Let's Play "Name Your Favorite Bob Dylan Song," Starring No Age, Robyn Hitchcock, DJ Rekha, Greg Dulli, And More
As our celebration of the 50th anniversary of Bob Dylan's arrival in New York City winds down, we thought we'd reach out to a bunch of musicians with a simple question: What's your favorite Dylan song?
Naturally, this record shows up quite a bit
Randy Randall, No Age: "Tonight I'll be staying Here With You" is my favorite Dylan song at the moment. This song comes from his Nashville Skyline record, which is my guilty-pleasure Dylan record. All the songs on this record feel like home to me. My mom had this record on -- as well as tons of Stones, Beatles, and more Dylan -- all the time when I was growing up. "Tonight I'll be staying Here With You" is a comforting song to a restless traveler. On long tours, the lines of this song run through my head all the time.
Baby Dee: I love all the songs on Highway 61 Revisited for what I think is the same reason everybody loves things: That was the first I'd ever heard of Dylan's music. I must have been about 12 years old and my brother had it when he came back from college. It's funny too because you have to picture a 12-year-old me having to "get used to that funny voice of his." How weird is that? Ironic in the extreme. My two favorites were "Desolation Row" and "Ballad of a Thin Man."
At 16, I was a punk rocker, deeply and blindly entrenched in the dogma of '80s hardcore, therefore harboring no interest in any hippie shit whatsoever. At some record shop, I recall finding a cassette of Highway 61 Revisited in a bargain bin, sans case. I recall glancing at the song titles, and was struck hard by the power and mystery of that series of words: "It Takes a Lot to Laugh, It Takes a Train to Cry." Bought it for like 50 cents, and the whole record promptly kicked my ass, that sloppy mashup of surrealist poetry and "Delta blues" played by white dudes who sounded as if they could barely find their way around their instruments, a beautiful mess not unlike . . . well, punk rock.
Nathan Larson, A Camp: Maybe it's because that couplet drew me to this album, but to my ears "It Takes a Lot to Laugh, It Takes a Train to Cry" is still a standout track on Highway 61: lurching, majestic, deceptively simple. And vulnerable, unlike the malicious (but still brilliant) "Ballad of a Thin Man." "It Takes a Lot to Laugh" remains one of my favorite Dylan songs, and marks my discovery of a portal into a broader musical world.
DJ Rekha: "Hurricane" exemplifies what Dylan does so well: tell a complete story. Unlike his early, super-folky stuff, the faster pace and rhythm of this track makes it more listenable to me than classics like "Blowing in the Wind" and "Tangled Up in Blue," though I love the lyrics of those songs as well. Rappers could take some storytelling lessons from Mr. Zimmerman.
Keren Ann: My Favorite Dylan song is "Boots of Spanish Leather." One can learn how to live just by listening to this song. The heartbreaking dialog between the one who goes to sea and the one who stays behind is the greatest testimony to true love. I often tried to sit with a guitar and play this song, but no one will ever manage to recreate the emotion that already exists in Dylan's intimate original recording.
Vincent DiFiore, Cake: "Everything Is Broken" turns my despair into delight. On the one hand, you can't depend on anything. On the other hand, it's tremendous to be alive. Whatever it is, it's going to break. Face it, and carry on.
Exene Cervenka: I was eight, and I came home from Catholic school to find the hi-fi playing but nobody home. I was still holding my lunchbox and my book bag. I stared at the stereo. I was frozen by the lyrics, transformed by the sound of his voice. It was a revolution in my head. It was Bob Dylan singing "The Times They Are A-Changin'." This is the song I want to sing now, at 55, because oh, people need to hear it again. Sing it now, a thousand singers -- people need to hear this song now!
Jon King, Gang of Four: "Highway 61 Revisited." The song that, aged 11, put my head right. At that age, I'd only heard the pap that filled radio in those days; at school, the big boys played on the art-room record player this album by Bob, and it was like an earthquake. This smart, cool, voice singing a song about something I didn't understand or decode, but said that the singer was on the side of progress, ideas, creativity, and love, and against the fascists and military-industrialists and creeps and straights and bores. This was where I wanted to be. It was proof that the world had infinite options outside the tedious conformity that was being rammed down everyone's throats.
The words are unimprovable, playful, and witty, riffing on the cruel story from the King James bible of Abraham prepared to murder his most beloved son by a mean, vicious, and jealous Old Testament God, a text that, almost in itself, makes you run screaming into the arms of the nearest atheist.