Readers’ Poll: The 10 Worst Bob Dylan Songs
Last week, we asked our readers to vote for their least favorite Bob Dylan song, and many of you were furious we'd dare to even ask such a question. In fact, "none" got twice as many votes as any actual song in Dylan's vast catalog. This reaction wasn't shocking. Dylan has a fiercely devoted cult that cherishes every song he's ever released. They feel that there are no bad ones, merely songs that are less rewarding than others. Also, the lesser songs are often fascinating. Hearing one of the greatest songwriters of all time reach for something and not quite grab it can be refreshing.
Keep in mind that Dylan himself talked down much of his Eighties work in his 2004 memoir Chronicles: Volume One. "I can play those songs, but I probably can't listen to those records," Dylan told Rolling Stone in 2004. "I was just being swept along with the current when I was making those records. I don't think my talent was under control." Click through to see your 10 least favorite Dylan songs. (Not all of these songs are on YouTube by Dylan, so we used a few cover versions.)
By Andy Greene
10. ‘It Must Be Santa’
Bob Dylan has spent the past 50 years confounding his fans' expectations. When you think he's a protest singer, he releases an album of songs about personal relationships. Peg him as a folk singer, and he'll start recording with an electric band. Call him a rock star, and he'll do a country album. Nobody saw a Christian period coming, and they certainly didn't think he'd appear in a commercial for Victoria's Secret. All that said, his fans were still somehow shocked in 2009 when he released Christmas in the Heart.
There's a long history of Jews recording Christmas albums, but somehow it never seemed like Dylan would join that club. The album is actually a lot of fun, and "It Must Be Santa" (a cover of the 1960 Mitch Miller tune) is off-the-wall zany. The video is even crazier, and for many Dylan fans, it was just one weird move too many.
9. ‘Ballad in Plain D’
This 1964 solo acoustic song recounts Dylan's tumultuous relationship with his girlfriend Suze Rotolo and her sister Carla in agonizing detail, going so far as to name Carla a "parasite." It's one of the few songs that Dylan has ever expressed regret over writing. "That one I look back and I say, 'I must have been a real schmuck to write that,'" Dylan said in 1985. "Of all the songs I've written, maybe I could've left that one alone . . . At that time, my audience was very small. It overtook my mind so I wrote it. Maybe I shouldn't have used that. I had other songs." He has never performed the song live, and that's highly unlikely to ever change.
8. ‘Ugliest Girl in the World’
It's pretty clear Bob Dylan had a bad case of writer's block in the mid-Eighties. Most of the songs on Down in the Groove and Knocked Out Loaded are covers, and he worked with co-writers on most of the originals. Grateful Dead lyricist Robert Hunter wrote the bulk of the lyrics for "Ugliest Girl in the World" and Dylan set them to music. It's a formula that worked pretty well on "Silvio" (also from Down in the Groove), but falls short on "Ugliest Girl in the World." The song is repetitive and just generally limp.
Dylan must agree. He's played "Silvio" 595 times and "Ugliest Girl in the World" has yet to make a single appearance on stage. (Side note: Google "ugliest girl in the world" at your own peril. Trust us here.)
7. ‘Lay Lady Lay’
What is this song doing here? "Lay Lady Lady" is an absolute classic. We suppose some people are still upset that Dylan did a country-rock album and started singing in a different voice, but it was nearly 45 years ago. Get over it. He wrote the song for the soundtrack to Midnight Cowboy, but it was submitted too late and wound up on Nashville Skyline. It reached Number Seven on the Hot 100 and was his biggest hit since "Rainy Day Women #12 and 35." It's been covered by a huge range of acts, from Duran Duran to the Byrds, and it certainly isn't one of Dylan's 10 worst songs.
6. ‘If Dogs Run Free’
Bob Dylan's 2004 memoir Chronicles: Volume One devotes not a word to Blonde on Blonde, Blood on the Tracks, Highway 61 Revisited or most of his other great albums, but you do learn a ton about the making of 1970's New Morning, down to the making of "If Dogs Run Free."
"For one of the sets of lyrics, [Al] Kooper played some Teddy Wilson riffs on the piano," Dylan wrote. "There were three girl singers in the room who sounded like they'd been plucked from a choir, and one of them did some improvisational scat singing. The whole thing was done in just one take and called 'If Dogs Run Free.'" The song is loose, fun and unlike anything in the Dylan catalog, though clearly a minor work. The song wasn't touched live until 2000, when it became a regular part of his show and was played nearly 100 times in two years.
When Bob Dylan sings about historical figures, he often gets a lot wrong. "Hurricane" is riddled with errors, and "The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll" is almost worse. "Joey" has some issues too, but it's mainly objectionable for the simple fact that it glorifies a vicious mobster. Judging solely by the song, one would think he was a saint. It does this across 11 minutes, and is ultimately interminable.
In 2009, Bill Flanagan asked Dylan about the liberties the song takes with the truth. He was quick to pass the buck. "I wouldn’t know," Dylan said. "Jacques Levy wrote the words. Jacques had a theatrical mind and he wrote a lot of plays. So the song might have been theater of the mind. I just sang it. Some say Davy Crockett takes a lot of liberties with the truth, and Billy the Kid too – FDR in Trinidad. Have you ever heard that?" "Joey" is arguably the worst song on Desire, yet it's pretty much the only one he plays live these days.
4. ‘Man Gave Name to All the Animals’
Along with "Under the Red Sky" and "Forever Young," Bob Dylan's 1979 song "Man Gave Name to All the Animals" is one of his few works that would work perfectly fine as a children's book. The work appears on Slow Train Coming, his first Christian LP, and it's basically a new chapter in Genesis that explains how man named bears, cows, bulls and other animals. It's not very profound, but it's clever at times and went over pretty well live. Still, it's a pretty simplistic song, and it's easy to understand why it has its detractors.
3. ‘Rainy Day Women #12 & 35’
"Rainy Day Women #12 & 35" is a very polarizing song. It was a huge radio hit in 1966, but today many fans feel it's the only weak moment on the otherwise flawless Blonde on Blonde. As is quite obvious from the track, the recording session was very fast and loose. Few of the musicians realized they were creating a final take. The song's refrain ("everybody must get stoned") seems to suggest it's a basic drug song, and 12 times 35 does equal 420. Furthermore, Dylan and many of the musicians were likely stoned when they recorded it. But the stoning he's referring to is likely the biblical sort. That paints the song in a much darker light, though as with most of his work, Dylan has never fully explained the meaning behind the lyrics.
2. ‘Gotta Serve Somebody’
If you don't like Bob Dylan's 1979 gospel hit "Gotta Serve Somebody," you are not alone. John Lennon wasn't a fan, either. "All I ever think of is 'Don't follow leaders, watch the parking meters,'" Lennon said shortly before his death. "It's the same man, but it isn't the same man." The song incensed Lennon to the point that he wrote a scathing response song called "Serve Yourself" that he recorded in June 1980.
The public largely liked it, though, and it peaked at Number 24 on the Billboard Hot 100. It also contains the immortal line, "You may call me Terry, you may call me Timmy/You may call me Bobby, you may call me Zimmy." It's a take-off of a long-forgotten bit from the comic characeter Ray J. Johnson that was later used in a beer commercial.
1. ‘Wiggle Wiggle’
Dylan came back from a long creative drought with 1989's Oh Mercy, but the very next year, he again disappointed fans with Under the Red Sky. Despite the presence of producer Don Was and guest musicians Elton John, Slash, David Crosby, Stevie Ray Vaughan, George Harrison and Bruce Hornsby, the album has just too many weak songs, even though the title track and "Born in Time" are stellar.
The album gets off to a bad start with "Wiggle Wiggle." The song uses the word "wiggle" 55 times. Things that wiggle in this song include a gypsy queen, a bowl of soup and a ton of lead. It gets ominous at the very end when a "big fat snake" wiggles, but any sort of sinister message is lost in the endless repetition and general silliness.