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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17. "This Wheel's on Fire" (1975)

A kaleidoscopic evocation of chaos that can suggest anything from the Vietnam War to Dylan's 1966 motorcycle crash, "This Wheel's on Fire" is actually a song of lethal, disciplined fury. It is Dylan's sneering promise – in his original 1967 Basement Tapes vocal – that the betrayal implied in the first two verses and made plain in the third ("You're the one/That called on me to call on them/To get you your favors done") will be avenged in full in the future. Compressing that wrath into tight, mocking cadence must have exhausted him; Dylan asked the Band's Rick Danko to come up with the melody, a slow and forlorn thing that also managed to catch the despair of abandonment. "I was teaching myself to play piano," Danko recalled. "Some music I had written just seemed to fit with Dylan's lyrics." "This Wheel's on Fire" got a shot of adrenaline and a funky keyboard part (played on a repurposed telegraph key) when the Band recorded it for their 1968 debut album, Music From Big Pink. But the Byrds cut the definitive cover for their 1969 album, Dr. Byrds & Mr. Hyde: Clarence White's searing fuzz guitar sounds like apocalypse arrived.

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