Monday marked 50 years since Bob Dylan dropped his self-titled debut – an album which, for all intents and purposes, was his most unapologetic tribute to Woody Guthrie. It was the start of an incredible recording career that’s influenced countless artists since.
When considering an artist like Bob Dylan – who has about 54 albums to his name as of this posting – it’s easy to get overwhelmed and clouded by his incredibly dense catalog of work. Employing a phrase like “Bob Dylan’s best work” is sure to spark a debate among superfans, but that’s not going to stop me here. Instead, here are, in my opinion, five of Bob Dylan’s best songs:
1. “Blowin’ in the Wind” – Obvious, maybe. But also a touchstone for great topical songs. It’s not blatantly protesting anything. It doesn’t force you to choose sides like so many topical songs do. It doesn’t draw a line between progressive and conservative or right and wrong. The song simply asks a series of questions and is then content to let you decide on your own answers. In the process, it reminds you inaction and disengagement are both irresponsible reactions to a world wrought with inequality.
2. “Gotta Serve Somebody” – This tune came in the middle of Dylan’s quasi-gospel period. He was talking about Jesus, of course, but from a somewhat humanist perspective. The message simplified the notion that everyone, in some way, serves someone in their life. Whether you’re serving dinner or serving your boss; serving your family or serving a higher power. It was a rumination on humility and reverence while making a sort of populist statement in the process. It was an exceptionally poetic moment for Dylan, amid a canon of poetry.
3. “Most of the Time” – Bob Dylan is discussed most often for his command of two things: sociopolitical issues, and the blues. But Dylan’s love songs – the ones which find him smitten in the throes of desire – are some of the most honest handlings of the topic in contemporary music. In this case, he’s talking about getting his heart broken, and he’s doing so in a very straight-forward almost innocent tone. True to the reality of moving on, the song does its best to focus on everyday tasks – anything but the heartache – and yet the love creeps in anyway.
4. “Hurricane” – Back to Dylan’s various forays into commenting on the headlines…it would be a tall task to ask any other songwriter to surmount the poetry, rhythm, pace, and sheer power of this song. Dylan’s prowess as a songwriter isn’t limited to one area of a song. He’s always had a knack for developing his work to the greatest of its potential, recognizing that a great collection of lyrics is irrelevant if it doesn’t work with everything else in the song toward the same goal. “Hurricane” is one of those moments where Dylan succeeded in getting everything in concert toward one provocative statement.
5. “Standing in the Doorway” – Speaking of singing the blues, this one may be more of a country or pop song aesthetically, but its blues knock all the others out of the water. An absolutely devastating heartbreak song.
What’s your Top 5?