10 Fabulous Post-1980 Bob Dylan Tracks



bobdylanLike most Classic Rock giants, Bob Dylan’s latter-day work is not given nearly the same respect that his output from the Sixties and Seventies gets. Too bad. Those who lean on the old familiar comforts of nostalgia often miss out on some fantastic stuff that these artists create later in their careers.

There’s no question that Dylan’s later work suffers from lack of consistency. Gone are the days when everything he touched turned to gold. Yet within that hit-and-miss catalogue there are a number of absolute and under-appreciated moments of brilliance. Here are ten of my favorites. I would put most of these tracks up with Dylan’s best work from the 60s and 70s.

Those who diminish the late-career works of Rock greats need to remember that a songwriter’s perspective changes as they get older, and certain truths are revealed that were undiscoverable when they were in their 20s. Dylan is the best Rock lyricist ever, by a wide margin, and I think in some ways he’s even gotten better over time. Some of the lyrics in these songs literally bring me to my knees with their power. I will try to point them out or link to them whenever I can.

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10. Duquesne Whistle (2012)

Dylan has made a career out of defying expectations, but with the benefit of hindsight it seemed almost predictable that he would spend his senior years reinterpreting the music of the 1920s, 1930s and 1940s. After all, that’s where he began as a fresh-faced kid, putting a modern spin on Leadbelly, Woody Guthrie, Robert Johnson, Irish and Appalachian folk music, and other arcane American styles. After 50+ years of musical and spiritual explorations it’s not surprising he’s back where he started. He’s like the Alpha and Omega of American popular music. This isn’t the deepest song he ever wrote, but it takes me back somewhere, I’m not sure where. Killer Lyric: “The lights of my native land are glowing/ I wonder if they’ll know me next time ’round”.

 

9. When The Deal Goes Down (2007)

A poignant ode to growing old together, this is an example of a song that a younger man simply could not write. Much of the melody on Dylan’s Modern Times album was “borrowed” from standards from the ‘30s and ‘40s, which bothered some critics, but for which Dylan was completely unapologetic, because that’s what the old folk singers traditionally did. This one owed a debt to a Bing Crosby number, but the amazing video starring Scarlett Johansson helps give it an eerie timelessness. Killer Lyric: “In the still of the night, in the world’s ancient light/ Where wisdom grows up in strife/ My bewildering brain, toils in vain/ Through the darkness on the pathways of life”.

 

8. Someday Baby (2007)

Another track from Modern Times, this is a blues shuffle that rocks with an edge that only Bob Dylan possesses. Echoing “Positively 4th Street” in message, and updating “Tombstone Blues” in tone, this is a scathing indictment I sure wouldn’t want to be on the other end of. But it sure is Rock & Roll. Killer Lyric: “I’m so hard pressed, my mind tied up in knots/ I keep recycling the same old thoughts /Someday baby you ain’t gonna worry po’ me anymore”

 

7. Series Of Dreams (1991)

Containing a great but more straightforward lyric, “Series Of Dreams” conjures up the Blonde On Blonde-era Dylan, where his vastly underrated mastery of melody and chord structure really came to the fore. The dynamic production of Daniel Lanois became a point of contention for Brother Bob, resulting in the song being left off the Oh Mercy album. Killer Lyric: “I was thinking of a series of dreams/ Where nothing comes up to the top/ Everything stays down where it’s wounded/ And comes to a permanent stop”.

 

6. Love Sick (1997)

The power of this track comes from the song’s feel and Dylan’s incredible vocal performance, although there are some little lyrical nuggets here and there. The opening track to his Grammy Album Of The Year Time Out Of Mind, “Love Sick” isn’t about love lost, it’s a bitter rumination on this the most complicated of human emotions. Killer Lyric: “I’m sick of love but I’m in the thick of it/ This kind of love I’m so sick of it”.

 

5. Things Have Changed (2000)

This one won Dylan an Academy Award for best original song, having been the very best part of the film Wonder Boys. Another lyrical home run, offering line after line of poetic genius. The line “I used to care”  led some to wonder if Dylan was withdrawing from his art, but the day Dylan stops caring, at least about the thoughts in his own head, will be the day his heart’s no longer beating. Killer lyric: “Lot of water under the bridge, lot of other stuff too/ Don’t get up gentlemen, I’m only passing through”.

 

4. Heart Of Mine (1981)

The only real highlight on Dylan’s off-kilter, transitional album Shot Of Love, this song delights with the clever conceit of issuing instructions to your own heart. But the track really stands out because of the all-star lineup playing on it: Ronnie Wood on guitar, Ringo Starr on drums, and Donald ‘Duck’ Dunn of Stax/Volt/Booker T & The MGs fame on bass. These three masters give the song a distinctive jump that’s completely irresistible. Killer Lyric: “Heart of mine so malicious and so full of guile/Give you an inch and you’ll take a mile/ Don’t let yourself fall/ Don’t let yourself stumble/ If you can’t do the time, don’t do the crime/ Heart of mine”.

 

3. Dignity (1989)

Dylan could throw away songs which, had they been written by most other songwriters, would be considered personal masterpieces. This one also never made it to an album because he could never settle on the right treatment, which is a shame because it’s a great melody and another brilliant lyric. How this man can capture such complex truths in a few well-chosen words will never cease to astonish. Check out this version too for a completely different feel. Killer Lyric: “Wise man lookin’ in a blade of grass/ Young man lookin’ in the shadows that pass/ Poor man lookin’ through painted glass/ For dignity”.

 

2. Jokerman (1983)

A beautiful melody with a really nice chord structure, plus a lyric that could stand on its own as great poetry, the only thing holding this track back was lame 80s-era production values that partially damaged the content within. A soaring, ambitious piece ranging from the intensely personal to the global struggle of humankind, the speculation was that Dylan was referring to himself as the “Jokerman”, which kind of makes sense. Killer Lyric: “Shedding off one more layer of skin/ Keeping one step ahead of the persecutor within”.

 

1. Everything Is Broken (1989)

This is one track where Daniel Lanois’ production meshed perfectly with Dylan’s whistling-to-oblivion cynicism. It’s not the best-written post-1980 Dylan song, but it is typically clever, it’s funny as hell, and it crackles with a tightly coiled energy. It simply Rocks. When things aren’t going so well, I crank it loud, and I always feel so much better. Isn’t that what it’s all about? Killer Lyric: “Broken dishes, broken parts/ Streets are filled with broken hearts/ Broken words never meant to be spoken/ Everything is broken”.

Photo credit: By Alberto Cabello from Vitoria Gasteiz (Bob Dylan) [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

 

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2 comments on “10 Fabulous Post-1980 Bob Dylan Tracks
  1. Thanks Captain, but let me clarify. It’s not as if I went digging deep into album cuts. 8 of these tracks were officially released as singles, so if anyone never heard them before, blame the hopeless radio industry.

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