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the pioneer of Dylan Studies; writer, public speaker, critic; became a Doctor of Letters in 2015 (awarded by the University of York, UK)

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Wednesday, March 08, 2006

MY ALL-TIME TOP 10 DYLAN TRACKS
asked for by Uncut magazine, May 2002 issue
but they only printed the first one on the list
so here are the others


Ten is an impossibly low number to select, so mine are chosen so that each track really represents a whole phase of his work, or a whole group of songs that stand alongside each other:

MOONSHINER
This is from his perfect earliest phase, when he sings with heartstopping intimacy in various regional accents, and mixes sweet youthfulness with immortal gravitas. As such it stands for ‘Song To Woody’ and ‘North Country Blues’ too. It also stands for Dylan’s greatest stuff he didn’t write: eg. ‘Spanish Is The Loving Tongue’, solo 1970; ‘Wild Mountain Thyme’ live 1969; ‘Hard Times’, solo 1992; and ‘Love Henry’, solo 1993.

A HARD RAIN’S A-GONNA FALL
The original album version showed a vaulting of his songwriting above all others and so for me epitomises all those long pre-electric masterpieces like ‘Lonesome Death Of Hattie Carroll’ and ‘Chimes Of Freedom’ through ‘Lay Down Your Weary Tune’ to ‘Mr. Tambourine Man’. The song has also been a brilliant vehicle for wholly different live performance styles in many Dylan periods.

SPANISH HARLEM INCIDENT
A favourite from a favourite album, Another Side Of. So alive, inventive and un-Tin Pan Alley, it also catches that moment when he starts to be risk-takingly sloppy/informal and to write about sex and love; so it represents all those wily, sexy, exuberant songs like ‘All I Really Want To Do’, ‘I Don’t Believe You’, ‘If You Gotta Go, Go Now’ and ‘To Ramona’, and it’s a vote for the joys of Dylan’s minor works instead of keeping to the confines of his masterpieces. So it’s a vote for Nashville Skyline too.

ABSOLUTELY SWEET MARIE
The spirit, colour, sound and spiky warmth of the incomparable Blonde On Blonde, and a cousin to the unreleased wonders from the same era, like ‘She’s Your Lover Now’.

CLOTHES LINE SAGA
Sums up the murky, wayward genius of the basement tapes - for me, every wondrous item from ‘Royal Canal’ to ‘Tears Of Rage’ - and also the Dylan who masters the Dramatic Monologue and high comic mimickry: the Dylan of ‘Black Cross’, ‘Brownsville Girl’ and ‘Highlands’.

I DREAMED I SAW ST. AUGUSTINE
A flawless track on one of his best albums, John Wesley Harding: transcendant, visionary, dignified, unique.

NEVER SAY GOODBYE
This shimmers with grace, light and authoritative ardour from opening note to all-too-soon last whisper. It stands for (a) the sumptuous Planet Waves (b) the Dylan who can muster rich, immaculate production - the Dylan also of ‘Let’s Keep It Between Us’, ‘Caribbean Wind’ and ‘Not Dark Yet’; and (c) the Dylan who writes so beautifully about the Minnesota terrain of his childhood.

IDIOT WIND
Another song that Dylan has done inspiredly live, in the 1970s and 1990s, and is also, in its early unreleased form, a high point of the studio sessions for Blood On The Tracks - so of course it also stands for ‘Simple Twist Of Fate’ and ‘Tangled Up In Blue’.

JOKERMAN
Every version of this great song is tremendous, but especially two: the unissued studio original, for his singing - the same sweet 1983 voice that gave us ‘Blind Willie McTell’, ‘Lord Protect My Child’ and ‘Someone’s Got A Hold Of My Heart’ - and the March ’84 TV version with The Plugz for its punk chutzpah.

FLOATER
Favourite from “Love And Theft”, a warm and vividly surprising, creatively great, delightful album right up there among the best twelve or so he’s ever made, and certainly the best since Desire 25 years earlier.

BONUS EXTRA TRACK: JUST LIKE TOM THUMB’S BLUES
The live in Liverpool 1966 performance. If there could only be one Bob Dylan track on that desert island, this would have to be it. Enacting the struggle of the human soul, it’s surely the single most expressive, out on the edge masterpiece of performance ever achieved.

6 Comments:

Blogger Dessa said...

Your list was very good. I bet it was hard to choose only ten, as you noted. "When the Ship Comes In" and "Visions of Johanna" would be in my top ten. Great choice for "Just Like Tom Thumb's Blues." What a great song. Looking forward to next post.

10:49 am  
Blogger Harvey Dog said...

Top 10 lists are always fun!

I love that you chose "Clothes Line Saga". I feel that this song, along with "Tiny Montgomery", "Yea! Heavy and a Bottle of Bread" were always under-rated in Dylan's canon. One should never underestmate the power of lyrical absurdity!

My own list would include: "You Ain't Goin' Nowhere" (from Grt Hits Vol. 2), "It's Alright Ma (I'm Only Bleeding)" (from Before the Tracks) and "Tangled Up In Blue".

So many great songs...it's difficult to choose only 10.

10:02 pm  
Blogger littlefire said...

Fabulous list - impossible though they are. "Tom Thumb's Blues" is a classic. "You're a Big Girl Now" still brings a lump to my throat and "115th Dream" still makes me smile. And I still have the 1981 edition of Song and Dance Man...Thank You.

7:01 am  
Blogger Harvey Dog said...

I'm sorry. I meant "Before the Flood" not "Before the Tracks"!?. Which to my mind is an incredibly underrated album.

I guess Top 10 Dylan albums is the next list? Your book cover looks beautiful.

3:43 am  
Blogger isaac said...

A very interesting selection. I am intrigued by your forthcoming publication. Your first 'Song & Dance Man' greatly helped me as a teenager to understand in an open way, the profound affect Dylan's work had on my soul.

Though he has only referred obliquely & occasionally to it, I sense within much of his work the shadow of the Holocaust & anti-semitism, the latter must have touched him both directly and through his family history.

I am thinking of 'I belive in you' just as much as 'Its alright, ma' and 'Hard Rain'. ('Neighbourhood Bully' is not a favourite of mine, thought it has some powerful and telling lines).

I am very interested in your opinion on these thoughts.

Thanks again for your work,
Isaac

7:56 pm  
Blogger ragged_clown said...

I like very much what you said about "Love & Theft:

"a warm and vividly surprising, creatively great, delightful album right up there among the best twelve or so he’s ever made, and certainly the best since Desire 25 years earlier."

Spot on.

10:12 am  

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