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As Long as We Remember...

June 6, 2011

On Bob Dylan

Michael Kurtianyk

So, Bob Dylan recently turned 70 years old. It’s hard to believe for me, as I’ve listened to his words and songs my entire life.


Dylan, like a troubadour, came from the Midwest to stake his claim on the folk music scene in Greenwich Village, New York City. He has been credited with single-handedly destroying Tin Pan Alley, that bastion of manufactured lyric-writing and pre-conceived, pre-composed music for others to sing.


Since his self-titled first album, he has released 33 more, not including the concerts, compilations, or greatest hits. It’s hard to say how many songs he’s written, or released, as some are updated arrangements, plus he’s co-written so many. The number of songs in his catalog is somewhere around five hundred.


As c child I had heard him when I listened to the radio. Songs like “Tangled Up in Blue” and “Like a Rolling Stone” were staples of the Album-Oriented Rock (AOR) stations I was listening to at the time. However, it wasn’t until 1983’s release of Infidels that I became a huge Dylan fan. Dire Straits was, and still is, one of my favorite bands. When I heard that their lead singer/guitarist Mark Knopfler produced and played on Infidels, I immediately bought the cassette (go ahead and laugh, but you bought cassettes too!) and proceeded to wear out the tape.


The album just knocked me down and dragged me around. Beginning with the one-two punch of “Jokerman” and then “Sweetheart Like You,” Infidels finds Dylan coming out of his three-year, three-album Christianity Period and back into rock-and-roll. With songs railing against the politics at the time, both nationally and internationally, listeners found Dylan in a menacing mood and ready for action. It was with this album that I started exploring Dylan’s back catalog of albums.


It is in this spirit that Rolling Stone Magazine released an issue recently titled “The 70 Greatest Dylan Songs.” Each of the songs has a description written by either the Rolling Stone writers, or other singers like Bono, Chris Martin, Mick Jagger, et al. It’s akin to the popular “deserted island” discussion: what songs would you take with you on a deserted island, if you could?


The top ten songs in the Rolling Stone list are:

·        Like a Rolling Stone

·        A Hard Rain's A-Gonna Fall

·        Tangled Up in Blue

·        Just Like a Woman

·        All Along the Watchtower

·        I Shall Be Released

·        It's Alright, Ma (I'm Only Bleeding)

·        Mr. Tambourine Man

·        Visions of Johanna

·        Every Grain of Sand


When it comes to Dylan, it’s tough to choose the top 70, much less the 10 best. I like what The Village Voice's David Yaffe did: he put together his own list of Dylan's 70 best songs, but he purposely chose not to rank the songs. "How could one make an empirical case about whether 'Like a Rolling Stone' was better than 'Just Like a Woman' or 'Tangled Up In Blue'? All these songs are perfect for what they are, a bliss that defies hierarchy," wrote Yaffe.


However, I couldn’t help it. As I listen to the Rolling Stone’s Top 70 as I write this, I have my own list.

·        All Along the Watchtower

·        Blind Willie McTell

·        Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door

·        Like A Rolling Stone

·        Every Grain of Sand

·        Subterranean Homesick Blues

·        Changing of the Guards

·        Hurricane

·        Things Have Changed

·        Jokerman

·        Senior (Tales of Yankee Power)


Of course, as with any list, this would likely change each time you asked me. I did cheat and add an eleventh. Oh, well – my prerogative.

What Dylan songs would make your list?


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