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Ranking the songs on Bob Dylan’s masterpiece ‘Blonde on Blonde’

Bob Dylan has presided over pop culture likes some Greenwich Village spawned numen. He might have missed the birth but he was waiting outside the labour ward to rear it on the right wayfaring trajectory and we can all be glad that he was able to use his Promethean force to wrestle it towards an entirely new and interesting direction.

The peak of this influence was felt by a beatnik crowd that gathered at the 1965 Newport Folk Festival and sat patiently under the boon of the summer sun. They eagerly awaited the arrival of Bob Dylan like pilgrims in a promised land confident that a six-stringed miracle was handily scheduled in for their adoring eyes to behold. Bob Dylan was the messiah of folk music and even Joan Baez was announcing him as such, but in one swooping electric middle finger, Dylan went from Jesus to Judas to the backbeat of a fuzz pedalled hum. 

What followed that fateful day was three albums with a backing band and more artistic bravura than Dr Frankenstein could muster from the Tate Gallery. With an electric trilogy and his voice of “sand and glue”, Dylan quite literally changed the world, and he did it in a 14-month spell, which represents a purple patch of brilliance so prolific that even to Dylan himself it conjures up a notion of divine intervention. 

It is easy to forget how quickly the 1960s sped by in a kaleidoscopic blur. Rock ‘n’ roll may well have been brooding away since the days of Robert Johnson and the delta blues, but its flower didn’t really burst open until the summer of the mid-sixties. And Dylan helped that benevolent invasive wildflower spread to ensure that pastures of pop culture would never look the same again with three albums, 34 songs, all recorded in 14 months when he was only 23… Each one of them is in with a shouting chance of being crowned the greatest album of all time, and I do not have a hairline brave enough to pit them against each other, particularly with the ranking task that lies in wait, but I will venture to declare this: Blonde on Blonde places firmly on the podium for the greatest break-up albums ever. 

Alas, let the torture begin, as we ranked every song from Blonde on Blonde

Ranking the songs on Blonde on Blonde from worst to best:

14. ‘Pledging My Time’

If there is one small blemish within Bob Dylan’s back catalogue, and we’re talking minuscule here, it’s that every once and again the harp of his harmonica just ventures a little too close to the ear-piercing side of the spectrum. Anyone with a dog can attest to the fact that once in a while the soulful mouth-organ sucking can breach a noise barrier that is perhaps grating.

‘Pledging My Time’ is on the far end of that spectrum. Sadly, it walks the line and teeters a little too close to a stylus jump. However, the fact that a song of this quality props up the list is a portent of the quality we’re meddling with here, in fact, it’s bemusing that this is the worst track on a double album.

13. ‘Absolutely Sweet Marie’

Hammond Organ is a sound synonymous with the golden era and I, for one, can’t understand why it has died out. Dylan’s use of it in this song, however, seems almost like a kitsch declaration that yells I’ve gotten into bed with Thomas Eddison and there’s nothing my Amish fans can do about it. 

Thereafter the song transcends into a rhythmic journey that sees Dylan spit out his words with typical bravura and a solid hint of disdain. 

12. ‘Obviously Five Believers’

Less than a year into his electric journey this song sees him go pretty much full rock ‘n’ roll. The Hawks and his ensemble of collated musicians are in full loose swaggering rhythm and they serve up a song that kicks like a mule and has more swing than a baseball playing octopus. 

The reason it sits towards the back end of the list, however, is that it’s a cracking little rock ditty but there’s not really much else you can say for it. Absolutely solid, but not his most scintillating. 

11. ‘Temporarily Like Achilles’

The fact that Bob Dylan has never once played this song live perhaps hints at his own attitude towards the song. Granted it’s not his best, but there’s a charm to the stoned melody and laidback vocal take, that lends it something mercurial.

The further merit of the song comes in the form of its utterly self-effacing lyrics. “I’m trying to read your portrait, but I’m helpless like a rich man’s child,” is a classic example of Dylan’s majestic musical embracing of his own shortcomings.

10. ‘One of Must Know (Sooner or Later)’

If you can plot a song’s sonic trajectory on a graph then the steady rise into the chorus of this break-up classic should be labelled clearly as a thing of pure joy. It is a recurring crescendo that imparts a dose of adrenalised magic each and every time it is deployed. 

It is another of the tracks that you simply have to applaud the various heartbreakers that Dylan has encountered for. Fortunately for Bob, the music offers him deliverance and as he howls his way through this maelstrom, he catches a wind of clarity and exultation, that still remains pertinently tempered by the hue of “what could’ve been.”

9. ‘Fourth Time Around’

Three of four notes into the song and you already feel reassured that the master has crafted a melody akin to pillow propped contentment. It is a tender and filigreed piece of songwriting that surely had to be persuaded by a mystic into being pressed on vinyl. 

Comparisons have often been made to The Beatles’ ‘Norwegian Wood’ and it is said that the line “I never asked for your crutch / Now don’t ask for mine,” was taken by John Lennon as a warning shot for stealing his songwriting ideas. 

8. ‘Most Likely You Go Your Way (And I’ll Go Mine)’

There are not many Dylan songs that would be befitting of a remix but in 2007 Mark Ronson turned his hand at this and it worked out swell, which is the perfect measure of this albums songwriting scope. 

Remarkably Dylan was only 24-years-old when this was recorded, and he was displaying creative daring akin to punk rock. The title may well covertly cloaked as a break-up sentiment, but the truth is that it could quite easily be a declaration of his iconoclastic ways. 

7. ‘Leopard-Skin Pill-Box Hat

“It balances on your head just like a mattress balances on a bottle of wine,” it is the greatest hat-based insult since Laurel and Hardy’s sartorial antics. The disdain continues therein in an acerbic slur of the spleen.

Once again, the albums waltzing melody continues to take his lyrics on a merry little dance around the dingy bars of break-up-Ville as the free-flowing instrumentation whisks everyone else off their feet to join his swaggering stroll. 

6. ‘Rainy Day Woman #12 & 35’

Dylan was such an iconoclast that he didn’t only set about dethroning idols, but he was more than happy to topple his own tower of song. This carefree attitude means that he’s more than happy to delve into chaos for the hell of it.

If ever a song captured that joyous morning after a heavy night when giddiness and enough alcohol remains to ward off a hangover, then this berserk piece of music embodies it. Having such a kaleidoscopic streak of dissidence is one thing, opening an album with the madness is another thing entirely.  

5. ‘Sad-Eyed Lady of the Lowlands’

On rock’s first double album ‘Sad-Eyed Lady of the Lowlands’ gets a side to itself. It seems befitting beyond the fact that it is 11-minutes long. It is a track that needs space to breathe and room to blossom. 

Dylan himself wasn’t sure whether the track was an epic masterpiece or him “just getting carried away.” Ultimately, which end of that spectrum you arrive at depends on the mood it catches you in – that is to the songs credit – it dares to be divisive and in doing so it eviscerates the banalities of a thousand other songs of love-lost. 

4. ‘I Want You’ 

It seems very fitting that this sultry song was the last track that he recorded for his eponymous break-up album. It’s a track that signifies moving on in an undoubted sonic blast. With a parade of interesting characters, Dylan concocts a swirl of song, that dallies with visceral rock vigour. 

The brilliance of the track, however, belongs to his Nashville backing band, they lay down a groove that gives the album an added dimension. It also finds Dylan it his peak of his iconic vocal stylings that has spawned an endless slew of parodies. 

3. ‘Stuck Inside of Mobile with the Memphis Blues Again’

It wasn’t merely Dylan’s transition to electricity that changed music, he altered culture irrevocably in a myriad of ways. One such way was the DJ silencing ‘long song’. Back when he first started, if it wasn’t around three minutes or less then it wouldn’t be played on the radio for the simple reason that anything longer gave DJ’s less time to talk. Dylan discarded one of his many fucks in this regard and crafted rambling masterpieces aplenty. 

‘Stuck Inside of Mobile…’ is a long song that never loses its edge. The jangling electric melody and ensemble instrumentation find Dylan’s vocals at their most Dylan-esque for a tale of the blues. The rock-orientated 4/4 time is a departure from his early stylings, but it is one that proved beautifully fruitful.

2. ‘Visions of Johanna’

“The ghosts of electricity howls in the bones of her face / Where these visions of Johanna have now taken my place,” is a lyric that prose master like Yukio Mishima would be proud to house in a novel. This poetic wordplay runs throughout in a luminous waltz through the ether. 

The song seems to have been coaxed out from the mystic through some sort of alchemical process, it still hoards a hue of the strange fog from whence it was snatched but there is a solid stroke of clarity that couples it with gorgeous depth and form.

1. ‘Just Like A Woman’

If imitation is the greatest compliment of all then ‘Just Like A Woman’ finds itself in a room of mirrors each one reflecting back admiration. Joe Cocker came closest and Nina Simone’s is a cracker too, but in truth, nobody sings Dylan like Dylan because he knows the woman in question (widely believed to be Edie Sedgewick) and he knows the unique concoction of emotion that spawned its brilliance. 

It is a song that often ventures towards the saccharine end of sweetness but avoids the slippery slope by clinging to complexities and the depths of confliction. The beauty of the song is that Dylan seems to have little control of it, as though it unspools from a pit of Duende, which is defined by the poet Federico Garcia Lorca as, “a mysterious force that everyone feels, and no philosopher has explained. The roots that cling to the mire from which comes the very substance of art.”

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