classic rock reviews


Top 10 Bob Dylan Songs


Folk Rock Classics by One of The Best Songwriters in Musical History




The Definitive List


Bob Dylan's Top 10 Best Songs Ever


Have seen a couple articles lately about Bob Dylan’s Best Top 10 Songs. Don’t know what these people are listening to, ’cause they certainly ain’t heard much Dylan. Don’t even seem to realize he put out albums before Self-Portrait.

I remember Columbia Records sending me Planet Waves to review in 1974. Tried to like it, but Dylan was pretty much done by then. Words I ended up eating in ’75 when his masterwork Blood on the Tracks came out.

You can still make a decent argument, however, that was it for Dylan. He kept recording nonetheless, releasing 25 more LPs. The only album which subsequently resonated with me was Modern Times from 2006. though interestingly enough I like the music more than the song writing, highly unusual when talking about Bob.

An academic consideration this is in no way intended to diminish Bob Dylan’s stature as an artist. He was monumental. No description of historical context can properly convey how revolutionary Dylan was for his time. Just looking at this list, the dates these songs were released. His recordings, his arrangements, his instrumentation – NOBODY was doing stuff like that.

Without a doubt what made Dylan was his early work. At first a cultural firebrand, the protest song folksinger. As his craft developed and matured Dylan became a monumental though polarizing artist. An aquired taste, some people just couldn’t listen to him. One of the best songwriters this world has ever seen, Dylan’s impact, the pure literature, the spontaneity and artistic creatiion from his early work has never been matched. Argue all you want. You can’t take that away from him. Few have ever been the artist that Bob Dylan’s been.

Here therefore is the definitive list of Bob Dylan’s Top 10 songs.

(i.e., mine)

bob dyaln's top 10 best songs


10. “Things Have Changed”
Wonder Boys Soundtrack


Wonder Boys was a decent little film starring Michael Douglas and Robert Downey Jr. which we watched since it was directed by Curtis Hanson, who also did L.A. Confidential (a great, great movie). With no explosions and faithful to laws of physics Wonder Boys was far from a blockbuster. A simple tale about people. Rather enjoyable, but you got to the end and over closing credits you suddenly hear this GREAT Bob Dylan song.

Unknown at the time “Things Have Changed” was reportedly recorded in 1999 when Dylan and his band had a day off from touring in New York. It won both the Oscar and the Golden Globe for Best Original Song, fairly amazing since it wasn’t even featured in the film, simply played over closing credits.

“Things Have Changed” is a total throwback to Dylan’s heyday, with a great acoustic minor key groove, clever yet somehow ominous lyrics. Must’ve been a rather spontaneous session. Don’t know how many takes they took, but apparently they didn’t like the intro (if you want to call it that) of the best take they ended up keeping.

And this might mean nuthin’ but it's still tough to overlook, at least comment upon the evolution of the artist’s head. This is the guy who recorded “The Times They Are a-Changin’” in 1964. We were out to change the world, and anyone from the (quote, unquote) Woodstock Generation clings to the realization we made a difference, fought the good fight. Dylan was a champion of that day. Now he’s telling us:

“I used to care, but things have changed…”

9. “A Hard Rain’s a-Gonna Fall”
The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan


“Desolation Row”
Highway 61 Revisited


A Lotta Stuff


On his second album Freewheelin’ “A Hard Rain’s” the first tune Dylan released where words and images just kinda come spilling out, became one of his siguatures. Used it again in songs like “Subterranean Homesick Blues,” “Mr. Tambourine Man,” “Stuck Inside of Mobile” and “It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue.” “A Hard Rain” has to be cited as being the first. Interestingly enough, like a fairly absurd number of tunes on this list, it dates back to the Witmark Demos Bob recorded between 1962 and 1964.

Of these ramblers, “Desolation Row” may be the best. All kinds of images and rhymes seem somehow literate. You might just as well call it poetry. Maybe you don’t know what the heck it means, but it means something to the poet. At least that’s the theory. Face it, once you got people arguing about whether or not it’s poetry that’s half the battle.

8. “I’ll Be Your Baby Tonight”
John Wesley Harding


“Tonight I’ll Be Staying Here With You”
Nashville Skyline


Went back and forth on this. Penciled these tunes in as Numbers Seven and Eight. Couldn’t decide which was Seven, which was Eight. Pretty much interchangeable, put them BOTH in as Number Eight because they are essentially the same song. Both great, with similar feels, vocal styles, they’re a bit on the simple side for Mr. Zimmerman, being straight ahead love songs with no allegorical literary implications. Plus, of course, it’s sweet, he’s staying. At least for that night, specifically, with no guarantees about the future. That alone makes it a bit unusual for Dylan, who’s usually heading down that long and lonely road, babe.

“Tonight I’ll Be Staying Here With You” and “I’ll Be Your Baby Tonight” come from succeeding LPs: John Wesley Harding, released in 1967, and 1969’s Nashville Skyline. His eighth and ninth albums. Both coming after Blonde on Blonde, which according to legend marked Bob’s return to a more acoustic style. His Nashville phase, both songs were produced by Bob Johnston and featured many of the same musicians.

7. “It Ain’Me Babe”
Another Side of Bob Dylan


In some ways, yes, “It Ain’t Me Babe” makes this list because it was a hit single for The Turtles in 1965. A really good version. An extremely well produced record, it featured a slick arrangement with excellent instrumentation behind Flo and Eddie vocals.

On the other hand maybe the reason it hit the Top 10 was because it’s just a really great song.

Either way, will you ever forgive them for skipping the third verse and chorus?

Polished as it was the real charm of Bob Dylan’s version is because it’s so simple and stripped down. Many of the selections on our list are the most basic arrangements, Dylan and a guitar, showing just how good a song can be on its own.

Certainly one of the most direct F-You songs to hit the charts at that time.

“Leave at your own chosen speed.”

6. “All Along the Watchtower”
John Wesley Harding


Another song you might think only makes this list because of the cover version. If Dave Mason hadn’t played the test pressing of John Wesley Harding he’d gotten from Bob Dylan’s publicist at a party to which he’d invited his buddy, Jimi Hendrix, it might be a different story. Scholars can discuss this for generations.

As far as we’re concerned, on it’s own “All Along The Watchtower” is still a great song, a simple enough upbeat acoustic folk tune, Dylan on wooden guitar and harmonica backed by bass and drums. (Charlie McCoy and Kenny Buttrey, respectively, who’d played on Blonde on Blonde.)

Dark, somber and medieval, the tale this tune spins is amazing, especially considering there’s only 12 lines in the lyrics. Can’t think of another song which so much meaning is packed into so few words.

5. “Tomorrow Is A Long Time”


Eventually released in 1971 on Bob Dylan’s Greatest Hits Vol. II the original recording of “Tomorrow Is A Long Time” dates back to the Witmark demos Bob cut in 1962.

For the record (no pun intended) the Number One Song that year on the Billboard Singles Chart was “Stranger on The Shore,” a clarinet instrumental by Acker Bilk. Ray Charles was #2 with “I Can’t Stop Loving You” off Modern Sounds in Country and Western Music, a really cool LP, but that’s beating out numbers Three to Five, which are: “Mashed Potato Time,” “Roses Are Red” by Bobby Vinton and “The Stripper.” In musical terms this is pretty much what you drive through to get to Area 51. The bottom half of the Top 10: “Johnny Angel,” “The Loco-Motion” and “The Twist” by Chubby Checker. (TWO songs about dances in the Top 10?) It’s Number 12 before you see anything else remotely cool: “The Wanderer” by Dion. After that, the desert.

All of which we mention simply to illustrate how far ahead of his time Dylan was for that period. People are hitting the charts, they’re still working on Barre chords. Dylan’s writing three dimensional poetry.

This tune was recorded by folk stalwarts Joan Baez, Judy Collins, Odetta, the Kingston Trio and Glen Yarbrough, also Ian and Sylvia and the We Five, Elvis in 1966. The definitive version is probably off Rod Stewart’s breakout LP from 1971, Every Picture Tells A Story. A big fan of Bob’s, Rod Stewart subsequently cut a great version of “Mama, You Been on My Mind” for Never a Dull Moment, released in ’72.

“Tomorrow Is a Long Time” is on this list because it is simply a truly beautiful song on a number of levels.

4. “Simple Twist of Fate”
Blood on the Tracks


TWO from Blood on the Tracks? Well, yeah. Just LISTEN! I remember Dylan saying songs on this album contain so much pain he was surprised people would even listen to them. It was frankly difficult to limit myself to only two. “Shelter from the Storm” might check in through the low teens. “You’re a Big Girl Now” and “If You See Her” are excellent. “Meet Me in the Morning,” “You’re Gonna Make Me Lonesome” and “Buckets of Rain” are really good. “Jack of Hearts” is a whole western cowboy movie. The only dog on the LP is “Idiot Wind” and I’ve actually seen that cited as one of Bob’s Best, though it’s only got one good line: “I can’t help it if I’m lucky.”

“Simple Twist of Fate” is a simple, hauntingly beautiful tune. The most rudimentary of recordings, it is Dylan on acoustic guitar and harmonica accompanied by a bass player. The themes may not be as grand as “Tangled Up in Blue” but the imagery is unmistakable.

“As the light burst through a beat up shade…”

That whole verse, in fact, is another illustration of why Dylan in Dylan.

3. “Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right”
The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan


Almost beyond conception. Like “Caroline, No” and “Ooo Baby Baby.” How do you think up a song like this? A great finger-picked guitar chord sequence, clever lyrics that connect. First verse, he’s leaving. Second verse, “it ain’t no use in turning on your light, babe.” Third verse: “it ain’t no use in calling out my name, babe.” Fourth verse gets a little interesting. The original recording starts “So long, honey babe...” But that quickly reverted to “I’m walking down that long and lonesome road, babe,” a tribute to fellow folksinger Paul Clayton’s “Who’s Goin’ to Buy You Ribbons When I’m Gone” from which the kernel of “Don’t Think Twice” was supposedly copped. “Who’s Goin’ To Buy You Ribbons” was reportedly copped from a traditional (quote, unquote) “Negro” folk song entitled “Who Gonna Bring You Chickens.”

Gotta say we don’t pay much attention to all that manufactured controversy over where certain Rock Gods got their inspiration. A lotta people dig into Led Zeppelin. Well, man, there’s only 12 notes. The important thing is these artists impressed these works with their individual personalities and created an enduring artistic document. “Don’t Think Twice” is one of those.

Besides, what kinda guy brings his girl ribbons? Or freakin’ chickens? “Don’t think twice” is simply cooler. Like - take a good look at my ass, sweetheart.

Freewheelin’ was Bob Dylan’s second album, really where he began to emerge as an artist and writer, more than simply a folk singer playing coffee shops in Greenwich Village. Also contained “Blowin’ in the Wind,” which was HUGE.

2. “Like A Rolling Stone”
Highway 61 Revisited


Oh, “How does it FEEL?” Many consider this Bob Dylan’s best song ever, and we won’t argue much. It is a colossal statement, a colossal achievement at that point in time. This song simply resonates, sums up so much, a fall from affluence and grace, elite academia, to life on the street and drug addiction. Just hearing Dylan screech “How does it FEEL?” is The Sixties, man. To be own your own, like a rolling stone. So much song writing is simply taken at face value. True poetry implies greater concepts, whole worlds above and beyond a lyric’s literal narration. Dylan had that.

For me, I remember this song playing one gray morning on the jukebox of the Lafayette Grille, the sleaziest greasy spoon, as they tossed a local derelict out onto the Venice Boardwalk.

“Nobody ever taught you how to live out on the street, now you’re gonna have to get used to it!”

1. “Tangled Up In Blue”
Blood on the Tracks


There are only two songs which can be considered Dylan’s absolute best. “Tangled Up In Blue” is one of them. Three dimensional poetry, a fictionalized autobiographical travelogue which transcends the simplicity of its own storyline. Suddenly it’s about life. As Harrison Ford said in Raiders of The Lost Ark: “It’s not the years, it’s the mileage.” For those who might wonder why Dylan’s so highly regarded as a poet, check out the fifth verse, the one that starts:

“She lit a burner on the stove and offered me a pipe…”

That’s simply why Dylan is Dylan.

Near Misses, Close Calls, Honorable Mentions

If this were Dylan’s Top Dozen “If Not For You” would be Number 11. Love this tune, just can’t seem to rank it higher than the songs above. Tough to argue against anybody who feels it should be slated higher, though we have a hard time thinking it could crack the Top Five.

Number 12 would be difficult to choose between.

“She Belongs to Me” is an excellent song, barely missed the cut here. May seem a bit simplistic, but three-dimensional poetry.

Another close miss was “Mama You Been On My Mind.” We mentioned Rod Stewart’s rendition earlier. Don’t know it merits consideration for our Top 10, but a really good song. An outtake for his 1964 album Another Side of Bob Dylan, it was covered by a lot of people, including early Linda Ronstadt, Ricky Nelson, Johnny Cash and George Harrsion.

We also mentioned “Shelter from the Storm” belonging in the low teens. A truly excellent lyric, the simplest piece of music. That’s kinda what makes the song so great.

There are also a couple tracks we kinda lumped into Dylan’s rambling stream of consciousness tunes, but “It’s Alright Ma (I’m Only Bleeding)” and “It’s All Over Now Baby Blue” probably deserve some individual mention. Imagine they’d rank somewhere between low teens and high 20s. Interestingly enough they are cuts 11 and 12 on Bringing It All Back Home, Bob’s fifth studio album released in 1965. Controversial at the time because Dylan actually used electric guitars on Side One.

A lotta people may be wondering about why we did not include “Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door.“ Suppose it’s okay, and we realize it is quite popular, but it’s a real lightweight tune for Dylan. Way (way, way, way) down the list.

Others rate “Girl from the North Country” pretty high. It’s a good folk tune, mos def, especially for 1963. His second album, Freewheelin’ is really when the world awoke to Bob Dylan. Still, looking at his stuff we have a hard time giving it more than this passing reference.

Love the feel of “Lay Lady Lay” For the time it came out this was a very racy tune. If we kept on going this song might get slotted in the high teens to low 20s.

Ditto “Just Like A Woman.” A great feel.

Classic Rock Updates


Sign Up For Our Email List!

Receive a Notification When New Content Is Posted


Email Your Email Address to jim.classicrockforever (at)


We do not SPAM. You will receive one email every week or two.
We will never sell your email address and you can easily unsubscribe at any time.


Help Support Our Site


Shop Amazon through Classic Rock Forever


Click on Link, go to Amazon, search for whatever you want. We’ll get credit.


Classic Rock Updates


Sign Up For Our Email List!


Receive Notification When New Content Is Posted


Email Your Email Address to


jim.classicrockforever (at)


We do not SPAM.
You will receive one email every week or two.
We will never sell your email address and you can easily unsubscribe at any time.


Help Support Our Site






Classic Rock Forever


Click on Link above, go to Amazon, then search for whatever you want.
We'll get credit.


Make Sure You Visit
Our Friends at

rock's backpages archive of music journalism

The Ultimate Online Library of Classic Rock Journalism


Over 40,000 Articles


The World's Biggest Archive of Stories, Interviews & Reviews


From Allmans to Zappa


online library of classic rock stories, interviews and reviews


Click Here


Listen To Audio


smoke on the water deep purple machine head


Jim Esposito's
Explosive Interview




Ritchie Blackmore


Deep Purple's Somewhat Tempermental Guitarist Dumps The File in 1973


Click Here


grace slick of jefferson airplane and straship great interview


“Second Best Interview in Rock ’n Roll History”


Grace Slick


Rambles On


(And on and on
and on and on...)


Click Here


The funniest book you'll ever read!


high fliers novel by jim esposito


High in The Sky Over Florida


Very High


novel High Fliers, funniest book you'll ever read
by Jim Esposito


“Like the weirdest guy I ever met.”


  – Grace Slick


Available Now on Amazon!


Click Here


the best rock and roll ever recorded


Classic Rock  Forever


Celebrating The Best Music This World Has Ever Heard!