Bob Dylan’s 40 best songs

As chosen by famous fans, Dylan associates and Uncut writers

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34 I Threw It All Away
From Nashville Skyline (April 1969)

JACKIE LEVEN: In my early teens, I read The Grapes Of Wrath by John Steinbeck and Ray Bradbury’s The October Country, and both use very intense images of sultry, Californian-style autumns and harvesting. I read these when I was around 14 and had a series of what I can only describe as religious dreams in which I saw these fertile valleys. There was a huge voiceover saying things I couldn’t make out, but there was a kind of God-like, loving cadence to this voice. I wrote a lot of strange stuff after these dreams and didn’t think any more of it until Nashville Skyline came out. As soon as I heard “I Threw It All Away” – and I know this sounds ridiculous – the huge reverb sound in Dylan’s voice was exactly the same as the reverb in the dreams. It’s bizarre, but the absolute truth. For me, the confessional honesty of the song reminds me of Robert Bly when he wrote “If you won’t limp your limp, someone else has to limp it”. In the song, Dylan’s properly, rightfully and manfully limping his limp. And with this God-like reverb as well, it’s just completely ingrained in me for all time. When I first heard it, I was in some friend’s house in Exeter – listening to the new Dylan album – and had to go for a walk and have some cider on my own.


JEFF TWEEDY: l think that’s maybe Dylan at his most sincere and straightforward and goofy. It’s Dylan with his guard down and happy, even though it’s a sad song.

EILEEN ROSE: I’m moved by how broken and regretful he sounds but, for once, not bitter. Sad lyrics – unusually simple, sweet bridge. I almost don’t want to hear him saying these things in this way. Makes me long for the sneering, obnoxious, righteous Dylan.

DAN BERN: A short, tight, perfect little song with a perfect little bridge. It could’ve been written by Hank Williams, or for sure Merle Haggard.

LAURA CANTRELL: I love Nashville Skyline and l love this song. If you look at the lyrics, they’re not real complicated. A lot of people think of Dylan as being this surrealist mess, but the words to this are so straightforward. l just felt he was writing a real country ballad, a la Merle Haggard or something. Real straight, not a lot of metaphor – but just really heartbroken.

ROB HUGHES: When Nashville Skyline hit the racks, it made Dylan’s uproarious electric/acoustic ‘betrayal’ seem like handbags at sunrise. While the dissenters fumed, the man (of course) just got on with it. On Skyline, he tucked his voice to the back of the throat and let it slow-boil its way through, discovering the same joy in country music as he’d previously revealed in the blues. “l Threw It All Away” has the vibe of a spiritual, almost hymnal. On the surface a simple song of regret, as ever with Dylan, it’s far more. A harsh warning shot across the bows of anyone who dares stray into temptation. Beautiful.



33 Girl From The North Country
From The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan (May 1963)

BILLY BOB THORNTON: It just takes you to a place. . . It’s not that it’s that deep a song, it’s just got a great sound and melody for me. l love the fact that it’s about travel, and it’s about this girl. lt’s just a road song, know what l mean? Telling somebody about that experience, it’s somebody sayin’, “Listen, if you ever pass through here, man, there’s this girl there . . . And she’s one of the wonders of the world, y’know?”

BILLY BRAGG: l love the claustrophobic sound of Freewheelin’, and this song sums it up for me. Dylan is still rummaging around in his folkie roots, taking old, old songs and remaking them anew.

ROBYN HITCHCOCK: Partly because it’s very simple for Dylan, it’s very poignant and it’s quietly understated which makes it that much sadder. The version he did with Johnny Cash on Nashville Skyline is very different and has a touching, nostalgic feel about it – but I still prefer the Freewheelin’ original. Mainly because of his guitar picking – in the early days he used to make a bit more effort and it really shows through. “Girl From The North Country” is indicative of his whole career. That is, the thing about Dylan is that his stuff is incredibly sad going from top to bottom. All the way through, the root of his work is incredible sadness.

JUSTIN CURRIE: A beautiful melody, expertly picked on a little Gibson guitar by a 22-year-old who genuinely sounds 50. As a piece of character acting alone this and “Don‘t Think Twice . . .” are performances that still hold wonder in the new century while the subtlety and sure-footedness of the writing will make me sigh with pleasure forever.

NICK JOHNSTONE: A dark, dark song. His vocal is so haunted, it’s pure loneliness, never fails to give me the creeps. The emotional candour and naked hurt reminds me a lot of Paul Westerberg’s songs. Westerberg and Dylan, those two romantic misfit poets from the bleak wilds of Minnesota. Sometimes this is all you need: a voice, a guitar, words that break your heart.

COLIN MaclNTYRE: I love the line, “Remember me to one who was there/She was once was a true love of mine” – like a lot of his songs, it’s about lost romance, it’s melancholic. I find it romantic because it’s real. With his stories about relationships, I never know which way it’s going to swing. You’re not quite sure at the end if she stays with him or not. He’s not afraid of being considered tender about relationships, or being savagely cynical.


32 Lay Lady Lay
From Nashville Skyline (April 1969)

JEFF TWEEDY: It’s simply a bad-ass song. It’s not a song that Dylan exclusively could’ve written. Sinatra could’ve sung it – maybe he did. I dunno. Tonnes of people have covered Dylan’s songs, but not that many of them sound like Tin Pan Alley songs, or Brill Building songs. But this one, the melody and song structure make it a real anomaly. And more than a lot of Dylan songs, it has a lot of specific lines that stand out more because they don’t have such a close relationship to lots of other images. I also like that line. “Whatever colours you have in your mind, I’ll show them to you.”

KATHRYN WILLIAMS: When I heard “Lay Lady Lay”, I’d just started my foundation course at art school. It was the first time I’d been away from home and on my own. There was a bar by the college and I’d go there in the morning and buy a coffee and put “Lay Lady Lay” on the jukebox. It was the first time I felt like a real woman and the song seemed to accentuate that. It was strange and smoky and sexy and I felt like I’d been seduced. It made me feel I could reinvent myself.

NICK BROOMFIELD: Dead sloppy, but I’m a sucker for it. I’d just finished at Essex University and it was a time of student turmoil, but I was lucky enough to have the sexiest girlfriend in the world. This song proved very useful. We had such a horny summer. This song always takes me back.


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