A Lot Of Other Stuff Too: An Alternative Top 10 of Bob Dylan



Bob Dylan. You know the songs. You probably know the conversations that go with them too. “That’s when he became the spokesman for a generation…That’s when he went electric…That’s when he started channelling the voice of The Simpsons’ Crazy Cat Lady (any time in the last 30 years)” etc etc etc.

And don’t get me wrong, they’re significant songs; a regular Dylan Top 10 would likely be analogous with some of the great achievements of popular music. But that’s not what we’re here to do. This list will disregard all the ubiquitous hits and studio albums and instead go off in search of something else. So climb aboard - next stop; that weird, old Amerikay!

Neil Young once said that driving in the middle of the road is fine, but sometimes you get the impulse to head for the ditch (worth keeping in mind if Neil Young ever offers you a lift). But that sentiment is kinda what inspired this piece.

Having heard those Dylan albums a hundred times over, what interests me these days are the lesser known moments where Bob excelled, or where he achieved glorious failure, or where he just made a horse’s patoot of himself.

My fascination with Dylan lies, for example, in the contention that some of his best work was left on the cutting-room floor, and in his homages to the music of the past, and in his single-bloody-mindedness of approach that, to the untrained eye, looks like a man intent on destroying every last strand of his legacy. In all of these things and more.


10. Pretty Saro (The Bootleg Series, Vol.10) The 70's are arguably the best period in which to begin, the decade perfectly capturing the unpredictability of Dylan’s output; 1975’s acclaimed ‘Blood On The Tracks’ is bookended by the 1970 release of the dire ‘Self Portrait’ and the proselytising Evangelical rock of 1979’s ‘Slow Train Coming’ (a sub-genre guaranteed to get the juices flowing)

But in amongst the recordings from this era lies that rarest of all beasts, performances in which Dylan sounds as mellifluous as the songbird at dawn. Indeed, it is here we see the first signs of what would become a recurring pattern, namely Dylan’s inclination to consistently, inexplicably, exclude some of his finest material from an album’s final track-listing.

Recently discovered, some 35 years after it was initially cut, Pretty Saro is a thing of fragile beauty, with a vocal that he might never have bettered.

9. Foot Of Pride (The Bootleg Series, Vol 1-3: Rare & Unreleased 1961-1991) A cursory listen to Bob’s ‘Born Again’ albums will convince you (if you needed convincing) that pop music and religion are best kept apart. By contrast, a couple of hours spent reading the Old Testament will provide any half-decent songwriter with inspiration.