The Unofficial ND Bootleg Reader’s Poll: Bob Dylan’s Ten Best Songs
The results of the bootlegged ND Unofficial reader’s poll for the best ten songs of the last century by the most acclaimed songwriter of any genration are in. One remarkable thing is how close No Depression’s readers came to Rolling Stone’s critics poll. But, there’s not need to labor the point except to say, “Like A Rolling Stone,” wins hands down on every best Dylan song poll around. Perhaps in a moment of personal weakness, the allowing of ties in votes allowed for more than actual ten selections.
Keeping with No Depression’s roots emphasis the readers allowed for his post 60’s and even 70’s songs like “Mississippi”, “Blind Willie McTell” and “Every Grain of Sand.” This may be the most telling fact of rating the greatest songs by our greatest songwriter. The readers of No Depression in this in formal, unofficial poll paid stronger homage, tribute and credibility to Dylan’s post 60’s work than did Rolling Stone.
So, here it is…..The Unofficial Bootleg Readers Ten Best Dylan Songs Poll results:
1 “Like A Rolling Stone” This vote from ND readers seems to affirm from yet another poll, this song is everybody’s favorite. I must confess when I’ve seen Dylan, be it in ’74 or in ’87 with Petty or in 2001 in L.A. at the Staples Center, it elicits an emotional response from the audience and performer. It’s significance lies in the fact that it cannot be contained in nostalgia. It was written in ’65 like a mad streak of lightning that blazes across the ages from then to now and into the future. It applies to us all. It is still ahead of its time.
2 “Tangled Up in Blue” Like a prize fighter, who was once great and everyone has counted out as a has-been, Dylan returned in 1975 with the great Blood on the Tracks and this opening track left his fans and even detractors speechless. The song pushes the narrative boundaries beyond anything that had been written in its time and created an astonishing blur between myth and non-fiction that still has not been surpassed.
3 “Don’t Think Twice It’s Alright” It’s Dylan’s homage to country folk-blues. Where did he get the melody that was so good even Johnny Cash stole it for a song? He spent so much time absorbing not only the Beats, as is commonly acknowledged, but also some of the finest in Piedmont blues. This song could be considered the strongest realization of this.
4 “Blowing in the Wind” When this song came out of the young Woody Guthrie wanna be of Greenwich Village his friends and enemies didn’t believe he wrote it. It was considered that good at the time. And even decades later, others would speak out and claim they had written it rather than this nasal voiced vagabond from Hibbing, Minnesota But, it belonged to Bod Dylan aka young Robert Zimmerman. Although the melody is lifted from earlier folks songs, the lyrics would sing out into the days ahead, a decade of tragic national loss, missteps and and regretful trust in undeserving leaders. In the post-era of 9-11 and Bush’s march to an unnecessary war, the song remains sadly timeless.
5 “All Along The Watchtower ” Question: If “All Along The Watchtower” hadn’t been covered by Hendrix, would it be considered a classic today? Arguably, Hendrix’s version is the best Dylan cover ever. It even changed the way Dylan has played it since really, it is no better or worse than any other song on the great John Wesley Harding album. But, the song’s lyrics do ring with some great apocalyptic imagery and seems like a pre-requisite to his Street Legal album for it’s homage to medieval musings and his affection for end times themes.
6 “Mississippi” As wildly imaginative and existential as anything from the peak of his Blonde on Blonde period. Just as he has done in performance with most of the songs from that classic album, “Mississippi” is anchored in a solid rolling country-blues feel. The lyrics seem to be from an aging version of the narrator of songs like “It Takes A Lot to Laugh, It Takes A Train Cry,” only with years of weary traveling. A song about the regret of attachment and it’s lasting aftertaste, it would be a perfect companion sequel to his old mate, Johnny Cash’s classic “Big River.”
7 “Visions of Johanna” It has the feel of the mercurial aftermath of a cannabis-soaked brain whose imagination is held by some oncoming amphetamines and the thought of that one special lady the narrator just can’t escape from. It is a love song, but it’s more than a love song as well. It’s all mood, imagination and a flash of youthful regret. It’s a story of the time and the characters encountered, including himself. This is a perfect example of how anyone who had ever written a love song would have just thrown up their hands and returned to their writer’s den to rethink the entire form. For the casual Dylan fan too-familiar with the overplayed and heard songs, this is one to be reminded of Dylan’s brilliance as a lyricist and vocalist.
8 “Every Grain of Sand” With Dylan now into his seventh decade on the planet there will be a growing number of re-visions of the various epochs of his career. It’s not surprising that many have been reluctant to return to his carelessly termed, ‘gospel period.’ He did, after all, blind site so many with the fury and fervor of his Pentecostal zeal and the self-righteousness that followed. However, this riddle of a song is a good place to start. In a sense, this was the beginning of his truly gospel period when he found the universality of the faith he felt himself drawn to and came out more of kin to William Blake than to John Wesley. Historically, it was followed by his renewed interest in Judaism. It’s universal, timeless and utterly accessible to all and most of all it is a truly resolved Christian song from an artist who struggled with faith and doubts through his art.
9 “Blind Willie McTell” Running the risk of the ire of the die-hard fans of lists such as these, I’m going to allow a tie on this one. “Blind Willie McTell” It’s clear by now, particularly after reading Chronicles Vl 1, that Bob Dylan’s imaginative hard-wiring is not like everybody else. He is a multi-dimensional visionary historian and musicologist. If this song doesn’t demonstrate this, nothing else could come close. He captures the feeling of the deeply racist haunted and gothic south with imagery that matches the subject. It’s poetic, disturbing and hypnotic. As though the artist himself is in a trance. It is among Dylan’s most powerful recorded performances and best crafted song. It has a life of its own.
“Shelter from the Storm” Out of context with the rest of the tracks on what may be the best album by any artist released during the 70’s, this song stands on its own pushing Dylan’s messianic flirtations, Biblical metaphors and cowboy cinematic allusions into new territory. It’s as though he decided to re-write “Love Minus Zero,” with the new found knowledge of the despair he discovered in the crack in the armor of his stardom and success. And that crack bleeds with martyrdom. If so, it also bleeds with light. But in context, with spare instrumentation, the song sends the masterpiece of an album to it’s peak.
10 “It’s Alright Ma, I’m Only Bleeding” This one probably caused Ginsberg to go envious. Dylan manged to do in 12 minutes of song what the Beats had been writing their fingers to the bone for a decade to do. He wrote a song, as existential and strange as it was, that described the human condition in a way that would last for more than just its time. It still sings through the decades. It is the perfect bookend to this list. If “Like a Rolling Stone,” blew the cover off a generation of pretensions and cool, “It’s Alright Ma, I’m Only Bleeding,” took a look deep inside and rightly predicted these years of division, violence and despair.