Today is Bob Dylan’s 75th birthday. I have written about Dylan a couple of times over the years. I wrote a piece about him in 2012 after he accepted the Presidential Medal of Freedom from President Obama while wearing shades and would write another late in 2014 after seeing him perform at New York’s Beacon Theatre with my Dad.
In honor of his 75th birthday, I would like to list my 7½ favorite Dylan songs.
1. “Sad Eyed Lady of The Lowlands” – I don’t know where people get the idea that Dylan doesn’t sing ballads. Perhaps some are distracted by his voice. What I do know is that this his Dylan at his most epic. At over 11 minutes, it takes up all of Side 4 of Dylan’s 1966 album Blonde on Blonde and is believed to be about his first wife, Sara Lownds.
2. “Lay Lady Lay” – Upon first hearing, you might not think it’s Dylan with that gentle tenor. Featuring Pete Drake on pedal steel guitar and Charlie Daniels on lead guitar (yes, that Charlie Daniels), it is the centerpiece of Dylan’s country inspired Nashville Skyline.
3. “If You See Her, Say Hello” – The very first Dylan album I listened to was Blood on The Tracks. Hearing Dylan’s voice was like drinking Coca-Cola for the first time. It’s something you never forget. I’ll also never forget the lyrics which begin this song, “If you see her, say hello/She might be in Tangiers.” The lyrics themselves aren’t profound, but the way Dylan phrases them certainly is.
4. “Positively 4th Street” is positively Dylan’s angriest song ever. Who exactly Dylan is angry with is never clear, but does it really matter? The closing two verses are particularly resonant:
I wish that for just one time
You could stand inside my shoes
And just for that one moment
I could be you
Yes, I wish that for just one time
You could stand inside my shoes
You’d know what a drag it is
To see you
I haven’t had occasion to tell someone off in this manner, but I have a feeling I soon will.
5. “Girl From The North Country” with Johnny Cash – Originally appearing on his second album The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan, it gets new life as the opening number on Nashville Skyline as a duet between Dylan and Cash who had championed Dylan from the very beginning of his career. Although it is Dylan’s song, it is Cash’s rendering of the second verse that makes it his own.
6. “Sara” – There are many songs I enjoy from Dylan’s 1976 Desire album, but this is above the rest because of Dylan’s impassioned vocals. A sequel of sorts to “Sad Eyed Lady”, I associate it with my sister who was born the same year.
7. “The Ballad of a Thin Man” – This is supposed to be Dylan’s attack on the media for their misunderstanding of the counterculture, but I’ve always been sympathetic towards the Mr. Joneses of the world who are trying to make sense of it and who authority stamps down if they ask too many impertinent questions. Dylan’s piano playing and Al Kooper’s organ stand out on this track.
½. “I’d Have You Anytime” – You will probably say, “This is a George Harrison song!” You would be correct. But it was co-written by Dylan and his presence on the record is palpable. His influence can be felt far beyond.