Five fantastic Bob Dylan story songs

You should listen to these five songs today.

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“Black Diamond Bay” (1976)

In addition to “Hurricane” and “Isis,” Desire also has “Joey,” about the life and death of gangster Joey Gallo. But my favorite story on an album filled with great tales is this underrated gem about a volcano that wiped out an entire unnamed island. Like most of the tracks on the album, Dylan co-wrote this one with theatre director Jacques Levy, and Levy’s influence can be seen in sharp visualization of the unfolding drama.

And as in “Isis,” Scarlett Rivera’s violin provides a thread that binds the story together. Dylan tells remarkably detailed stories about a Grand Hotel’s-worth of disparate characters before closing with an amazingly sharp and cynical verse about how so many human tragedies seem to come and go in the blink of an eye.

“Tweeter and the Monkey Man” (1988)

This is the only song on my list that was not included on one of Dylan’s 40 solo albums. This came from his collaboration with the Traveling Wilburys. Though George Harrison provides most of the guitar, and Harrison, Tom Petty, and Jeff Lynne contribute backing vocals on the earworm chorus, this is all Dylan.

An epic story of love and crime in five and a half minutes, it is about an outlaw hero and a frustrated housewife, and as such, can be seen as a spiritual successor to one of my favorite Dylan stories (that did not quite make this list) “Lily, Rosemary and the Jack of Hearts.” But this is more of a down-and-dirty swamp rock song and contains a surprisingly offhand reference to a transgender character.