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.