Bob Dylan celebrated his seventy-second birthday this past week. What better occasion to celebrate the best early works of perhaps the greatest songwriter of all time? In observance, here is a list of 5 Dylan songs released before or during 1965, in chronological order, that everyone should listen to at least once in their lives. If you don’t know Dylan, you don’t know American music. Do yourself a favor and find these songs and give them a listen; you might gain a new appreciation for man who made some of the best folk music in the vain of his hero Woody Guthrie, and later translated his incredible songwriting talents to take rock ‘n’ roll to another level than Elvis ever could.
1.House of the Risin’ Sun”-Bob Dylan
“I’m going back to New Orleans; my race is almost run. I’m going back to end my life in the the House of the Rising Sun.”
Dylan’s take on this classic folk arrangement is one of the best tracks from his often overlooked eponymous debut album. The album is frequently criticized for the being populated almost entirely with covers of classic folk music rather than Dylan’s own brilliant songwriting. To overlook this important album, however, is to overlook the important influences that shaped Dylan into what he would later become. So listen to this cover, as well as the arrangement of “Man of Constant Sorrows” and get a feel Dylan’s take on these classics in very different tones than the more well known versions played by The Animals or Oh Brother Where Art Thou’s Soggy Bottom Boys, respectively.
2. Bob Dylan’s Dream-The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan
“While riding on a train going west, I fell asleep for to take my rest…”
Dylan’s second album was his real breakthrough into great success. Not coincidently it featured much more of his own songwriting than his previous album, and among the finest tracks on this legendary record is the simply titled “Bob Dylan’s Dream”, a tale in which Dylan “dreamed a dream that made me sad, concerning myself, and the first few friends I had.” It showcases the smooth acoustic guitar and flowing lyrics that are pervasive throughout the album.
3. Chimes of Freedom-Another Side of Bob Dylan
“Striking for the restless, striking for the kind; Striking for the guardians and protectors of the mind.
For the poet and the painter far behind his rightful time; and we gazed upon the Chimes of Freedom flashing”
Perhaps the definitive classic of the four acoustic Dylan albums, Chimes of Freedom is one of the best examples of a song with social relevance in a universal sense expressed beautifully and effectively through lyrical imagery.
4. Maggie’s Farm-Bringing It All Back Home
“I wake up every morning, fold my hands and pray for rain; I’ve got a head full of ideas that are driving me insane.”
To say the folk music scene was shocked when “Bringing It All Back Home” was released would be a grievous understatement. After all, Dylan had been heralded as the savior of folk music, and he went violently electric in this 1965 album; announcing his change with great passion on this track embodying his disillusion with the folk scene. Maggie’s farm might not be the smoothest lyrical piece in his collection, but it does feature some of the most passionate wording. The song likens working for the folk scene to working in a dysfunctional farm in striking lines of displeasure in a style that is distinctively his own.
5. Like a Rolling Stone-Highway 61 Revisited
“How does it feel? To be on your own, with no direction home? A complete unknown; Like a Rolling Stone”
Is there really a whole lot that hasn’t already been said about this masterpiece, which sits a top Rolling Stone’s list of “Greatest Songs of All Time”? Marked by a powerful blaring organ and Dylan’s unmistakable delivery of his signature abstract lyrics; including one of the most memorable choruses of all time. If there was a better song to come out of the 1960’s, I surely haven’t found it.
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