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100 Greatest Bob Dylan Songs

From "Just Like a Woman" to "John Wesley Harding," we count down the American icon's key masterpieces

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12. "Desolation Row" (1965)

Mick Jagger: "Desolation Row" is so simple musically – just three chords for 11 minutes, with minimal accompaniment – yet it's so effective. There's Dylan, a bassist and a session guitar player, Charlie McCoy, from Nashville, who adds a nice little counterpoint to the melody. After many listenings, his playing still sounds sweet; I like the slight Spanish tinge of it. But it doesn't get in the way of what is obviously the main thing: the vocal and the lyrics.

Dylan's delivery is recitative, almost deadpan, but he engages you. What's wonderful is all these characters he inveighs on our imagination: Famous people surrealistically appear, some of them mythical and some of them real. The Phantom of the Opera. Ezra Pound and T.S. Eliot. Cinderella. Bette Davis. Cain and Abel.

I love the bit about "Einstein, disguised as Robin Hood": "You would not think to look at him, but he was famous long ago/For playing the electric violin on Desolation Row." It's a great image of Einstein – all his hair is jutting out, and he's got the violin, which he used to play. Someone said "Desolation Row" is Dylan's version of "The Waste Land." I'm not sure if that's true, but it's a wonderful collection of imagery – a fantasy Bowery – that really gets your imagination working.

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