The Nobel Prize for Literature this year threw up an unexpected winner when the Swedish committee gave the prestigious award to American singer-songwriter Bob Dylan. Now, Dylan has had no shortage of awards with Grammys and Pulitzer Prizes lining his shelves but the committee’s decision to award him the Nobel Prize for “having created new poetic expressions within the great American song tradition” makes Dylan a musical genius beyond comparison. To honour Dylan on his latest achievement, here is a list of some of the best Dylan songs that you should listen to.
The Times They Are A-Changin’
The Times They Are A-Changin’ is probably the most famous song in Bob Dylan’s oeuvre. The song’s universal lyrics and critical world view ensured that it cast a spell on whoever heard it; the song is credited with influencing young Americans during the civil rights movement as well. In fact, it’s relevant even today, as America readies to vote in a hotly contested presidential election.
Blowing In The Wind
So much has been written about this most famous of Dylan’s songs – allegedly written by him in 10 minutes in a café – that the only words that can do justice to it are the lyrics themselves. As you read the following lines you’ll probably recognise why it became the face of the civil rights movement in America in the 1960s when it released.
How many roads must a man walk down/Before you call him a man?/How many seas must a white dove sail/Before she sleeps in the sand?/Yes, and how many times must the cannonballs fly/Before they’re forever banned?/The answer, my friend, is blowin’ in the wind/The answer is blowin’ in the wind
Like A Rolling Stone
Bob Dylan strode into the Newport Folk Festival in 1965 and left his acoustic guitar for a Fender that plugged in to a mic. The crowd booed him but when Dylan began playing Like A Rolling Stone, “the face of rock-and-roll music had changed for ever and ever,” said Bruce Springsteen. Rolling Stone magazine later put the song at Number 1 in its list of 500 Greatest Songs of All Time
Mr Tambourine Man
It’s a known fact that Bob Dylan did drugs at the peak of his career and the lyrics of this song suggest that it was written as a tribute with lines like, Take me on a trip upon your magic swirlin’ ship/my senses have been stripped, my hands can’t feel to grip. Dylan denies this of course, and the song is easily enjoyable without confirming or denying the reasons behind its inspiration.
Tangled Up In Blue
After studying Cubism for a while, Bob Dylan wrote the lyrics of this now-famous classic that critics have said defied the notion of space and time. Those who seek a simplistic explanation to the lyrics have interpreted the song and the album in which it appeared, Blood on the Tracks, in 1975 as Dylan’s feelings after separating from his wife.
Rubin ‘Hurricane’ Carter was a top boxer who was falsely convicted for a triple murder and served 19 years – a cause that Bob Dylan fought for in this song that captures Carter’s story in intimate detail. A relatively unknown song, even among lovers of Dylan’s work, it shows how influential musicians can take up causes they believe in and fight for them using their art.
Lay Lady Lay
It’s difficult to believe this crooning song has been sung by Dylan. Gone is the signature twang and those hard-hitting lyrics. Lay Lady Lay is a romantic song that deserves to be heard more than once. Fun fact: this song made Madonna tear up when she was a teenager. Don’t ask us why!
A Hard Rains A-Gonna Fall
This track is considered another protest song that warns against a coming apocalypse with its unique question-answer format. According to Dylan, every line in this song is the start of a song that he didn’t have time to write. Blending all of that into this seven-minute song while keeping its anti-war theme intact is pure genius stuff.
Subterranean Homesick Blues
Standing outside the Savoy hotel, Dylan drops key words from this song in an almost offhand way. The move has been copied so many times since that it’s become something of a cliché now. In another first, Subterranean Homesick Blues is one of Dylan’s first electric songs and shows his comfortable transition from one genre or another.
Not Dark Yet
Not Dark Yet was released in 1997 on Bob Dylan’s album Time Out of Mind. With lyrics like Every nerve in my body is so naked and numb/I can’t even remember what it was I came here to get away from/ Don’t even hear the murmur of a prayer/It’s not dark yet but it’s gettin’ there, Not Yet Dark is recognised as one of Dylan’s best songs. It has even been referenced to John Keats poem Ode To A Nightingale. Listen to this underrated gem from Dylan’s oeuvre and reach your happy place.
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Cover image courtesy: Jim Summaria/Wikipedia