Bob Dylan’s best songs – Tangled Up In Blue

A song that took me ten years to live and two years to write
~Bob Dylan

So that the story took place in the present and the past at the same time. When you look at a painting, you can see any part of it, or you see it altogether. I wanted that song to be like a painting.
~Bob Dylan

Joni Mitchell had an album out called Blue. And it affected me, I couldn’t get it out of my head. And it just stayed in my head and when I wrote that song I wondered, what’s that mean? And then I figured that it was just there, and I guess that’s what happened, y’know.
~Bob Dylan (to Craig McGregor, March 1978)

This masterpiece in number 3 on my list of Dylans 200 best songs. Listening to it almost never fails to put me in a state of flow.. time stops.. there is nothing except this beautiful piece of art occupying my attention.. best form of mindful meditation if you ask me.

It is the best song from one of his best albums: “Blood On The Tracks” (1975):

We allow our past to exist. Our credibility is based on our past. But deep in our soul we have no past. I don’t think we have a past anymore than we have a name. You can say we have a past if we have a future. Do we have a future? No. So how can our past exist if the future doesn’t exist?
~Bob Dylan (to Jonathan Cott, Dec 1977)

But we’re only dealing with the past in terms of being able to be healed by it. We can communicate only because we both agree that this is a glass and this is a bowl and that’s a candle and there’s a window here and there are lights out in the city. Now I might not agree with that. Turn this glass around and it’s something else. Now I’m hiding it in a napkin. Watch it now. Now you don’t even know it’s there. It’s the past… I don’t even deal with it. I don’t think seriously about the past, the present or the future. I’ve spent enough time thinking about these things and have gotten nowhere.
~Bob Dylan (to Jonathan Cott, Dec 1977)

3 important elements shines through on this album & in particular on this song:

  • inspiration from his art-teacher (Norman Raeben)

    More powerful than any magician
    ~Bob Dylan (about Raeben)

    “[Raeben] though me how to see… in a way that allowed me to do consciously what I unconsciously felt”
    ~Bob Dylan
  • his broken heart (which fueled a burst of creative energy – only comparable to his mid 60’s trilogy).
  • his new found interest in “open tuning” (supposedly inspired by Joni Mitchell). For more details check out


Albums involved:

ALBUM Release date CODE
Blood On The Tracks 1975-01-17 BOTT
The Bootleg Series Volumes 1–3
(Rare & Unreleased) 1961-1991
1991-03-26 TBS1-3
 New York Sessions bootleg  xx  NYSB
The Bootleg Series Vol. 5: Bob Dylan
Live 1975, The Rolling Thunder Revue
 2002-11-26  TBS5


Where Recorded date Album
Album version Sound 80 Studio – Minneapolis 1974/12/30 BOTT

Early one mornin’ the sun was shinin’,
I was layin’ in bed
Wond’rin’ if she’d changed at all
If her hair was still red.
Her folks they said our lives together
Sure was gonna be rough
They never did like Mama’s homemade dress
Papa’s bankbook wasn’t big enough.
And I was standin’ on the side of the road
Rain fallin’ on my shoes
Heading out for the East Coast
Lord knows I paid some dues gettin’ through,
Tangled up in blue.

She was married when we first met
Soon to be divorced
I helped her out of a jam, I guess,
But I used a little too much force.
We drove that car as far as we could
Abandoned it out West
Split up on a dark sad night
Both agreeing it was best.
She turned around to look at me
As I was walkin’ away
I heard her say over my shoulder,
“We’ll meet again someday on the avenue,”
Tangled up in blue.

I had a job in the great north woods
Working as a cook for a spell
But I never did like it all that much
And one day the ax just fell.
So I drifted down to New Orleans
Where I happened to be employed
Workin’ for a while on a fishin’ boat
Right outside of Delacroix.
But all the while I was alone
The past was close behind,
I seen a lot of women
But she never escaped my mind, and I just grew
Tangled up in blue.

She was workin’ in a topless place
And I stopped in for a beer,
I just kept looking’ at the side of her face
In the spotlight so clear.
And later on as the crowd thinned out
I’s just about to do the same,
She was standing there in back of my chair
Said to me, “Don’t I know your name?”
I muttered somethin’ underneath my breath,
She studied the lines on my face.
I must admit I felt a little uneasy
When she bent down to tie the laces of my shoe,
Tangled up in blue.

She lit a burner on the stove and offered me a pipe
“I thought you’d never say hello,” she said
“You look like the silent type.”
Then she opened up a book of poems
And handed it to me
Written by an Italian poet
From the thirteenth century.
And every one of them words rang true
And glowed like burnin’ coal
Pourin’ off of every page
Like it was written in my soul from me to you,
Tangled up in blue,

I lived with them on Montague Street
In a basement down the stairs,
There was music in the cafes at night
And revolution in the air.
Then he started into dealing with slaves
And something inside of him died.
She had to sell everything she owned
And froze up inside.
And when finally the bottom fell out I became withdrawn,
The only thing I knew how to do
Was to keep on keepin’ on
Like a bird that flew
Tangled up in blue.

So now I’m goin’ back again,
I got to get to her somehow.
All the people we used to know
They’re an illusion to me now.
Some are mathematicians
Some are carpenter’s wives.
Don’t know how it all got started,
I don’t know what they’re doin’ with their lives.
But me, I’m still on the road
Headin’ for another joint
We always did feel the same,
We just saw it from a different point of view,
Tangled up in blue.


-Alt version1:   –

Where Recorded date Album
NewYork Version 1 Columbia Studio A, New York 1974/09/16* TBS1-3
Tangled Up In Blue by Bob Dylan on Grooveshark

* Clinton Heylin is not entirely convinced.. it could be a 17 & 19 September take

-Alt version2:   –

Similar to Bootleg Series vol 2 but different take.
Not released. New York Sessions bootleg

Where Recorded date Album
NewYork2 Columbia Studio A, New York 1974/09/19  NYSB

Rolling Thunder Revue version (1975)

Live at Boston Music Hall, 11/21/75
The Bootleg Series Vol. 5: Bob Dylan Live 1975, The Rolling Thunder Revue (2002)

Where Recorded date Album
Rolling Thunder Revue version (1975) Boston Music Hall 1975/11/21 TBS5


More Quotes:

Well, here’s the thing. There might be some little part of me which is confessing something which I’ve experienced and I know, but it is not definitely the total me confessing anything. I mean, when Mick Jagger sings Beast Of Burden, you know what I mean, there’s something in there that’s in him confessing, but you just do that
~Bob Dylan (to Matt Damsker, Sept 1978)

I once read a book of Nathaniel Hawthorne’s letters to some girl, and they were extremely private and personal, and I didn’t feel there was any of myself in those letters, but I could identify with what he was saying. A lot of myself crosses over into my songs. I’ll write something and say to myself, I can change this, I can make this not so personal, and at other times I’ll say, I think I’ll leave this on a personal level, and if somebody wants to peek at it and make up their own minds about what kind of character I am, that’s up to them. Other times I might say, well, it’s too personal, I think I’ll turn the corner on it, because why do I want somebody thinking about what I’m thinking about, especially if it’s not to their benefit.
~Bob Dylan (to Scott Cohen, Sept 1985)

The song has been performed approx 1200 times live…

Interesting live performances:

Dylan re-wrote the ‘She opened up a book of poems’ verse towards the end of his 1978 world tour, changing it to ‘She opened up the Bible and started quotin’ it to me’, so that it became, thereby, one of his first public suggestions of having converted to Christ; then he re-wrote the song wholesale for the 1984 tour of
Europe, not merely rewriting lines of lyric but restructuring the whole song (a braggadocio version of the re-write is on the album Real Live); but ever afterwards Dylan reverted to the earlier structure and the original lyric (with minor variations), and devoted himself to making it one of his most over-performed repertoire items.
~Michael Gray (The Bob Dylan Encyclopedia


1978 version 1 – Universal Amphitheater, Los Angeles, California – 7 June 1978:

1978 version2 – Charlotte Coliseum, Charlotte, North Carolina – December 12:


1984 – Palaeur, Rome on June:

NET version– w/Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers
Live at Westfalenhalle 1, Dortmund, West Germany – 09/15/87

In a subtle but measurable sense, this “Tangled Up In Blue” vocal is not like any other rendition.

It ha a unique personality – not different arrangement or lyrics, but a subtle idiosyncrasy of delivery that gives us listeners the opportunity to be intimately present with this singer and his mood, his picture of life and reality, at this particular never-to-be-repeated moment. This, according to my theory, is what we like so much about Bob Dylan.
~Paul Williams (Bob Dylan: Performing Artist Volume 3: Mind Out Of Time 1986 And Beyond)



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