In lieu of the Chrysler ad during the Super Bowl, I have been forced to ponder this question. And I’ve come to the conclusion that to think Dylan is a sellout is to make the mistake that he ever bought in. Bob Dylan, first and foremost, does what he wants to do. It was true when he went electric, it was true when he was born again, and it’s true now. Dylan is often held up as a counterculture icon, and he is, but people forget that he never wanted to be, and that he crashed his motorcycle and went into hiding for nearly a year just to get away from the image he had built. That’s what must not be forgotten. Dylan never claimed to be the “spokesman of a generation”. That title was thrust upon him, and he’s tried to shake it off ever since. Concluding this brief musing, Dylan is only what Dylan wants to be, not what you or I want him to be. If he served his fans, he’d never have gone electric after all. The legacy of Bob Dylan is of a popular culture figure who continually defies expectations and does things his way. If that means selling cars, then so be it. The world’s not ending. If he wants to sell cars, he’ll sell cars, whether you and I want him to or not. And that’s the point. He wouldn’t be Dylan otherwise.
If you come to this blog with any regularity, it will soon become evident that I love Bob Dylan. The ultimate counterculture icon, the master poet, Dylan wrote the book on writing your own book. Following are my picks for the top ten Bob Dylan songs.
10. Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door: Covered many times but equaled by none, my one quarrel with this song is it’s over before it’s even begun. Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door has a timeless quality seemingly given by Heaven itself.
9. Not Dark Yet: A masterpiece of later-era Dylan, Not Dark Yet is a beautiful musing on life and death and the meeting of the two. The fatalist refrain, along with producer Daniel Lanois’ haunting arrangement, give this song a great power and help it rank up with Dylan’s early classics.
8. Blowin’ In the Wind: No surpirse here, Blowin’ In the Wind put Dylan on the map and in one fell swoop positioned him to be spokesman of a generation. “The Freeweheelin’ Bob Dylan” is a remarkable leap forward from his eponymous debut album, and he would never look back.
7. Like A Rolling Stone: This song reached number two on the Billboard Hot 100. There’s a fact which will never cease to amaze and sadden me. Imagine a six minute long, highly erudite put-down being one of the top singles in today’s America. Neither can I.
6. Positively 4th Street: Speaking of highly erudite put-down songs, Positively 4th Street is surely one of the meanest pop songs ever recorded. Dylan, it might be said, did not bid a fond farewell to his former comrades in the folk movement.
5. Tangled Up In Blue: Ostensibly about Dylan’s marital breakdown, Tangled Up In Blue is a non-linear whirlwind of imagery and metaphors that speaks to more than just a singular event.
4. It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue: Dylan’s farewell to the folk revival is sad? Critical? Melancholy? Hopeful? Perhaps it is all those things. What can’t be denied is that this song stands as yet another towering achievement in Dylan’s repertoire of lyrical mastery.
3. The Times They Are A-Changin’: The ultimate protest anthem. If this song doesn’t make you want to go out and fight for change, nothing will.
2. Mr. Tambourine Man: Turned into the foremost song of folk-rock by The Byrds, Dylan’s original version of Mr. Tambourine Man contains three extra verses of lyrical beauty. If you haven’t heard it, your to-do list just got one item bigger.
1. Desolation Row: Perhaps no song has so entranced me as did Desolation Row. The first time I heard it, I proceeded to play it on repeat for upwards of four hours. It gave me chills, despite the fact that the lyrics were as oblique and eccentric as any Dylan ever wrote. All I know is when I die, I hope they send me to Desolation Row.
(Warning: Insultingly obvious statement follows) Well, that’s the list. Leave any thoughts or comments or anything else anywhere you want. Preferably in the comments section though. Get stuffed!