This May 24, Bob Dylan turns 70 years old.
Rather than repeat what everyone else is saying and giving you the list of the 270 Best Dylan Songs, I've decided to mine different territory, in tribute to the man's consistency throughout the years.
Now Bob Dylan made some lousy albums. But even on the worst of those albums, there is something to recommend.
The rules here were nothing could come from any album before John Wesley Harding, since those albums are generally acknowledged as being Dylan in his prime. Nothing from Blood On the Tracks, Desire, Oh Mercy! (which when first released was given very good reviews and to me is still one of his best), Time Out of Mind, Love and Theft or his most recent albums, since he's getting pretty solid reviews. The Xmas album is up to you.
He doesn't have to have written the song, as long as the performance is dynamite.
And, keep in mind, I had to keep it to ten, with no album allowed two cuts.
Note: "Knockin' On Heaven's Door" is a classic from a lackluster album, Pat Garrett and Billy The Kid, but is far too well-known to be included here.
10) "Love Henry" - World Gone Wrong: Only Bob Dylan would consider trying an acoustic renaissance in the mid-1990s. Well, others would, but no one who sold any records. Good As I Been To You was good, but World Gone Wrong had a darker edge to it. This record got some decent reviews, but mostly out of sympathy for the fact that he wasn't making records that sounded like the ones in the 1980s. The album is still too dry in spots, but "Love Henry," "Delia," "World Gone Wrong" and "Blood In My Eyes" all played into the idea of groaning at the dying of the light.
Sweetheart Like You" - Infidels: At the time of its release, Infidels got the usual "best since Blood On the Tracks" routine, since he was no longer singing so overtly about God. "Jokerman" is the tune most people point to - and it's a good one - but this ballad is dead accurate. Over time, Infidels is seen as "fair to middlin'"
8) "Ninety Miles an Hour (Down a Dead End Street)" - Down in the Groove: Down in The Groove is a pretty bad album, made worse by listening to it in its entirety. But we'll keep this track, "Let's Stick Together," "When Did You Leave Heaven?," "Death Is Not the End," "Had A Dream About You, Baby" and "Silvio." We'll ignore the questionable production.
Under the Red Sky" - Under the Red Sky: At least one major rock critic (wow, that's like being a top pencil salesman in the real world) really liked this album. But I've never met anyone who says they do. The title track is solid, kind of like what you would imagine Dylan sounding like if he joined Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers.
6) "Went to See The Gypsy" - New Morning: New Morning is a pretty great album that is considered to be on the second rung of Dylan releases. But the organ, the roughshod vocals, the deadpan lyrics all make me like it more than many other Dylan records. This song is about meeting Elvis. Back when writing songs about Elvis was not as commonplace.
I Believe in You" - Slow Train Coming: Christianity didn't do Bob's music many favors, besides a Grammy. "Gotta Serve Somebody" is fine. But I refuse to take anything off of Saved. As for "I Believe In You," I liked it when Sinead O'Connor sang it at the tribute where the people booed her offstage. Bob Dylan's alright, but some of his fans turned out to be thick and ordinary.
4) "Lenny Bruce" - Shot of Love: Any song that includes the line, "But he sure was funny" and offers up "Never robbed any churches nor cut off any babies' heads" as personal testimony is one I would wish for myself. Dylan also adds, "I rode with him in a taxi once." Does this guy keep a diary or what?
Changing of the Guards" - Street Legal: I've been told there are people who have analyzed Street Legal and determined its inner workings. Me? I like the remix. Always stick with the opening cut. Even in the days of LPs, artists stuck something good at the beginning. Unless they didn't have anything good.
2) "Brownsville Girl" - Knocked Out Loaded: Also known in another incarnation as "New Danville Girl," "Brownsville Girl" is one of those exceedingly long tracks where Dylan throws in so many odd lines that you wish he would do this more often. "I didn't know whether to duck or to run, so I ran" is every bit as great to me as anything from Highway 61 Revisited and sometimes even better. The song is co-written by playwright San Shepard, so maybe he wrote Dylan's best lines for him. If so, Dylan should subcontract out more often.
Going, Going Gone" - Planet Waves: Planet Waves is a much better album than it sounds. The songs are very good, but it's still considered a second-tier release and not to be confused with the almighty Blood On the Tracks. However, "Dirge" and this track are show-stoppers. The bridge alone - where he sings, "Grandma said, 'Boy, go and follow your heart'" - is a greater move than most mere mortals ever attain.
- Bob Dylan