Bob Dylan’s best songs: Just Like Tom Thumb’s Blues #19 (Audio & Video)

bob Dylan Just Like A Tom thumb's Blues

When you’re lost in the rain in Juarez
And it’s Eastertime too
And your gravity fails
And negativity don’t pull you through
Don’t put on any airs
When you’re down on Rue Morgue Avenue
They got some hungry women there
And they really make a mess outta you

This reminds me of Kerouac’s “On The Road” – conjuring up a dusty character lost somewhere in America, or South America, down on his luck, wanting to go home and singing off with the bleak but also funny line: “I’m going back to New York City/I do believe I’ve had enough.”
~Howard Souness (His 40 Greatest songs – Uncut Magazine)

Among the masterpieces of Bob Dylan’s amazing outpouring of songs in the mid-’60s, “Just Like Tom Thumb’s Blues” is a minor pleasure. For anyone else, its extravagant imagery and literary references would make it a sophisticated, comic tour de force. But it has tended to be overshadowed by Dylan’s other songs of the period.
~William Ruhlmann (

Mr. Ruhlmann has a point… this masterpiece is no. 19 on my Dylan top 200 list… and still there are 3 songs on “Highway 61 Revisited” that are better + 6 others from 65/66… It is brilliant song that carries most of the same characteristics as two of the other  masterpieces on H61 (Like A Rolling Stone & Ballad of  a Thin Man):


Now if you see Saint Annie
Please tell her thanks a lot
I cannot move
My fingers are all in a knot
I don’t have the strength
To get up and take another shot
And my best friend, my doctor
Won’t even say what it is I’ve got

Original version:



Released August 30, 1965
Recorded Columbia Studios, New York, August 2, 1965
Genre Rock, folk rock
Length 5:31
Label Columbia
Writer Bob Dylan
Producer Bob Johnston

Just Like Tom Thumb’s Blues” is a song written and performed by Bob Dylan. It was originally recorded on August 2, 1965 and released on the album Highway 61 Revisited. The song was later released on the compilation album Bob Dylan’s Greatest Hits Vol. IIand as two separate live versions recorded at concerts in 1966: the first of which appeared on the B-side of Dylan’s “I Want You”single, with the second being released on The Bootleg Series Vol. 4: Bob Dylan Live 1966, The “Royal Albert Hall” Concert. The song has been covered by many artists, including Gordon Lightfoot, Nina Simone, Barry McGuire, Judy Collins, Frankie Miller, Linda Ronstadt, the Grateful Dead, Neil Young, The Black Crowes, and Bryan Ferry. Lightfoot’s version was recorded only weeks after Dylan’s original had been released and reached #3 on the national RPM singles chart. In addition, the song was sampled by the Beastie Boys for their song “Finger Lickin’ Good.”




“Just Like Tom Thumb’s Blues” has six verses but no chorus. The song’s lyrics describe a nightmare vision of the narrator’s experience in Juarez, Mexico, in which he encounters sickness, despair, prostitutes, saints, shady women, corrupt authorities, alcohol and drugs, before finally deciding to return to New York City. The lyrics incorporate literary references to Malcolm Lowry’s Under the Volcano, Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Murders in the Rue Morgue” and Jack Kerouac’s Desolation Angels, while the song’s title references Arthur Rimbaud’s “My Bohemian Life (Fantasy)”. William Ruhlmann of the Allmusic website has described the song as a comic tour de force and music journalist Toby Creswell included it on his list of the 1001 greatest songs of all time. Music critic Dave Marsh ranked the live version of “Just Like Tom Thumb’s Blues” from Liverpool that was released as the B-side of “I Want You” as the number 243 greatest single of all time.

Ma Bohème – My Bohemian Life (Arthur Rimbaud)I went off with my hands in my torn coat pockets;
My overcoat too was becoming ideal;
I travelled beneath the sky, Muse! and I was your vassal;
Oh dear me! what marvellous loves I dreamed of!

My only pair of breeches had a big whole in them.
– Stargazing Tom Thumb, I sowed rhymes along my way.
My tavern was at the Sign of the Great Bear.
– My stars in the sky rustled softly.

And I listened to them, sitting on the road-sides
On those pleasant September evenings while I felt drops
Of dew on my forehead like vigorous wine;

And while, rhyming among the fantastical shadows,
I plucked like the strings of a lyre the elastics
Of my tattered boots, one foot close to my heart!

bob dylan just like a tom thumb's blues

Sweet Melinda
The peasants call her the goddess of gloom
She speaks good English
And she invites you up into her room
And you’re so kind
And careful not to go to her too soon
And she takes your voice
And leaves you howling at the moon

“Just Like Tom Thumb’s Blues” was recorded on August 2, 1965 at Columbia Studios in New York, the same day Dylan recorded “Ballad of a Thin Man”, “Highway 61 Revisited” and “Queen Jane Approximately”, three other songs that would appear on Highway 61 Revisited. However, “Just Like Tom Thumb’s Blues” took more attempts to perfect than the other songs recorded that day; it wasn’t until take 16 that Dylan and his band captured on tape the version that was released on the album. According to Dylan biographer Clinton Heylin, the backing musicians on the take that was used on Highway 61 Revisited were Mike Bloomfield on electric guitar, Al Kooper on Hohner Pianet, Paul Griffin on piano, Harvey Brooks on bass guitar and Bobby Gregg on drums. On early takes of the song, Sam Lay was the drummer and Frank Owens played piano. In Heylin’s opinion, Gregg’s jazzier drumming and Griffin’s more fluid piano playing better communicated the feeling of dislocation that Dylan desired for the song. Take 5 of the song, featuring both Lay and Owens, was included on the 2005 album The Bootleg Series Vol. 7: No Direction Home: The Soundtrack.

Check out:

Bob_Dylan studio 1965

Up on Housing Project Hill
It’s either fortune or fame
You must pick up one or the other
Though neither of them are to be what they claim
If you’re lookin’ to get silly
You better go back to from where you came
Because the cops don’t need you
And man they expect the same

Like many of the songs on Highway 61 Revisited, “Just Like Tom Thumb’s Blues” has abundant literary references, including images recalling Malcolm Lowry’s novel Under the Volcano and a street name taken from Edgar Allan Poe’s short story “The Murders in the Rue Morgue”. The song also uses the phrase “housing project hill” which is taken from Jack Kerouac’s novel Desolation Angels. A number of Dylan biographers, including Colin Irwin, Robert Shelton and Andy Gill, have suggested that the song’s title makes reference to Arthur Rimbaud’s poem “My Bohemian Life (Fantasy)”, in which Rimbaud refers to himself as “Tom Thumb in a daze.” In addition, some commentators have suggested that there may be a musical reference in the lines “And she takes your voice/And leaves you howling at the moon,” since “Howlin’ at the Moon” is the title of a song by Hank Williams, a musician who Dylan admired.

Musically, “Just Like Tom Thumb’s Blues” consists of no chorus, but six verses, varied by a handful of chords and Dylan’s vocal emphasis. Keyboards, drums and vocals provide texture, while Mike Bloomfield plays Latin Americanesque fills on electric guitar. The keyboard parts in particular make innovative use of two different pianos, with Al Kooper playing an electric Hohner Pianet and Paul Griffin adding a bar room feel on tack piano. In all but the final verse, the even lines rhyme and the odd lines are unrhymed. In the final verse, however, the odd numbered lines rhyme on “ee” and all the even lines rhyme on “uf.” This change in the rhyming pattern provides a subtle sense of finality to the final two lines:

I’m going back to New York City
I do believe I’ve had enough.

Some Live versions… & one outtake

Now all the authorities
They just stand around and boast
How they blackmailed the sergeant-at-arms
Into leaving his post
And picking up Angel who
Just arrived here from the coast
Who looked so fine at first
But left looking just like a ghost

Here is a cool version from

Columbia Studio B
New York City, New York
1 May 1970
1st New Morning recording session, produced by Bob Johnston

Hollywood Bowl – Los Angeles, California – 3 September 1965:

Sydney 1966-04-13:

Melbourne – 1966-04-20 

Odeon Theatre – Liverpool, England – 14 May 1966

..the live-in-Liverpool ’66 cut of ‘Just Like Tom Thumb’s Blues’ (surely the greatest track in recorded history)
~Michael Gray (BD Encyclopedia)

… in Liverpool a month later, when Dylan sounded like he’d been doing some sword swallowing, lacerating
the audience with every hurled syllable. Issued as the B side to “I Want You,” this was for many years the only official evidence of just how close to the edge Dylan came on that tour. It is still one of the most harrowing and compulsive cuts.
~Clinton Heylin (Revolution in the Air)

…Slurred and obtuse as Little Richard reading Ezra Pound, there’s a magnificence here so great that, if you had to, you could make the case for rock and roll as a species  of art using this record and nothing else.
~Dave Marsh (The Heart of Rock & Soul)


St. Louis 1974-02-04:


From “No Direction Home”:

Hyde Park – London, England – 29 June 1996

Amsterdam – 12 April, 2009:

I started out on burgundy
But soon hit the harder stuff
Everybody said they’d stand behind me
When the game got rough
But the joke was on me
There was nobody even there to call my bluff
I’m going back to New York City
I do believe I’ve had enough

Check out:


3 thoughts on “Bob Dylan’s best songs: Just Like Tom Thumb’s Blues #19 (Audio & Video)”

  1. Hi Egil

    Thanks for an excellent project.
    Although I see the investigation and exploration of Dylan catalog as the main theme of your project, few words about the ranking.
    I think you ( as many Dylan fans) are heavily biased towards the 60’s material especially towards the TT – tremendous trilogy.
    7 out of the first 10 songs are from those 3 albums.
    For me he continued to develop in the 70’s 80’s 90’s and up to his latest masterpiece Tempest.
    Major omissions ( hope they will fill high positions in the holes):
    Highlands, Foot Of Pride, Senior, Not dark yet, Dirge, Slow train, Ain’t Talking ,Changing of the Guards, AATWT, Things have changed, Can’t wait , nothing from desire, nothing from Infidels, Nothing from Tempest.
    And Thanks again

    1. Thanks for your comment Shabtai,

      Investigation and exploration of Dylan catalog is indeed the main theme, but ranking is important (and fun) as well 🙂
      Although ranking has to be organic… for most of us #34 could easily be #35 the next day..

      You’ll see most of the “omissions” filling in the holes along the way.


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