Bob Dylan’s 40 best songs

As chosen by famous fans, Dylan associates and Uncut writers

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2 Tangled Up In Blue
From Blood On The Tracks (January 1975)

NATALIE MERCHANT: It’s a masterpiece of storytelling, I think. It’s some of the best lyricism. You get a strong sense of the characters of the song, even though some only get half a line. You know who they are. “Some are mathematicians, some are carpenters’ wives . . .” Every verse – it’s just seamless. (Sings) “She was workin’ in a topless place, and I stopped in for a beer . . .” I could sing it all, but I won’t bore you. I toured with Dylan and got to see him play night after night, and it just really made me yearn to see him in 1969 or 1976. He’s been through so much. It’s hard for him to interact with people in a normal way – both the people he meets and his audiences. There’s no interaction with the audience. It’s not his fault. The only people he can feel at ease with are his family and his closest friends. I don’t know why he tours all the time. I’ve read that it’s because he’s created this body of work that’s part of the culture and he just wants to keep it alive, but I wonder when he’s going to stop, or slow down. With all the illness, five children and I don’t know how many grandchildren. . . It’s a burden I wouldn’t want to wish on anyone, to be Bob Dylan. I only met him once. What do you say to Bob Dylan? I was trying not to say anything to make him feel uncomfortable. I’d given him a book and he asked me to come into his dressing room so he could thank me. The conversation was about the book, and thanking him for having me on the tour. And I toured with him after he’d had his heart illness, when he was really sequestering himself. It’s just hard to be Bob. To be able to just function without people having expectations and preconceived notions all the time. There’s people watching. He’s a man, he’s a husband, he’s a father, he’s a grandfather, he’s a poet and he’s a guitar player and he’s a singer. But he’s got a lot of other identities. You know, he’s just a man with a lot of self-doubt. I’m sure he has crises of confidence. I have had just a small taste of what he has to live with and I don’t want a larger helping. That’s all I can say. I think he’s made a big sacrifice.


JACKIE LEVEN: This really matters to me a lot. It reminds me of a time when l was hanging around with a bunch of people who kept telling me I was clinically depressed. I knew I was very down and it really worried me that people said this, because it kind of meant I was ill with depression. But I bought that record [Blood On The Tracks] and when I heard “Tangled Up In Blue”. I just listened to it for days. And this might sound mawkish, but it gave me a feeling of being healed. Its imagery and the whole idea of being tangled up in blue were very, very helpful. It disappointed my friends at the time because I’d really cheered up and to have done it via a Dylan song was more than they could cope with. The way the song unravels is fantastic. What I like generally about Dylan is that there’s very rarely a production attempt to make the song interesting in case you’re getting bored. The song assumes it has its own internal merit and strength and that alone will sustain the listener. Whereas almost every other record you listen to has production to help stave off boredom.

CARL HIAASEN: It’s one of those songs I can just listen to and pick up different things every time I listen to it. You never get tired of it, it never sounds the same twice.

ADAM SWEETING: The received wisdom is that the Blood On The Tracks songs were wrung from an anguished Dylan during the collapse of his marriage to Sara Lowndes, which is probably an over-simplification. In any event, “Tangled Up In Blue” – the album’s opening track – found Dylan essaying a mythic reinterpretation of his whole life, a metaphorical death and transfiguration. As the narrative sweeps from his Minnesota upbringing, through the coffee house days in New York, down to New Orleans and then out west, the singer’s quest is haunted by fateful visions of a female soulmate, and littered with biblical allusions (he temporarily works as a fisherman, and friends become “carpenters’ wives”). It was a dazzling curtain raiser for an album riddled with symbols, signs and coincidences.

HOWARD DEVOTO: Don’t we all know this is the best album in the world of all time by anyone? Nine out of its 10 tracks could’ve made my top 10. It’s from the same year, 1975, when I got Fun House, and one year before me and Pete Shelley saw The Sex Pistols for the first time. Blood On The Tracks made me feel I could see through walls. Hint: take a look at Henry Miller’s book on Rimbaud, The Time Of The Assassins.

HOWARD SOUNES: Although Dylan seems to perform this every time one sees him, this sublime song of lost love has lost none of its power to involve the listener in what is essentially a short story.

LYNDON MORGANS: Sara [Lowndes] was some muse! “Sad-Eyed Lady . . .” at the start of their relationship and then this at the end. If only Yoko Ono had been as good for John Lennon, artistically speaking – John and Yoko split and we get Mind Games or Walls And Bridges. With Dylan it’s Blood On The Tracks. I think Lennon, for all his “I don’t believe in Zimmerman” stuff, had a big hang-up over Dylan – look at his “Gotta Serve Somebody” parody. A bit rich from someone mired in his Barry Manilow phase.


EILEEN ROSE: This whole album has such a fantastic vibe about it – how DID they get instruments to sound so warm and subtle? They always go on about analogue desks and valve amps, but I think it had more to do with the innocence of the playing.

NICK JOHNSTONE: Asking someone to say why they like “Tangled Up In Blue” is like asking someone why they like breathing. It’s just there and it makes life continue and the world is a better place for it. You don’t listen to a song like “Tangled Up In Blue”, you feel it. Either it hits you or it doesn’t. And if it does, you’re blessed.

CP LEE: I do think he’s done it to death in concert, but whenever I see him play “Tangled Up In Blue” live, you suddenly forget the fact that you’re fed up with it, because it’s a brilliant narrative. Dylan is like a very good novel writer. It doesn’t have to be him who’s the fisherman in Delacroix, but he can make you believe it. Who’s the poet? Where are the cafes? Why did they break up? Did she really end up in a strip joint? What was in the pipe? It just completely sucks you into the story. And that’s the magic of Dylan. A superb lyrical achievement.

HOWE GELB: Some men wait all their life to write just one song like this, just to sell the movie rights. How is it possible that so much ground gets covered with so much grace and off-handed delivery? When this album, Blood On The Tracks, was released, we were suffering from a deluge of horrible records at the time. Corporate rock was in full swing and disco was holding a knife to the radio’s head. There were precious few records that kept some of us afloat there and then. This Dylan was the top such flotational device.

ROB HUGHES: Like all the great Dylan songs, it’s almost embarrassingly simple, but driven along by an astonishing narrative that tells you everything and nothing about his Bobness. A cinematic tour de force – there was even talk of developing the story for the big screen – it veers between the past and the present with only the occasional nod to the future. As an attempt to create a multi-textured aural painting, as was Dylan’s supposed intention, it succeeds on more levels than he could have hoped. As a curtain-raiser to his greatest album – Blood On The Tracks – it was a sneering, middle-fingered salute to the critics who had declared him artistically bankrupt after Planet Waves.

MARK CULLEN: A joyous celebration of fucking life and living. I always had a soft spot for the travelling guitar man, hitting the highway in an American car. There is something completely romantic to that. Maybe I’m completely wrong, but I always imagined him as hitting America like Kerouac in On The Road. The whole of Blood On The Tracks is great driving music, and it is like a journey, through the heartland of America. It makes me feel a little bit jealous, living in Ireland, that he could drive through such cities, such different cultures. I have always had a fascination with the American place names he uses – you just wonder what they’re like. And musician-wise, the whole sound of the guitar, the bass, the drums, the harmonica, there’s something magical about them, they sound like they’re in the room with you, like he’s tapping his foot next to you. It’s a fantastic record.


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