Bob Dylan’s Best Songs: Angelina

Well, it’s always been my nature to take chances
My right hand drawing back while my left hand advances
Where the current is strong and the monkey dances
To the tune of a concertina

…. there were some real songs on this album that we recorded, a couple of really long songs, like there was one I did – do you remember Visions Of Johanna?…. Well, there was one like that. I’d never done anything like it before. It’s got that same kind of thing to it. It seems to be very sensitive and gentle on one level, then on another level the lyrics aren’t sensitive and gentle at all. We left that off the album.
~Bob Dylan (to Neil Spencer – July 1981)


  1. Facts
  3. Lyrics

@ number 80 on my list of Dylan’s 200 best songs.



..originally recorded in the spring of 1981 for the album Shot of Love. However, “Angelina” was cut from the record, and fans would have to wait until 1991 when it was released on The Bootleg Series Volumes 1-3 (Rare & Unreleased) 1961-1991. Like Dylan’s similarly named “Farewell Angelina”, “Angelina” is full of imagery and biblical allusions (the ‘four faces’, for example, of the final stanza appear to allude to Ezek.10. 14 and 10.21 and the reference to ‘trying to take heaven by force’ to Matthew 11:12). Considered by most critics to be one of the best songs written during his “born-again” period, “Angelina” is the classic Dylan work in which obscure yet meaningful poetry and a seemingly all-encompassing vision take on mankind’s most pressing problems, all the while making for a pleasant listen.

Known studio recordings:

Musicians: Bob Dylan: vocals, piano (?); Danny Kortchmar: guitar (?); Fred Tackett: guitar (?); Benmont Tench: organ; Tim Drummond: bass; Jim Keltner: drums; Clydie King, Carolyn Dennis, and Regina McCrary: backup vocals

Recording Studio: Rundown Studios, Santa Monica: March 26 or May 4, 1981

Producers: Jimmy Iovine and Bob Dylan

Sound Engineer: Toby Scott

It was presented on the first sequenced tape of Shot Of Love but later removed:

The first sequence tape of “Shot Of Love” was made on May 12.
It had the following songs:

Side 1: *Shot of Love / Heart Of Mine / *Property Of Jesus / *Lenny Bruce / *Watered Down Love.

Side 2: Dead Man, Dead Man / *In The Summertime / Magic / Trouble / *Every Grain Of Sand / Angelina.


This beauty has never been performed live.


…one of his most disturbing and rewarding performances…. the words of the song are so powerful, punching the listener in the gut at two or three different places in every verse…
~Paul Williams (BD – Performing Artist 1974-1986)

How to comment on this extraordinary piece of writing? Recorded at the ‘Shot of Love’ sessions of April-May 1980, Angelina is unlike anything else Bob Dylan has ever written – part Cocteau film, part Braque painting, totally surreal, it defies logic and heads off for the deepest, darkest parts of poetic mystery. Though Dylan has never commented about the song in public, chances are that he’d confess that it was as much mystery to him as to anyone else.
~John Bauldie (TBS1-3 booklet)

This attention to detail, which always avoids reductive predictability in favour of intuitive flash, stays with us throughout the song’s long journey. It gives us the dying breath with which Dylan appears to expire on the long-drawn-out end of ‘arena————’ and then the final climb up the melodic steps which begin with ‘up them spiral staircases’ (no-one else could sing that phrase at all, let alone with the sumptuous sadness and humane modesty Dylan brings to it) and which keep ascending, words and melody perfectly at one, till the last cathartic incantation of the song title itself.
~Michael Gray (The Bob Dylan Encyclopedia)

…This is trance music, ‘In the valley of the giants where the stars and stripes explode’, performed in holy quiet. A love song, in 3-D.
~Brian Hinton (BD Album File & Complete Disc.)

It’s a beautifully crafted song, and the performance from Dylan – coaxing out the words he offsets with that teasing tune on the piano – is fully up to the task.
~Clinton Heylin (Still On The Road)


Well, it’s always been my nature to take chances
My right hand drawing back while my left hand advances
Where the current is strong and the monkey dances
To the tune of a concertina

Blood dryin’ in my yellow hair as I go from shore to shore
I know what it is that has drawn me to your door
But whatever it could be, makes me think you’ve seen me before

Oh, Angelina. Oh, Angelina

His eyes were two slits that would make a snake proud
With a face that any painter would paint as he walked through the crowd
Worshipping a god with the body of a woman well endowed
And the head of a hyena

Do I need your permission to turn the other cheek?
If you can read my mind, why must I speak?
No, I have heard nothing about the man that you seek

Oh, Angelina. Oh, Angelina

In the valley of the giants where the stars and stripes explode
The peaches they were sweet and the milk and honey flowed
I was only following instructions when the judge sent me down the road
With your subpoena

When you cease to exist, then who will you blame
I’ve tried my best to love you but I cannot play this game
Your best friend and my worst enemy is one and the same

Oh, Angelina. Oh, Angelina

There’s a black Mercedes rollin’ through the combat zone
Your servants are half dead, you’re down to the bone
Tell me, tall men, where would you like to be overthrown
Maybe down in Jerusalem or Argentina?

She was stolen from her mother when she was three days old
Now her vengeance has been satisfied and her possessions have been sold
He’s surrounded by God’s angels and she’s wearin’ a blindfold
And so are you, Angelina

Oh, Angelina. Oh, Angelina

I see pieces of men marching; trying to take heaven by force
I can see the unknown rider, I can see the pale white horse
In God’s truth tell me what you want and you’ll have it of course
Just step into the arena

Beat a path of retreat up them spiral staircases
Pass the tree of smoke, pass the angel with four faces
Begging God for mercy and weepin’ in unholy places

Oh, Angelina. Oh, Angelina



One thought on “Bob Dylan’s Best Songs: Angelina”

  1. One cannot believe that the original Shot of Love would have had side two so crowded with songs, almost impossible to fit on one side of an lp, which makes me wonder if it ever was considered for real… And considering Bobs strange love for the rather silly song Watered Down Love, I think he just had other intentions with this album, leaning more to concise simple rock songs. Maybe he was pondering whether Magic or Trouble would appear and in a same fashion considered both Angelina and Every Grain of Sand as the ending: one of the two. Would he have had more confidence in his poetic gifts, which was I think shattered after the negative response to the magical writing of Street Legal, maybe he would have favored the longer songs for Shot of Love, including Carribean Wind. And now I am tempted to name my favorite list for the album, though that is so silly: Shot of Love, Heart of Mine, Property of Jesus, Lenny Bruce, Angelina; Groom’s still waiting at the Altar, Dead Man, Summertime, Carribean Wind, Angelina. It would have made a masterpiece (Property of Jesus possibly removed for another gem, you name it).

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