Five amazingly personal songs by Bob Dylan

Dylan wrote a lot about everything and almost all of it turned to greatness.

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“NOT DARK YET” (1997)

“Not Dark Yet” may be the best song Dylan wrote between the mid-1970s and his epic return in 2020’s Rough and Rowdy Ways. The poignance drips from every line without ever becoming maudlin. A lot of the credit goes to producer Daniel Lanois, who had worked with Dylan a decade earlier on Oh Mercy and returned here to give a strong batch of original songs a lush quality that previously had not fit so well with Dylan’s output. Not that he hadn’t tried for that kind of sound. It just never seemed right.

Dylan had done a more standard version of the song before Lanois got his hands on it. Lanois got him to slow it down and added an ephemeral organ and two different drums to make it sound almost like a march. “Sometimes my burden is more than I can bear – It’s not dark yet, but it’s getting there.” So sad, and yet so strangely comforting at the same time.

“FALSE PROPHET” (2020)

Rough and Rowdy Ways is filled with righteous anger. This is an old man who has seen it all and is disgusted by most of it. “False Prophet” is the second track, and its early lyric “I know how it happened – I saw it all begin – I opened my heart to the world and the world came in” helps set up the epic final track “Murder Most Foul.” As with so many of Dylan’s most ambitious songs, the lyrics teem with references to everything from antiquity to modern pop culture.

But the music – the music is pure blues. Guitarist Charlie Sexton, who has been playing with Dylan for the past 25 years, carries the song, right through the final 30-second outro. And Dylan’s voice, full of wisdom and gravel, becomes a blues instrument itself. And when he tells you “I ain’t no false prophet – I just said what I said – I’m just here to bring vengeance down on somebody’s head,” you should probably believe him. Sixty-plus years of writing these songs, and he can still bring it.

HONORABLE MENTIONS

“All Along the Watchtower” (1967)
"Forever Young" (1974)
"This Wheel's on Fire" (1967/1975)
"Most of the Time" (1989)
"Duquesne Whistle" (2012)

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