As chosen by famous fans, Dylan associates and Uncut writers
From Desire (January 1976)
JEFF TWEEDY: It’s just a power . . . fucking . . . powerhouse: song, delivery, performance. It happens once every 10 years that somebody can perform a song like that. Maybe all of the first Sex Pistols record has that kind of intensity. There’s the rawness to Scarlet Rivera’s [violin] playing and then there’s Dylan just spitting out his lyrics. There’s a couple of songs on Desire that are like that, like “Joey”, when he sings “thinking he was bulletproof”. It’s a really strange moment and I think that because he collaborated on the lyrics [with Jacques Levy], maybe he became even more into the role-playing of his singing. I don’t know: whatever it was, he was angry, and Dylan’s kind of at his best when he’s angry.
PETE WYLIE: It’s a different kind of Dylan protest song. At the time I never knew the early stuff, like “Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll”, were he’s writing about specific stories. “Hurricane” to me was a different way of hearing Dylan. It’s a great narrative and it’s very thought-provoking and actually encourages the listener to take sides. I do some work for Paddy Hill’s MOKO (Miscarriages Of Justice Organisation). Paddy was one of the Birmingham Six and he actually met Hurricane Carter in America to launch an American version of MOKO, helping people who are in nick for things they didn’t do. Paddy told me about Hurricane Carter and he’s an incredible fella. So “Hurricane” feels like a song that did some good. It’s a ‘let’s do something about this’ record.
PAUL BURCH: Maybe not as great a song as “All Along The Watchtower”, which has the same chords, but it has a great sense of drama. Again, I like it because he names names. At the time, it was a risky song, because that case was still unresolved. Hurricane was still in prison and it was really controversial as to whether he did it or knew who did it. So for a star like Dylan, he was really putting his reputation on the line by saying this guy is innocent and I’m writing a song about it, cursing in it and using racial words in it. It’s a tough song. As far as something that people will remember, that’s a great song.
24 Not Dark Yet
From Time Out Of Mind (September 1997)
ADAM SWEETING: It was ironic that 1997’s Time Out Of Mind should be the album that announced Dylan’s most recent creative renaissance, because it was steeped in images of mortality and a stark sense of time running out. “Not Dark Yet” was Dylan at his most sepulchral. The song hovered into view in a ghostly shimmer of guitar and Hammond organ that seemed to have been recorded in a crypt. The military drumbeat suggested a burial party slow-marching along fog-shrouded battlements. “I was born here and I’ll die here against my will,” Dylan intoned, like a man in the grip of a fearful premonition. Still, subsequent interviews suggested he was actually feeling quite chipper, which was a relief.
HOWARD DEVOTO: These days I’m interested in the mature – very mature – Dylan. He’s the one teaching me about getting old. And this is one of the three great tracks on Time Out Of Mind. In terms of arrangement, it’s like with this album Lanois has lost the tight control he had with Oh Mercy, so it rambles a lot. But the production showcases the grain of Dylan’s voice better than any other album. The voice way up front, the instrumentation stripped back and way down in the mix.
LYNDON MORGANS: Awesome, this new Dylan – Ezekiel with a Stratocaster! It’s overwhelming to hear the man so back on form . . . Sounds like distant thunder rolling off the prairie. Does he regret the encroaching dark, or is it solace to him?
JUSTIN CURRIE: The end of the retreat and the beginning of the resignation. It’s the first thing Dylan’s done that sounds to me like he’s singing about himself, and seeing as it took the miserable sod nearly 40 years, I find it very moving. Only he could make getting old and giving up so utterly beguiling. Imagine Lennon trying that at 60 – he’d be so humourless and seld-pitying. Dylan still has a lightness of touch that every one of his contemporaries lost at least two decades ago. And he’s still funny as fuck. Not like Macca or Brian Wilson. He means to be. This is a man who sings on “Highlands”, “You could say I’m on anything but a roll.” Well, in that case the rest of us are in a rut and as long as Dylan shuffles along with the kind of sarcasm that can stop trucks and melt meteorites we all might just have a chance.
NICK JOHNSTONE: The definitive example of the Daniel Lanois production technique. Big, echoey chambers, swampy, haunted loping drums, the lonesome guitars and Dylan’s voice, old, gnarled, corroded. It’s music as prayer, a song as a candle of hope lit in a cathedral. It’s Rothko’s “Red Over Maroon” as a piece of music. One of the greatest works of art across any discipline by anyone.
23 Love Minus Zero/No Limit
From Bringing It All Back Home (March 1965)
IAN McCULLOCH: I love this song firstly becasue it’s short, secondly of the words, and thirdly because it’s probably my favourite Bob Dylan melody. I also think of it as the forerunner to “Sweet Jane” in terms of the chord progression, which everyone cites as being Lou Reed – but “Love Minus Zero” sort of got there first. I don’t know what he’s going on about particularly, but it’s a beaut.
ISOBEL CAMPBELL: It captures a person being in love and the lyrics are completely beautiful. He also talks about everything that’s going on around, such as dime stores and bus stations, and as such it’s not too flowery. He also explains why she’s great. She sounds like she’s got a good handle on things and I’d probably be in love with her too – that’s a testament to Dylan’s way with words. The jangly guitar sound’s a marvel on this too. He’s an underrated guitar player.