A taste of Bob Dylan: 10 songs to beat The Band

Sheer, dizzying, heartbreaking brilliance: superfan Joseph O'Connor's selects his playlist

Van Morrison, Bob Dylan and The Band’s Robbie Robertson (from left to right) onstage in 1976. Photograph: United Artists/Getty Images

Van Morrison, Bob Dylan and The Band’s Robbie Robertson (from left to right) onstage in 1976. Photograph: United Artists/Getty Images

 

Brownsville Girl From Knocked Out Loaded (1986) Written with the playwright Sam Shepard, this 11-minute epic is a wistful, shimmering, cinematic piece of extraordinarily vivid storytelling.

Every Grain of Sand From Shot of Love (1981) Reworking lines from William Blake’s Auguries of Innocence, this is Dylan at his most sublimely joyous, with a gorgeous harmonica solo.

Blind Willie McTell From Dylan (2007) and The Bootleg Series, Vol 1-3 (1991) Borrows part of its melody from the old blues standard St James’s Infirmary while leading the listener on a dream voyage through the highways of American history.

Sara From Desire (1976) Perhaps Dylan’s most emotionally naked song, as beautiful an expression of the preciousness and frailty of human love as has ever been put on a record.

It’s Alright Ma (I’m Only Bleeding) From Before the Flood (1974) This live album recorded with The Band captures an explosively powerful onstage Dylan driving the crowd to a frenzy.

Sad-Eyed Lady of the Lowlands From Blonde on Blonde (1966) Imagine a novella by Salvador Dalí, Virginia Woolf and Gerard Manley Hopkins and you’d be close to this cavalcade of tumbling images and surreal, kaleidoscopic metaphors, assembled, as Dylan put it, while “stayin’ up for days in the Chelsea Hotel”.

Scarlet Town From Tempest (2012) In a voice as elemental as the rocks, Uncle Bob remakes the ballad Barbara Allen, or Sweet William on His Deathbed Lay.

Visions of Johanna From Blonde on Blonde (1966) Contains the lyrics “The ghost of electricity howls in the bones of her face” and “Inside the museum, infinity goes up on trial”, lines that WH Auden would have been proud to have written.

Girl from the North Country From Nashville Skyline (1969) Recorded with Johnny Cash, this gorgeous duet is dark and regretful as all get-out, yet shot through with redemptive empathy.

Tangled Up in Blue From Blood on the Tracks (1974) Sheer, dizzying, heartbreaking brilliance. Nothing more to be said.

Joseph O’Connor is professor of creative writing at the University of Limerick and will lead the UL/Frank McCourt Creative Writing Summer School in New York in July. Bob Dylan appears as a character in his latest novel, The Thrill of It All (Vintage)

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