Seventy On Seventy: The 70 Best Bob Dylan Songs, A To Z (Part Two Of Two)


(Part One is here.)

So here we are on the once-unthinkable occasion of Dylan turning 70.

When Dylan was starting out, old white men—I mean older than Pete and Woody—were mostly on the wrong side of the Civil Rights movement. Older black men, if they were survivors like Howlin’ Wolf or Son House, were people to aspire to. Dylan’s version of being young—at least in the beginning—was to emulate the older guys on the folk blues records. Odetta, an older black woman, inspired him to go acoustic. But don’t take it from me. Here he was in early ’62: “I don’t carry myself yet the way that Big Joe Williams, Woody Guthrie, Leadbelly and Lightnin’ Hopkins have carried themselves. I hope to be able to someday, but they’re older people.” This is Dylan at 21, talking to the great Nat Hentoff for the liner notes of his breakthrough Freewheelin’ album, the one that started with “Blowin’ in the Wind” and included other chestnuts he still performs: “Hard Rain”; “Don’t Think Twice, It’s Alright”; “Girl From the North Country.”

He was so much older then. Now, he’s grizzled and raspy enough where he doesn’t have to try when he invokes Charley Patton on “High Water” from “Love and Theft.” He opens his mouth and the croak of a sage comes out. People who are afraid of death are often afraid of age; some would rather switch the channel to the Jonas Brothers. They are missing the point. Bob became Bob because he worshiped at the shrine of his elders. He wanted to carry himself with the authority of Woody, Cisco, and Leadbelly, too, and none of those guys made it to 70. When he reinvented his persona and transfigured the Oakie and bluesman’s affect—when he became, from Another Side to Blonde on Blonde, less derivative, more startlingly original in his singing—he “got young” (his words). But he could only do that after he was soaked in the wisdom of old. In other words, even though he barely attended college, he got an education of another kind, all of it with a young man’s empathy for old guitar pickers, hobos, victims of racism. On this list, there are some songs that he was waiting to age into.

You may think Dylan’s current incarnation sounds like a cement mixer. Or you may realize that you are hearing something lovely, dark, and deep, a raspy wisdom that only comes when knockin’ on heaven’s door becomes less of a metaphor every year. But let’s leave Bob as the young man telling Hentoff how he hoped to carry the authority of older performers and let’s appreciate how, 50 years later, he kept his word. Freewheelin’ has become fate.

May he walk down many more roads, and may he—you knew I was going to say this—-stay forever young.

31. Maggie’s Farm Bringing it all Back Home

32. Mama, You Been On My Mind Bootleg Series, Vol. 1

33. Man in the Long Black Coat Oh, Mercy

34. Masters of War Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan

35. Mississippi “Love and Theft” (all three versions on Tell Tale Signs)

36. Most of the Time Oh, Mercy

37. Mr. Tambourine Man Bringing it all Back Home

38. My Back Pages Another Side of Bob Dylan

39. Not Dark Yet Time Out of Mind

40. Obviously Five Believers Blonde on Blonde

41. Odds and Ends The Basement Tapes (The Genuine Basement Tapes)

42. One More Cup of Coffee (Valley Below) Desire

43. One Too Many Mornings The Times They Are-A Changin’ (Live, 1966; Dylan-Cash Sessions)

44. Percy’s Song Biograph

45. Positively Fourth Street Greatest Hits

46. Quinn the Eskimo (Mighty Quinn) Self-Portrait (Biograph; Genuine Basement Tapes)

47. Sad-Eyed Lady of the Lowlands Blonde on Blonde

48. Sara Desire (Live 1975)

49. She Belongs to Me Bringing It All Back Home (Self Portrait)

50. Shelter From the Storm Blood on the Tracks (Hard Rain)

51. Simple Twist of Fate Blood on the Tracks (Live 1975)

52. Standing in the Doorway Time Out of Mind

53. Subterranean Homesick Blues Bringing it all Back Home (Bootleg Series)

54. Stuck Inside of Mobile With The Memphis Blues Again Blonde on Blonde

55. Sweetheart Like You Infidels (Outfidel Intakes; Rough Cuts)

56. Tangled Up in Blue Bootleg Series (Blood on the Tracks; Real Live)

57. Tears of Rage (with Richard Manuel) The Basement Tapes (Genuine Basement Tapes)

58. The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll The Times They Are-A-Changin’ (Live 1975)

59. The Times They-Are A-Changin’ The Times They Are A-Changin’

60. Things Have Changed The Essential Bob Dylan

61. This Wheel’s on Fire Basement Tapes (Genuine Basement Tapes)

62. Tonight I’ll Be Staying Here With You Nashville Skyline (Live 1975)

63. Tryin’ to Get to Heaven Time Out of Mind

64. Up to Me Biograph

65. Visions of Johanna Blonde on Blonde (Biograph)

66. When I Paint My Masterpiece Greatest Hits, Vol. 2

67.Where Are You Tonight? (Journey Through Dark Heat) Street Legal

68. Where Teardrops Fall Oh, Mercy

69. You Ain’t Goin’ Nowhere Greatest Hits Vol. 2 (Basement Tapes; Genuine Basement Tapes)

70. You’re Gonna Make Me Lonesome When You Go Blood on the Tracks