Polling the Artists Q8 (the Dylan question) Part 2

Agh! I'm late! here's the second part of the Dylan Quesion:

What is your favorite Bob Dylan Song or album, and how did it inspire and/or influence you?


When I was a pre-teen I developed a thirst for music older than I was. This was to include the music of Bob Dylan. I picked up a used copy of The Times They Are a Changin'. One song particularly stood out, mostly because, at the time, it was the only song to make me cry. That song was "Boot's of Spanish Leather". The last line, the character's final request to a far away lover who has fallen out of love, is truly devastating.

I'm instinctively drawn to artists who are constantly re-addressing and re-assessing themes of life. The themes that are universal, profound and ever changing: Love, Death, Justice, Sex, The existence (or lack there of) of God. Bob Dylan joins the ranks of influential searchers, a list that includes Tom Waits, Woody Allen, Leonard Cohen, Orson Welles, and countless (yet some how increasingly rare) others.


I would have to take the easy route and choose "Visions of Johanna."

I have been listening to Dylan for a very long time, and I still find
something new in that song.
I recently learned that is Scorsese favorite Dylan song as well.
So, I feel very secure with my choice. :-)


Ever since getting into Dylan, he has been a consistent influence on my life and music. He is able to create whole other worlds with his music and words, and even manages to weave himself into those worlds as his music and his identity changes from album to album, or period to period.

He has created so much music that it is certainly difficult to pin down one particular album which has had the largest impact on me. Every period seems to do something different for me, but some still stand out over others. 'Bringing It All Back Home' is brilliant, and might be better than 'Highway 61 Revisited'. Yes, looking at the track listing on the backs of the albums now, 'Bringing It All Back Home' takes this battle today... "Gates of Eden"! "It's Alright, Ma", "Love Minus Zero/No Limit"/"It's All Over Now Baby Blue" (the best part of 'Don't Look Back' has to be the sequence when he plays these songs). 'Highway 61 Revisited' is amazing, but, the live versions of the songs destroy my love for the album versions.

'Blonde on Blonde' is another obvious choice, the thin sound of the band, the brilliant chaos of the lyrics, and the emotion in his voice, all have easily found there way into my life. I spent a few weeks late in 2008 listening to 'Sad Eyed Lady Of The Lowlands' on repeat. This song is the weirdest, craziest, oddest, best, and strangely most beautiful love song I've ever heard. I am completely spell-bound by it. What a tribute! one song takes up an entire side of one of the best double albums of all time! The song is a tangled brilliance of a masterpiece.

I'm also very drawn to 'John Wesley Harding' for its forced simplicity and incredible religious references. I read somewhere that this album contains the most biblical allusions of any of his albums. Although I'm not extremely religious, I've always been intrigued by the power such references give music, and have used such things often in my own work. Country music has always been a part of my family, and so 'Nashville Skyline' fines it's way into this answer. I just like the idea of just deciding to do a country record, and doing it right with the best country session musicians at the time. "I Threw It All Away" is incredible.

Leaving the 60s, Dylan becomes a little more elusive to me. Still 'Blood on the Tracks' is easily one of the best albums of all time. This album is full of brilliance. For starters it is probably Dylan's best album performance wise that I've heard. The biggest problem with this early to mid 60s albums is the lack on interest in his performance (I would argue), but with this album, the emotion is clearly there (the content obviously leads to this). I've been completely enthralled with so many songs on this album... "Tangled Up In Blue" has an incredible story, "Simple Twist Of Fate" really first struck me after seeing it in sequence in the film 'I'm Not There'... the song just has this incredible, "it happened, it's sad, I wish I could go back and change it, hmph" feeling, but in the most beautiful way--a beautiful recount of a very sad time. "You're A Big Girl Now" is possibly the saddest song on the album, and really tugs at those heart strings... the song is so personal, it's incredible (the best song on the album?). "Idiot Wind" is just angry and intense and amazing. "Shelter From the Storm" works in similar ways to "Simple Twist of Fate". The brilliance of this album, thinking about it now, is how personal it comes across for Bob, but also how easily it can relate to your life on a equally personal level, while at the same time really allowing you to know Bob's position... you feel like you really know what he is going through, while at the same time you can live your experiences through it. This album is all over my work.

All this being said about Dylan albums, the best Dylan for me is his live work. The live albums from 1964, 1966, and 1975 are far and away his best work. He just brings the songs to a whole other level in his live show. The insane energy of his crazy gypsy-esque band on the Rolling Thunder Revue Tour is just incredible. Makes me want to jump up and down. Pound the earth. Scream into the air with my fists clenched. Buy a large feathered hat. "Isis" "Hurricane" "One More Cup Of Coffee" to name just three from the album.

'LIVE 1966' is probably my favourite Dylan album (although it might not be a proper album). The electric second half is filled with so much energy and fresh-ness. The best word to describe it is simply "ELECTRIC". To comment on what I said above about 'Highway 61 Revisited', the versions of "Like A Rolling Stone" and especially "Ballad of a Thin Man" are just unbelievably good. The amount of energy and quirkiness Bob commands on stage causes me to shake my head in wonder, eyes wide open. However, for the the acoustic side of the album really blows my mind. The man is completely lost in the songs. His entire essence is within the songs delivering them out to the audience who sit stone cold silent for the duration. This is where his masterpieces of the 1960s truly shine. Every song is amazing. "Just Like A Woman" is such an odd song, difficult for many to like, but it is so fragile here, so beautiful. "Desolation Row", "Mr. Tambourine Man", and "Fourth Time Around" become incredibly haunting, and "She Belongs To Me" becomes a very personal ramble. To agree with some other answers however, the best song is "Visions Of Johanna". Here stripped from the almost silly sound of 'Blonde on Blonde', the song floats on a whole other level. This song has easily had the largest impact on my life and music than any other Dylan song. It floats hauntingly from his voice, which places an incredible importance on every syllable, through fantastic images similar to T.S. Eliot's "The Wasteland". The song mixes beautiful poetry with silly images:

Inside the museums, Infinity goes up on trial
Voices echo this is what salvation must be like after a while
But Mona Lisa musta had the highway blues
You can tell by the way she smiles
See the primitive wallflower freeze
When the jelly-faced women all sneeze
Hear the one with the mustache say, "Jeeze
I can't find my knees"
Oh, jewels and binoculars hang from the head of the mule
But these visions of Johanna, they make it all seem so cruel

demonstrating the artists true abilities and brilliance. The song just hauntingly floats through incredible images for me.
Ever since hearing this acoustic version of the song this almost all I've tried to do with my music... make it float.


Wow, what amazing responses! Sorry, I'm a little late on mine. I was also a little late on getting into Dylan - my brother's vinyl collection, which was the centre of my adolescent pop music schooling, while brimming with Bowie and Stones, had a conspicuous lack of Dylan records. I first really started digging in after hearing one of my favorite guitarists, Bill Frisell, doing a cover of "Just Like A Woman"... which is ironic, as it's an instrumental, and so much of the richness of Dylan is in the words.
My favorite album is either Desire or Nashville Skyline. A fave song is harder to pick, but "Just Like Tom Thumb's Blues" is up there.

If you haven't see it, check out Dylan on 60 Minutes a few years back:

Bob Dylan on 60 Minutes

I like the part when he talks about his early work, saying: "I can do other things now, but I can't do that."
I think that sentiment is the inspiration behind a great tune called "I Used To Be Bob Dylan" by former Torontonian (now PEI-ian) Detective Kalita (aka Andy Swan)....

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