Standing on stage at Manchester’s Free Trade Hall, an electric Stratocaster in his hands, an audience member yelled “Judas!”.
Large sections of his audience were unhappy about Dylan’s decision to switch from folk to rock, with the singer facing a similar barracking in Glasgow the following night.
History has not been kind to the naysayers, with the man born Robert Zimmerman now a Nobel Prize winner and recognised as one of the greatest songwriters who has ever lived.
Condensing his life and career into just 10 songs is an impossible task – he’s released 39 studio albums – but we’ve given it our best shot.
Blowin’ In The Wind (The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan, 1963)
Dylan’s first album was mainly covers, and you can mark the real start of his career at The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan. The opening line of ‘Blowin’ In The Wind’ is one of the most famous in the history of popular music.
Mr Tambourine Man (Bringing It All Back Home, 1965)
A five minute epic which shows the poetry for which Dylan would be awarded the Nobel Prize for literature: “Yes, to dance beneath the diamond sky with one hand waving free/Silhouetted by the sea/Circled by the circus sands/With all memory and fate driven deep beneath the waves/Let me forget about today until tomorrow”.
Like A Rolling Stone (Highway 61 Revisited, 1965)
The song that prompted the Judas chant, though Dylan had actually explored electric sounds on Bringing It All Back Home. The lyrics are either surrealist or just ludicrous, but thanks to a rowdy audience member it’s arguably the biggest moment of Dylan’s career.
Visions of Johanna (Blonde On Blonde, 1966)
Perhaps the greatest song on arguably Dylan’s best album, in 1999, Britain’s Poet Laureate, Andrew Motion, chose it as his candidate for the best song lyric ever written. People still pore over and argue its contents to this day.
Girl From The North Country (Nashville Skyline, 1969)
Having moved into rock, Dylan switched to country for 1969’s Nashville Skyline. This duet with Johnny Cash even inspired a musical based on the singer-songwriter’s work.
Tangled Up In Blue (Blood On The Tracks, 1975)
A return to form after a string of albums that were received lukewarmly at best (New Morning, Planet Waves) and with disdain at worse (Self Portrait), Blood on the Tracks was initially released to mixed reviews but is today considered one of the greatest albums ever made, with ‘Tangled Up In Blue’ frequently named among the all-time great songs.
Hurricane (Desire, 1976)
One of Dylan’s great protest songs, ‘Hurricane’ tells the story of Ruben ‘Hurricane’ Carter, a boxer imprisoned for murder on flimsy evidence: “Now all the criminals in their coats and their ties//Are free to drink martinis and watch the sun rise/While Rubin sits like Buddha in a ten-foot cell/An innocent man in a living hell”.
Tight Connection to My Heart (Has Anybody Seen My Love) – (Empire Burlesque, 1985)
Not even the most ardent Dylan fan would deny he lost his way somewhat in the 1980s Empire Burlesque is not a very good album, but its opening track goes firmly on the list of ‘decent songs on bad records’.
Cold Irons Bound (Time Out Of Mind, 1997)
After the 80s wilderness years, Dylan got his mojo back for 1997’s Time Out Of Mind. An obvious standout was ‘Cold Irons Bound’, which earned the singer a Grammy Award for Best Male Rock Vocal Performance.
Ain’t Talkin’ (Modern Times, 2006)
A long and haunting blues song to end the album, it tells of a lone narrator walking through a desolate landscape. Dylan croaks: “Now I’m all worn down by weeping/My eyes are filled with tears, my lips are dry/If I catch my opponents ever sleeping/I’ll just slaughter ’em where they lie
Murder Most Foul (Rough and Rowdy Ways, 2020)
The longest song Dylan has ever released, ‘Murder Most Foul’ is a rumination on the assassination of John F Kennedy. At 16 minutes it must be said it goes on a bit, but that trademark Dylan turn of phrase remains even into the seventh decade of his career.
Dylan is of course famous for both inspiring other artists and for his songs being covered by them. Here are some of the best.
All Along The Watchtower – (Jimi Hendrix, Electric Ladyland, 1966)
The ultimate example of a Dylan cover, the man himself has said he prefers it to his own version and his take on it live is far closer to Hendrix’s than the original. Said Dylan in 1995: “He found things that other people wouldn’t think of finding in there. He probably improved upon it by the spaces he was using.”
Song For Bob Dylan – (David Bowie, Hunky Dory, 1971)
There’s nothing arch or ironic as Bowie pays tribute to “a strange young man called Dylan, with a voice like sand and glue”. Making use of Dylan-esque chord progressions, he details how Dylan “sat behind a million pair of eyes and told them how they saw”.
Serve Yourself – (John Lennon, John Lennon Anthology, 1998)
Dylan announced his conversion to Christianity in 1979 with the album Slow Train Coming, and this vault track parodies ‘Gotta Serve Somebody’:“You tell me you found Jesus Christ/Well that’s great, and he’s the only one/You say you just found Buddha/Sittin’ on his ass, in the sun”. Miaow.
Make You Feel My Love – (Adele, 19, 2008)
The only cover on Adele’s debut album 19 comes from the aforementioned Time Out Of Mind. Her version initially only reached number 26 on the chart but it shot to public attention in 2010 after its heavy use on Comic Relief and today many are unaware it’s a Dylan-penned song.
Desolation Row – (My Chemical Romance, Watchmen soundtrack, 2009)
From breathy balladry to three-minute punk, you can do just about anything to Dylan’s songs and they’ll still come out sounding ace. The fella at the Free Trade Hall would probably spontaneously combust on hearing this very loud take on a classic.
#Bob #Dylans #life #songs #remember #Judas #heckle