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Music

Jarvis Cocker's favourite Bob Dylan song

Bob Dylan is an icon. As an artist, he needs no real introduction. Over his long career, Dylan has experienced each side of the coin and has risen to God-like status. The most influential songwriter on the planet, there’s little wonder that mountains of discourse have been written on his career. Dylan has ditched the acoustic for the electric guitar, utilised jazz, folk and world music, and even embarked upon a brief foray into Christian music. His discography is a musical Odyssey, a testament to the meandering life of ‘The Bard’.

Dylan’s sharp-witted intelligence pushed some commentators to question whether he is even of this realm at all, claiming that he might have followed in the footsteps of his hero, the great Robert Johnson, and sold his soul to a nefarious force in return for artistic gain. Although the last point is absurd, you get the picture. Dylan’s stature is immense, and the extent to which he is revered is unrivalled. 

Showing this, for Dylan’s 80th birthday in May 2021, tributes poured in from every corner of the musical world. Icons, more niche artists and laypeople like myself, were all united in showering praise on this behemoth of songwriting. 

One who joined in on the celebrations was another of our favourite wordsmiths, Jarvis Cocker of Pulp. Naming his favourite track for StereogumCocker, like many others, listed Dylan’s 2020 cut ‘Murder Most Foul’ from Rough and Rowdy Ways as his favourite. There was no real surprise, as the kind of wry lyricism that Cocker became known for in the ’90s owes a lot to Dylan, and ‘Murder Most Foul’ makes a strong claim for being his best set of lyrics ever.

Of the track, Cocker said: “I first heard it when it suddenly materialised on the internet on the 27th of March 2020. That was four days after the UK entered its first coronavirus lockdown. The timing is important, I think, because there was a real feeling of anxiety about the future and where the whole planet was heading. People began to overuse words like ‘surreal’ and ‘unprecedented.’ And then this song came, seemingly out of nowhere, about the day the USA got ‘un-presidented'”.

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He continued: “It really felt like the right song at the right moment — a fevered summing-up of the pop culture of the Western world at the very instant that world appeared to be on the point of disappearing forever”.

Displaying that keen perception that we love him for, Cocker explained: “Dylan reveals himself as a fan as well as a creator in ‘Murder Most Foul’: Pop hits, Wolfman Jack, Stevie Nicks, the Birdman Of Alcatraz all drift through your consciousness as you listen. It’s a dream in song form. Or it’s like Kennedy’s brains splattered all over the page and somehow Dylan managed to scribble down their dying thoughts before they fizzled out.”

In no uncertain terms, the Pulp frontman concluded: “It’s a complete work of genius”. 

There’s no coincidence that Cocker agreed with legends such as David Byrne and Andy Bell in celebrating ‘Murder Most Foul’. A long, dream-like work, the world was surprised when the elderly Dylan dropped something with so much quality. It was as if he’d returned to his early days, brimming with puns and cutting lyricism. 

Listen to ‘Murder Most Foul’ below.