Bob Dylan’s Best Songs: Forever Young

May God bless and keep you always
May your wishes all come true
May you always do for others
And let others do for you
May you build a ladder to the stars
And climb on every rung
May you stay forever young
Forever young, forever young
May you stay forever young

“So, I don’t know. I think so. It’s all in the heart, whatever keeps you that way. Keeps you forever young. Forever young doesn’t necessarily mean that you don’t grow old, but you just have some contact with what put you where you are. You know, keep some type of contact. Anyway…”
~Bob Dylan (to Marc Rowland in Sept. 1978)




  1. Facts
  3. Lyrics
  4. Live versions
  5. Cover versions

@#29 on my list of Bob Dylan’s top 200 songs.


Recorded in California in November 1973. The song first appeared (in two different versions, one slow and one fast) on Dylan’s fourteenth studio album Planet Waves (1974).

Known studio recordings

  • Ram’s Horn Music Publisher’s Office – New York City, New York – June 1973. First released on Biograph, 28 October 1985.
  • Village Recorder, LA, November 2, 1973 – 1 take
  • November 5, 1973 – 2 takes
  • November 8, 1973 – 5 takes
  • November 9, 1973 – 1 take
  • Village Recorder, Santa Monica, California – 14 November 1973.
    6th and last Planet Waves session
    5 takes, two of them released on “Planet Waves” – 17 January 1974.
    The best version (long version) was embedded earlier in this post, here is the “short” version:
  • Bob Dylan (guitar, harmonica, vocal)
  • Robbie Robertson (guitar)
  • Rick Danko (bass)
  • Richard Manuel (drums)
  • Garth Hudson (organ)
  • Levon Helm (mandolin)
Technical Team:
  • Producers: Bob Dylan, Robbie Robertson, and Rob Fraboni
  • Sound Engineer: Rob Fraboni



  • First known performance: Chicago Stadium, Chicago, Illinois – January  3, 1974
  • It has been performed 493 times live – last performance: HMV Hammersmith Apollo, London, England – November 21, 2011
  • Top year 1978 – 110 performances


“Forever Young, I wrote in Tucson, … I wrote it thinking about one of my boys and not wanting to be too sentimental. The lines came to me, they were done in a minute. I don’t know. Sometimes that’s what you’re given. You’re given something like that. You don’t know what it is exactly that you want but this is what comes. That’s how that song came out. I certainly didn’t intend to write it – I was going for something else, the song wrote itself – naw, you never know what you’re going to write. You never even know if you’re going to make another record, really.”
Bob Dylan (Biograph liner notes)

“Allen Ginsberg said something along the lines that this song should be sung every morning by every child in every school in every country. Which is such a nice idea, because the song is so hopeful, hardly cryptic whatsoever, very plainly encouraging people to find their own truth… ‘Like a Rolling Stone’ might be Dylan’s masterpiece, but ‘Forever Young’ is his national anthem.”
– Roddy Woomble (singer of the Scottish band Idlewild)

The arrangements are excellent, Dylan and the Band being in perfect harmony. Dylan provides an expressive vocal, backed by the talent of each musician. Hudson’s keyboard parts are outstanding in their diversity and finesse, complemented by Manuel’s piano. Bass and drums provide an effective rhythm, highlighted by the mysterious Ken on the congas. Finally, Robertson offers a beautiful acoustic arrangement, with the same sound treatment of chorus/ flanger pedal used throughout the album. Note Dylan’s excellent harmonica (in D) part, in perfect harmony with the Hudson keyboards. A perfect piece..
– Philippe Margotin & Jean-Michel Guesdon – Bob Dylan All the Songs: The Story Behind Every Track

…As he [Dylan] admitted to engineer Fraboni at these sessions, ‘I been carrying this song around in my head for . . . years . . . and now I come to record it and I just can’t decide how to do it.’ He had already carried the song around longer than anything written before. ‘Forever Young’ occupied him more than any other song at Village Recorder studios, being recorded on no less than five separate occasions, and in at least three different ways (fast, slow, acoustic). And yet, as had happened so often, the one time he found its hymnal core, it was a first take – probably on the ninth – that rendered everyone speechless. Fraboni remembers it well: ‘We only did one take of the slow version of “Forever Young.” This take was so riveting, it was so powerful, so immediate . . . [that] when everybody came in nobody really said anything.’
Clinton Heylin – Revolution in the Air: The Songs of Bob Dylan, 1957-1973

Dylan recorded this folksy prayer twice with the Band – as a sparkling ballad version that closed Side One of Planet Waves, and a stomping country-rock take that kicked off Side Two. Lyrics like “May you have a strong foundation/When the winds of changes shift” are as universal and uplifting as Dylan has ever written; they also work as a blessing for a generation coming out of a post-Sixties cultural hangover. Dylan said he wrote it for his son Jesse; others see it as a nod to Neil Young, who scored a Number One hit in 1972 with “Heart of Gold.” (Bob Dylan’s 100 Greatest songs)


May God bless and keep you always
May your wishes all come true
May you always do for others
And let others do for you
May you build a ladder to the stars
And climb on every rung
May you stay forever young
Forever young, forever young
May you stay forever young

May you grow up to be righteous
May you grow up to be true
May you always know the truth
And see the lights surrounding you
May you always be courageous
Stand upright and be strong
May you stay forever young
Forever young, forever young
May you stay forever young

May your hands always be busy
May your feet always be swift
May you have a strong foundation
When the winds of changes shift
May your heart always be joyful
May your song always be sung
May you stay forever young
Forever young, forever young
May you stay forever young

Live versions

San Francisco, California
25 November 1976

  • Bob Dylan (guitar & vocal)
  • Robbie Robertson (guitar)
  • Garth Hudson (synthesizer)
  • Richard Manual (keyboards)
  • Rick Danko (bass)
  • Levon Helm (drums)

Munich, West Germany
30 September 1987

  • Bob Dylan (vocal & guitar) with Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers.
  • Tom Petty (guitar)
  • Mike Campbell (guitar)
  • Benmont Tench (keyboards)
  • Howie Epstein (bass)
  • Stan Lynch (drums)

Oakland Coliseum
Oakland, California
4 December 1988

  • Bob Dylan (vocal, guitar)
  • G.E. Smith (guitar)

Theatre de Grand Rex
Paris, France
1 February 1990

  • Bob Dylan (vocal. guitar & harmonica)
  • G. E. Smith (guitar)
  • Tony Garnier (bass)
  • Christopher Parker (drums)

CBS TV Studio
New York City, New York
18 November 1993
Guest appearance at Late Night With David Letterman

  • Bob Dylan (vocal & guitar)
  • Bucky Baxter (pedal steel guitar)
  • John Jackson (guitar)
  • Paul Schaeffer (organ)
  • Tony Garnier (bass)
  • Winston Watson (drums & percussion)

Unidentified venue
Bologna, Italy
27 September 1997
World Eucharistic Congress

  • Bob Dylan (vocal & guitar)
  • Bucky Baxter (pedal steel guitar & backup vocal)
  • Larry Campbell (guitar & backup vocal)
  • Tony Garnier (bass)
  • David Kemper (drums & percussion)

Everblades Arena
Fort Myers, Florida
26 January 1999

  • Bob Dylan (vocal & guitar)
  • Bucky Baxter (pedal steel guitar & electric slide guitar)
  • Larry Campbell (guitar)
  • Tony Garnier (bass)
  • David Kemper (drums & percussion)

Oakes Garden Theatre
Niagara Falls, Ontario, Canada
23 August 2003

  • Bob Dylan (vocal & piano)
  • Freddie Koella (guitar)
  • Larry Campbell (guitar, mandolin, pedal steel guitar & electric slide guitar)
  • Tony Garnier (bass)
  • George Recile (drums & percussion)

China – 2011

  • Bob Dylan (vocal & keyboard)
  • Stu Kimball (guitar)
  • Charlie Sexton (guitar)
  • Donnie Herron (violin, mandolin, steel guitar)
  • Tony Garnier (bass)
  • George Recile (drums & percussion)

Cover Versions

Johnny Cash:

Norah Jones:

Joan Baez:

Pearl Jam:



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

  1. I’ve been putting together a songlist of favorite live Dylan stuff, and after many attempts I settled on the heartfelt version from The Last Waltz. Beautiful. The version above with Tom Petty’s band and the female backup singers is pretty terrific, too, as is the Letterman version, and the acoustic version with G.E. Smith is spectacular (versions I unfortunately do not have, thus easing the difficulty of my final selection).

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