8 lesser known Dylan songs that are works of utter genius

By Tony Attwood

I don’t really have a definition for “lesser known songs” but I guess I start with songs that are not on any of the mainstream albums.

In putting together my little list I have restricted myself to songs that I have reviewed on this site – if you have any suggestions that are not on the site do let me know and I will make them a priority for reviewing – as long as I can find a copy.

1: Ballad for a friend – this is (at least at the moment) the earliest Dylan song that is reviewed on this site.  Yet it could have been written by an old experienced blues man.  If you ever need proof of Dylan’s natural talent, it is all here.

2: Caribbean Wind   Suddenly Dylan stepped aside from all the religious songs and wrote something utterly utterly different, both in musical terms and in lyrical terms.  An amazing step vertically and horizontally from a man who had been content to explore Christianity in almost everything he wrote up for several years.  Dylan says the song got away from him, but even if it is not complete, we can still love it.

3: Too Much of Nothing

If ever there was confusion it is here.  Dylan wrote two versions, one of which doesn’t work at all (for me) and so he put that on the album.  Bloody typical! The other was not released until a few years ago, but before that we had versions by others, all of which mixed up the lyrics very slightly – but enough to make it impossible to grasp the true meaning.   Hear Dylan’s second version, know the meaning, and let your blood run cold.

4: When He returns;

This is the one Dylan performance from the Christian era that could convert a sinner such as me.  But it has to be this version, not the one on Slow Train Coming (which is how it manages to get into my list).

5:  To fall in love with you.

In my review I called this “The greatest of all the lost Dylan masterpieces.”   It is an awesome piece of work, but one that Heylin dismissed because he completely failed to grasp this style of working, which many musicians (and indeed many visual artists, playwrights and dancers) use time and time again.   Forget Heylin, listen the work of the master.

6: This Wheel’s on Fire

I am certain that this song is known to everyone who likes popular music in the UK, not least because it was used as the signature tune of Absolutely Fabulous.  But I am also certain most people don’t know that Dylan wrote it.  And I don’t count the Basement Tapes as a mainstream album, so I can slip it in, under my own rules.

7:  Tell Ol’ Bill

It is on the bootleg series volume 8, and it took me about five attempts across several years to get to the bottom of what this is all about in a review on this site.  Actually this is my favourite of all these songs – and it rivals “Visions of Johanna” as my all time favourite.

8:  Abandoned Love 

I’ve put a link to Dylan’s live recording of this – just listen and wonder how great a genius we are listening to when he can just let song go.  It is something else.

OK I know you’ll disagree, and quite probably I will disagree tomorrow, but it was fun doing it.


  1. Too Much Of Nothing
    I’ve always loved this song – thetitle alone deserves a Nobel Prize!
    With Internet babble – “celebrities” – “Newspapers” that arein fact nothing morethan a series of headlines – An age where NOTHING is too trivial to be “celebrated”- has this song come of age all these years later?

  2. “Where are you tonight?”

    Last song on Street Legal may be his best song in my opinion. Same forward energy as rolling stone and some beautiful lyrics. I’ve listened to Dylan for 20 years and only discovered this one in the past year.

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