By Tony Attwood
In 2015 USA today published an article titled, “Ranking all of Bob Dylan’s songs, from No. 1 to No. 359”
Now if you are a regular reader of Untold Dylan you might well note a problem here: because on our site, produced without any of the millions of dollars at USA Today’s disposal, we’ve got 590 songs that we are fairly clear Bob wrote or co-wrote.
(Although I think I have included one song twice, so we might be about to drop down to 589, but either way it is still a lot more than USA Today found).
And it gets worse for USA Today. Not only have they lost over 230 songs (a bit careless one might agree) but also they missed some real gems songs out, like “Tell Ol’ Bill”. But worse again they included songs that Bob didn’t write. Songs like “Gospel Plough.” And then again “Like a Rolling Stone” pops up twice, because they list the version on Self Portrait as a separate song.
There are multiple inconsistencies of this type throughout the list, although they do try to excuse themselves in the blurb by saying “We ranked studio releases only (including movie soundtracks) or songs that Dylan played in concert more than 100 times.”
So suddenly “Bob Dylan’s songs” doesn’t actually mean, as it normally would, “songs Bob wrote.”
Of course these are not the only people who have screwed up lists of Bob Dylan songs, and given that for the majority of songs they don’t explain their choice of a position in the list, it is all rather meaningless.
But it gave me an idea. What about the best “obscure” Dylan songs? Then, as ever I found someone had got there before me, but still the lists are interesting. Rolling Stone did a piece called “20 Overlooked Bob Dylan classics” which opened with “You’re no good” from 1962, so again we are not looking at songs Dylan wrote, but songs he has performed. “You’re no good” was written by Jesse Fuller.
And their view of “overlooked” was a trifle odd too, as it included “Black Diamond Bay” and “Where are you tonight?” Not really overlooked are they?
Next up I found a site called “CultureSonar” which has the strap line “Never stop being interesting” which I rather like. They have an article, “The 10 Best Bob Dylan Songs You May Have Never Heard” which sounds promising except that it starts with “Boots of Spanish Leather”.
And so the list of lists goes on with writers particularly assuming that we don’t know songs like “Caribbean Wind” just because it isn’t on a mainstream album. You can obviously find such lists yourself just by typing an appropriate phrase into a search engine.
But since I like to think our site here is a rather well-known Dylan site in its own right, and if nothing else has the benefit of having the biggest ever list of songs that Dylan has composed or co-composed, so I think we ought to join in with….
The 10 Best Obscure Songs that Dylan Wrote.
By which I mean songs that didn’t appear on a mainstream album, and excluding pieces like Caribbean Wind that we all know about.
But when it got to putting them in order, well, I couldn’t really. So I cheated and put them in alphabetical order.
- Abandoned Love. I count this as obscure because there are these two utterly different versions, and I keep on meandering me between the two and most casual Dylan fans don’t know the song. They are both worthy of inclusion here.
- Angelina. I didn’t really like this song when reviewing it myself, and couldn’t see what Dylan was doing with it – as my review of it says. And then Jochen sent over his review of this song which ends with a link to Ashley Hutchings version, and not for the first time I changed my view of a song while editing an article. Ignore everything I said. Jochen got it right.
- Ballad for a friend. The amazing early blues that I have raved over since I started this site over 10 years ago. How the young Dylan wrote this so early in his career is utterly beyond me. If I am ever asked to give an example of what makes me think Dylan is a genius as a musician, rather than as a literary person, this is the track I trot out.
- I once knew a man. It turned up just the once as a song played at rehearsal for a TV programme, and that’s it. We eventually did get a couple of decent versions of the lyrics (see the comments section under the review), but that never reduces my love of this punk blues rock something else song.
- I’m not there. OK this is not really obscure any more because much of the time this is the third most accessed song review on this site. But the vast majority of Dylan fans for some odd reason choose not to read this site (although quite a few people do) so they still don’t know about it. And it still tears at my heart and my mind after years of listening to it. A miracle of a piece.
- Rock em dead. This really really really is how you do rock n roll. What is not to adore here?
- Tell Ol’ Bill. I’ve written about this so often on this site as my all time favourite Dylan song you’ve probably got fed up with it. But the music and lyrics combination in terms of creating that total overwhelming feeling of uncertainty of the future and just keeping on keeping on, is just something else.
- To fall in love with you. Everyone’s favourite obscure song.
- Well well well. It is just this one version of this song which Dylan co-wrote that I love, but when we come to obscure that does it for me.
- Yonder comes sin. I don’t go for most of the religious songs, although the live version of “When He Returns” has always been on my list. But this one gets close, and for me is the best of the religious songs, after that very special version of When He (which isn’t really obscure enough to include in my top 10. Several of the live versions of When He have now vanished, but when I wrote the review I managed to include a whole raft of them, and there are still one or two survivors. So two number tens, because well, you can’t do a top 11.
What else is on the site
You’ll find an index to our latest posts arranged by themes and subjects on the home page. You can also see details of our main sections on this site at the top of this page under the picture.
The index to the 500+ Dylan compositions reviewed is now on a new page of its own. You will find it here. It contains reviews of every Dylan composition that we can find a recording of – if you know of anything we have missed please do write in.
We also have a discussion group “Untold Dylan” on Facebook. Just type the phrase “Untold Dylan” in, on your Facebook page or follow this link
And please do note The Bob Dylan Project, which lists every Dylan song in alphabetical order, and has links to licensed recordings and performances by Dylan and by other artists, is starting to link back to our reviews