The top ten Dylan songs: our readers’ personal choices

By Tony Attwood

I recently wrote a little piece about people’s top ten Dylan songs, and it drew a number of replies, with some readers kindly providing their own top tens).

There were a few choices in there (and you can go back and find them after the original article of course) that surprised me, but then that’s the nature of the music and the people who listen.  One of Bob Dylan’s almighty strengths is the way he has been able to vary his music over time, and that of course leads to varied choices for his best songs.

(And let me add that yes, I know that some people do feel that such an exercise is futile when considering an artist who has written over 500 songs, but I still found it interesting).

Anyway, since I am currently still on holiday in Cyprus, and since it has clouded over this morning with occasional showers, meaning I can’t go for my morning constitutional, I thought it might be interesting to look and see if there was any pattern to be found in the songs that were chosen.

There turned out to be quite a liking for Dylan’s songs of the 1960s, which I guess is not too surprising.  And certain songs turned up several times over, which has led me to list the songs that got more than one inclusion in the varied personal top tens, showing the number of times that song was mentioned until this morning  (28 November 2017).

Now let me stress I am not trying to prove anything.  Rather I am just musing over what people who are kind enough to spend a few moments on this site and then bother to write in have said.   Here we go…

1: With four inclusions

  • Vision of Johanna
  • Mississippi

2: With three inclusions

  • Where Are You Tonight
  • Shelter from the Storm
  • Jokerman
  • It’s Alright, Ma
  • Every grain of sand

3: The songs with two inclusions in personal top tens…

  • Tangled Up in Blue
  • Simple twist of fate
  • Ring Them Bells
  • Not Dark Yet
  • Mr. Tambourine Man
  • Like a Rolling Stone
  • In the garden
  • Idiot wind
  • Hazel
  • Don’t Think Twice
  • Chimes of freedom
  • Ballad of a thin man
  • Abandoned Love

For me, and of course like this whole exercise it is all very personal, there were a few surprises.  I was delighted to find a couple of inclusions for “Abandoned Love” and most of all for the high ranking of Mississippi, which didn’t come out too well in the journalists’ listings, which is where this little game started.  Likewise “Where are you tonight?” scored on the readers’ list but not the journalists’ list.

But perhaps the biggest surprise for me was the inclusion of “Shelter from the storm” – which is a great song indeed but not one I even contemplated as I tried to whittle my own personal list down to ten.   And if nothing else, seeing this song turn up means that the moment I get home (well, not exactly the moment I get home because it will be the middle of the night, but the next day) I shall be playing that song a few times and going back to the review on this site, and seeing what it was I missed, which others found so alluring.

Anyway, I don’t mean this to be other than a little exercise in looking at other people’s point of view.  And in that regard here is a final comparison – the list of songs (which I published a few days back) based on the number of times the page relating to each song has been accessed by readers in the past year.   Here’s that list again, this time noting the number of votes from the magazines in the earlier article, and now the number of times it has featured in a personal top ten.

To stop matters getting out of hand I’ve only listed personal and magazine votes when two or more readers / journalists have listed the song in their personal top ten.

  1. Hard Rain’s a gonna fall (3 magazine votes)
  2. To fall in love with you
  3. Make you feel my love
  4. Tangled up in blue (4 magazine votes; inclusion in 2 personal lists)
  5. Times they are a changing
  6. Jokerman  (inclusion in 3 personal lists)
  7. Visions of Johanna (4 magazine votes; inclusion in 4 personal lists)
  8. Blowing in the wind (2 magazine votes)
  9. I shall be released
  10. Only a pawn in their game

Nothing here is meant to prove anything, except that we all have different views of the best Dylan songs, and I most certainly am not trying to say one song is in some way better than another just because it appears on any list.

But just in case you fancy taking this a stage further I would be delighted to hear of any Dylan songs that you rate very highly indeed which don’t seem to be turning up on these lists at all.   If you have read my ramblings on this site and on our Facebook group (Untold Dylan if you have not joined) my entry at the very top of every list would be “Tell Ol’ Bill”.  I’ve not convinced many people about that yet, but there’s still time…

So, given that the rain is still falling I shall sit here and contemplate my ten favourite obscure Dylan songs – or versions thereof.  And in case you are wondering what has happened to the reviews of songs not yet covered in our list of 450+ reviews, they will resume once I get home and have my books and CDs to hand, and won’t disturb anyone playing the same song 20 times over.

I hope the sun is shining where you are.

What is on the site

1: Over 450 reviews of Dylan songs.  There is an index to these in alphabetical order on the home page, and an index to the songs in the order they were written in the Chronology Pages.

2: The Chronology.  We’ve taken all the songs we can find recordings of and put them in the order they were written (as far as possible) not in the order they appeared on albums.  The chronology is more or less complete and is now linked to all the reviews on the site.  We have also recently started to produce overviews of Dylan’s work year by year.     The index to the chronologies is here.

3: Bob Dylan’s themes.  We publish a wide range of articles about Bob Dylan and his compositions.  There is an index here.  A second index lists the articles under the poets and poetic themes cited – you can find that here.

4:   The Discussion Group    We now have a discussion group “Untold Dylan” on Facebook.  Just type the phrase “Untold Dylan” in, on your Facebook page or follow this link 

5:  Bob Dylan’s creativity.   We’re fascinated in taking the study of Dylan’s creative approach further.  The index is in Dylan’s Creativity.

6: You might also like: A classification of Bob Dylan’s songs and partial Index to Dylan’s Best Opening Lines

 

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4 Responses to The top ten Dylan songs: our readers’ personal choices

  1. Larry Fyffe says:

    Sad-Eyed Lady Of The Lowlands

  2. Rob Geurtsen says:

    ‘Where are You Tonight’ isn’t that lovely, not often loved or reminded… he should play more from Street Legal. I love that sound, a precursor to his Slow Train – christian gospel like period.

  3. Larry Fyffe says:

    And it no longer seems that Dylan is still hankering for his favorite Canadian chocolate bar, the ‘Sweet Marie’!

  4. David Alexander says:

    My desert island Dylan song is not one of the better known ones, rather a neglected masterpiece on Infidels that unlocked the whole of Dylan for me, personally. It was not that long after it came out that I was introduced to Infidels – the Knopfler connection was the trigger as everyone liked Dire Straits at the time. Anyway, I loved Jokerman, I and I and Sweetheart Like You, less keen on Neighbourhood Bully and Licence to Kill but the one that really got me was Don’t Fall Apart On Me Tonight – I had to keep listening to it and now after having heard most everything the man has released I can still say it’s definitely near to the top, if not at the top of my own list.

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