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Mick Jagger names his favourite Bob Dylan song of all time

Bob Dylan and The Rolling Stones have both made an indelible impact on music and culture. First finding widespread acclaim amongst the upheaval of the 1960s, both have become enduring icons within rock and roll’s long, turbulent history. Without their works, life would undoubtedly be a lot bleaker.

Given that both acts emerged at the same time and often occupied the charts simultaneously, both Bob Dylan and The Rolling Stones have sent a lot of love and respect in each other’s direction over the last six decades. It is a testament to both act’s legacy’s that they are still at the forefront of music. They have seen the world change in immeasurable ways but have always held the key to scoring hits.

In fact, Dylan once said, “The Rolling Stones are truly the greatest rock and roll band in the world and always will be”. Such hyperbole from Dylan is not unfounded, and it is hard to disagree. If the Beatles had lasted past 1970, perhaps they would have had the crown, but we will never know.

“The last too,” Dylan added. “Everything that came after them, metal, rap, punk, new wave, pop-rock, you name it… you can trace it all back to the Rolling Stones. They were the first and the last and no one’s ever done it better.” Dylan’s statement is definitive, and apart from the impact of the aforementioned Liverpudlians, the scope of his statement is largely true.

Iconic guitarist of The Stones, Keith Richards, said in 2016: “I’d work with Bob any(where). I’d work with Bob in hell or heaven. I love him.” Weighing in on the mutual love for Dylans 80th birthday, Stones frontman Mick Jagger went into detail about his love for Dylan, and was even kind enough to reveal his favourite song by the curly-haired troubadour.

Jagger remembered as part of a feature with The Guardian: “I was playing Bob Dylan records at my parents’ house when he was still an acoustic folk singer, but he was already very important and his lyrics were on point. The delivery isn’t just the words, it’s the accentuation and the moods and twists he puts on them. His greatness lies in the body of work. I was at a session for Blood on the Tracks (1975) and really enjoyed watching him record ‘Lily, Rosemary and the Jack of Hearts’, with this incredible depth of storyline, surrounded by all these boring people from the record company who he had sitting in the control room. I couldn’t record like that.”

After recalling being at the recording of the iconic, epic ballad, Jagger picked out his standout Dylan track: “‘Desolation Row’s lyrics are just so interesting and diverse. It isn’t a real street so you create your own fantasy. I imagine an unforgiving place, somewhere you don’t want to spend much time, peopled with strange characters.” 

The Stones frontman explained: “The opening line about the ‘postcards of the hanging’ sets the tone, but then this awful event is juxtaposed with ‘the beauty parlour filled with sailors’ and all these circus people. The lines ‘The agents and the superhuman crew / Come out and round up everyone that knows more than they do / Then they bring them to the factory where the heart-attack machine is strapped across their shoulders’ are scary and apocalyptic, viciously delivered.”

Jagger was also kind enough to give his take on the classic song’s meaning: “My reading is that that’s about governmental, military control, but then there’s the payoff: ‘When you asked me how I was doing, was that some kind of joke? Don’t send me no more letters unless you mail them from Desolation Row.’ That sounds like a really personal thing.”

Jagger then uses his expert ear to delineate the sonic effect of ‘Desolation Row’: “Musically, he prettifies it. I love the lovely half-Spanish guitar lines from the session guitarist, Charlie McCoy. It’s actually a really lovely song, which shouldn’t work with the imagery but does. You can listen to it all the time and still get something wonderful and new from it.”

Who’d have thought out of the vast back catalogue of Bob Dylan, that ‘Desolation Row’ would be Mick Jagger’s favourite? When we think about it, Dylan’s classic does what a lot of Stones songs would do. It marries surreal and dark imagery with enchanting music. This expertise at juxtapositioning may be one of the key reasons both have endured throughout the turbulence of the past sixty years.

Listen to Bob Dylan’s 1965 classic, below.