Today is Bob Dylan’s 71st birthday, and to celebrate the artist formerly known as Zimmerman crossing the 70-year threshold, we’ve decided to take a look at his best songs that cross the seven-minute threshold. Most of Dylan’s lengthier numbers rely heavily on his lyrical prowess, so we’ve excerpted a memorable example of such from each song listed.
10. “Last Thoughts on Woody Guthrie” (7:08)
“Last Thoughts on Woody Guthrie” might not technically qualify as a “song” (music usually helps with that), but this dazzling ode to the folk pioneer who mentored Dylan boils all of life’s myriad troubles down and melts them away with a therapeutic visit to Woody Guthrie in the Brooklyn State Hospital.
If the wind’s got you sideways with with one hand holdin’ on
And the other starts slipping and the feeling is gone
And yer train engine fire needs a new spark to catch it
And the wood’s easy findin’ but yer lazy to fetch it
9. “Sad-Eyed Lady of the Lowlands” (11:21)
This weepy ballad that closes out 1966’s Blonde on Blonde probably could have stood to be a few verses shorter, but it’s one of the classic album’s most affecting tracks, nevertheless.
With your silhouette when the sunlight dims
Into your eyes where the moonlight swims
And your matchbook songs and your gypsy hymns
Who among them would try to impress you?
8. “Lily, Rosemary and the Jack of Hearts” (8:52)
Dylan blows through verse after verse in this energetic and utterly ridiculous narrative that follows…well…Lily, Rosemary and the Jack of Hearts. If the mood should strike you, I don’t think it would be inappropriate to get up and do some sort of hoe-down along to this one.
Big Jim lay covered up, killed by a penknife in the back
And Rosemary on the gallows, she didn’t even blink
The hangin’ judge was sober, he hadn’t had a drink
The only person on the scene missin’ was the Jack of Hearts
7. “Chimes of Freedom” (7:10)
Dylan was never one to pay much mind to restricting his songs to a radio-friendly time frame (if this list is any indication)—he was delivering a message, and it was going to take him as long as it was going to take him. One of Dylan’s quintessential “protest songs,” “Chimes of Freedom” notes that often the romanticized ideal of freedom is nothing more than just that: an ideal.
Tolling for the aching ones whose wounds cannot be nursed
For the countless confused, accused, misused, strung-out ones an’ worse
An’ for every hung-up person in the whole wide universe
An’ we gazed upon the chimes of freedom flashing
6. “Hurricane” (8:33)
Dylan shelves the erudite wordplay for this narratively structured and relatively straightforward indictment of a society that wrongfully convicted an innocent Rubin “Hurricane” Carter of murder in 1966.
Here comes the story of the Hurricane
The man the authorities came to blame
For somethin’ that he never done
Put in a prison cell, but one time he could-a been
The champion of the world
5. “Stuck Inside of Mobile With The Memphis Blues Again” (7:06)
This light-hearted lament follows a subject that just can’t catch a break, namely, of course, that he’s “stuck inside of Mobile with the Memphis blues again.”
An’ I said, “Oh, I didn’t know that
But then again, there’s only one I’ve met
An’ he just smoked my eyelids
An’ punched my cigarette”
4. “Idiot Wind” (7:47)
Most songs of this length usually spend the first few minutes warming up, but “Idiot Wind” seemingly kicks off mid-verse. Dylan sings with such conviction and scorn toward whomever it’s directed that it’s hard to imagine him easing off the vitriol, even as the song is beginning. Though most of the song is spent castigating a lover, by the time the song ends Dylan has included himself—or the song’s subject—as being wrapped up by the “idiot wind” as well, presumably for being involved in the first place.
Idiot wind, blowing like a circle around my skull
From the Grand Coulee Dam to the Capitol
Idiot wind, blowing every time you move your teeth
You’re an idiot, babe
It’s a wonder that you still know how to breathe
3. “It’s Alright Ma (I’m Only Bleeding)” (7:33)
This firecely plodding lyrical masterpiece is the penultimate song from 1965’s Bringing It All Back Home. The imagery is almost overwhelming as Dylan illustrates that though the world is full of false hope and…well…bullshit, that, ultimately, “it’s life, and life only.”
Darkness at the break of noon
Shadows even the silver spoon
The handmade blade, the child’s balloon
Eclipses both the sun and moon
To understand you know too soon
There is no sense in trying
2. “Desolation Row” (11:24)
Maybe the best example of Dylan’s penchant for juxtaposing seemingly unrelated historical allusions, “Desolation Row” ropes in everyone from Cinderella and Bette Davis to Ezra Pound and T.S. Eliot.
To her, death is quite romantic
She wears an iron vest
Her profession’s her religion
Her sin is her lifelessness
1. “Visions of Johanna” (7:33)
Perhaps the centerpiece of Blonde on Blonde, in “Visions of Johanna” Dylan heaps an ample array of ephemera and distraction on the song’s preoccupied subject, who, despite it all, can’t think of anything but his lost love Johanna.
Louise, she’s all right, she’s just near
She’s delicate and seems like the mirror
But she just makes it all too concise and too clear
That Johanna’s not here