Are A-Changin’. But Bob Dylan is there for you at every stage of your life.”

35.

Romance in Durango

(Desire, 1976)

As selected by John Cooper Clarke

“It’s a movie isn’t it? The mariachi accompaniment and even the way he pitches his voice, a bit like Alfonso Bedoya, the leader of the bandits in Treasure Of The Sierra Madre, conjures the Mexican desert - ‘Hot chilli peppers in the blistering sun’ - you’re straight there! The picture of him and that girl on the one horse makes me think of Marlon Brando and Pina Pellicer in One Eyed Jacks. I wonder if the whole Spanish milieu that he likes could be a device by which Dylan can leave the patrician world of North America with its Judeo-Protestant values and enter the more elemental Catholic-Latin world where he’s the impulsive doomed hero, in trouble by his own actions. He’s obviously shot her husband or something and although he’s made it across the desert he’s clearly about to die but he’s blinded by love and optimism, and shit frightened underneath it all and the present tense is shot through with both this beautiful regret and projections into the future. He’s dying not only of a fatal gunshot wound but with the mortal sin of murder on his soul, the face of God with his serpent eyes of obsidian. In Romance In Durango, like all the best westerns, the people are complex, but the morality of the Old World they inhabit is clearly defined.”

34.

Blowing In The Wind

(The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan, 1963)

As selected by Mavis Staples

“Blowin’ In The Wind was the first song I heard from Bobby. I fell in love with it because of the message. We could really relate to that, especially my father [Pops Staples]. Pops couldn’t understand how someone like Bobby could write such heavy songs as such a young man. He’d say, ‘Where did this little guy come from writing a message like that?’ But that song had an effect on a lot of people. When Sam Cooke heard Blowin’ In The Wind he said, ‘Now if a young white guy can write a song like that then I got to get my pen in hand.’ And that’s when he wrote A Change Is Gonna Come.”

33.

You’re Gonna Make Me Lonesome When You Go

(Blood On The Tracks, 1975)

As selected by Madeleine Peyroux

“Bob Dylan is someone I grew up with. I used to sing his songs when busking on the Metro in Paris and I always had a huge aspiration to record something of his one day. I chose You’re Gonna Make Me Lonesome… because it’s a love song and Dylan’s love songs are special because there’s ofren a twist of bitterness. On this one he admits that things are not going to be perfect either now or any time. It’s amazing the was Dylan can take something very simple and turn it into something very important. I love the melody too. I think Dylan doesn’t often get enough credit for his melodic strength.”

32.

Stuck Inside The Mobile With the Memphis Blues Again

(Blonde On Blonde, 1966)

As selected by Frank Black

“There’s a lot of beauty in this song. I don’t know what it’s about, and I’ve never bothered to work it out, but even though it’s about being stuck somewhere with the blues, it’s a triumphant song, with a really powerful chord progression. So when you’ve got that going for you, with the killer lyrics and the band going for it, it’s defiant blues, very exhilarating. At the moment, I’m so in love with the drummer: Kenny Buttrey. Sometimes get choked up, literally, just listening to the drummer, the way he does a little snare roll, or something. I know it sounds silly, but I love that song and how it pulls me in, but once I’m in there I always focus on the drummer. It’s a song with so much soul, but the more I listen, I always go back to those killer drums.”

31.

Man In The Long Black Coat

(Oh Mercy, 1989)

As selected by Oh Mercy/Time Out Of Mind producer Daniel Lanois

“We spent a lot of time getting the ambience right, recording the neighbourhood crickets - the genuine sound of the New Orleans night. It’s a song that was directly inspired by the environment and mood of the city. Bob came to the recording of Oh Mercy with a number of songs fully written but Man In The Long Black Coat was composed entirely in the studio. It was a hot steamy time down there - and that’s exactly how the song sounds. On Oh Mercy Bob is generally standing inside the songs but on this one he’s standing outside, observing.

It’s a fascinating subject for a song, the idea that someone might escape the confines of the ordinary world by a sudden impulsive act. It’s a song about a turning point, one moment that might change a life forever- like running away to join the circus.”

30.

She Belongs To Me

(Bringing It All Back Home, 1965)

As selected by The Beach BoysBruce Johnston

“I heard about Dylan from Jack Nitzsche’s wife Grazia who made me listen to Freewheelin’. It wasn’t his voice, which was difficult to get comfortable with, it was his songs. What we were hearing on the radio at that time was great, highly-polished pop, like Goffin-King kind of songs, but Dylan was 180 degrees in the other direction. Then, when I heard She Belongs To Me, I was struck by the fact that it has such a natural groove. To me, a natural groove record would be something like Little Richard, R&B stuff, but here’s this Greenwich Village folkie, who has turned the lyric-writing thought process upside down, and suddenly he’s making songs with a natural groove. You could finger-pop to this track. Dylan’s melodies can be difficult to digest sometimes, because he’s not a singer who writes, he’s a writer who sings, but this is a great tne. Carl Wilson and I really loved Belong To Me. I remember in the Hilton Hawaiian Village hotel when we were playing Hawaii, and we had a record player in our suite and just played it and over and over.”

29.

Girl From The North Country

(The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan, 1963)

As selected by The Blue Nile’s Paul Buchanan

“I must have heard it at a time when I dressed like he does on the cover of the Freewheelin’ album. I wanted my life to be like that cover. There is something of the same romance about the song; a straightforward enough reminiscence of a lost love, without any cynicism or defeatism. I like the mentions of the girl’s hair and coat and, I guess, the third person thing works nicely because it’s all kept so simple and defenceless.”

28.

I Don’t Believe You (She Acts Like We Never Have Met)

(Another Side Of Bob Dylan, 1964)

As selected by The Lovin' Spoonful's John Sebastian

“I’d already had my world as a songwriter completely rearranged by Masters Of War and Chimes Of Freedom.. But with I Don’t Believe You, Dylan established an unprecedented relationship between man and woman in song. Before Bob, things had been pretty benign, often one-dimensional, between the sexes. It was absolute love or utter heartbreak. What little shading there was usually came from the woman’s point of view, laying out the case against her man. Dylan turned the tables in this sense, offering romantic critiques of women, and he did it with a degree of emotional awareness and insight. He made it more real, and opened up vast new territories for songs to explore.”

27.

All Along The Watchtower

(John Wesley Harding, 1967)

As selected by Terry Callier

To write songs about things that are close or painful, you have to be at a level where you can say something about it that everybody will be able to identify with. You can’t always take your most personal experiences and do that, but Bob Dylan was good at it. As a matter of fact, he was the one that showed us that your personal ruminations and experiences, if put in a vibrant enough context, were valuable. Because people hadn’t been doing that before: people had been saying ‘Yes, I love you, you love me, we will be together, 1, 2, 3.’ But you start talking about There must be some kind of way out of here, said the Joker to the Thief... Well! Now we’re getting down! We’re talking about neuroses, psychoses, and other ‘oses! He showed us that if you put these things in the right context, in the right emotional patterns and the right combinations of words, this is as valuable as anything else on this earth.”

26.

Every Grain Of Sand

(Shot Of Love, 1981)

As selected by Sheryl Crowe

Every Grain Of Sand was the first religious song I’d heard which transcended all religions. It asks the universal questions that lead all people into exploring God, eternity, mortality. I first heard it when Shot Of Love came out and I loved it right away, but then I sang it at Johnny Cash’s funeral so it has a special meaning for me. It was my choise, but his family wrote to me to tell me how important that song was to Johnny. It’s always been interesting to me to think of Dylan’s Christian phase. I’d done the born-again thing when I was 17. There was a youth movement I got wound up in until it started to really bug me that some of my friends were going to heaven and some weren’t. I became what they call a backslider pretty quick. The music on every Grain of Sand ebbs back and fourth – it’s almost a waltz – but the song’s great strength is the text: ‘Like criminals, they have choked the breath of conscience and good cheer’ – it’s almost Dickensian. I’ve called him on a couple of occasion to talk about songwriting and he’s been amazing. It’s like playing tennis with someone who’s better than you, it brings your game up.”

25.

To Ramona

As selected by Lucinda Williams

“The first time I heard Bob Dylan - it was 1965, and a young poet, a student of my dad’s, came over to the house with a Dylan record - it changed my life. Here was someone who had taken both of the worlds I was from - the traditional folk music world and the creative writing world - and put them together and made it work. From that moment on, I decided I wanted to write songs like that. I’m still working at it. To Ramona is just a love song, not one of those inte3nsely heavy, metaphorical songs, but it’s the ultimate love song. And there’s just something about it – the rhyming, the imagery, everything is wonderful. That was Dylan at his inimitable, quintessential best, right there. Awesome and beautiful."

24.

Buckets Of Rain

(Blood On The Tracks, 1975)

As selected by Chris Martin

“It was the moment I fell in love with Bob Dylan’s music. I was on a tour bus leaving Reading Festival, the first time we played it in 1999, and I woke up suddenly with that song playing in my ears. And I was suddenly there. Completely in it. Dylan keeps on writing, keeps on playing, because ultimately, that’s all there is… That’s the truth. That’s what you are. Doing this is not a ladder to anything else, if you love it. Often I’m asked, “What are you going to do next, what else do you have going on?” I have friends who do a lot of things, and sometimes I think to myself, “Oh man, should I, like, open a… hat shop as well?” But I need to write music, and sometimes I feel like a loser ’cos that’s all I want to do. But you know, there’s no Bob Dylan hat shop…"

23.

A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall

(The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan, 1963)

As selected by Tom Paxton

“[In Greenwich Village] me and Bob were friendly but I don’t think anyone’s close to Bob. One night I went to the Gaslight and he pulled paper out of the typewriter and gave me five typed pages and asked what I thought. I said, ‘This is fabulous – it’s like you have written [Anglo-Scottish ballad] Lord Randall for 1962’ and he had. He asked what he should do with it and I said, ‘Put a tune to it.’ Two nights later he got up at the Gaslight at one in the morning and sang it for the first time – A Hard Rain’s A Gonna Fall. It was clear where he was heading.”

22.

The Times They Are A-Changin’

(The Times They Are A-Changin’, 1964)

As selected by Nas

“I first heard The Times They Are A-Changin’ in a movie called The Wanderers, which I saw when I was about 14-years-old. The song came at a very important point of the movie, where the characters had been running the streets forever, and had gotten old. It had come full circle with their lives, so they had to make a change. The verse that blew me away was: ‘Come senators, congressmen/Please heed the call/Don’t stand in the doorway/Don’t block up the hall/For he that gets hurt will be he who has stalled.” The words he’s saying are words of awakening, but when you add that to the conviction in his voice, you can hear that this is a man fighting to get the truth out. To make a record like that, you have to genuinely have it in your heart to not just love your music and your cause, but to be a part of it, and that’s what he does. You can’t fake that record.”

21.

Visions Of Johanna

(Blonde On Blonde, 1966)

As selected by Steve Harley*

“This sparkles with that dreadful mystery that’s Dylan’s own. Hearing it for the first time has never left my mind. Suddenly I wasn’t a 15-year-old listening to music anymore: I was hearing poetry. ‘Lights flicker from the opposite loft/in this room the heat pipes just cough/The country music station plays soft.’ And there’s a pay-off line with Dylan. He says: ‘But there’s nothing, really noting to turn off.’ You listen and think, What the fuck was that? All the time, this young man of 24 was thinking of a lost love. Maybe apocryphal, maybe genuine - but he’s a poet and he has licence to create. Every pay-off at the end of every verse just says there’s nothing here. Nothing exists. It’s all fantasy. Am I awake? Am I asleep? All I’ve got is visions of Johanna, which keep me up past dawn. The man can’t sleep! He’s lovesick. But is he really? Or is this poetry? This isn’t Wordsworth or Keats. Dylan is beyond them.”

20.

Ballad Of A Thin Man

(Highway 61 Revisited, 1965)

As selected by Al Stewart

“You walk into the room/With your pencil in your hand/You see somebody naked/And you say Who is that man?/You try so hard/But you just don’t understand/Just what you’ll say/When you get home...” I haven’t played it in years but I can still remember the words. At the time, all us London hipsters assumed it was about the Melody Makers’ Max Jones. It’s an unspoken rule that the trade-off for fame and fortune in the music business is that you have to be able to accept criticism, but not every artist subscribes to that, and Dylan obviously didn’t. With Positively 4th Street around the same time, it was clear Dylan was pissed off about a lot of things- and he was writing like a maniac. Musically it’s beautiful. I love the skinny sound of the record - it suits the title. When I saw Dylan the Albert Hall in 1966 he played it, and I think it was the only song that he played on piano. There’s this old-fashioned barrelhouse feel, which works really well with the words. And when the organ comes in on top... that’s wonderful.”

19.

Idiot Wind

(Blood On The Tracks, 1975)

As selected by Blood On The Tracks engineer Glenn Berger

“Dylan was recording Idiot Wind and I thought this is so powerful. When has Dylan ever been this raw? The amount of rage coming out of him was so powerful. And when you hear something being cut in the studio where it’s directly from his mouth into that beautiful microphone and coming out of those huge speakers – you never hear it like that again. The power was overwhelming. And he gets to the end of the song and waits a few seconds and then turns to us in the control room and sarcastically says: ‘Was that since-e-e-re enough?’” Maybe it had been so powerful for him emotionally that he had to take away some of that intensity.”

18.

Subterranean Homesick Blues

(Bringing It All Back Home, 1965)

As selected by The DoorsRobby Krieger

Bringing It All Back Home just might be my favourite album of all time. I discovered him whilst at private school as a teenager. A lot of people hated it when he went electric, but I liked it. I saw him at Long Beach with his electric band whilst on acid, and I really dug it. I know he must’ve been on acid when he wrote Subterranean Homesick Blues.”

17.

Masters Of War

(The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan, 1963)

As selected by Loudon Wainwright III

“Writing protest songs is difficult because they often have a very limited life-span. But when Dylan sings ‘you can hide behind walls, you can hide behind desks, I just want you to know, I can se through your masks’, you instantly think of The White House and Downing Street today. He attacks the biggest targets going, and there’s nothing polite about it. It’s a young man’s rage - outrage really - not Where Have All The Flowers Gone? There’s no choruses, and the guitar playing is unrelenting. His guitar playing swings and rocks really hard. The writing itself is great. He’ll take a word like ‘word’ which from the perspective of someone who writes songs is a very hard word to rhyme, but he rhymes it with ‘hurled’, and that’s a way around the problem, and its not just a way around the problem, but is a great couplet too. I remember seeing him for the first time at the Newport Folk festival at about the time this song came out. He was just this young guy stood on stage with a guitar, but he had balls, and any young person will admire someone who has balls. Let’s hope so anyway.”

16.

I Threw It All Away

(Nashville Skyline, 1969)

As selected by Nick Cave

“This is my favourite Dylan song. The production is so clean, fluid and uncluttered, and there is an ease and innocence to Dylan’s voice in its phrasing, in its tone that is in no Dylan recording before or after. There is a perfectly measured emotional pull to the singing. This is a guy doing the job God put him on Earth to do, and doing it well. This song is about craft; Dylan removes himself, the burden of his hisyory, his myth, from the process of songwriting to craft a song unparalleled in its gorgeousness. It’s mathematics, music by numbers, and all the more affecting for it. It’s Mozart man up against the wracked Beethoven of his other work. Nashville Skyline was an audacious record, lyrically and musically, flying in the face of those who thought it was Dylan’s moral duty to be the drum major of his generation. I can put this song on first thing in the morning or the middle of a dark night and it will make me feel better, make me want to carry on. The song serves the listener as it should and that’s its genius.”

15.

Tangled Up In Blue

(More Blood, More Tracks: The Bootleg Series Vol.14, 2018)

As selected by Gaz Coombes

“I have to say, I prefer the demo versions that are out there to the one on Blood On The Tracks. They’re quite slow, down-beat versions of the song and that’s what I love about them. They’re just acoustic guitar, bass and vocals, and they’re just beautiful. They Sound more emotional, more contemplative whereas the version on Blood On The Tracks is quite bouncy. He changed a lot of the lyrics after this version. The demos are written in the third person, like he’s telling a story about someone else, then when you hear it on Blood On the Tracks he uses ‘I’, which makes you wonder whether it was actually about him all along.”

14.

Love Sick

(Time Out Of Mind, 1997)

As selected by Marianne Faithful

“I heard Time Out Of Mind pretty much as soon as it came out; I’m a ‘rush out and buy Bob’ kind of person. I love the whole record, but Love Sick is my favourite. Beautiful. Everything. The words, the melody, the passion in the singing. I loved it immediately. For the longest time I thought it was called I’m Sick Of Love, because that’s what he sings. But being love sick and being sick of love are two entirely different things. And yet obviously the same to an old romantic like Mr D. And that is such a brilliant writer’s thing to do. Love is hard for all of us but it’s very, very hard for an artist. He talks about being tired and hearing the clock tick - this is someone with lots to do, lots of work, he’s got no time for anything and on top of that there’s this love, and he can’t do a thing about it. The lyrics are actually very straightforward. Someone else singing it might make them sound sappy, but the way Dylan sings - very intense and strong and not at all detached - it’s a statement, and a great one, about love.”

13.

Highway 61 Revisited

(Highway 61 Revisited, 1965)

As selected by Gang Of Four’s Jon King

“When I was 11, at Sevenoaks school, the A level boys in the art classes were allowed to play whatever music they liked, which was Highway 61 Revisited and Blonde On Blonde. We didn’t have a record player at home, and I’d never heard anything like it. It led me to being absolutely focused on art and music. What got me was the sound of his voice: suddenly you had someone who put songs together that played with words-I wasn’t sure what he was saying, but I knew he was being brilliantly sarcastic and clever, and sneering at the people who were boring, and I loved it. Highway 61 Revisited itself was just so funny. Highway 61 bisects the American North and South, and represents an escape, particularly from where Dylan lived, the tedium of living a constrained, pre-defined life. But in that context, I saw so much. Like the way he plays with the story, and the whole issue of race. And how he was embracing rock’n’roll, when he was being accused of being a Judas - what was that all about? It was almost segregationism in the folk scene. With my Gang Of Four lyrics, I’d always try and make something internally contradictory, constructing narratives out of words that seem to be logically inconsistent, which is what Dylan so cleverly did. He wasn’t trying to be obvious, which is easy. He was being complicated without being necessarily vague. There was this sense that you were involved in a cultural conversation. Dylan created the conversations to beat all conversations.”

12.

Just Like A Woman

(Blonde On Blonde, 1966)

As selected by Jimmy Webb

“This was when I understood how deep Dylan’s well really was. It wasn’t a folk song, it wasn’t protest, it was just a great love song, which of course had an immediate impact on me. I had just dropped out of college to commit to what I hoped would be the life of a songwriter. I was very much in love with a girl who was inspiring a lot of the music I was writing, and this song seemed to cut right to the heart of what I was feeling emotionally at the time. All these years later I still marvel at what an absolutely stunning piece of writing it is. What a fortuitous nexus of rhyme and purpose is the chorus: She takes just like a woman/She makes love just like a woman /Then she aches just like a woman / But she breaks just like a little girl.’ As songwriters we live for the moment when words to fall together like that, as if they’ve been waiting for just that arrangement. The way everything leads toward that last line is masterful. That would be enough for most writers, but the third verse reveals Dylan’s strategy to be much larger. When he says ‘Please don’t let on that you knew me when /l was hungry and it was your wold,’ he steps on-camera and addresses this person directly to deliver one final twist. There’s a lifetime of listening in these details and layered subtleties. Any serious student of songwriting will find a complete education in this one composition.”

11.

The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll

(The Times They Are A-Changin’, 1964)

As selected by Bill Fay

“Just before I started writing, in 1964, I started playing the guitar to myself by practising The Lonesome Death Of Hattie Carroll.I heard it purely by chance up in Bangor as a student, we played him all the time, listening to early Dylan before he’s really filtered into the mainstream. He was so powerful melodically. His voice was amazingly mature for such a young man but with tracks like like Hattie Carroll he was trying to say something with lovely tunes and a great vocal sound. Before the protest they were actual songs that you could get lost in. Take away Dylan’s persona and they still stood out. Over the years I’ve come to realise that his music is about access. Hattie Carroll? It’s five chords. Even in 1964 I knew four of them. When you first start out, you can play Dylan. His songs are about the people and for the people so it makes sense that they’re accessible, that they’re easy to play. Even a more recent track like Mississippi [from 2001’s Love And Theft] you can climb inside. There are gems scattered throughout.”

10.

Murder Most Foul

(Rough And Rowdy Ways, 2020)

As selected by VillagersConor O’Brien

“It’s almost like a sister song to songs like It’s Alright Ma and Desolation Row, those patchwork quilt songs where it’s about trying to find meaning in a fragmented world. For me he’s continuing that journey that he started so long ago and he gets better and better at it the older he gets. He’s clearly someone who is very moved by things, despite his exterior, and it kind of feels like a prayer - it’s redemptive. Like with his best songs, it’s about how we all share these scars. I feel like the assassination of JFK in this is more like a symbol, a shared trauma, in a way he could have chosen any collective shared trauma. I like the way he takes about the things that loomed large in his own life in terms of pop culture and mixes it with the politics. Right after the assassination he goes straight into Bealtemania. It’s the thing that Dylan does so well, where high art and low are all one thing. He might reference Greek mythology right after The Beatles – he’s saying it’s all part of the same thing, the human spirit transcending this crazy fragmented world we live in.”

9.

Mr Tambourine Man

(Bringing It All Back Home, 1965)

As selected by Paul McCartney

“I know it’s corny, but I heard him do it at the Albert Hall [May 9, 1965], and I was aching for him to do it and knowing Dylan I thought he might not do it. Just to be awkward, just to be perverse. It was the infamous show where all the folkies thought he’d sold out. How crap is that? It was fantastic. First half is folky, and then the second half was electric with The Band - it was the all-time concert. But then of course, somebody starts going, He’s deserted the folk world! Yeah, no wonder, look at you mate. So he did it there, the first time I’d ever heard it live. A really good song, very much of the period. Totally nailed that year. I was lucky to be there.”

8.

It’s Alright, Ma (I’m Only Bleeding)

(Bringing It All Back Home, 1965)

As selected by David Crosby*

“When I first heard Dylan in New York didn’t like his singing. I thought, Why doesn’t everybody like me more? But then I went to see him perform and I got it... his songs! They were so good and there was one after another after another. Asking for a favourite is like asking a parent, Hey, which is your favourite child? Bob Dylan a good three dozen flat-out sterling pieces of material that we can safely refer to as classics. But when I first heard It’s Alright, Ma it really was such a knockout. ‘Darkness at the break of noon /Shadows even the silver spoon’- hey, that’s the apocalypse coming, nothing less.”

7.

It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue

(Bringing It All Back Home, 1965)

As selected by Richard Thompson

“Sounds like it’s curtains for Baby Blue, which has led some to speculate that this is an updating of the story of Mary, Queen Of Scots; Bob may have heard ‘Mary Queen Of Scots’ Lament’ on his visit to England in the winter of 1962, or perhaps he’s just a history buff. She was fond of blue stockings – indeed, she was wearing sky-blue hose with an inter-woven silver thread when she was beheaded in1587. The orphan (or soon to be) ‘crying like a fire in the sun’ might be her son, and the ‘empty-handed painter’ her secretary-lover David Rizzio, also a fine musician, and composer of outstanding ballad tunes. One might also speculate about the presence of the Earl of Bothwell and her husband, Lord Darnley. The action, we imagine, is shifted to Greenwich Village, and is beautifully and skilfully updated and made immediate by imagery and street language. A great song by someone who knows the tradition, innovates in it, and builds on it.”

6.

It Ain’t Me Babe

(Another Side Of Bob Dylan, 1964)

As selected by Dylan sideman Charlie Sexton.

“In the past when I’ve seen Dylan do a show or when I played with him, at times it seems as if there was a circle of light surrounding him regardless of what the lights in the show are doing. Everything just goes away and you just sit there, taking in everything he says. Certain songs really bring out that kind of focus and this is one of those songs. I played it a lot when I was out with him, and while some songs would go through changes and various arrangements, this one changed very little. Except there was always something new from Bob vocally, in phrasing, phrasing that could dazzle Miles Davis... But all in all, It Ain’t Me, Babe stayed pretty much the same, and I was always happy to listen. Often when it was played there would be the same reaction from some of the fans, a sort of celebration - which is interesting when you listen to the words. It’s shadow and light.”

5.

Blind Willie McTell

(Rare And Unreleased The Bootleg Series Volumes 1-3, 1991)

As selected by Martin Carthy

“It blows this massive hole through the romantic notion of the South. It’s about corruptibility. And it has an amazing emotional impact, which counts for everything. When he sang Hard Rain in The Troubadour in London in 1962 the audience was fucking thunderstruck. They’d never heard anything like that in their lives. To take a songwriting idea like you find in Nottamun Town -a ‘song of life’ in the folk lingo - and to develop it like he did in Hard Rain was absolutely awe inspiring. I was absolutely stunned. And Blind Wille McTell had the same effect on me. It’s everything a song should be. It’s concise, it’s eloquent and it also happens to be a beautiful piece of music. I love the position of the narrator in the song - sitting in a New Orleans hotel room contemplating the whole history of the south, the murder amid the magnolias, but not with anger for a change. It’s a... rumination. A great word for a great song.”

4.

Desolation Row

(Highway 61 Revisited, 1965)

As selected by Roy Harper

“Desolation Row, I thought when I first got hold of the record, That’s exactly where we’re at. It contained all the elements of where we’d felt civilisation had been for years. But it wasn’t delivered with the overt sense of humour of his more accessible earlier songs. Times had changed for Dylan. He was no longer the carefree young vibe thief of the freewheelin’ age. He was now expected by everyone under 20 to become the next messiah, just as he was becoming more human. There were rumours of hard drugs and self-examination. Like a lot of us, he was on the verge of floundering. There were no easy solutions anymore. The more I thought about it, the more Desolation Row appeared as a collection of impressions thrown at a page. It was riveting, it was desperate. I could very readily identify with that. It called the world to account, but it wasn’t bold, the humour was almost hidden. The song was a delineation. Like a final notice of departure. We all know the characters the song describes. The Millais painting of the drowned Ophelia lingers in my mind, dead in the head at 22, living vicariously, peeping into Desolation Row for moments of delicious embarrassment, only to resume her role in some Salvation Army equivalent. Robin Hood, Cinderella, Bette Davis etc, they’re all there along with a million inferences about the humdrum of seedy human life, usually set at mid-night and beyond, while daytime insurance men check that no one escapes to Desolation Row. And then there’s the last verse written by someone on the outside. A token note from someone who’s no longer part of the scene, who misses the freedom, but who perhaps couldn’t handle the hand-to-mouth abandonment, or perhaps the grime. We never get to find out. And it doesn’t matter. It never did and it never will.”

3.

Sad Eyed Lady Of the Lowlands

(Blonde On Blonde, 1966)

As selected by Robert Wyatt

“One of the things I like about jazz is that jazz goes on and on and on. This song has got that kind of momentum. It builds and grows, builds and grows, and it’s a simple structure. Another thing that’s so great about it is the band playing on it, Al Kooper’s on Hammond, and they roll along beautifully. I read somewhere that he didn’t tell them how long the song was going to be, so they keep thinking they’re coming to the ending, surging towards an end, which is brilliant, Miles Davis-like in its wickedness. And then he’ll drone away another verse! So they’re playing as if they keep building towards the climax, all the time! I suppose it’s like very clever sex, really.”

2.

Positively 4th Street

(Greatest Hits Vol.1, 1967)

As selected by Love guitarist Johnny Echols

“It deals with the duplicity of human beingsand the nebulous nature of friendship. It’s an incredibly important thing to cling on to in life, if you can. I knew that even back in 1965 when this came out. I immediately connected with Dylan’s take on humanity and the nature of hypocrisy. He spoke to me. It’s a very New York song but it made perfect sense out on the West Coast. After Dylan went over big you could feel the style of music changing everywhere. Previously, songs sort of went from C to A minor to F to G in a prescribed patter but with Bob coming from folk music, the songs started to follow wherever the vocal melody went. That had a huge effect on everybody.”

1.

Like A Rolling Stone

(Highway 61 Revisited, 1965)

Al Kooper on how he hustled his way into the making of Dylan’s cryptic fairy tale and all-time greatest song.

“I began my professional music career as a member of The Royal Teens in 1959, becoming a professional songwriter shortly thereafter and teaming up with lyricists Bob Brass & Irwin Levine. By 1965 I’d befriended producer Tom Wilson at Columbia Records at 799 7th Avenue in New York City. Tom was riding high as the producer of Bob Dylan, of whom I was a big fan. After a while, the others that worked on his floor got used to me coming and going whether Tom was there or not. Occasionally I’d “borrow” unreleased acetates of Dylan’s albums in progress and take them home overnight and make a tape copy for my own enjoyment. Tom would also invite me on occasion to the New York Giants football team’s Sunday games, where he had excellent seats. I was about 21-years-old but I knew when to speak and when not to.

Then one day, out of the freakin’ blue, Tom invites me to an afternoon Dylan session. It’s Wednesday June 16 and they’ve already done a day’s work on a handful of songs – one they’ve been calling Phantom Engineer but will turn into It Takes a Lot To Laugh, It Takes A Train To Cry; another they’ve started and have all of today to get right. I’m carefully instructed to sit in the control room and be as invisible as possible.

The session is to begin at 2pm. So I get there at 12.30pm with my electric guitar and amp and begin to warm up like I truly belong there. After about ten minutes, Dylan comes blasting in the door along with a guitarist who has his guitar on his shoulder like a rifle. Only it’s raining outside and the caseless guitar is as wet as can be.

The guitarist is Mike Bloomfield. I’ve read about him in Sing Out! magazine – he is in the Paul Butterfield Blues Band, whatever that is. The other musicians are mostly a crew of dependable guys that do this for a living: among them, drummer Bobby Gregg, pianist Paul Griffin and bassist Joe Macho Jr. The only one I know by sight is Griffin. I had hired him a few times for songwriting demos. An excellent player and a really nice guy.

Bloomfield comes over to where I’m sitting with my guitar and says hello – he wipes the rain off his guitar with a rag and plugs into a Fender amp and starts warming up. This shocks me as I have never heard someone my age play with the skill and tone he has. I quickly put my guitar in its case, slide it under a bench, and get my ass into the control room where I actually belong (and just in time as Tom Wilson enters five minutes later).

The band begins to rehearse the song Dylan wants to start off with. Wilson begins getting sounds on each instrument. Paul Griffin is playing organ and Dylan is playing an electric Fender Stratocaster! This blows my mind - acoustic Bob goes electric! The song is over six minutes long and Bloomfield is instantly mesmerizing. After three takes Wilson moves Paul Griffin from organ to piano.

Tom says, 'You know that guy’s not an organ player, right?' Bob says, 'I don’t care – just turn it up in the mix!'

Al Cooper

While they are moving the piano around and miking it. Everyone takes a break. I go out to the studio and sit at the organ which is fortunately still plugged in and turned on. It’s very complicated to turn an organ on and I haven’t acquired that knowledge yet. The piano is tuned. Wilson starts over the talkback: 'This is Like A Rolling Stone Take 4.' He pauses and sees me behind the organ. 'What are you doing out there?' he says and the other musicians laugh and, thank God, so does Wilson. He appears to relent and says, 'OK, this is Take 4.'

After the intro, I wait until everyone else plays a chord and then I come in. Pretty quickly I memorize the chords - there’s only five! - and then I begin to play parts. This is the first complete take of the session, so they play back all six minutes of it. Now I go in the booth and sit at the end of a bench. After the first chorus Bob says to Tom Wilson, 'Make the organ louder.' Tom says, 'You know that guy’s not an organ player, right?' Bob says, 'I don’t care – just turn it up in the mix!'

And that my friends, was the beginning of my soon-to-be real career.”

*Speaking to MOJO in 2004

Picture: Getty

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