Bob Dylan year by year; decade by decade

These two series (Year by Year and Decade by Decade) take Bob Dylan songs and consider them in the order in which they were written.

Within this all the individual songs are reviewed one by one.   You can find an index to the songs in the Decade by Decade series listed immediately below, and an alphabetical list of all the songs reviewed if you scroll down the home page.

Bob Dylan decade by decade


Bob Dylan year by year – the series

Each of these articles is a summary of what Dylan wrote in that year.

Bob Dylan – the highlight of the year (in terms of compositions)

1961: Talking Bear Mountain – Dylan took an existing format and used it in a completely new way – not a bad move for a 20 year old.

1962:  Ballad for a friend.  This little known blues song is utter perfection, using rhythm and lyrics to give the blues format a new twist and hold our attention totally throughout.

1963: When the Ship Comes In.  Part religious, part protest, this has all the vigour and vitality of change and reform that “Times they are a changing” (written soon after) doesn’t get close to with imagery that is utterly new within this type of music.

1964: It’s all right ma.   Line after line of indictment of the modern age delivered with such power and passion.  No one ever wrote a song like this before.

1965: Impossible to choose.  “Subterranean” gave beat poetry a place in pop and rock, Love Minus Zero took love songs into the world of the unsayable, “Rolling Stone” created the songs of disdain, “Desolation Row” took political protest to a totally new level and “Johanna” took music into impressionism.

1966: One of us must know.   Not most people’s choice, indeed probably no one’s choice by mine, but this song takes one of the three fundamental themes of pop (lost love – the other two are love and dance) and gives it a totally new twist. A completely new way of saying farewell.

1967: Drifter’s Escape.  It has but one line of music, but takes the impressionism of Johanna into a totally new context at yet another level.  This world is not real.  This world makes no sense.  This world offers hope to the lost: the problem is finding the door.

1968: Dylan can stop.  And stop he did.  After over 100 songs in the past seven years, at a time when it looked as if everything from the arts to politics was changing forever, Dylan just stopped.

1969: Dylan can change.   I can’t pick a song from the list of new compositions because nothing here matches what has gone before, and nothing really grabs me as original, new, or overwhelmingly beautiful.  But it was the experimentation with country music that brought Dylan back to songwriting.  Without that twist, he might never have written again.

1974: Tangled up in Blue.  For anyone else it would be the highlight of a total career, carved on the gravestone and mentioned in every article.  Idiot Wind comes a very very close second.

1975: “Abandoned Love”.  The last collaborations with Levy were extraordinary, but everything about this song shouts out “genius” and leaves one wondering why Dylan needed a collaborator.  Both versions that we have are so worth playing again, and again, and again.

1977: “Where are you tonight?”  An extraordinary poem which opens with the most evocative of lines: “There’s a long-distance train rolling through the rain  Tears on the letter I write”    And if lines such as

He took dead-center aim but he missed just the same
She was waiting, putting flowers on the shelf
She could feel my despair as I climbed up her hair
And discovered her invisible self

don’t make you shiver, well, I don’t know what will.