As chosen by famous fans, Dylan associates and Uncut writers
19 Just Like A Woman
From Blonde On Blonde (May 1966)
IAN McCULLOCH: The chorus is kind of sexist, but kind of spot on. It’s fantastic, not because it was sexist – I’m going down a real cul-de-sac here, aren’t I? – but because it was a brilliant lyrics. Obviously there was someone who was doing his head in, so he nailed all of them at once. Nice one, Bob.
PETE WYLIE: I remember being an avid reader of NME in the mid-Seventies, before punk, and started reading about Dylan and all the arguments about him. That whole discourse of whether or not songs like this were sexist and that whole sexist threat of male rock’n’roll lyrics. Which I didn’t give a fuck about because I didn’t know what sexism was. “Just Like A Woman” is beautiful, that thing of being so pretty that it’s deceptive. Underneath, there’s this really nasty person. It;s also one of those songs where you’re sitting there with red wine, feeling morose, and certain lines’ll flash up in your head all the time to remind me of my own experiences. Dylan’s almost got, in that Shakespeare kind of way, a quote that you could put at the beginning of every chapter of your life.
ANTHONY REYNOLDS: Robert Zimmerman don’t speak English. He speaks Dylan, and I couldn’t understand this language until recently . . . until, that is, I became a man. A few years ago, I was heavily into the music of Roberta Flack and she was singing this song; quite suddenly, out it jumped, this line that caught my heart in its hands: “When we meet again/And are introduced as friends/please don’t let on/That you knew me when/I was hungry/And it was your world.” I was open-mouthed, stunned and shocked. It was telling me something I knew, but that I didn’t know I knew. On checking the record sleeve there it was: “Just Like A Woman” (Dylan). A few years earlier, maybe even months, this line wouldn’t have hit me where it hurts . . . but I’d been forced to grow, had had to take some real blows by then, like every other sucker on the planet. I started listening to Bob himself . . . some compilation thing. Friends had been recommending him to me for years, but he seemed too un-perverse and too primary for me. As with Elvis, the opposite of this was true. Like I said, his whole style and delivery and writing is a language in itself. I felt immune at first, especially regarding the singin, but little by little, pieces got to me – and then I realised I’d been listening to him for years, through other singers. Since Roberta Flack sang me those lines, years ago in that bedroom in Dalston, there’s been a basement room within the gothic slum of my heart that will be forever reserved for Bob Dylan.
NICK JOHNSTONE: When I hear Dylan sing “With her fog, her amphetamine and her pearls”, I am convinced, despite what anyone says, that he’s singing to Edie Sedgwick. To me, this song is her song, her theme song, her “Moon River”. He’s chasing Edie when he sings “I Want You” and leaving her when he sings “Just Like A woman”. His voice is perfect, the music is perfect, the lyrics give you the chill bumps. It’s plain and simply a sadly beautiful song about a beautiful and tragic woman.
KATHRYN WILLIAMS: Dylan’s like Picasso. He knows the rules, but he then knows how to play with them. “Tonight as I stand inside the rain.” That’s brilliant. Anybody else would have written “in the rain” or “out in the rain”.
18 Ballad Of A Thin Man
From Highway 61 Revisited (August 1965)
ROBYN HITCHCOCK: “Ballad Of A Thin Man”? In a way it’s the ballad of every man, but dominated by this overwhelming, terrific sense of paranoia. A great song, but the studio version is almost wooden compared to the Albert Hall version, which is amazing, takes you to places that the Highway 61 Revisited version only hints at. That;s the thing about Dylan live. I’ve a friend who does the stage lighting for him, so I saw him play live a few years ago, just after Time OUt Of Mind, and watching him from the lighting rig, he was amazing. He actually sounded like Bob Dylan, and looked like Bob Dylan – which was a shock because every other time I’d seen him over the past 20 years or so he’d been like a crap imitator. I was so surprised. I remember thinking: “What’s Bob Dylan doing on stage at a Bob Dylan gig?”
HOWARD DEVOTO: Songs like this got him that ‘hippest cat on the planet’ tag. Years on I can’t help feeling that a lot of the “something” that is is happening “but you don’t know what it is” is Dylan’s immense, perplexing success at the time. Someone said that back then Dylan definitely wanted to be a superstar – but when he got there it freaked him out. His move to rock was obviously part of getting there, and here we are, “Ballad Of A Thin Man”. There was this mean act that was him and Bob Neuwirth. Running into them in New York was like walking into a threshing machine, as Phil Ochs put it. You can see them at work in the film Don’t Look Back.
JON SPENCER: I think that’s just a really creepy record. It’s a great riff, but so fucking nasty.
DAN BERN: Huey Newton dug the song. It’s beautifully vicious; even the organ sounds dangerous.
MARC ‘LARD’ RILEY: The sound of Bob looking down is Roman nose at a lesser being. Mind you, there are those among us who’d have you believe that we are all lesser beings compared to his Royal Bob-ness . . . and HEY maybe they’re right. A justifiable case of the condition also known as ‘superiority complex’.
17 Blowin’ In The Wind
From The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan (May 1963)
JOAN BAEZ: If Bob had never written another song, this contribution would be enough for a lifetime. Its appeal is universal and eventually universal songs become so generic that we have to remember that their strength comes from their history, why they were written and who sang them.
DAVID PAJO: I like the early live version from Montreal in 1962 best, before he’d actually recorded or released it. Overall it’s a bad show for him. People are walking out and he fucks up on the guitar, he spends a long time tuning and changing keys, he stops and starts songs, uses the wrong harmonica, etc. But it’s late night at a tiny club in Montreal with only a few people in the audience and nobody knows this song or its future.
ROBERT FORSTER: Most people say great protest song, I say great pop song. It’s only recently did I realise what a great little pop song it is.
KIM SCALUNOS: His singing sounds so world-weary, it’s hard to believe it was recorded a year before the bright-eyed “The Times Are A-Changin’.”