Dylan in 1966: what was Bob writing about, and how did it compare with previous years?

By Tony Attwood

We have 22 songs written by Dylan in 1966 with the last half dozen created, seemingly spontaneously, in a hotel room for which not all the meanings are completely clear (not that they are in some of the more rehearsed songs either).

There is quite a rebellious, negative streak in these songs, as well as the songs, the meaning of which we could debate forever and not agree upon the topics.   Below is my take, but I am not trying to say this is a definitive analysis which anyone else should follow.  It is simply my attempt to trace the subjects Bob was writing about through each year.

But I am not sure anyone has tried this approach before, of giving the shortest possible description of the theme of each of Dylan’s songs.   However I think it is worth trying (if for no reason other than to get others to improve on this attempt) because through doing this what we can begin to see is an approximation of the subject matter that interested Bob, both year by year and also across the years as time passed.

So to begin, a list of the songs, and a simple description of the subject matter (although “simple” defeated me with Sad Eyed Lady).

  1. Stuck Inside of Mobile with the Memphis Blues Again (surrealism)
  2. Sad Eyed Lady of the Lowlands   (description of Bob’s wife; the interplay of sounds and words? – very difficult to classify, but I’ve put it under love.)
  3. Tell Me Momma (farewell to folk music; moving on)
  4. Fourth Time Around (love, lost love, moving on)
  5. Leopard skin pill-box hat (randomness)
  6. One of us must know (lost love)
  7. She’s your lover now (disdain)
  8. Absolutely Sweet Marie (surrealism)
  9. Just like a woman (lost love)
  10. Pledging my time (love)
  11. Most likely you go your way and I’ll go mine (lost love)
  12. Temporary Like Achilles (lost love)
  13. Rainy Day Women (going against the tide, being a rebel, doing the unexpected)
  14. Obviously Five Believers  (depression, being alone)
  15. I want you (love)
  16. Definitively Van Gough (surrealism)
  17. Don’t tell him. (hotel song, lyrics unclear)
  18. What kind of friend is this? (disdain)
  19. If you want my love (love)
  20. If I was a king (love?)
  21. I can’t leave her behind (lost love)
  22. On a rainy afternoon (love?)

Which gives us in terms of the subject matter of this year (at least as far as I can see) putting each song into one category…

  • Surrealism: 3
  • Art (Farewell to folk music): 1
  • Moving on: 1
  • Randomness: 1
  • Lost love 5
  • Disdain: 2
  • Love: 6
  • Rebellion: 1
  • Depression: 1

Now adding these to the categories nominated for songs via earlier articles (there is an index to all the articles in this series at the end) I’ve finally put the categories into a sort of alphabetical order to make it slightly easier to carry forward each year.  The first number is the total for all previous years, the second number is the total for this year of 1966, and then rather obviously after the equals sign, the total to date.

  • Art: 2 + 1 = 3
  • Blues: 7
  • Death: 3
  • Depression: 1
  • Disdain: 4 + 2 = 6
  • Future will be fine: 2
  • Gambling: 1
  • How we see the world: 3
  • Humour, satire, talking blues: 13
  • Individualism: 6
  • Lost love / moving on: 19 + 5 = 24
  • Love, desire: 11 +6 = 17
  • Nothing changes: 4
  • Patriotism: 1
  • Personal commentary: 2
  • Protest (war, poverty, society): 20
  • Randomness: 1
  • Rebellion: 1
  • Religion, second coming: 2
  • Social commentary / civil rights: 6
  • Surrealism, Dada: 11 + 3 = 14
  • Travelling on, songs of leaving, songs of farewell, moving on: 15+ 1 = 16
  • Tragedy of modern life: 3

Selecting the most popular categories of all the songs Dylan had written up to this point we get…

  • Lost love, moving on: 24
  • Protest (war, poverty, society): 20
  • Love, desire: 17
  • Travelling on, songs of leaving etc: 16
  • Surrealism, Dada: 14
  • Humour, satire, talking blues: 13

Here are the articles in this series to date

I’m hoping to continue the series in the coming days.

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