Bob Dylan’s best songs: Every Grain of Sand

bob dylan smoking 1981

That was an inspired song that came to me. I felt like I was just putting down words that were coming from somewhere else, and I just stuck it out.
~Bob Dylan (“Biograph” notes)

“That’s an excellent song, very painless song to write,… It took like 12 seconds – or that’s how it felt.”
~Bob Dylan (to Robert Hilburn – Feb 1992)

…But “Every Grain of Sand” is something special: the “Chimes of Freedom” and “Mr. Tambourine Man” of Bob Dylan’s Christian period. A pearl among swine, it has surety and strength all down the line. Also vulnerability.
~Paul Nelson (from his famous “Rolling Stone Magazine” review of “Shot Of Love” – Oct. 1981)



On 11th place on my top 200 list comes this diamond. A masterpiece with lyrics so beautiful you almost loose the music listening to it… the music is also fantastic and it contains two of Dylan’s best harmonica solos’s.

It was recorded early May 1981 (May 4, 1981) @ Clover Recorders, Los Angeles, California.

The love in ‘Every Grain Of Sand’ , though firmly rooted in Dylan’s conversion experience and his Bible studies, immediately and obviously reaches beyond it’s context to communicate a deeply felt devotional spirit based on universal experiences: pain of self-awareness, and sense of wonder or awe of the beauty of the natural world.
~Paul Williams (BD Performing Artist 1974-86)

As Paul Williams points out.. you don’t have to be a religious person to find beauty & comfort here:

I hear the ancient footsteps like the motion of the sea
Sometimes I turn, there’s someone there, other times it’s only me
I am hanging in the balance of the reality of man
Like every sparrow falling, like every grain of sand

Here is a GREAT video… matching pictcures to the lyrics in a brilliant way:
PS! It can be a bit slow to load.. but it’s worth the extra seconds…

The key to the performance is its motion: it moves like the sea, forth and back and forth and back, filled with the quality of restfulness but never resting.
~Paul Williams (BD Performing Artist 1974-86)


Released 1981
Recorded May 4, 1981 at the Shot of Love recording sessions
Genre Rock, gospel, pop
Length 6:15
Writer Bob Dylan
Producer Chuck Plotkin, Bob Dylan

Every Grain of Sand” is a song written by Bob Dylan and originally released on his 1981 album Shot of Love. It was subsequently included on the compilation Biograph. An alternate take of this song was released in The Bootleg Series Volumes 1-3 (Rare & Unreleased) 1961-1991. It appeared on the soundtrack for the 1997 film Another Day In Paradise.

The song was well known for its haunting imagery, which some have compared to that of William Blake. Although it is filled with numerous Biblical references, it may also have been partly inspired by the following lines from William Blake’s Auguries of Innocence:

To see a world in a grain of sand
And a heaven in a wild flower,
Hold infinity in the palm of your hand
And eternity in an hour.

Marked by an ethereal quality that isn’t found elsewhere on Shot of Love, “Every Grain Of Sand” is one of Dylan’s most celebrated recordings.



In the time of my confession, in the hour of my deepest need
When the pool of tears beneath my feet flood every newborn seed
There’s a dyin’ voice within me reaching out somewhere
Toiling in the danger and in the morals of despair

Don’t have the inclination to look back on any mistake
Like Cain, I now behold this chain of events that I must break
In the fury of the moment I can see the Master’s hand
In every leaf that trembles, in every grain of sand

Oh, the flowers of indulgence and the weeds of yesteryear
Like criminals, they have choked the breath of conscience and good cheer
The sun beat down upon the steps of time to light the way
To ease the pain of idleness and the memory of decay

I gaze into the doorway of temptation’s angry flame
And every time I pass that way I always hear my name
Then onward in my journey I come to understand
That every hair is numbered like every grain of sand

I have gone from rags to riches in the sorrow of the night
In the violence of a summer’s dream, in the chill of a wintry light
In the bitter dance of loneliness fading into space
In the broken mirror of innocence on each forgotten face

I hear the ancient footsteps like the motion of the sea
Sometimes I turn, there’s someone there, other times it’s only me
I am hanging in the balance of the reality of man
Like every sparrow falling, like every grain of sand

Live versions:

SCivic Center Theatre
Lakeland, Florida
21 November 1981

Paris – 1 July 1984:

The real performing highlight [of “Every Grain Of Sand”] .. occurred one sultry night (28 June 1989) near the ancient streets of the Greek capital, the song being returned to base by a Dylan picking up an acoustic guitar and singing the song with only G.E. Smith – in the Fred Tackett role – to accompany him.
~Clinton Heylin (Still On The Road)

Starplex Amphitheatre
Dallas, Texas
28 July 1988

Fleet Center
– Boston, Massachusetts
16 November 2002

Rome, Italy
6 November 2013

Check out:  Bob Dylan’s 200 best songs


21 thoughts on “Bob Dylan’s best songs: Every Grain of Sand”

  1. In my opinion UP TO ME it’s the best song ever written by Bob Dylan, every grain of sand it’s nothing special there are many many many songs better.

  2. Just watched the wonderful video above, coordinated with the lp recording of the tune. Sublime, ephemeral performance–indeed. Wonderful harmonica!! Reconsidering, perhaps #30, for me. But, below Chimes of Freedom, You’re a Big Girl Now, One More Cup of Coffee, Most of the Time, What Can I Do For You?, Red River Shore, Subterranean Homesick Blues, Dignity, Mississippi…. 🙂

  3. Thanks for the post! Love the site!

    Shot of Love was the first Dylan lp I bought at the time of its release, as a 17 year old who’s interest in dylan was growing beyond what could be satisfied by repeated listenings to Greatest Hits I and II, Blonde on Blonde and Highway 61 Revisited. Every Grain of Sand was my favorite track, but there was always something about it I found a little awkward or stiff. The lines “I am hanging in the balance of the reality of man” and “the flowers of indulgence and the weeds of yesteryear” stuck in my ear as pedantic or overwritten. Then, I bought the Heart of Mine single for it’s b-side, Groom’s Still Waiting at the Altar. That song–and it’s eschatological exuberence–blew me away!! I loved the humor…and have ever since preferred it (and Angelina, when I discovered it later) to Every Grain of Sand. Still, a very fine (even sublime) song that I might rank….40th.

  4. This is one of the Most Spiritual Songs I have ever heard! To hear all these different versions, while entertaining as showing his adaptability to these different tempos, he does not attempt to change the meaning of the words. Nor do I think he could if he wanted to.

  5. Agreed, the song has a generous spirit and a timeless theme from a fully mature writer who has been touched by inspiration from time to time like no other.

    This is a such a great one that it both reaffirms Bob’s genius and makes some of the songs and albums from the era seem flat, made by a merely good songwriter.

    Thanks for links too!

  6. This is easily a top five song from Bob in my opinion. Will check out the videos later today as work gets in the way now.
    Great work!

  7. Every Grain of Sand is first on my list of top Dylan songs. Carl brings up the same point I’ve thought, which is that it is probably the only Dylan song where the studio version is better than any of the live versions. Thanks for posting the one from June 28 1989 – definitely the best live one I’ve heard. One thing I do prefer about most of the live versions is the alternate penultimate line “I am hanging in the balance, of a perfect finished plan…”.

  8. You don’t even have to be “religious” to love this song only that your going to die someday and have regrets

  9. This is one of the most beautiful songs that Bob Dylan ever has made (and he has made some!).
    The text is completely in accordance with the music, and it nearly makes me cry every time I hear the song. Your choice for performances is perfect! Even if every performance by Dylan is special, the ones you have pick is very good!
    I hear this song live in Oslo in 2003, and will always come back to this beautiful song.

    1. Checked on my iPad… and it doesn’t work…

      I’m sorry, but I can’t do anything about it… the source is not youtube (I couldn’t find it on youtube).


  10. Too bad my ipad will not play the Great Video…it is considered to be a mobile device by the owner or something…if I understood the spanish text correctly!

  11. This is the one, the pinnacle, the greatest of all Bob Dylan songs in my opinion. Interestingly enough it is also the only song in Dylan’s vast catalogue that none of his performances – as beautiful as they are – has ever perfectly realized. Somehow you have to get the rhythm of the sea and the rhythm of a man’s footsteps moving down a wooded path to the beach where the sea sways. Never to be completely achieved in performance it is the greatest enigma in the Dylan songbook.

    1. Thanks Carl.. for your insightful comment.. once gain 🙂

      In my opinion the “Shot Of Love” version is PERFECTION… and the harmonica solos… and the lyrics… heartbreaking.
      .. and being Dylan’s 11 best song is… in my life among the most beautiful things I will ever experience.


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