Bob Dylan's Greatest Songs of the 1980s - Rolling Stone
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Bob Dylan’s Greatest Songs of the 1980s

20 songs worth hearing from Dylan’s most overlooked decade

Bob Dylan

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The 1980s are often seen as the absolute nadir of Bob Dylan‘s career. The man himself has even been very critical of the work he did during the Reagan decade. “I can still play those songs,” he told Rolling Stone in 2004. “But I probably can’t listen to those records. I’ll hear too many faults. I was just being swept along with the current when I was making those records. I don’t think my talent was under control.”

That’s arguably true of 1986’s Knocked Out Loaded and 1988’s Down In The Groove – but in fact, the rest of the Eighties were far from a wash for Dylan. He worked consistently through the decade and released a wide variety of material. Some of it’s pretty bad – avoid “Trust Yourself” and “Rank Strangers” at all costs – but there are tons of hidden gems from that period. Here are our picks for 20 classics from Dylan’s Eighties. Listen to the Spotify playlist as you read, and share your own favorite Dylan songs from this era in the comments section.

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‘Shooting Star’ (1989)

Dylan is very good at ending his albums on exactly the right note. He did it in 1965 with "Desolation Row," and again the following year with "Sad Eyed Lady Of The Lowlands." Blood on the Tracks wouldn't be the same without "Buckets of Rain" at the end, nor would the unfairly maligned Street Legal work without closing out with "Where Are You Tonight? (Journey Through Dark Heat)." Oh Mercy, meanwhile, concludes with "Shooting Star," which echoes some of the self-doubt and regret heard earlier on "Most of The Time." "Saw a shooting star tonight/Slip away/Tomorrow will be another day/Guess it's too late to say the things to you/That you needed me to say."

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Kevin Mazur/WireImage

‘Series of Dreams’ (1989)

Much like Infidels six years earlier, Oh Mercy would have been a stronger album had Dylan not cut one of the best songs off the album. The absence of "Series of Dreams" significantly weakens the entire work. "Lanois liked the song," Dylan wrote in Chronicles. "He liked the bridge better, wanted the whole song to be like that. I knew what he meant, but it just couldn't be done." You want to smack your head when you read things like that. Thankfully, the song was remixed and released just two years later on The Bootleg Series Volumes 1-3 and they even made a video for it.  Another version cut for Oh Mercy can be heard on Tell Tale Signs.

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‘Dignity’ piano demo (1989)

It seems like Dylan really doesn't like what Lanois did to his songs. Over the past few years, he's re-released many of the songs from Oh Mercy and Time Out Of Mind in stripped down versions that remove most of the producer's work. This was the case for "Dignity," a song originally intended for Oh Mercy. The song was cut from the track list, then released on Greatest Hits Volume 3. In 2008, he released the original piano demo from 1989 – and it's great.  This is a song that got worse each time it was fiddled with, so stick with the original.

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