Bob Dylan at 80. My top 80 greatest Bob Dylan songs. Today: 80 through 71 (Part 1)

Bob Dylan at 80. My top 80 greatest Bob Dylan songs. Today: 80 through 71 (Part 1) May 8, 2021

On May 24, 2021, Bob Dylan turns 80. In honor of this occasion, over the next two weeks or so, I will post in eight entries what I believe are the 80 greatest songs that Dylan has composed and performed over his nearly 60 year career. What I mean by “composed” is that he wrote the song, either in its entirety or is credited as its co-author. Of the 80 songs on my list, only three of them are c0-authored: “Silvio,” “Saved,” and “Hurricane.”  All the rest are exclusively written by Dylan. What I mean by “performed” is that Dylan sang the song either live at a concert or in a recording studio, regardless of whether the song was officially released on an album or as a single. For this reason, songs like “Wagon Wheel” (co-written with Ketch Secor) and “Love is Just a Four Letter Word” (written by Dylan alone) will not appear on my list, even though they are truly great compositions.  (See Darius Drucker’s performance of the former and Joan Baez’s performance of the latter). 

Although I am no Dylanologist, I have, over the years, published several pieces on Bob Dylan and his work.  So, if you’re interested, you can check  them out:

Just in case you were wondering, in putting together these rankings I used a four-part test: (1) does the song move me and has it left a lasting impression?, (2) is the music aesthetically pleasing?, (3) how good are the lyrics and how well do they fit the music,  and (4) what is the cultural impact of the song and did it shape the trajectory of popular music?

Today, we begin with songs 80 though 71.

80. Ballad of a Thin Man (1965)
79.  Subterranean Homesick Blues (1964)
78.  Silvio (1988)
77.  Highway 61 Revisited (1965)
76.  All I Really Want to Do (1964)
75.  Lay, Lady, Lay (1969)
74.  When the Deal Goes Down (2006)
73.  Hurricane (1976)
72.  Never Say Goodbye (1974)
71.   Duquesne Whistle (2012)

What follows is a recorded performance of each song followed by the lyrics. If I could not find a recording of a Dylan performance (or at least a good one), I included a cover version.  However, in this first installment all the performances are by Dylan

80. Ballad of a Thin Man (1965)

You walk into the room
With your pencil in your hand
You see somebody naked
And you say, “Who is that man?”
You try so hard
But you don’t understand
Just what you’ll say
When you get home

Because something is happening here
But you don’t know what it is
Do you, Mister Jones?

You raise up your head
And you ask, “Is this where it is?”
And somebody points to you and says
“It’s his”
And you say, “What’s mine?”
And somebody else says, “Where what is?”
And you say, “Oh my God
Am I here all alone?”

Because something is happening here
But you don’t know what it is
Do you, Mister Jones?

You hand in your ticket
And you go watch the geek

Who immediately walks up to you
When he hears you speak
And says, “How does it feel
To be such a freak?”
And you say, “Impossible”
As he hands you a bone

Because something is happening here
But you don’t know what it is
Do you, Mister Jones?

You have many contacts
Among the lumberjacks
To get you facts
When someone attacks your imagination
But nobody has any respect
Anyway they already expect you
To just give a check
To tax-deductible charity organizations

You’ve been with the professors
And they’ve all liked your looks
With great lawyers you have
Discussed lepers and crooks
You’ve been through all of
F. Scott Fitzgerald’s books
You’re very well read
It’s well known

Because something is happening here
But you don’t know what it is
Do you, Mister Jones?

Well, the sword swallower, he comes up to you
And then he kneels
He crosses himself
And then he clicks his high heels
And without further notice
He asks you how it feels
And he says, “Here is your throat back
Thanks for the loan”

Because something is happening here
But you don’t know what it is
Do you, Mister Jones?

Now you see this one-eyed midget
Shouting the word “NOW”

And you say, “For what reason?”
And he says, “How?”
And you say, “What does this mean?”
And he screams back, “You’re a cow
Give me some milk
Or else go home”

Because something is happening here
But you don’t know what it is
Do you, Mister Jones?

Well, you walk into the room
Like a camel and then you frown
You put your eyes in your pocket
And your nose on the ground
There ought to be a law
Against you comin’ around
You should be made
To wear earphones

Because something is happening here
But you don’t know what it is
Do you, Mister Jones?

79.  Subterranean Homesick Blues (1964)

Johnny’s in the basement
Mixing up the medicine
I’m on the pavement
Thinking about the government
The man in the trench coat
Badge out, laid off
Says he’s got a bad cough
Wants to get it paid off
Look out kid
It’s somethin’ you did
God knows when
But you’re doin’ it again
You better duck down the alley way
Lookin’ for a new friend
The man in the coon-skin cap

By the big pen
Wants eleven dollar bills
You only got ten

Maggie comes fleet foot
Face full of black soot
Talkin’ that the heat put
Plants in the bed but
The phone’s tapped anyway
Maggie says that many say
They must bust in early May
Orders from the D.A.
Look out kid
Don’t matter what you did
Walk on your tiptoes
Don’t try “No-Doz”
Better stay away from those
That carry around a fire hose
Keep a clean nose
Watch the plain clothes
You don’t need a weatherman
To know which way the wind blows

Get sick, get well
Hang around a ink well
Ring bell, hard to tell
If anything is goin’ to sell
Try hard, get barred
Get back, write braille
Get jailed, jump bail
Join the army, if you fail
Look out kid
You’re gonna get hit
But users, cheaters
Six-time losers
Hang around the theaters
Girl by the whirlpool
Lookin’ for a new fool
Don’t follow leaders
Watch the parkin’ meters

Ah get born, keep warm
Short pants, romance, learn to dance
Get dressed, get blessed
Try to be a success
Please her, please him, buy gifts
Don’t steal, don’t lift
Twenty years of schoolin’
And they put you on the day shift
Look out kid
They keep it all hid

Better jump down a manhole
Light yourself a candle
Don’t wear sandals
Try to avoid the scandals
Don’t wanna be a bum
You better chew gum
The pump don’t work
’Cause the vandals took the handles

78.  Silvio (1988)

Stake my future on a hell of a past
Looks like tomorrow is coming on fast
Ain’t complaining ’bout what I got
Seen better times, but who has not?

Silvio
Silver and gold
Won’t buy back the beat of a heart grown cold
Silvio
I gotta go
Find out something only dead men know

Honest as the next jade rolling that stone
When I come knocking don’t throw me no bone
I’m an old boll weevil looking for a home
If you don’t like it you can leave me alone

I can snap my fingers and require the rain
From a clear blue sky and turn it off again
I can stroke your body and relieve your pain
And charm the whistle off an evening train

Silvio
Silver and gold
Won’t buy back the beat of a heart grown cold
Silvio
I gotta go
Find out something only dead men know

I give what I got until I got no more

I take what I get until I even the score
You know I love you and furthermore
When it’s time to go you got an open door

I can tell you fancy, I can tell you plain
You give something up for everything you gain
Since every pleasure’s got an edge of pain
Pay for your ticket and don’t complain

Silvio
Silver and gold
Won’t buy back the beat of a heart grown cold
Silvio
I gotta go
Find out something only dead men know

One of these days and it won’t be long
Going down in the valley and sing my song
I will sing it loud and sing it strong
Let the echo decide if I was right or wrong

Silvio
Silver and gold
Won’t buy back the beat of a heart grown cold
Silvio
I gotta go
Find out something only dead men know

77.  Highway 61 Revisited (1965)

Oh God said to Abraham, “Kill me a son”
Abe says, “Man, you must be puttin’ me on”
God say, “No.” Abe say, “What?”
God say, “You can do what you want Abe, but
The next time you see me comin’ you better run”
Well Abe says, “Where do you want this killin’ done?”

God says, “Out on Highway 61”

Well Georgia Sam he had a bloody nose
Welfare Department they wouldn’t give him no clothes
He asked poor Howard where can I go
Howard said there’s only one place I know
Sam said tell me quick man I got to run
Ol’ Howard just pointed with his gun
And said that way down on Highway 61

Well Mack the Finger said to Louie the King
I got forty red white and blue shoestrings
And a thousand telephones that don’t ring
Do you know where I can get rid of these things
And Louie the King said let me think for a minute son
And he said yes I think it can be easily done
Just take everything down to Highway 61

Now the fifth daughter on the twelfth night
Told the first father that things weren’t right
My complexion she said is much too white
He said come here and step into the light he says hmm you’re right
Let me tell the second mother this has been done
But the second mother was with the seventh son
And they were both out on Highway 61

Now the rovin’ gambler he was very bored
He was tryin’ to create a next world war
He found a promoter who nearly fell off the floor
He said I never engaged in this kind of thing before

But yes I think it can be very easily done
We’ll just put some bleachers out in the sun
And have it on Highway 61

76.  All I Really Want to Do (1964)

I ain’t lookin’ to compete with you
Beat or cheat or mistreat you
Simplify you, classify you
Deny, defy or crucify you
All I really want to do
Is, baby, be friends with you

No, and I ain’t lookin’ to fight with you
Frighten you or tighten you
Drag you down or drain you down
Chain you down or bring you down
All I really want to do
Is, baby, be friends with you

I ain’t lookin’ to block you up
Shock or knock or lock you up
Analyze you, categorize you
Finalize you or advertise you
All I really want to do
Is, baby, be friends with you

I don’t want to straight-face you
Race or chase you, track or trace you
Or disgrace you or displace you
Or define you or confine you
All I really want to do
Is, baby, be friends with you

I don’t want to meet your kin
Make you spin or do you in
Or select you or dissect you

Or inspect you or reject you
All I really want to do
Is, baby, be friends with you

I don’t want to fake you out
Take or shake or forsake you out
I ain’t lookin’ for you to feel like me
See like me or be like me
All I really want to do
Is, baby, be friends with you

75. Lay, Lady, Lay (1969)

Lay, lady, lay, lay across my big brass bed
Lay, lady, lay, lay across my big brass bed
Whatever colors you have in your mind
I’ll show them to you and you’ll see them shine

Lay, lady, lay, lay across my big brass bed
Stay, lady, stay, stay with your man awhile
Until the break of day, let me see you make him smile
His clothes are dirty but his hands are clean
And you’re the best thing that he’s ever seen

Stay, lady, stay, stay with your man awhile
Why wait any longer for the world to begin
You can have your cake and eat it too
Why wait any longer for the one you love
When he’s standing in front of you

Lay, lady, lay, lay across my big brass bed
Stay, lady, stay, stay while the night is still ahead

I long to see you in the morning light
I long to reach for you in the night
Stay, lady, stay, stay while the night is still ahead

74. When the Deal Goes Down (2006)

In the still of the night, in the world’s ancient light
Where wisdom grows up in strife
My bewildering brain, toils in vain
Through the darkness on the pathways of life

Each invisible prayer is like a cloud in the air
Tomorrow keeps turning around
We live and we die, we know not why
But I’ll be with you when the deal goes down

We eat and we drink, we feel and we think
Far down the street we stray
I laugh and I cry and I’m haunted by
Things I never meant nor wished to say
The midnight rain follows the train
We all wear the same thorny crown
Soul to soul, our shadows roll
And I’ll be with you when the deal goes down

The moon gives light and shines by night
I scarcely feel the glow
We learn to live and then we forgive
O’er the road we’re bound to go
More frailer than the flowers, these precious hours
That keep us so tightly bound

You come to my eyes like a vision from the skies
And I’ll be with you when the deal goes down

I picked up a rose and it poked through my clothes
I followed the winding stream
I heard a deafening noise, I felt transient joys
I know they’re not what they seem
In this earthly domain, full of disappointment and pain
You’ll never see me frown
I owe my heart to you, and that’s sayin’ it true
And I’ll be with you when the deal goes down

73. Hurricane (1976)

Pistol shots ring out in the barroom night
Enter Patty Valentine from the upper hall
She sees the bartender in a pool of blood
Cries out, “My God, they killed them all!”
Here comes the story of the Hurricane
The man the authorities came to blame
For somethin’ that he never done
Put in a prison cell, but one time he could-a been
The champion of the world

Three bodies lyin’ there does Patty see
And another man named Bello, movin’ around mysteriously
“I didn’t do it,” he says, and he throws up his hands
“I was only robbin’ the register, I hope you understand

I saw them leavin’,” he says, and he stops
“One of us had better call up the cops”
And so Patty calls the cops
And they arrive on the scene with their red lights flashin’
In the hot New Jersey night

Meanwhile, far away in another part of town
Rubin Carter and a couple of friends are drivin’ around
Number one contender for the middleweight crown
Had no idea what kinda shit was about to go down
When a cop pulled him over to the side of the road
Just like the time before and the time before that
In Paterson that’s just the way things go
If you’re black you might as well not show up on the street
’Less you wanna draw the heat

Alfred Bello had a partner and he had a rap for the cops
Him and Arthur Dexter Bradley were just out prowlin’ around
He said, “I saw two men runnin’ out, they looked like middleweights
They jumped into a white car with out-of-state plates”
And Miss Patty Valentine just nodded her head
Cop said, “Wait a minute, boys, this one’s not dead”
So they took him to the infirmary
And though this man could hardly see
They told him that he could identify the guilty men

Four in the mornin’ and they haul Rubin in
Take him to the hospital and they bring him upstairs

The wounded man looks up through his one dyin’ eye
Says, “Wha’d you bring him in here for? He ain’t the guy!”
Yes, here’s the story of the Hurricane
The man the authorities came to blame
For somethin’ that he never done
Put in a prison cell, but one time he could-a been
The champion of the world

Four months later, the ghettos are in flame
Rubin’s in South America, fightin’ for his name
While Arthur Dexter Bradley’s still in the robbery game
And the cops are puttin’ the screws to him, lookin’ for somebody to blame
“Remember that murder that happened in a bar?”
“Remember you said you saw the getaway car?”
“You think you’d like to play ball with the law?”
“Think it might-a been that fighter that you saw runnin’ that night?”
“Don’t forget that you are white”

Arthur Dexter Bradley said, “I’m really not sure”
Cops said, “A poor boy like you could use a break
We got you for the motel job and we’re talkin’ to your friend Bello
Now you don’t wanta have to go back to jail, be a nice fellow
You’ll be doin’ society a favor
That sonofabitch is brave and gettin’ braver
We want to put his ass in stir
We want to pin this triple murder on him

He ain’t no Gentleman Jim”

Rubin could take a man out with just one punch
But he never did like to talk about it all that much
It’s my work, he’d say, and I do it for pay
And when it’s over I’d just as soon go on my way
Up to some paradise
Where the trout streams flow and the air is nice
And ride a horse along a trail
But then they took him to the jailhouse
Where they try to turn a man into a mouse

All of Rubin’s cards were marked in advance
The trial was a pig-circus, he never had a chance
The judge made Rubin’s witnesses drunkards from the slums
To the white folks who watched he was a revolutionary bum
And to the black folks he was just a crazy nigger
No one doubted that he pulled the trigger
And though they could not produce the gun
The D.A. said he was the one who did the deed
And the all-white jury agreed

Rubin Carter was falsely tried
The crime was murder “one,” guess who testified?
Bello and Bradley and they both baldly lied
And the newspapers, they all went along for the ride
How can the life of such a man
Be in the palm of some fool’s hand?
To see him obviously framed
Couldn’t help but make me feel ashamed to live in a land

Where justice is a game

Now all the criminals in their coats and their ties
Are free to drink martinis and watch the sun rise
While Rubin sits like Buddha in a ten-foot cell
An innocent man in a living hell
That’s the story of the Hurricane
But it won’t be over till they clear his name
And give him back the time he’s done
Put in a prison cell, but one time he could-a been
The champion of the world

72. Never Say Goodbye (1974)

Twilight on the frozen lake
North wind about to break
On footprints in the snow
Silence down below

You’re beautiful beyond words
You’re beautiful to me
You can make me cry
Never say goodbye

Time is all I have to give
You can have it if you choose
With me you can live
Never say goodbye

My dreams are made of iron and steel
With a big bouquet
Of roses hanging down
From the heavens to the ground

The crashing waves roll over me
As I stand upon the sand
Wait for you to come
And grab hold of my hand

Oh, baby, baby, baby blue
You’ll change your last name, too
You’ve turned your hair to brown
Love to see it hangin’ down

71.  Duquesne Whistle (2012)

Listen to that Duquesne whistle blowin’
Blowin’ like it’s gonna sweep my world away
I’m gonna stop in Carbondale and keep on going
That Duquesne train gonna ride me night and day

You say I’m a gambler, you say I’m a pimp
But I ain’t neither one

Listen to that Duquesne whistle blowin’
Sound like it’s on a final run

Listen to that Duquesne whistle blowin’
Blowin’ like she never blowed before
Blue light blinkin’, red light glowin’
Blowin’ like she’s at my chamber door

You smiling through the fence at me
Just like you always smiled before

Listen to that Duquesne whistle blowin’
Blowin’ like she ain’t gonna blow no more

Can’t you hear that Duquesne whistle blowin’
Blowin’ like the sky’s gonna blow apart

You’re the only thing alive that keeps me goin’
You’re like a time bomb in my heart

I can hear a sweet voice gently calling
Must be the Mother of our Lord

Listen to that Duquesne whistle blowin’
Blowin’ like my woman’s on board

Listen to that Duquesne whistle blowin’
Blowin’ like it’s gonna blow my blues away
You ole rascal, I know exactly where you’re goin’
I’ll lead you there myself at the break of day

I wake up every morning with that woman in my bed
Everybody telling me she’s gone to my head

Listen to that Duquesne whistle blowin’
Blowin’ like it’s gonna kill me dead

Can’t you hear that Duquesne whistle blowin’
Blowin’ through another no-good town
The lights of my native land are glowin’
I wonder if they’ll know me next time around

I wonder if that old oak tree’s still standing
That old oak tree, the one we used to climb

Listen to that Duquesne whistle blowin’
Blowin’ like she’s blowin’ right on time

 


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