Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Bob Dylan's Greatest Hits By The Numbers

Bob Dylan holds a cue card in the music video ...
Bob Dylan holds a cue card in the music video for "Subterranean Homesick Blues" (Wikipedia)
by Garrett Sawyer

You'd think that with a legendary career like Bob Dylan's that he would have an extremely long "greatest hits" list.

Ironically he hit Billboard's American Top 40 a grand total of only twelve times.

For anybody new to Dylan here's a rundown of the few songs that actually charted, in reverse order from lowest to highest:

Subterranean Homesick Blues, #39 in 1965

His first hit, it contained the classic line, "You don't need a weather man to know which way the wind blows."

George Jackson, #33 in 1971

This was a tribute to the Black Panther leader, George Jackson. Jackson had been shot and killed by guards at San Quentin Prison on August 21, 1971. The famous Attica Prison riot was partially attributed to the shooting.

Hurricane, Part 1, #33 in 1976

This was the first portion of Dylan's eight minute leadoff song from "Desire" about how Rubin "Hurricane" Carter was allegedly framed for a 1966 triple murder in Patterson, New Jersey.

Just Like A Woman, #33 in 1966

Rumored to be about Edie Sedgwick this was a song whose lyrics Dylan, according to historian Sean Wilentz, improvised in the studio by singing "disconnected lines and semi-gibberish". Don't you wish you could improvise like this?

Tangled Up In Blue, #31 in 1975

With his marriage to Sara Lowndes falling to pieces Dylan penned this epic allegory of their relationship, how they came together, fell apart, came back together and fell apart again.

Gotta Serve Somebody, #24 in 1979

Dylan became a born-again Christian in the late 1970s, recorded two albums of gospel music, and lost a few fans (again). This was Dylan's way of reminding everybody (perhaps himself included) that no one is ever totally their own master.

I Want You, #20 in 1966

Rolling Stone declared "Blonde on Blonde" to be the ninth greatest album of all time. It yielded this hit.

Knockin' On Heaven's Door, #11 in 1973

Isn't it nice when you can star in a movie and get a hit song out of it? That's exactly what happened when Dylan starred in Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid.

Positively 4th Street, #7, charted for 7 weeks in 1965

Laden with imagery of retribution this was supposedly Dylan's response to so-called "friends" from the folk community who, from the sound of it, stabbed Dylan in the back (figuratively, of course).

Lay Lady Lay, #7, charted for 11 weeks in 1969

Suddenly Dylan lurched country, recording with Nashville musicians and doing a duet with Johnny Cash.

Rainy Day Women #12 and 35: #2 for one week in 1966

He practically laughed all the way through this gleeful litany of a double entendre. Everybody's got to get stoned, like the adulterous woman in the Gospels nearly was, only to find that he's probably talking about getting high the whole time.

Like A Rolling Stone, #2 for two weeks in 1965

There's not much you have to say about this song. Rolling Stone proclaimed it the single greatest song of all time. In an era when hit songs weren't supposed to run for more than about three minutes or so Dylan's accusatory anthem ran on for over six unprecedented minutes.

And these are just the ones that charted! All this goes to show is that innumerable terrific songs don't necessarily sell, make it to the Top 40 charts or get the radio airplay they genuinely deserve.

The rest of Bob Dylan's "Greatest Hits", if you judge by the quality of the songs themselves, would doubtless make a list that would run several pages.

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