Bob Dylan’s 40 best songs

As chosen by famous fans, Dylan associates and Uncut writers

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13 Stuck Inside of Mobile With The Memphis Blues Again
From Blonde On Blonde (May 1966)

JACKIE LEVEN: A thing happened in Scotland in the late Sixties and early Seventies which was that when Blonde On Blonde came out, seemingly every single young Scottish guy went out and bought it. It was THE absolute, total record to listen to. When you went round anyone’s council house and opened the door, there was always the smell of tinned lager, congealing bacon fat, home-grown grass and Dylan bawling our, “She said that all the railroad men/Just drink up your blood like wine”. I couldn’t get on with the album, but this particular song just feels very relaxed, I have this thing I do on my own albums when I have a song and every day of recording, before we do anything else, I just put one more idea on it. I refuse to develop it, just put one idea on per day until it’s finished. It’s a different way of looking and recording and freshens up the album. And “Mobile” just has that same kind of feeling for me. It seems like he said, “Oh, I’m not sure about this one,” and they kind of threw it away. There’s all sorts of what-shall-we-do? bits in the arrangement and a lovely bass descent which conjures up images of the musicians shrugging and looking at each other. The rest of the record sounds too much like they’re trying very hard to make a record that sounds different. I find the hardness unappealing, but there’s a smooth, throwaway quality to this. And lovely images.


JEFF TWEEDY: A lot of these songs I picked have a real similarity. It’s an incredible concentration of performance, and then the limitation of it at the same time. There’s a structure that basically keeps rolling over itself over and over again. And it gets more and more charged every time. It’s like a self-charging battery or something.

PETE WYLIE: There’s a great bit in this where they’ve edited the tape and you get two words spliced together. After the bit where his grandpa dies, there’s a line that should begin “I” but they cue it to “he built a fire on Main Street” so it goes “I sp-ee built a fire on Main Street”. They’ve chopped two words in the middle, But that;s another thing you get with Dylan where there’s all these little secret moments that you think you’re the only one who’s spotted them, even if somebody else told you, so you get into that whole trainspotter stupidity mode. And that lyrics about :he just smoked my eyelids and punched my cigarette” – fucking brilliant! It’s a long song but it doesn’t seem long. It’s like a bunch of movies – the Coen brothers would have to do a trilogy there. A stunning piece of work.

ROBERT FISHER: I’ve always liked the idea of telling stories without telling the whole story. There is great intuitive energy in the playing on this song. It sounds like there was magic in the air when the tape was rolling.


12 Positively 4th Street
Single (1965)


BILLY BOB THORNTON: I love Bob Dylan, I’m a great Dylan fan. I’d have to say this song is the ultimate. We’ve all had someone who we’ve wanted to tell “Y’know what? You hate my guts, just come out and say it! Why’d you ver pretend to be who you’re pretending to be? Cos we all know you’re not . . .” It’s the ultimate ‘fuck-you’ song, y’know? It’s never been put better. It’s the one. The greatest line in a song, maybe ever, to say – you don’t have me fooled, I got your number, is: “I wish that for just one moment/I could be you . . . You’d know what a drag it is to see you”. Great!

PETE WYLIE: When I started with Wah! Heat, we covered this, mainly because of the Zoo lot. It’s that thing where your tiny universe is all-consuming, and I’d fallen out with Julian and Mac [Cope and Ian McCulloch] so when I sang it, in my secret little world it was like I was singing it at them and they were going to be destroyed by it, just by me singing it. Strangely they weren’t! It’s got that thing again of great put-downs and jokes, but then I think, “Well, where did the master thief bit come from?” That’s another Dylan trait. I bet even songs that don’t get into this Top 40 have still got great lines. Like in “Tombstone Blues” – “The sun’s not yellow, it’s chicken!” Or there’s that song where that doctor says, “Don’t go back to this woman”, and when he does the fuckin’ doctor’s there instead. That’s like the premise for a play, that one verse.

EDWYN COLLINS: Some say this was a vitriolic address to the folk fundamentalists, post-Newport, others that it was an embittered farewell to the Factory crowd – both of which Dylan denies. Whatever its target(s), it suggests the Sixties music biz and its satellites were as mendacious then as they are now.

GERRY LOVE: I don;t know whether Lou Reed was a fan of this song, but I can hear the roots of the Velvets in this song. This is a basic, raw pop song and its keening melody drew me in the first time I heard it. Dylan’s pop abilities are often overlooked, and never more so than here.

LYNDON MORGANS: “Like A Rolling Stone” – Part Two. One of the all-time great opening lines. An erect middle-finger to the old Greenwich Village folkie scene he’d left behind. If I think of Dylan’s voice, I think of this song first – the tone and delivery melds perfectly with the emotions expressed in the lyric.

STEPHEN PASTEL: He had an amazing run of singles, songs like “Can You Please Crawl Out Your Window?” and this particularly. One of those really bitter, jaded lyrics. There was definitely a change in Dylan, though, if you compare him in Don’t Look Back to Eat The Document. In the latter he’s just really cold, this amphetamine lunatic going around with his pal, the two of them like a brainy Beavis and Butthead. I’ll never forget that horrible scene where he tries to buy this girl from her boyfriend, it makes you cringe.

MARC ‘LARD’ RILEY: I’m not sure why but I seem to be drawn to Dylan’s most caustic efforts when cherry-picking his oeuvre. In an ideal world, if you were to look up the word ‘contempt’ in any dictionary a copy of this 1965 single would drop out. So cutting – so witty – AND SO YOUNG! Of all the people I admire I’d have to say that Bob is the one I’d least like to meet.


11 It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue
From Bringing It All Back Home (March 1965)

BRYAN FERRY: I am very partial to Dylan’s songs – it’s the lyrics, really, the imagery. They’re always compelling and interesting to me, and very poetic. “Yonder stands your orphan with his gun/Crying like a fire in the sun/Look out, the saints are comin’ through/And it’s all over now, Baby Blue.” Beautiful images. The “seasick sailors”, the “reindeer armies”, the “vagabond who’s rapping at your door”. What have I brought to it on my own version? Very little, probably, other than enthusiasm and inspired amateurishness! This song sets the tone for my new album in the same way you might say “A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall” did for These Foolish Things, years ago. And it’s nice to start an album with a goodbye song!

GRANT-LEE PHILLIPS: The basic thrust of the song, to my ear, is that Dylan is taking a kind of inventory of all that might seem to matter. The currency of our values is being put up to the light, to see if it’s counterfeit. This would fall into the category of ‘finger-pointing songs’, which is a definite Dylan trait, like “Positively 4th Street”. Songs that tend to put a phantom second person in their place. But Dylan seems to extract something interesting and vital out of that form. It’s something that re-emerges in his work time and time again. It’s the people who get stepped over who tend to secure the starring roles in his songs. There’s only much time in this life to take it all in. Some folks plunder the Bible, and I’ve done a little bit of that, but I always got a lot more out of Dylan.

COLIN MacINTYRE: The first band I had in Glasgow, I used to stand on my own and play it, and murder it. I’m sure that song’s served as a poultice for so many failed relationships, while people wait to get over them.

ADAM SWEETING: The title makes it sound like just another guy-leaves-girl song, and there was indeed a “lover who has just walked out your door”, but the sombre beauty of the melody and the tumbling panorama of the words created an altogether grander picture. Dylan’s songwriting was in such torrential spate that he seized the opportunity to spin a saga of loss and loneliness on a cosmic scale. The song was partly a playful surrealist pageant – the tooled-up orphan “crying like a fire in the sun”, the “seasick sailors” and “reindeer armies” – and part instruction manual. “Take what you have gathered from coincidence,” Dylan ordered. “Strike another match, go start anew.” Easy for him to say.


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