Bob Dylan’s 40 best songs

As chosen by famous fans, Dylan associates and Uncut writers

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37 Clothes Line Saga
From Basement Tapes (June 1975)

JEFF TWEEDY: I get drawn into that story every time. It’s this fractured storytelling – not ambiguous like his high romantic, surreal stuff was, and not really his angry side. It’s definitely Dylan at his most playful and content, but there’s this fractured nature to the story – it’s one of the songs where I feel there’s a lot more that l have to imagine. Like The Conet Project and Harry Smith’s folk recordings, I think [The Basement Tapes] is a field recording. The best music in the world is made when people have tricked themselves into not thinking about themselves. Masterpieces are created out of forgetting who you are and what you are, and what the implications are of the act you’re doing. And that’s something you struggle with, making records. Then you hear a record like this and you realise that you can’t fool yourself completely – unless you’re smoking a bunch of pot every day, drinking coffee and hanging out at your friends house making tapes that’ll never see the light of day. Who knows how true that myth is, but I do hear that in the record a lot. Anything that sidesteps the awareness of the thing itself is what you try for when you write.


BILLY BRAGG: “After a while, we took in the clothes . . .” begins this tale, a song which exudes a damp air of mystery due to the fact that the listener seems to have arrived just moments too late to hear the significance of the clothes hanging on the line. Like an overheard conversation on a noisy train; banal, yet intriguing.

ADAM SWEETING: Often overlooked is the fact that the Bard has always had a highly-developed sense of the ridiculous. Think of ”Bob Dylan’s 113th Dream”, or “Leopard-Skin Pill-Box hat”. Here, he artfully pulled off one of the few known shaggy-dog stories in rock’n’roll. With deadpan support from organist Garth Hudson in particular, Dylan assembled a portrait of crushing domestic tedium from a sequence of mundane observations – “the very next day everybody got up to see if the clothes were dry” – and the joke is his refusal to provide a punchline. Unless you count bringing the washing indoors.

MICHAEL GRAY: Sums up the murky, wayward genius of The Basement Tapes – for me, every wondrous item from “Royal Canal” to “Tears Of Rage” – and also the Dylan who masters the dramatic monologue and high comic mimicry: the Dylan of “Black Cross”, “Brownsville Girl” and “Highlands”.


36 Shelter From The Storm
From Blood On The Tracks (January 1975)


KATHRYN WILLIAMS: Blood On The Tracks is a break up album but songs like “Shelter From The Storm” are a lot more tender than many of Dylan’s songs. It’s very warm and human. When I’ve had a really bad time I hear that song. I’ve got like a jukebox in my head and that song’s on it.

DAVID GRAY: The Hard Rain live version – what a racket. Marvellous! Dylan and the band in full effect. I believe, Bob, I believe!

JUDAH BAUER: It’s the most biblical, apocalyptic song in terms of the Jesus fixation and the way people look at him. It’s very dark, great poetry. The Blood On The Acetates version is great, too.


35 Most Of The Time
From Oh Mercy (September 1989)

HOWARD DEVOTO: As a recording artist Dylan had lost his way so badly in the Eighties, he was prepared – for a change – to sit down and listen to wise counsel about how to go about making a good album. So with Oh Mercy he got himself a decent producer, Daniel Lanois. It shows. Tightly arranged, simple clear instrumentation throughout. Six out of the ten tracks are wonderful. Best album since Blood On The Tracks, and arguably my second favourite Dylan album. I was doing Luxuria when this came out. I remember getting the album and playing it to Noko. After “Most Of The Time” finished he practically ordered me to play it again. Immediately. And again. It was that sort of song. When “Political World” – not one of the album’s stronger tracks – became the single, everyone went: “Are you mad, Bob?” Everyone knew it should’ve been “Most Of The Time”.

ANTHONY REYNOLDS: Awesome. Sonically, it’s a charred galleon, rising out of fog and ice.


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