Five fantastic Bob Dylan story songs

You should listen to these five songs today.

R. Diamond/GettyImages
1 of 4

Bob Dylan has written over 600 hundred songs in a career that has spanned sixty years and earned him, among other honors, a Nobel Prize for Literature. Many consider him the greatest American songwriter of the rock and roll era. Others consider him overrated and pretentious.

I lean more toward the former, but I do admit that when you write 600 songs, some of them may tilt toward pretentious. But do the math with me: even if we allow that – oh, I don’t know, let’s say that 100 of his songs suck, that still leaves 500 good-to-great ones floating around out there.

Today, we’re going to choose five of the best. It may not seem that the world needs another “Dylan’s best songs” list and if any of the dozens of similar lists I have read over the years actually got it right, I wouldn’t feel the need to do this. Sadly, none have, and so it falls to me.

Five best Bob Dylan story songs ever

But I’m doing this a little differently. Bob Dylan has written songs in many styles and on many topics, but I think I can split them up into four rough categories: Story songs, political songs, love songs, and personal songs. That last category is admittedly a catchall for all the songs that don’t conveniently slot into one of the first three. My eventual goal is twenty songs, so I will pick five from each category. Today’s winner is story songs.

Of course, there is some overlap. One of his most famous story songs, “Hurricane,” from 1976’s Desire is both a great story song and a great political song. Spoiler alert: it is not on today's story song list. You’ll just have to tune in next time to see if makes the political countdown. The point is – some songs could be placed on two, or more, of these lists.

So onto the stories…

On his self-titled debut album, the greatest American songwriter only wrote two original songs. Bob Dylan was mostly composed of traditional folk and blues tunes that were popular amongst the burgeoning Greenwich Village folk scene in the early ‘60s. One of those original compositions was “Talkin’ New York,” a talking blues song about the young singer’s introduction to the Big Apple. Dylan has been writing story songs ever since. Here are his five best.