Tuesday, May 24, 2011


Robert Zimmerman – better known as Bob Dylan – turns 70 years old today. In honor of his 70th birthday, those pot-heads at Rolling Stone released a list of what they consider Zimmy’s 70 best songs.

When my buddy DiscConnected mentioned to me that he was going to post a list of his Top Ten favorite Dylan songs to commemorate Dylan’s birthday, I shoved my way into that idea and said something very original: “Me too!”

What makes compiling a list of 10 favorite Bob Dylan songs so difficult for me is that I love – not like, but LOVE – more than 10 Dylan songs. I’m tempted to list some “Honorable Mentions” as well, but I don’t wish to be thought of as a “two-time cheater”.

What’s odd is that in my late teens / early 20s, I owned 9 Bob Dylan albums on Licorice Pizza (LP), and yet I did not really consider myself much of a Dylan fan. As I have stated on this blog multiple times before, it wasn’t until my late 40s that I suddenly realized how much I had unconsciously learned from Dylan while listening repeatedly to his albums way back then.
In early 2008, I borrowed the Dylan album ‘Bringing It All Back Home’ from my friend DiscConnected (the man who owns approximately 15,000 compact discs, and counting).
I hadn’t heard the album for about 25 years, and as I was listening to it, all those songs started coming back to me, and I was left thinking to myself: Oh, so this is where all “my” ideas came from!

I don’t think I could overemphasize the impact Dylan had on my creative life. From Zimmy's Zongs I learned how to think in similes; how to manipulate words for fun and profit; how to think “outside-the-box” creatively; how to loosen up and unlock the mental gate, thus inviting the creative spirit to flow from my subconscious mind into my consciousness and to manifest in whatever form I’m working in.

Interestingly, after having read a biography about him, I found that I don’t really like Bob Dylan much as a person, nevertheless I find him to be a fascinating individual. As an artist, I have the utmost respect for him and stand rather in awe of his songwriting talent.

In 1965 & ’66, Dylan released 3 albums (‘Bringing It All Back Home’; ‘Highway 61 Revisited’; ‘Blonde On Blonde’) all considered musical landmarks. And those 3 albums contained 34 songs, many of them absolutely brilliant, acknowledged masterpieces that literally revolutionized popular songwriting. Has any other artist in any other genre displayed a similar outpouring of remarkable creative inventiveness over just a two-year span? I would argue that James Dean did, and probably Vincent Van Gogh as well, but no one else comes to mind for me.

On to my list . . .

Below are my Top Ten favorite Zimmy Zongs. The first one is indeed #1 for me; a work of mind-boggling lyrical genius. Sit down with pencil ‘n’ paper someday and numerically write out the rhyming chart for this one and be amazed – be very amazed!

After #1, all of my choices have been alphabetized, because it would be impossible for me to rank them in order of preference. I have included multiple links for each song because I fear some of the links will not work properly. Some of the song titles themselves are links, and more links can be found below the lyric excerpts.

#1! :

From the album ‘Bringing It All Back Home’

My eyes collide head-on with stuffed
Graveyards, false gods, I scuff
At pettiness which plays so rough
Walk upside-down inside handcuffs
Kick my legs to crash it off
Say okay, I have had enough, what else can you show me?

And if my thought-dreams could be seen
They’d probably put my head in a guillotine
But it’s alright, Ma, it’s life, and life only


[Performed in Birmingham, England, 1965. Scroll down slightly.]


All the others in alphabetical order :

From the album ‘Bringing It All Back Home’

Well, the last I heard of Arab
He was stuck on a whale
That was married to the deputy
Sheriff of the jail

But the funniest thing was
When I was leavin’ the bay
I saw three ships a-sailin’
They were all heading my way

I asked the captain what his name was
And how come he didn’t drive a truck
He said his name was Columbus
I just said, “Good luck”

In hindsight, I’ve come to realize that my 1980 poem ‘Seven Days Of The Lord’ was inspired by ‘Bob Dylan’s 115th Dream’. I didn’t realize that at the time I was writing it. This is an excellent example of the sort of Dylan song that learned me how to think “outside-the-box”, as is evident in ‘Seven Days Of The Lord’.


From the album ‘Slow Train Coming’

Jesus said, “Be ready
For you know not the hour in which I come”
Jesus said, “Be ready
For you know not the hour in which I come”
He said, “He who is not for Me is against Me”
Just so you know where He’s coming from

‘Slow Train Coming’ (1979) was the first of Bob Dylan’s Christian albums. Who knew that Christian music could sound so freakin’ tough?! This stuffs sure doesn’t sound like those weenie-whiney-wimpy songs that pass for Christian music today.

From the album ‘Blonde On Blonde’

Yes, I see you got your brand new leopard-skin pill-box hat
Well, you must tell me, baby
How your head feels under somethin’ like that
Under your brand new leopard-skin pill-box hat

Well, you look so pretty in it
Honey, can I jump on it sometime?
Yes, I just wanna see
If it’s really that expensive kind
You know it balances on your head
Just like a mattress balances
On a bottle of wine
Your brand new leopard-skin pill-box hat

Ha! One of Zimmy’s funniest songs. I distinctly recall that when I was a teenager, I disliked ‘Leopard-skin Pill-box Hat’. I thought it was just plain silly. Now, I not only love it, but I believe I have an original observation to make about it: I might well be wrong, but in thinking about this song, I came to the conclusion that it is actually delivering the same sort of message as Dylan’s most famous song ‘Like A Rolling Stone’, albeit in a more humorous “fashion”. Tell them you heard it here first on Roller Derby.



From the album ‘Highway 61 Revisited’

Princess on the steeple and all the pretty people
They’re drinkin’, thinkin’ that they got it made
Exchanging all kinds of precious gifts and things
But you’d better lift your diamond ring, you’d better pawn it babe

You used to be so amused
At Napoleon in rags and the language that he used
Go to him now, he calls you, you can’t refuse
When you got nothing, you got nothing to lose
You’re invisible now, you got no secrets to conceal

How does it feel?

Is there anyone who wouldn’t include ‘Like A Rolling Stone’ on their Top Ten Favorite Dylan Songs list? The consensus is that this is his all-time greatest song.


From the albums ‘Greatest Hits’ and ‘The Essential Bob Dylan’

You got a lotta nerve
To say you are my friend
When I was down
You just stood there grinning

You got a lotta nerve
To say you got a helping hand to lend
You just want to be on
The side that’s winning

A real sentimental choice for me. Back in the late 1970s/early ‘80s, I used to have this song all set up to start playing anytime my dear friend Marty was coming to see me. It drove him nuts! He’d walk in my front door, or climb into the passenger seat of my car, and immediately he’d hear: “You got a lotta nerve to say you are my friend…” Ha! Of course, he really was a great friend, and that’s why I was rattling his cage. He was killed by a car thief in 1989. Very sad. I really miss him.


[A close-to-identical “cover” version.]

From the album ‘Slow Train Coming’

Man’s ego is inflated, his laws are outdated, they don’t apply no more
You can’t rely no more to be standin’ around waitin'
In the home of the brave
Jefferson’s turnin’ over in his grave
Fools glorifying themselves, trying to manipulate Satan
And there’s a slow, slow train comin’ up around the bend

Big-time negotiators, false healers and woman haters
Masters of the bluff and masters of the proposition
But the enemy I see
Wears a cloak of decency
All nonbelievers and men stealers talkin’ in the name of religion
And there’s a slow, slow train comin’ up around the bend

The great title track from Dylan’s great Christian album. You’d better believe it - Jesus is comin’ up around the bend. He may be comin’ slowly, but He’s also coming with the unstoppable force and power of a train. Will you have your ticket in hand when He arrives?


From the album ‘Blonde On Blonde’

Now the rainman gave me two cures
Then he said, “Jump right in”
The one was Texas medicine
The other was just railroad gin
An’ like a fool I mixed them
An’ it strangled up my mind
An’ now people just get uglier
An’ I have no sense of time

Oh, Mama, can this really be the end
To be stuck inside of Mobile
With the Memphis blues again

I couldn’t even begin to guess what this song is about. All I know is that I love the way it sounds, and I love taking the title and adapting it to other situations. For instance, I might say something like, “I’m stuck inside of Phoenix with the Airheadzona Blues again.” Which in fact is fact!

[A close-to-identical “cover” version.]

From the album ‘Bringing It All Back Home’

Maggie comes fleet foot
Face full of black soot
Talkin’ that the heat put
Plants in the bed but
The phone’s tapped anyway
Maggie says that many say
They must bust in early May
Orders from the D.A.
Look out kid
Don’t matter what you did
Walk on your tiptoes
Don’t try “No-Doz”
Better stay away from those
That carry around a fire hose
Keep a clean nose
Watch the plain clothes
You don’t need a weatherman
To know which way the wind blows

My friend DiscConnected and I were talking about this song the other day and he said, “It’s not really about anything.” I laughed and said, “Actually, I think it’s about EVERYTHING! I mean, even the kitchen sink is in there, isn’t it?”

This has been called the very first Rap song, and it is another one of those recordings that taught me how to loosen up and just let the mind go where it will. Sometimes you just gotta unleash the dog and let it go sniffin’ around whichever way the wind blows it.

My own personal version of ‘Subterranean Homesick Blues’ was titled ‘Ode To 824 Bay’. What it lacked in quality it made up for in craziness.


From the album ‘Slow Train Coming’

God don’t make no promises that He don’t keep
You got some big dreams, baby,
But in order to dream you gotta still be asleep
When you gonna wake up?, When you gonna wake up?
When you gonna wake up and strengthen the things that remain?

Counterfeit philosophies have polluted all of your thoughts
Karl Marx has got ya by the throat,
Henry Kissinger’s got you tied up in knots
When you gonna wake up?, When you gonna wake up?

Another song that sounds tough-as-nails from Dylan’s first Christian album. Sometimes the message needs to be stated loudly and fearlessly. Dylan knew how to do that.

From the album ‘Blood On The Tracks’

A change in the weather is known to be extreme
But what’s the sense of changing horses in midstream?
I’m going out of my mind, oh, oh
With a pain that stops and starts
Like a corkscrew to my heart
Ever since we’ve been apart

‘Blood On The Tracks’ is generally considered one of Bob Dylan’s very greatest albums. No argument from me. The theme is basically “love gone wrong”. A lot of fans believe the songs were inspired by Dylan’s deteriorating relationship with his wife, but I know he was really writing about Terrill and me. (Although you probably think he was writing about you and your lost love, huh? Silly! It's all about Terrill and me.)

[My Dylanesque ‘Love Letter To Terrill’.]

I have to be in the right mood to listen to 'Blood On The Tracks'. I have to be in the mood to get stinking drunk and slit my wrists over lost love. Fortunately, I’m in that kind of mood fairly often.

Although the album is loaded with great songs about lost love, ‘You’re A Big Girl Now’ stands out for me as the greatest of the mournful classics on this collection. Few people mention this particular song when naming the best couple of songs from ‘Blood On The Tracks’, but it absolutely slays me, even before Dylan starts singing the words. Those first few Spanish guitar-like notes strike my heart like darts, and I’m pretty much ready to weep in seconds. This is one of the saddest songs ever recorded.

…a pain that stops and starts
Like a corkscrew to my heart

Have you ever opened a bottle of wine with a corkscrew? You know how you can only twist the corkscrew just so far before you have to stop and reposition your hand in order to twist it again? “A pain that stops and starts, like a corkscrew to my heart”. Damn! That is some imagery! Dylan could really write.

Well, those are my Top Ten favorite Dylan songs. If the links didn’t work, you can listen to SONG SAMPLES AT BOBDYLAN.COM by using the small arrows in the upper corners to scroll through his various albums and load the song you wish to hear.

Please be sure to also check out the Top Ten Dylan Songs of DiscConnected and Arlee Bird of the blog Tossing It Out.

“Famous Dogs Of The Civil War” – Part 2, another blog bit ‘bout Dylan, has not been written yet. But whenever I get around to composing it, I will post a link to it HERE.

~ Stephen T. McCarthy

YE OLDE COMMENT POLICY: All comments, pro and con, are welcome. However, ad hominem attacks and disrespectful epithets will not be tolerated (read: "posted"). After all, this isn’t Amazon.com, so I don’t have to put up with that kind of bovine excrement.


DiscConnected said...

Well, McDogg, not a bad song on your list. Funny-I bumped "4th Street" in favor of "Subterranean."

Oddly enough, "Rainy Day Women" didn't make either of our lists.


Stephen T. McCarthy said...

Nah, "Rainy Day Women" wouldn't even make my list if it was 40 songs instead of just 10.

To me that's such a novelty song that sometimes I even skip right to track 2 when I play the 'Blonde On Blonde' album. I don't dislike the song at all, but it's one I only need to hear maybe once every year or two.

However, it makes it rather fun to listen to occasionally, knowing that they all really were stoned and intoxicated when they recorded it.

~ D-FensDogg
'Loyal American Underground'

DiscConnected said...

Actually I was makin' a funny about RDW...not his best song...good to drink to, though.

Interestingly enough, you quoted one of the few parts of "Memphis Blues" that actually makes sense!

You've got three from "Slow Train," all good choices. The title track almost made my list but I went with "Serve Somebody" instead.

I refrained from an honorable mention list this time....next thing ya know we'd be making a list of seventy best Dylan songs, and that would just be silly.


Arlee Bird said...

"Rainy Day Women" was considered by me since I used to like the novelty songs back then and it's a sentimental favorite of sorts. I don't think I have a song past 1970 but I guess those early ones are the songs that were really burned into my memory. I like a lot of his later stuff, including the ones you listed, but I just didn't think of those when I was slapping this list together.

Are you sure you weren't the one who inspired me to listen to "...Memphis Blues..." on YouTube multiple times a while back. I could have sworn you posted a link or something. I can't imagine who else would have done that. Well, it's still a cool song.

I was very tempted to take something from Nashville Skyline since it was the first Dylan album I began listening to with any real intensity, but I just thought the songs lacked some of the depth of others that he had done.

Glad that I found this little blogfest amidst my vacating and busy times. Too bad more people didn't hear about it in time to join in.

Tossing It Out

Stephen T. McCarthy said...

DiscComBOBulated ~
>> . . . I refrained from an honorable mention list this time....next thing ya know we'd be making a list of seventy best Dylan songs

Ha! Yeah, ain't that the truth.

>> . . . Interestingly enough, you quoted one of the few parts of "Memphis Blues" that actually makes sense!

Well, maybe, kinda, sorta.
But who the heck is the Rainman? (Not Dustin Hoffman.) And I'm still not sure what Texas Medicine is. If it's some sort of alcohol, as you propose, then I should already be familiar with it from the years when Al Cohol and I were the best of friends.

~ D-FensDogg
'Loyal American Underground'

Stephen T. McCarthy said...

Well, Brotherman, I don't recall urging you to listen to "Memphis Blues Again" at YouTube, and I may have mentioned it in previous blog bits, although none come immediately to mind.

Maybe you dreamed it.
Maybe it was "Arlee Bird's 115th Dream".

Yeah, "Nashville Skyline" isn't exactly considered one of Dylan's essential albums, but then most people would say the same about "Slow Train Coming", but nevertheless, it's one of my favorites.

Glad you played along, McBuddy! Thanks for tossing something together on short notice.

~ D-FensDogg
'Loyal American Underground'