Rolling Stone's 10 Best Dylan Songs

Bob Dylan turns 70 today. To mark the occasion, Rolling Stone put together a list of “The 10 Greatest Bob Dylan Songs.” My favorite Dylan’s always been Blonde On Blonde — it’s well represented here, though I do miss “Sad Eyed Lady of the Lowlands.” That, and my other favorite album, Desire, was blanked. Anyhow, yeah, he wrote more than 10 songs, so feel free to disagree:

10 “Every Grain of Sand” (Shot Of Love, 1981)
09 “Visions of Johanna” (Blonde On Blonde, 1966)
08 “Mr. Tambourine Man” (Bringing It All Back Home, 1965)
07 “It’s Alright, Ma (I’m Only Bleeding)” (Bringing It All Back Home, 1965)
06 “I Shall Be Released” (Bob Dylan’s Greatest Hits, Vol. 2, 1971)
05 “All Along the Watchtower” (John Wesley Harding, 1967)
04 “Just Like a Woman” (Blonde On Blonde, 1966)
03 “Tangled Up In Blue” (Blood On the Tracks, 1975)
02 “A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall” (The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan, 1963)
01 “Like A Rolling Stone” (Highway 61 Revisited, 1965)

Rolling Stone chose “Like A Rolling Stone.” They had Bono to write the text for that decision. The start:

That sneer — it’s something to behold. Elvis had a sneer, of course. And the Rolling Stones had a sneer that, if you note the title of the song, Bob wasn’t unaware of. But Bob Dylan’s sneer on “Like a Rolling Stone” turns the wine to vinegar.

It’s a black eye of a pop song. The verbal pugilism on display here cracks open songwriting for a generation and leaves the listener on the canvas. “Like a Rolling Stone” is the birth of an iconoclast that will give the rock era its greatest voice and vandal. This is Bob Dylan as the Jeremiah of the heart, torching romantic verse and “the girl” with a firestorm of unforgiving words. Having railed against the hypocrisies of the body politic, he now starts to pick on enemies that are a little more familiar: the scene, high society, the “pretty people” who think they’ve “got it made.” He hasn’t made it to his own hypocrisies — that would come later. But the “us” and “them” are not so clearly defined as earlier albums. Here he bares his teeth at the hipsters, the vanity of that time, the idea that you had a better value system if you were wearing the right pair of boots.

Bono says a lot more in between, but the ending’s also of interest, largely because of his choice of members on the “dysfunctional family tree.”

I love to hear a song that changes everything. That’s the reason I’m in a band: David Bowie’s “Heroes,” Arcade Fire’s “Rebellion (Lies),” Joy Division’s “Love Will Tear Us Apart,” Marvin Gaye’s “Sexual Healing,” Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit,” Public Enemy’s “Fight the Power.” But at the top of this dysfunctional family tree sits the king of spitting fire himself, the juggler of beauty and truth, our own Willy Shakespeare in a polka-dot shirt. It’s why every songwriter after him carries his baggage and why this lowly Irish bard would proudly carry his luggage. Any day.

Read the rest of Bono’s “Like A Rolling Stone” screed and the texts on each track — one written by David Crosby — at RS. They have plenty of other Dylan coverage, too.

Comments (19)
  1. Can’t go wrong with any of these but “Positively 4th St” is his best in my book.

  2. For an artist with such a vast catalog who appeals in different ways to different people I have to admit that’s actually a pretty good top 10 list. When I saw the article I was ready to be offended and disappointed.

    • i myself am not offended by any of these, just bewildered by ‘every grain of sand.’ for me, that comes out of left field. also, i guess i’ll never understand what people see in 7, 5, or 3, but i’d like to hear why other people like these songs so much…

  3. Isis for me.

    And Bono has probably only ever heard “Like a Rolling Stone”. Not even the best track on that album.

    Also, way too much off Blonde and Blonde on that list. Completely ignoring Desire and New Morning. Only one from Blood on the Tracks while Mr. Tambourine Man is listed as one of his top 10 songs? They realized Dylan had written more than 10 songs, right?

    Desire is my favorite album, followed by Blood on the Tracks and then Blonde on Blonde. Sara, One More Cup of Coffee, Oh, Sister, Isis, Shelter From the Store, Lily, Rosemary, and the Jack of Hearts, Simple Twist of Fate, Idiot Wind, You’re Gonna Make Me Lonesome When You Go. Those deserve some recognition. Rolling Stone choosing just 10 songs out of his entire works… How about his top 10 albums? Even that would be a hard list to choose from.

    • Rolling Stone’s list is of his top *70* songs. Desire (Isis (34), Hurricane (39), Sara (48), Cup o’ Coffee (69)) and New Morning (If Not for You (55)) get some play. Here are your favorites and their rankings:

      Sara 47
      One More Cup of Coffee 69
      Isis 34
      Shelter From the Storm 66
      Simple Twist of Fate 15
      Idiot Wind 33
      Your Gonna Make Me Lonesome When You Go 56 (Write Up: Jim James)

      Oh, Sister and Lily, Rosemary, and the Jack of Hearts didn’t make the cut. It is a very diverse, very good list.

      • the lily rosemary and the jack of hearts exclusion is almost criminal to me since people have tried to make a movie based on it

        jim james is right, never underestimate blood on the tracks in the dylan canon

    • To say Bono has only ever heard “Like a Rolling Stone” is really ignorant, don’t you think? I’m sure he is very versed in Dylan’s catalog.

  4. “Don’t Think Twice, It’s Alright”, where are you?

  5. It’s hard for me to pick my top best Bob Dylan songs so I’ll just let my do it for me….

    01. Mr. Tambourine Man
    02. Stuck Inside Of Mobile With The Memphis Blues Again
    03. Like A Rolling Stone
    04. Desolation Row
    05. It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue
    06. Visions Of Johanna
    07. She Belongs To Me
    08. Subterranean Homesick Blues
    09. Queen Jane Approximately
    10. Rainy Day Women #12 & 35

    Happy birthday Bob!!

  6. They’re all great songs but with the size of his catalogue everyone will have their own favourites, i couldnt make a top 10 with Shelter from the Storm and I Want You

  7. Bono has used that “i’d proudly carry his luggage any day” line before, or at least a version of it. Nothing wrong with that. Just an observation. Though I think the other version of it I remember was a few years ago when he was criticizing another band but added a compliment at the end in the form of “but I love them and I’d proudly carry their cello on my back on their tour.” I just think it’s odd that his highest compliment seems to be “i’d help them move stuff if they were traveling.” I wonder if he’s used that line in a song yet. So mundane, yet slightly touching.

    As for Bob, I’ve never heard a whole Dylan album, but it was my new years resolution this year to finally have that not be true. Hope he has a very happy birthday either way.

  8. though not his best nor my favorite, i find that lately i am falling back on ‘trying to get to heaven.’ as usual, the last line is a killer.

  9. I’ve always been partial to “It Takes a Lot to Laugh, It Takes a Train to Cry”

    Best line: “Well I wanna be your lover baby, I don’t wanna be your boss.”

  10. agree regarding Desire. Dylan’s best wild “off” album, so maybe his most Dylan album. the secret masterpiece.

  11. I have a weird and ever-morphing list. Dylan’s my favorite artist, so I’m always aprehensive about these things regarding him when I otherwise love to list things. Here I g0
    1 Desolation Row
    2 Ballad of a Thin Man
    3 Tangled Up In Blue
    4 Tambourine Man
    5 Sad Eyed Lady of the Lowlands
    6 Like a Rolling Stone
    7 Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right
    8 Sara
    9 Lily, Rosemary, and the Jack of Hearts
    10 Cold Irons Bound or Po Boy or Love Sick–A newer one for sure

  12. I feel like Desolation Row got left off unfairly. I also love My Back Pages and Don’t Think Twice. One of his most brooding and sarcastic songs has to be Ballad of a Thin Man. So ahead of its time.

  13. “Seven Curses” If you haven’t heard it your really missing out.One of my favorites. Not on the list. Saw that Jeff Tweedy had a hand in on picking these. Would have loved to see what he had to say about the great Bard.

  14. “Every Grain of Sand” It never hit me before, you are right.

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