Category Archives: Bob Dylans’s best songs

Bob Dylan’s Best Songs: Nettie Moore

Lost John’s sittin’ on a railroad track
Something’s out of whack
Blues this mornin’ fallin’ down like hail
Gonna leave a greasy trail

..the song is pure Dylan invention, on the face of it an absurdist assortment of images that take the listener in all sorts of directions, incorporating fragments of other songs and texts, for instance quoting from Delta bluesman Robert Johnson’s “Hellhound on My Trail”: “Blues this morning falling down like hail.” Dylan can juxtapose a reference to his own band (“I’m in a cowboy band”), to the excesses of Dylanology (“The world of research has gone berserk / Too much paperwork”)—and then throw in a reference to the traditional folk song “Frankie and Albert,” which he had covered on the 1992 anthology Good As I Been To You: “Albert’s in the graveyard, Frankie’s raising hell.” And yet it works as a song whose sorrow reflects that of the 1859 slave song whose title it takes, but is intensified by the melody, the images, and above all by Dylan’s voice in all its aged richness.
-Why Bob Dylan Matters, by Richard F. Thomas


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Bob Dylan’s Best Songs: Sara

I laid on a dune, I looked at the sky
When the children were babies and played on the beach
You came up behind me, I saw you go by
You were always so close and still within reach

Sara, Sara
Whatever made you want to change your mind?
Sara, Sara
So easy to look at, so hard to define

I’ve heard it said that Dylan was never as truthful as when he wrote Blood On The Tracks, but that wasn’t necessarily truth it was just perceptive. Or when people say Sarawas written for “his wife Sara” – it doesn’t necessarily have to be about her just because my wife’s name happened to be Sara. Anyway, was it the real Sara or the Sara in the dream? I still don’t know.
-Bob Dylan (to Jonathan Cott, 17 September 1978)


The night Dylan recorded the song in late July 1975, Sara, who was already separated from him, stopped by the studio. Larry Sloman recalls, “Dylan suddenly turned to his wife and said, ‘This is for you,’ and broke into the compelling song he had written for her that summer in the Hamptons. No one had heard it before, but Stone and Scarlet and Wyeth picked up the tempo, Scarlet playing some exquisite fills, underlining the melancholy of the lyrics.
-Philippe Margotin and Jean-Michel Guesdon (Bob Dylan All the Songs: The Story Behind Every Track)

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Bob Dylan’s Best Songs: Isis

I married Isis on the fifth day of May
But I could not hold on to her very long
So I cut off my hair and I rode straight away
For the wild unknown country where I could not go wrong

[about Isis] Hm… Well, it’s kind of like a journey, you know, like sort of a journey type trip. I wrote that with another person and I think half the verses were mine and half the verses were his, and it just sort of ended up being what it was. I don’t really know too much in depth what it would mean.
-Bob Dylan (Rockline Interview, Hollywood, California – June 17, 1985)

The only reason that ‘Isis’ was chosen as the song to work together on was that we were at my loft apartment and Bob didn’t have a guitar with him… but I had a piano, and ‘Isis’ was the one song that he had started to write on the piano… We are sitting at a piano together and we are writing these verses in an old Western ballad kinda style.
-Jacques Levy



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Bob Dylan’s Best Songs: Tryin’ To Get To Heaven

The air is getting hotter
There’s a rumbling in the skies
I’ve been wading through the high muddy water
With the heat rising in my eyes
-Bob Dylan (Tryin’ To Get To Heaven)

Environment affects me a great deal,a lot of the songs were written after the sun went down. And I like storms, I like to stay up during a storm. I get very meditative sometimes, and this one phrase was going through my head: ‘Work while the day lasts, because the night of death cometh when no man can work. ‘ I don’t recall where I heard it. I like preaching, I hear a lot of preaching, and I probably just heard it somewhere. Maybe it’s in Psalms, it beats me. But it wouldn’t let me go. I was, like, what does that phrase mean? But it was at the forefront of my mind, for a long period of time, and I think a lot of that is instilled into this record.
-Bob Dylan – about “Time Out Of Mind” (to John Pareles, Sept 1997

The life here is drained, vampire-like, from a whole slew of blues songs, it’s title probably taken from the American Folk Song “The Old Ark’s A-Moverin”.. This is “Blind Willie McTell” with a hangover, a picture of the old south, “riding in a buggy with Miss Mary-Jane” and shaking the sugar down.
There is an extraordinary harmonica break, like the best of Dylan, where it carries on the sense of the lyrics into a place where language no longer works.
-Brian Hinton (Bob Dylan Complete Discography)

Studio version:

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Bob Dylan’s Best Songs: I’ll Keep It With Mine

You will search, babe
At any cost
But how long, babe
Can you search for what’s not lost?
Everybody will help you
Some people are very kind
But if I can save you any time
Come on, give it to me
I’ll keep it with mine

“I’ll Keep It with Mine,”·a heartbreakingly lovely solo performance on piano and harmonica, did turn up on Biograph, after sitting in the vault for twenty years. How can Dylan record something so beautiful and then let it remain unreleased? This is a question that gets asked again and again, which is why so many people collect Dylan tapes or buy boodlegs (illegal, unauthorized) Dylan albums.
~Paul Williams (Bob Dylan Performing Artist I: The Early Years 1960-1973)

And what an exquisite song it is. Author Paul Cable once described “I’ll Keep It with Mine” as “possibly the best thing he had written up to that point . . . [while] the lyrics form the least patronizing way I have yet heard of saying, ‘I’m older than you—therefore I know better.’” In just three verses, bound to a three-line refrain, Dylan manages to encapsulate so much of what he had been hoping to say in the trio of songs to Suze. In her case, though, he hadn’t got beyond his tangled feelings long enough to whisper words like, “If I can save you any time / Come on, give it to me / I’ll keep it with mine.”
-Clinton Heylin (Revolution in the Air: The Songs of Bob Dylan, 1957-1973)

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