The subject matter of Bob Dylan’s songs: 1974

by Tony Attwood

In this series of articles I have been trying to give very simple one word definitions of the subject matter of Bob Dylan compositions year by year, in the hope of seeing exactly how the themes within the music ebbed and flowed.  As well of course of noting what the key subject matter of the songs was, year by year.

The whole of the 1960s (Bob’s most prolific decade as a songwriter) has been analysed through a series of articles which are indexed here.

Two articles have been published so far on the 1970s…

Now here is the list of 1974 songs, each assigned to a category…

  1. Lily, Rosemary and the Jack of Hearts  Gambling
  2.  Tangled up in blue   Fate
  3. You’re a big girl now  Lost love
  4. Shelter from the storm  Love
  5. If you see her say hello  Fate
  6. Call Letter Blues Fate
  7. Simple Twist of Fate   Fate
  8. Idiot Wind  Fate
  9. You’re gonna make me lonesome when you go Fate
  10. Up to Me  Fate
  11. Buckets of Rain Love
  12. Meet me in the Morning Lost love

As with the earlier articles, there is a huge problem because a lot of the songs are about multiple subjects and I am trying to fit each song into one simple title.

To give a comparison with what Dylan had been writing about here are the subjects for the earlier part of the 1970s with the 12 songs above added at the end.

Fate dominates this collection of songs.  Love, and lost love are the other two major themes.  Lily, Rosemary and the Jack of Hearts is noted as a gambling song, but it could also be a song about fate, love and lost love all at the same time.

Subject 1970 1971/3 1974 Previously Total
Environment, places, locations 5 3 9 17
Jewish prayer 1 1
Visiting 1 1 2
Love, desire 4 7 2 42 55
Lost love 1 2 2 31 36
Blues 1 9 10
Be yourself 1 1 2
Post-modernism 1 1 2
Protest 1 21 22
Dance 1 1 2
Being trapped 1 11 12
Death 1 4 5
Moving on 3 12 15
Rejection of labelling 1 1 2
Disdain 1 8 9
Gambling 1 2 3
Fate 7 7

So as we can see Dylan created his masterpiece album by moving into a new topic of writing – writing about fate.

All Dylan compositions by subject up to 1974. 

In this listing the previous total is given first.  Where there are songs from this year the plus sign (+) is added followed by the number for 1974, with the grand total to date including 1974, after the equals sign (=)

  • Art: 3
  • Be yourself: 1
  • Being trapped/escaping from being trapped (being world-weary): 11
  • Blues: 9
  • Betrayal: 1
  • Celebrating a city 1
  • Change: 4
  • Dance: 1
  • Death: 4
  • Depression: 1
  • Disasters: 1
  • Disdain: 8
  • Environment: 9
  • Eternity: 1
  • Fate: 0 + 7 = 7
  • Future will be fine: 2
  • Gambling: 2 + 1 = 3
  • Happy relationships: 1
  • How we see the world: 3
  • Humour, satire, talking blues: 13
  • Individualism: 8
  • It’s a mess: 3
  • Jewish prayer: 1
  • Leadership: 2
  • Look after yourself: 1
  • Lost love / moving on: 33 +2 = 35
  • Love, desire: 42 +2 =44
  • Lust: 1
  • Moving on: 12
  • Nothing changes: 4
  • Nothing has meaning: 2
  • Party freaks: 3
  • Patriotism: 1
  • Personal commentary: 2
  • Postmodernism 1
  • Protest 21
  • Randomness (including Kafkaesque randomness): 11
  • Rebellion: 1
  • Rejection of labelling: 1
  • Relationships 1
  • Religion, second coming: 2
  • Sex (country life): 1
  • Social commentary / civil rights: 6
  • Slang in a song: 4
  • Surrealism, Dada: 15
  • Travelling on, songs of leaving, songs of farewell, moving on: 16
  • The tragedy of modern life: 3
  • Visit: 1
  • WH Auden tribute: 1

And as usual here is the list of the top categories by the end of 1974…

  • Randomness (including Kafkaesque randomness): 11
  • Moving on: 12
  • Humour, satire, talking blues: 13
  • Surrealism, Dada: 15
  • Travelling on, songs of leaving, songs of farewell, moving on: 16
  • Protest: 21
  • Lost love / moving on: 35
  • Love, desire: 44

You might also enjoy Bob Dylan in 1974: the genius returns, and how!

What else is on the site?

We have a very lively discussion group “Untold Dylan” on Facebook with over 3330 active members.  (Try imagining a place where it is always safe and warm).  Just type the phrase “Untold Dylan” in, on your Facebook page or follow this link 

You’ll find some notes about our latest posts arranged by themes and subjects on the home page of this site.  You can also see details of our main sections on this site at the top of this page under the picture.

The index to all the 597 Dylan compositions and co-compositions that we have found on the A to Z page.

If you are interested in Dylan’s work from a particular year or era, your best place to start is Bob Dylan year by year.

On the other hand if you would like to write for this website, or indeed have an idea for a series of articles that the regular writers might want to have a go at, please do drop a line with details of your idea, or if you prefer, a whole article to Tony@schools.co.uk

And please do note our friends at  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, plus links back to our reviews (which we do appreciate).

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