By Aaron Galbraith
*I have been so used to writing 594 Dylan songs that I put that in the title of this piece originally. The point is with the extra song found for this article we are now at 595 – Tony.
A couple of months ago Tony did a ranking of his favourite obscure tracks and as I love a list more than most, I thought I’d join in with my top 10 of the songs that Dylan let others finish for him! To be clear, I’m not including songs which Dylan co-wrote from start to finish with someone else, but just those tracks that never got finished and someone else picked up, in most cases, years later and completed with Dylan’s permission.
So here is my official Top 10 countdown of the Songs Dylan let others finish.
- Worth The Waiting For (Completed by Dave Stewart)
Based on a Dylan/Stewart jam session from 1985, Stewart wrote a new lyric about his and Annie Lennox relationship and included it on his 2011 “Blackbird Diaries” album. It’s a decent little song and perhaps better in this live version with Daryl Hall.
- On, Wisconsin (Completed by Trapper Schoepp)
The earliest known lyric for a Dylan song to be completed by someone else. The lyrics were up for auction and Trapper saw them online and wrote the music to this playful Guthrie-esque piece. Dylan approved and the track was released in 2018 on Trapper’s “Primetime Illusion” album
- Steel And Feathers (Don’t Ever) (Completed by Nikki Jean)*
Nikki Jean contacted several very famous songwriters and asked to collaborate with them for her 2011 album “Pennies In A Jar”. Dylan sent her his (then) unreleased “Don’t Ever Take Yourself Away” and she wrote new verses for the song. Here is a live version with the ever dependable Daryl Hall.
- Duncan And Jimmy (Completed by Rhiannon Giddens)
A splendidly fun piece from the New Basement Tapes album. Is it just a fun little piece about two buddies, riding the rails, having fun without a care in the world or is it about renowned country singer/songwriter Jimmy Duncan, I’m not sure but it is a whole mess of fun!
- Wagon Wheel (Completed by Old Crow Medicine Show)
A boot stomping hoedown of a track and a massive hit to boot! The Old Crow guys took a snippet of a Dylan track, with mumbled lyrics and turned it into something really, really, special here. Again, here we have the “King-of-appearing-on-live-takes-of-newly-completed-Dylan-tracks”, its Daryl Hall with Darius Rucker.
5: Matthew Met Mary (Completed by Elvis Costello)
Maybe it’s because I had to search for a long time to eventually hear this song, but I really do love it. It has an absolute killer line “A thousand doors couldn’t hold me back from you”. It reads like it’s sort of about marriage and sort of about organized religion, but it’s true meaning remains tantalizingly out of reach. Dylan, I’m sure would have tightened up the lyric if he had completed it, but Elvis’ version is a glimpse into what could have been. If only it had been included on the NBTC album.
- Stranger (Completed by Marcus Mumford)
I am not a Mumford & Sons fan at all, but Marcus Mumford really turned out to be the MVP of the New Basement Tapes band. His “When I Get My Hands On You” is fantastic and nearly made this list, but I went for the more rocking “Stranger” instead. It is suitable obscure and impenetrable, it jumps back and forth through time between the 20th century and the old wild west. It is filled with great lines such as “I wanna tombstone pearl handle revolver” which just scans so beautifully – I just wished Dylan had finished it! But we are left with this and it is just fantastic.
- Gone But Not Forgotten (Completed by Poo Bear & Jared Gustsadt)
Potentially Dylan’s most recent song. The song first appeared in 2018 and then was included as part of the final episode of the “Bear and a Banjo” podcast series. You should check out the whole series as it is really great and as they said “this song stitches together the entire series in the form of a lyrical puzzle”. There is also a bonus live episode containing all the music from the series and the album will follow soon. Here is an acoustic version of the track.
- Touchy Situation (Completed by Jack Savoretti)
This reads to me almost as a companion piece to “Gone But Not Forgotten” although the rumour is that it comes from an early-90s notebook, man what delights that notebook would contain! It would seem that Dylan, just out of the blue, sent Jack Savoretti this lyric and asked if he could do anything with it…quite a thing to be asked and boy does he knock it out of the park, especially with the middle 8 which is out of this world great!
- Kansas City (Completed by Marcus Mumford & Taylor Goldsmith)
In an album filled with great moments, a lyric here and there, a musical accompaniment there, this song is where everything comes together perfectly. It feels like a complete song (even though the last verse was imported from another song!). Imagine this lyric had appeared on say “Bringing It All Back Home”?
And I love you dear, but just how long Can I keep singing the same old song And I love you dear, but just how long Can I keep singing the same old song I’m going back to Kansas City
Here is a wonderful live version from Marcus Mumford with a face melting mandolin solo! Unfortunately, Daryl Hall was unavailable for this performance.
* Steel and Feathers was not previously included in our index of Dylan songs, and thus takes the grand total of Dylan compositions up one.