Few artists were influential and important to pop culture like Bob Dylan, succeeding in overcoming controversies, crises and rebirths over his career. Bob Dylan will not be remembered for his vocal qualities or for his particular instrumental skills, but for the value of his lyrics, recognized as a true form of poetry and recently rewarded with the Nobel Prize in literature.
Here you find the best songs ever composed by Bob Dylan, focusing on the lyrics. A way to (re)discover the reasons that gave him the Nobel Prize.
Blowin’ In The Wind
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?
In 1963 Bob Dylan releases his (probably) most representative song, very connected to the 60s. The Cold War, the civil rights, pacifism and the inability of men to escape their destructive nature become the lyrical manifesto of the young singer.
The Times They Are A-Changin’
Come mothers and fathers
Throughout the land
And don’t criticize
What you can’t understand
The Times they Are A-Changin‘ shows a singer-songwriter who’s aware of his skills, showing to the world the real request for change of his generation. it was 1964: the big changes going on in those years could not have a better song.
Positively 4th Street
You say I let you down, ya know its not like that
If you’re so hurt, why then don’t you show it?
You say you’ve lost your faith, but that’s not where its at
You have no faith to lose, and ya know it
Positively 4th Street was released in 1965. It’s a resentful and poisonous attack against the Folk scene, which had targeted him after he “went electric”.
The title of the song mentions the old singer’s address at Greenwich Village, where it all started.
Subterrean Homesick Blues
Johnny’s in the basement
Mixing up the medicine
I’m on the pavement
Thinking about the government
The criticism against Bob Dylan was born after this song, the first appearing ing Bringing It All Back Home, the album of the new sound: Mr. Zimmerman was now a true rocker, but the world of Folk music perceived that as a “betrayal”.
Like all the great love stories, the break-up was painful and not without consequences. But Dylan wanted to explore other sounds and use new instruments, to tune up his surreal lyrics.
Mr. Tambourine Man
And take me disappearing through the smoke rings of my mind
Down the foggy ruins of time
Far past the frozen leaves
The haunted frightened trees
And speaking of surreal lyrics, Bringing It All Back Home had also this visionary song.
Mr. Tambourine Man is considered one of Dylan’s most enigmatic compositions, mixing dream and reality. It’s about a night encounter between a drummer and a tramp.
Like a Rolling Stone
How does it feel, how does it feel?
To be without a home
Like a complete unknown, like a rolling stone
Dylan stated his new clear rock attitude in one of the greatest and most celebrated songs of rock, extracted from Highway 61 Revisited, in 1965.
The surreal fable (“Once Upon a Time”…) allows Bob Dylan to reiterate his desire to detach himself from the figure of representative of the young protest: he was only a man who tries to write his songs, without being forced to take positions.
Rainy Day Women #12 & 35
Well, they’ll stone you when you’re trying to be so good
They’ll stone you just like they said they would
They’ll stone you when you’re trying to go home
And they’ll stone you when you’re there all alone
But I would not feel so all alone
Everybody must get stoned
Song from 1966 that was banned from many radio stations because of its references to drugs: Rainy Day Women #12 & 35 is the opening track of Blonde On Blonde, the absolute masterpiece of Bob Dylan.
All Along The Watchtower
There must be some way out of here
Said the joker to the thief
There’s too much confusion
I can’t get no relief
Businessmen, they drink my wine
Plowmen dig my earth
None of them along the line
Know what any of it is worth
All Along The Watchtower, contained in 1967 album John Wesley Harding, shows an artist who returned to more acoustic sounds.
Jimi Hendrix wanted to interpret this song too, making it unforgettable for all us. But someone still thinks that Dylan’s version it the best.
Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door
Mama put my guns in the ground
I can’t shoot them anymore
That cold black cloud is comin’ down
Feels like I’m knockin’ on heaven’s door
The soundtrack of Pat Garrett & Billy The Kid contains one of Dylan’s brightest gems, in which he reiterates his vision about a world without wars and deaths.
Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door had also many covers, the most famous is certainly Guns’n’Roses one, recorded in Use Your Illusion II.
Pistol shots ring out in the barroom night
Enter Patty Valentine from the upper hall
She sees the bartender in a pool of blood
Cries out, “My God, they killed them all!”
Song written for Rubin Carter, known as “Hurricane,” boxer imprisoned for murder.
In 1975 Dylan received the autobiography of the boxer, hoping in some form of solidarity from the singer. But things went beyond his prediction: Dylan was shaken by Carter’s story, sentenced in 1966 to two life sentences for a triple murder he never committed.
The singer-songwriter met the former boxer in prison and shortly thereafter this protest song was born, attacking the absurdity and the surreal story that destroyed Carter’s life.
Columbia persuaded the singer to avoid explicit names and the final version of the song appeared in Desire, 1976.
In 1985 a new trial declared Carter innocent, admitting that the conviction was based on racial motivations.