This is a post I wrote for a blawg my friends from college and I have. Enjoy.
One night two summers ago my cousin approached me with a serious look on his face. He gripped my arm tightly and vehemently expressed his concern that perhaps one is entirely unable to watch a movie or read a book or listen to a musician without first hearing about it from a reputable source- be it a friend, relative, magazine or website. He said, "Would we have watched Dr. Strangelove last night if it hadn't been named one of the greatest films of all time?"
At the time, I understood what he meant, but his qualms have stuck with me and influenced me to retain as much autonomy and individual interest as possible when encountering unexperienced aspects of media. So when I flipped through someone's copy of the latest Rolling Stone this weekend and discovered an article listing, in depth, the "70 Greatest Bob Dylan Songs," I experienced an amalgamation of several feelings: elation at seeing many of my favorite songs on the list, confidence that just like Rolling Stone writers and Dylan-worshipping musicians, I knew what made these songs great, disgust with certain songs I felt should have made the list but didn't as well as the ones included that I felt shouldn't have been, and inspiration to listen much closer to songs I may have previously ignored or misunderstood.
Obviously, everyone has different taste. But when it comes to Dylan's greatest songs, it's understandable that many people would share the same favorites. I think it's important to have this sort of mutual understanding, but I am really proud to have my own choices in my own order, be them on The List or not. So I'll list here my five favorite Dylan songs to give you a taste of how I view Dylan's work, but keep in mind my favorites vary depending on my mood,. the weather, the time, where I am, what I'm doing and blah blah blah blah blah. The following is the most enduring Top Five:
1. Don't Think Twice, It's All Right [Demo-Recording] - No Direction Home Soundtrack (The Bootleg Series, Vol. 7) - 2005
The studio recording was the eighth track on 1963's The Freewheelin' Bob Dylan, but I prefer the demo because although it excludes the bluesy harmonica, its stripped-down and mournful sound more accurately paints a picture of desolation and leaving a relationship.
2. Santa-Fe - The Bootleg Series, Vol. 1 (1991)
The lyrics are indecipherable and don't match up to their written documentation, but from what I can understand, they detail a life of endless wandering, the thoughts of a man who can't e tied down to a single place or person. It was recorded in the basement of Big Pink with The Band before they were The Band, so of course, the musical accompaniment is richer and upbeat. The seemingly comforting line "Don't feel bad, no no no no don't don't don't feel bad" kills me every time.
3. Like A Rolling Stone - Highway 61 Revisited (1965)
Honestly, this is one of the most important songs of all time, so it would make sense that it would be Rolling Stone's number one pick (though the fact that it is the magazine's namesake and that it was already chosen as their pick for the greatest song of all time eased any anticipation). Over time the song takes on added significance, and I find myself singing it scornfully and acidly in my head to certain girls I hate to love. Bruce Springsteen has rather articulately expressed his first encounter with the song, in a way speaking for most people, saying "The first time I heard Bob Dylan, I was in the car with my mother listening to WMCA, and on came that snare shot that sounded like somebody'd kicked open the door to your mind."
4. Idiot Wind [Alternate Take] - The Bootleg Series. Vol. 2 (1991)
Dylan haphazardly recorded most of the material on 1975's Blood On The Tracks without much help from a backing band in Minneapolis before revamping his songs and releasing them. This song is notable because it features simply Dylan on acoustic guitar and harmonica, desperately whining a depressing nine minutes of heartbreak and anger with a past love who done him wrong. In the end, though, Dylan places the blame not only on his ex-lover, but on himself, too, stating, "We're idiots babe, it's a wonder we can even feed ourselves." However, the lyrical imagery is overshadowed by the minute-and-a-half harmonica solo at the end of the song, a solo which most vividly relates Dylan's pain.
5. Chimes Of Freedom [Live] - No Direction Home Soundtrack (The Bootleg Series, Vol. 7) 2005
In my opinion, maybe the greatest of Dylan's folk-protest songs, and perhaps the greatest protest song of all time. Though instead of pointing fingers Dylan describes a truly epic thunderstorm whose violent lightening and thunder clang out the unjust derogation of all types of people and which is seen by everyone in a strange experience of global unity- from the outcast, the mistitled prostitute and misdemeanor outlaw to the poet, the lonesome-hearted lover and ultimately, "every hung-up person in the whole wide universe." I don't often listen to the original studio version on 1964's Another Side of Bob Dylan, instead favoring the live concert version recorded in 1964 at the Newport Folk Festival.
I love Bob Dylan. And you should, too.