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“Love that's pure hopes all things.”
Singer-songwriter Bob Dylan is one of the most seminal, influential and multi-faceted musical geniuses of modern times.
Here is a personal selection from the prolific works of the artist who perhaps more than anyone else is singlehandedly credited with revolutionizing not only the face of modern music, but also with at one time being the spokesman of a generation and humanitarian social movement, and with regularly reinventing himself and his creative process ever since. This is only a small selection of a few favourites (spanning various different periods of his career) - there are plenty more great lyrics you can enjoy by listening to Bob Dylan's works or visiting his website at www.bobdylan.com where Columbia Records have made available an A-Z list of the lyrics of all his songs.
Bob Dylan has been called a great 'wordsmith,' although I would contest that he is primarily a great songwriter and musician, of which the poetry forms only one part - he is a musical artist who has been frequently misunderstood, and one of the reasons is that the poetry of his lyrics is so enjoyable and varied that I feel this has often distracted people from noticing the qualities of the music itself!
So, for example, there are certain songs of his which are often quoted as among his best and yet these are sometimes musically simplistic and tiresome pieces which may happen to have interesting (or at least popular) lyrics. A typical example would be 'Visions of Johanna,' a musically boring and even at times grating piece whose only saving grace is perhaps its good rhythm, but which some fans have loved because, I presume, they enjoy the lyrics! However, there is a wealth of poetry which is inspiring in itself to read even in isolation from the music, and from this I have chosen (with difficulty!) only a small selection of particularly favourite lyrics below. The songs I have chosen here are the ones whose words I never seem to tire of, no matter how many times I return to them - a handy test to help me determine which lyrics are the ones with the most enduring and multi-layered significance!
In contrast to this, there are other songs of Bob Dylan's which are great musically but whose lyrics are nothing special and are not quoted here because they are not so interesting to read in isolation from the music. It is neither true to say that he is always a great lyricist, nor that he is always a great musician - sometimes he is one, both or neither - so it's only true to say that he is a variable recording artist! He is known to be complex and even contradictory in his art, and when fans or critics have projected labels or expectations onto him he has sometimes been prone to defy them.
Bob Dylan has often focused on humanitarian concerns in his music, however. As a result, there has frequently been a public interest in what he had to say about things, how he was living his life, what he felt about the civil rights movement, and why he had divorced himself from it; with regard to the latter, he claimed this was because he aspired to be an artist rather than being perceived and expected to be only a politician and social figurehead - and so he sold his house in Woodstock, where apparently his private life had been steadily eroded, and moved away in search of political obscurity where he could pursue his art. . .
It does seem that during more than four decades of creative work Bob Dylan has remained consistently devoted to his work and profession as a creative artist, and to an effort to write and sing good songs - and so I would see the sense in what he has often proclaimed himself - that it is the songs themselves which are worthy of our interest and consideration, rather than the man per se or his political opinions, social stance, etc. People unfortunately have a natural tendency to want to focus their attention on the artist, his actions, and his opinions on this or that, and yet I find it sad that relatively little attention (by comparison) has gone into actually appreciating the body of creative work itself - one that encompasses great highs and tedious lows, but is overall one of the most outstanding, diverse and inspired collections of songs ever recorded.
This personal compilation of favourite Bob Dylan poetry is not intended to distract from appreciation of the musicianship of the songs; I would say the impact is more enjoyable, emotional and well-rounded when listening than when only reading. Nonetheless, I find these lyrics to be moving, seminal, epoch-shifting, diverse, enjoyable and humanitarian such that they are worth sharing and celebrating in their own right - and also, through reading them after listening, I have sometimes noticed and enjoyed new subtleties of meaning, or phrases, which I had missed before. – Introductory Comments by Simon Rees, March 2007
Go To Index of Bob Dylan's Lyrics Listed by Extract
Poetry From 18 Favourite Bob Dylan Song Lyrics 1962-1990 - Listed by Title
Blowin' in the Wind (1962)
Most of the Time (1989)
Changing of the Guards (1978)
Tomorrow is a Long Time (1963)
Watered Down Love (1981)
All I Really Want To Do (1964)
Every Grain of Sand (1981)
One More Cup of Coffee (1975)
The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll (1964)
Who Killed Davey Moore? (1963)
With God on Our Side (1963)
Masters of War (1963)
My Back Pages (1964)
All Along the Watchtower (1968)
T.V. Talkin' Song (1990)
Sad Eyed Lady of the Lowlands (1966)
Love Is Just a Four-Letter-Word (1967)
Lily, Rosemary and the Jack of Hearts (1974)
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Go to Index of Bob Dylan's Lyrics Listed by Extract
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