Bob Dylan’s Best Music: A Cheat Sheet

It happens to everyone at some point; you hear a Dylan song (or another band’s cover of a Dylan song) and your interest is piqued.  You want to explore more of his music, but you don’t know where to start.  He has dozens of albums and hundreds of songs, so it’s a little overwhelming.

Bob DylanI started my Dylan obsession with Blonde On Blonde and then moved on to his Greatest Hits, Volumes 1, 2 & 3. From there I moved to other albums I found in used CD stores, progressing with no respect to context or chronology.  Chronology is important for Dylan’s albums. His sound has changed more frequently than the plot of a daytime soap.

Another thing to remember is that Dylan’s songs, like most pre-iTunes songs, were not meant to be cherry-picked.  If you don’t listen to the album tracks in order, you’re not getting the full experience. That being said, I can’t deny that it’s cheaper and easier to just buy the songs that have stood the test of time.

Top Ten Bob Dylan Albums

If you want to start your odyssey with Dylan’s best work, buy these albums one by one.  They’re not in chronological order, but they’ll help you figure out which ‘sound’ you like the best.

  1. Blood On The Tracks
  2. Blonde On Blonde
  3. Highway 61 Revisited
  4. The Times They Are A-Changin’
  5. Bringing It All Back Home
  6. Street-Legal
  7. Another Side Of Bob Dylan
  8. Desire
  9. Planet Waves
  10. Oh Mercy

I don’t expect everyone to agree with this ranking.  Everyone has their favorite albums, but you can’t go wrong buying these first.  I should add that I intentionally left live albums and bootlegs off the list.  This post is meant for music fans who are new to Dylan.  If you’re one of them, I think you’re better served by listening to the songs (and the versions of songs) that Dylan himself intended to be heard by his audience.  If you like what you hear on the polished albums, go out and buy the less-refined bootlegs.  Start with these:

  1. The Bootleg Series, Vols. 1-3: Rare And Unreleased, 1961-1991
  2. Tell Tale Signs: the Bootleg Series Vol. 8
  3. The Basement Tapes

Dylan left more original masterpieces off his albums than most great musicians even collaborate on in their lifetimes.


Bob Dylan Discography & Cheat Sheet

Some Dylan albums need to purchased whole because there are so many good songs that you’d pay more for them individually than as a set.   Still, no one should have to buy the bad not so good albums just to get one or two tracks. Here are my suggestions on what albums or songs to buy to fill out your budding Dylan collection.

Bob Dylan (1962) – This album is worth buying in full if you like traditional folk and blues music.  Only two songs are Dylan originals (Song to Woody & Talkin’ New York).  If you want to sample some tracks before buying the whole thing, check out these songs:

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  1. You’re No Good
  2. Talkin’ New York
  3. In My Time Of Dyin’
  4. Man Of Constant Sorrow
  5. Fixin’ To Die
  6. Pretty Peggy-O
  7. Highway 51
  8. Gospel Plow
  9. Baby, Let Me Follow You Down
  10. House Of The Risin’ Sun
  11. Freight Train Blues
  12. Song To Woody
  13. See That My Grave Is Kept Clean

The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan (1963)Buy this entire album.  This is when Dylan started to let his creativity flow and jumped to the top of the folk scene.  I still believe Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right is the most bittersweet goodbye song ever written.

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  1. Blowin’ In The Wind
  2. Girl From The North Country
  3. Masters Of War
  4. Down The Highway
  5. Bob Dylan’s Blues
  6. A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall
  7. Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right
  8. Bob Dylan’s Dream
  9. Oxford Town
  10. Talking World War III Blues
  11. Corrina, Corrina
  12. Honey, Just Allow Me One More Chance
  13. I Shall Be Free

The Times They Are A-Changin’ (1964)Buy this entire album.  This is when everyone noticed Dylan’s ability to take a complex subject and distill it into a simple form.  After Medgar Evers’ racially-motivated murder, only Bob Dylan could have written a powerful song (Only A Pawn In Their Game) lamenting the marginalization and exploitation of poor whites in the South.

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  1. The Times They Are A-Changin’
  2. Ballad Of Hollis Brown
  3. With God On Our Side
  4. One Too Many Mornings
  5. North Country Blues
  6. Only A Pawn In Their Game
  7. Boots Of Spanish Leather
  8. When The Ship Comes In
  9. The Lonesome Death Of Hattie Carroll
  10. Restless Farewell

Another Side Of Bob Dylan (1964)Buy this entire album.  I’ve always loved the alliteration that opens Spanish Harlem Incident, and It Ain’t Me Babe and My Back Pages telegraphed Dylan’s growing disillusionment with the vain and ineffectual folk movement.

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  1. All I Really Want To Do
  2. Black Crow Blues
  3. Spanish Harlem Incident
  4. Chimes Of Freedom
  5. I Shall Be Free #10
  6. To Ramona
  7. Motorpsycho Nightmare
  8. My Back Pages
  9. I Don’t Believe You
  10. Ballad In Plain D
  11. It Ain’t Me Babe

Bringing It All Back Home (1965)Buy this entire album.  Half the tracks are acoustic and the rest are electric.  This represents the moment when Dylan renounced his unwanted role as “the voice of a generation.”  Maggie’s Farm and It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue were direct messages to his overly demanding fans and critics alike.

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  1. Subterranean Homesick Blues
  2. She Belongs To Me
  3. Maggie’s Farm
  4. Love Minus Zero/No Limit
  5. Outlaw Blues
  6. On The Road Again
  7. Bob Dylan’s 115th Dream
  8. Mr. Tamborine Man
  9. Gates Of Eden
  10. It’s Alright Ma (I’m Only Bleeding)
  11. It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue

Highway 61 Revisited (1965)Buy this entire album.  Smarter people than me have analyzed the groundbreaking nature of this album over and over again. You can ask Mr. Google what it all means. I’ll only say that Like A Rolling Stone is arguably the greatest rock song ever recorded, and Tombstone Blues has what might be the weirdest line Bob Dylan ever sang (“The sun’s not yellow, it’s chicken”).

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  1. Like A Rolling Stone
  2. Tombstone Blues
  3. It Takes A Lot To Laugh, It Takes A Train To Cry
  4. From A Buick 6
  5. Ballad Of A Thin Man
  6. Queen Jane Approximately
  7. Highway 61 Revisited
  8. Just Like Tom Thumb’s Blues
  9. Desolation Row

Blonde On Blonde (1966)Buy this entire album.  There’s not a single bad song on it.  Stuck Inside of Mobile With The Memphis Blues Again is the song that really hooked me on Dylan’s music. It’s playful, creative, and highlights his brilliance for allusion. And don’t make the common mistake of thinking that Rainy Day Women is about getting high; it’s about persecution.

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  1. Rainy Day Women #12 & 35
  2. Pledging My Time
  3. Visions Of Johanna
  4. One Of Us Must Know (Sooner Or Later)
  5. I Want You
  6. Stuck Inside of Mobile With The Memphis Blues Again
  7. Leopard-Skin Pill-Box Hat
  8. Just Like A Woman
  9. Most Likely You Go Your Way And I’ll Go Mine
  10. Temporary Like Achilles
  11. Absolutely Sweet Marie
  12. 4th Time Around
  13. Obviously 5 Believers
  14. Sad Eyed Lady Of The Lowlands

John Wesley Harding (1968)Buy this entire album. Dylan returned to his story-telling roots for this one and introduced a more sedate singing style that would endure until New Morning was released in 1970.

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  1. John Wesley Harding
  2. As I Went Out One Morning
  3. I Dreamed I Saw St. Augustine
  4. All Along The Watchtower
  5. The Ballad Of Frankie Lee And Judas Priest
  6. Drifter’s Escape
  7. Dear Landlord
  8. I Am A Lonesome Hobo
  9. I Pity The Poor Immigrant
  10. The Wicked Messenger
  11. Down Along The Cove
  12. I’ll Be Your Baby Tonight

Nashville Skyline (1969) – Some people love this album.  I think it’s okay.  Dylan was becoming reclusive and angry because of his lack of privacy, fans’ unrealistic expectations, and the constant preening of his critics.  He was trying to do something a little different and unpredictable, so he doubled down on his smooth, country sound.  I think you can get away with just buying the following tracks.

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  1. Girl From The North Country (Duet with Johnny Cash)
  2. Nashville Skyline Rag
  3. To Be Alone With You
  4. I Threw It All Away
  5. Peggy Day
  6. Lay Lady Lay
  7. One More Night
  8. Tell Me That It Isn’t True
  9. Country Pie
  10. Tonight I’ll Be Staying Here With You

Self Portrait (1970) – Bob Dylan supposedly put this less-than-stellar album out on purpose.  He explained that everyone except him was cashing in on bootleg copies of his outtakes and live renditions of original and cover songs.  So he put these songs together as a way to give the people what they obviously wanted. Greil Marcus’ opening sentence in his Rolling Stone review at the time was, “what is this shit?”  These songs are worth checking out:

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  1. All The Tired Horses
  2. Alberta #4
  3. I Forgot More Than You’ll Ever Know
  4. Days Of 49
  5. Early Mornin’ Rain
  6. In Search Of Little Sadie
  7. Let It Be Me
  8. Little Sadie
  9. Woogie Boogie
  10. Belle Isle
  11. Living The Blues
  12. Like A Rolling Stone
  13. Copper Kettle (The Pale Moonlight)
  14. Gotta Travel On
  15. Blue Moon
  16. The Boxer
  17. Mighty Quinn, The (Quinn The Eskimo)
  18. Take Me As I Am (Or Let Me Go)
  19. Take A Message To Mary
  20. It Hurts Me Too
  21. Minstrel Boy
  22. She Belongs To Me
  23. Wigwam
  24. Alberta #2

New Morning (1970) – This album is pretty good.  Dylan finally returned to his famous voice, and he began experimenting with jazzier sounds in an attempt to compose the score for a friend’s play.  He eventually backed out of the play and just threw the songs on this album, which is why it seems like a mish-mash of varying sounds.

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  1. If Not For You
  2. Day Of The Locusts
  3. Time Passes Slowly
  4. Went To See The Gypsy
  5. Winterlude
  6. If Dogs Run Free
  7. New Morning
  8. Sign On The Window
  9. One More Weekend
  10. The Man In Me
  11. Three Angels
  12. Father Of Night

Pat Garrett & Billy The Kid (1973) – It’s a movie soundtrack, so several tracks are just background music and there are four versions of the same song (Billy).  You can probably get away with downloading these two songs:

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  1. Billy (Main Title Theme)
  2. Workin’ For The Law (Cantina Theme)
  3. Billy 1
  4. Bunkhouse Theme
  5. River Theme
  6. Turkey Chase
  7. Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door
  8. Final Theme
  9. Billy 4
  10. Billy 7

Dylan (1973) – This album was put together by Columbia Records without Dylan’s input or consent at the end of his contract.  It’s basically a series of outtakes from prior recording sessions.  If you’re new to Dylan, this should be one of the last records you buy. That’s not because it’s bad, but because it’s an album of half-hearted covers. I personally like this album. Dylan’s arrangements of Lily of the West and Sarah Jane are pretty fun.

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  1. Lily of the West
  2. Can’t Help Falling in Love
  3. Sarah Jane
  4. Mr. Bojangles
  5. The Ballad of Ira Hayes
  6. Mary Ann
  7. Big Yellow Taxi
  8. A Fool Such as I
  9. Spanish is the Loving Tongue

Planet Waves (1974) – This album hints at Dylan’s marital unrest that would dominate Blood on the Tracks the next year.  People ask me what the most upbeat (and accessible) Bob Dylan album is, and I usually refer them to this one. Amazingly, it was recorded in just a few days and contains several of Dylan’s characteristic verbal slip-ups. I love the “warts and all” approach to art, and I think this album benefits from it. I think you should buy the whole thing, but you can get away with just these songs at first:

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  1. On A Night Like This
  2. Going, Going, Gone
  3. Tough Mama
  4. Hazel
  5. Something There Is About You
  6. Forever Young
  7. Forever Young
  8. Dirge
  9. You Angel You
  10. Never Say Goodbye
  11. Wedding Song

Blood On The Tracks (1975)I think this is the greatest rock album ever made. It was actually recorded twice, once in New York and again in Minneapolis. The Minneapolis version is the one you hear, but the New York musicians still get credit on the cover art. These songs make me feel a bit like a voyeur leering through Bob Dylan’s bedroom window. Idiot Wind and You’re A Big Girl Now are so nakedly emotional that I feel a little guilty deriving pleasure from them. That said, I never understood why Lily, Rosemary And The Jack Of Hearts was included.  It’s a fun song, but it doesn’t fit with the other material at all.  One minute Dylan’s pouring out his soul about his troubled marriage and the next he’s conjuring images of a small town robbery.  The song should have been held for the next album, Desire.

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  1. Tangled Up In Blue
  2. Simple Twist Of Fate
  3. You’re A Big Girl Now
  4. Idiot Wind
  5. You’re Gonna Make Me Lonesome When You Go
  6. Meet Me In The Morning
  7. Lily, Rosemary And The Jack Of Hearts
  8. If You See Her, Say Hello
  9. Shelter From The Storm
  10. Buckets Of Rain

Desire (1976) – Through late 1975 and early 1976, Dylan toured and collaborated with a group of famous musicians on a tour known as the Rolling Thunder Revue. Their collective influence is obvious on this eccentric album.  It’s more of an acquired taste than some of Dylan’s other records due to the foreign influences, but you’ll grow to love it in time.  Buy the entire album, but do it after you’ve bought the other ones in the top ten list above.

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  1. Hurricane
  2. Isis
  3. Mozambique
  4. One More Cup Of Coffee
  5. Oh, Sister
  6. Joey
  7. Romance In Durango
  8. Black Diamond Bay
  9. Sara

Street-Legal (1978)This is easily Dylan’s most underrated album.  In retrospect, we can see that it symbolizes a somewhat calm period between the boisterous Rolling Thunder Revue and Dylan’s eminent conversion to Christianity (and short-lived renunciation of his former work). I don’t understand why, but Dylan’s fans and critics gave it poor reviews.  Every song except maybe New Pony is good, and New Pony isn’t bad.  For whatever reason, many people thought having back-up singers and a saxophone on the album meant that Dylan sold out. Again? Really? I’ll admit that critics had legitimate gripes about the sound quality of the original record, but the album been digitally remastered for CD and download. Why do people still bash these great songs? I put Where Are You Tonight in my list of my top ten favorite songs of all time.

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  1. Changing Of The Guards
  2. New Pony
  3. No Time To Think
  4. Baby Stop Crying
  5. Is Your Love In Vain?
  6. Senor (Tales Of Yankee Power)
  7. True Love Tends To Forget
  8. We Better Talk This Over
  9. Where Are You Tonight (Journey Through Dark Heat)

Slow Train Coming (1979) – Between 1978 and 1979, Dylan had a life-changing religious encounter.  This is the first of four Christian-themed albums.  Some people call it gospel (and a few songs seem like neo-gospel music), but I don’t.  Most of it is rock with a religious theme.  There’s a difference.   If I was new to Dylan’s music, I’d buy all of his religious albums at the same time, after I had most of his other works.  They’re good, but they’re different from his earlier stuff. Still, if you want to sample some songs, these are the best.

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  1. Gotta Serve Somebody
  2. Precious Angel
  3. I Believe In You
  4. Slow Train
  5. Gonna Change My Way Of Thinking
  6. Do Right To Me Baby (Do Unto Others)
  7. When You Gonna Wake Up
  8. Man Gave Names To All The Animals
  9. When He Returns

Saved (1980) – It wasn’t clear to many fans and critics that Dylan had really become “born again,” so to speak, with Slow Train Coming.  The release of Saved removed all doubt.  If Dylan had joined a bizarre sect of a less mainstream religion, people would have raved about his intense, newfound spirituality.  But Christianity wasn’t very fashionable with the trendsetters at the major rock rags, so they panned this impressive rock album.

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  1. A Satisfied Mind
  2. Saved
  3. Covenant Woman
  4. What Can I Do For You?
  5. Solid Rock
  6. Pressing On
  7. In The Garden
  8. Saving Grace
  9. Are You Ready

Shot Of Love (1981) – At this point, Dylan was bending under the weight of criticism for his on-stage evangelism.  This would be the last overtly Christian album he would make until his Christmas album in 2009.  I think it’s a pretty good album, but you can get away with buying just a handful of tracks.  Every Grain Of Sand might be the prettiest song Dylan ever created.

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  1. Shot Of Love
  2. Heart Of Mine
  3. Property Of Jesus
  4. Lenny Bruce
  5. Watered-Down Love
  6. The Groom’s Still Waiting At The Altar
  7. Dead Man, Dead Man
  8. In The Summertime
  9. Trouble
  10. Every Grain Of Sand

Infidels (1983) – Infidels has much more subtle religious allusions and undertones compared to the conspicuous overtones that dominated Slow Train, Saved, and Shot of Love.  It’s proven to be one of his more polarizing albums.  Some fans hate it and others love it. There’s not much middle ground.  I think the lyrics are some of his best, but I don’t think it’s one of his best albums by any stretch. I think the great reviews it got at the time have to be taken in context with the poor reception of his previous three records. This was just yet another comeback in the eyes of his critics. I include this as the fourth of Dylan’s overtly religious albums, but by this time, he’s more cynical with his message than spiritual. Still, you should buy the album and decide for yourself.  Like Desire, it’s a bit of an acquired taste.

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  1. Jokerman
  2. Sweetheart Like You
  3. Neighborhood Bully
  4. License To Kill
  5. Man Of Peace
  6. Union Sundown
  7. I And I
  8. Don’t Fall Apart On Me Tonight

Empire Burlesque (1985) – The 80s were not good to Bob Dylan until he joined up with other famous musicians to form the supergroup, The Traveling Wilburys. This is probably the most dated of all of his albums. Dark Eyes is a great song and Clean Cut Kid is vintage Dylan, even if the arrangement sounds like a parody. But the rest of the songs sound like they were stolen from one of Lionel Richie’s prep sessions. I dare you to listen to I’ll Remember You and Emotionally Yours and tell me I’m wrong. There’s a version of When The Night Comes Falling From The Sky on The Bootleg Series, Vols. 1-3 that sounds like Dylan is being backed by Springsteen’s E Street Band. It’s really, really good. I just don’t understand how Dylan and his producers could listen to that version still choose to put this version on the final album. It has that horrible, ’80s-techno-dead-fish-sounding drumtrack behind it. Granted, it goes better with the other songs on the album, but that’s because they’re all so…’80s.

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  1. Tight Connection To My Heart
  2. Seeing The Real You At Last
  3. I’ll Remember You
  4. Clean Cut Kid
  5. Never Gonna Be The Same Again
  6. Trust Yourself
  7. Emotionally Yours
  8. When The Night Comes Falling From The Sky
  9. Something Burning, Baby
  10. Dark Eyes

Knocked Out Loaded (1986)This should be one of the last albums you buy. Like Empire Burlesque, it has a very ’80s sound. But what makes this one of Dylan’s worst records is that it sounds more like a series of unaffiliated singles than a cohesive album. I like Brownsville Girl because it was included on Bob Dylan’s Greatest Hits Volume 3, which wasn’t much of a hits album at all. But there are a couple of decent songs that have been overlooked.

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  1. You Wanna Ramble
  2. They Killed Him
  3. Driftin’ Too Far from Shore
  4. Precious Memories
  5. Maybe Someday
  6. Brownsville Girl
  7. Got My Mind Made Up
  8. Under Your Spell

Down In The Groove (1988)The release of Down In The Groove has to be the low point of Dylan’s career. Many critics weren’t really reviewing his work anymore, and the ones that were universally panned this album. This was supposed to be an album that coincided with the release of his latest film project, Hearts Of Fire. Dylan and Columbia went into damage control mode trying to dress it up. They eventually cut the record two more times. The final three songs listed below were added/deleted from the record over time. I think this is actually an underrated album, but only because it’s rated so low. If you like Dylan’s many bootlegs and outtakes, this album has that same feel to it. Like Knocked Out Loaded, it’s a mishmash of songs recorded at disparate sessions with different backing bands. If you’re new to Dylan, check out these songs (some of which are traditional folk songs).

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  1. Let’s Stick Together
  2. When Did You Leave Heaven?
  3. Sally Sue Brown
  4. Death Is Not The End
  5. Had a Dream About You, Baby
  6. Ugliest Girl In The World
  7. Silvio
  8. Ninety Miles An Hour (Down A Dead End Street)
  9. Shenandoah
  10. Rank Strangers To Me
  11. Got Love If You Want It
  12. Important Words
  13. The Usual

Oh Mercy (1989) – In typical fashion, Dylan followed up a string of so-so albums with another classic one.  Buy this entire album.  This is the point when Dylan’s age and vices started to show in his voice.  His singing took on a gruff, raspy sound that’s still present.

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  1. Political World
  2. Where Teardrops Fall
  3. Everything Is Broken
  4. Ring Them Bells
  5. Man In The Long Black Coat
  6. Most Of The Time
  7. What Good Am I?
  8. Disease Of Conceit
  9. What Was It You Wanted
  10. Shooting Star

Under The Red Sky (1990) – From a critical standpoint, the ’90s was Dylan’s worst decade.  If I had it to do over again, I’d buy all the bootleg collections before I bought a single album (with the exception of Time Out Of Mind) from the 90s.  This one doesn’t need to be part of your early collection. It’s almost as if Dylan was phoning it in, recutting old songs that weren’t good enough to make it onto his earlier, struggling albums.

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  1. Wiggle Wiggle
  2. Under The Red Sky
  3. Unbelievable
  4. Born In Time
  5. T.V. Talkin’ Song
  6. 10,000 Men
  7. 2 X 2
  8. God Knows
  9. Handy Dandy
  10. Cat’s In The Well

Good As I Been To You (1992) – This is the first of two albums that were basically just recordings of Dylan playing traditional folk, blues, and country songs.  If you’re into roots music, then you’ll like this and the next album.  Most of these songs are fun.  There are lots of other Dylan records I’d buy before these two. These are purely acoustic, which Dylan hadn’t done since Another Side Of Bob Dylan, but there are no original songs on these albums. His rendition of Jim Jones is great, and being a big Charlie Patton and Big Bill Broonzy fan, I love his rendition of Frankie & Albert. If nothing else, this album shows us Dylan’s skill with a guitar.

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  1. Frankie & Albert
  2. Jim Jones
  3. Blackjack Davey
  4. Canadee-i-o
  5. Sittin’ On Top Of The World
  6. Little Maggie
  7. Hard Times
  8. Step It Up And Go
  9. Tomorrow Night
  10. Arthur McBride
  11. You’re Gonna Quit Me
  12. Diamond Joe
  13. Froggie Went A Courtin’

World Gone Wrong (1993) – Like Good As I Been To You, this album is Dylan playing more traditional folk songs on his acoustic guitar.  The only difference is that these songs are a little darker. Dylan’s rendition of Blood In My Eyes is particularly good here. His affinity for Blind Willie McTell’s music comes through with his cover of Delia, but I think he missed a golden opportunity to bring McTell’s Southern Can Is Mine to the modern spotlight. The White Stripes covered it fairly recently to great acclaim.

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  1. World Gone Wrong
  2. Love Henry
  3. Ragged & Dirty
  4. Blood In My Eyes
  5. Broke Down Engine
  6. Delia
  7. Stack A Lee
  8. Two Soldiers
  9. Jack-A-Roe
  10. Lone Pilgrim

Time Out Of Mind (1997) – After a string of not-so-good albums, most Dylan fans bought this one with their fingers crossed.  It turned out to be the first in a string of new albums that have all been good. It’s a little depressing, but that’s only because it’s powerful. You could do a lot worse than buy the whole album, but check out these songs first. Bob won win three Grammy Awards for this comeback album, including Album of the Year. Make You Feel My Love has since been covered with great success buy Adele, Garth Brooks, and many other artists.

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  1. Love Sick
  2. Dirt Road Blues
  3. Standing In The Doorway
  4. Million Miles
  5. Tryin’ To Get To Heaven
  6. Til I Fell In Love With You
  7. Not Dark Yet
  8. Cold Irons Bound
  9. Make You Feel My Love
  10. Can’t Wait
  11. Highlands

Love And Theft (2001) – This is a fun and upbeat album. After the nightmare that was the production of Time Out Of Mind, Dylan decided to self-produced this album under the pseudonym “Jack Frost.” He basically had his band learn a ton of old songs that embodied the sound he wanted for these songs, and then worked with the band to orchestrate the proper arrangements. I think it’s worth buying the whole thing, but you can sample these songs first:

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  1. Tweedle Dee & Tweedle Dum
  2. Mississippi
  3. Summer Days
  4. Bye And Bye
  5. Lonesome Day Blues
  6. Floater (Too Much To Ask)
  7. High Water (for Charlie Patton)
  8. Moonlight
  9. Honest With Me
  10. Po’ Boy
  11. Cry A While
  12. Sugar Baby

Modern Times (2006)Buy this whole album. Dylan continued the sound he developed on Love And Theft and it resulted in his first album to chart at #1 since Desire in 1976. This one was self-produced under the pseudonym “Jack Frost” as well. If you’d like to sample some songs, these are the best:

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  1. Thunder On The Mountain
  2. Spirit On The Water
  3. Rollin’ And Tumblin’
  4. When The Deal Goes Down
  5. Someday Baby
  6. Workingman’s Blues #2
  7. Beyond The Horizon
  8. Nettie Moore
  9. The Levee’s Gonna Break
  10. Ain’t Talkin’

Together Through Life (2009) – This album has a very casual and carefree vibe to it. It’s not as good as Love and Theft and Modern Times, but it’s not bad. You get the sense that the songs aren’t supposed to be taken too seriously. Some of the songs (My Wife’s Home Town and It’s All Good) are a bit campy. Or maybe that’s just a biased vibe I get from the prominent accordion, of which I’m not a fan. For a taste of album, check these songs out first:

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  1. Beyond Here Lies Nothin’
  2. Life Is Hard
  3. My Wife’s Home Town
  4. If You Ever Go To Houston
  5. Forgetful Heart
  6. Jolene
  7. This Dream Of You
  8. Shake Shake Mama
  9. I Feel A Change Comin’ On
  10. It’s All Good

Christmas In The Heart (2009) – All US royalties from this album go to Feeding America, an organization that helps feed families during the holidays. It’s okay, but like most Christmas albums sung by one artist, it’s pretty one-dimensional. Dylan’s rendition of Little Drummer Boy works well with his voice, and his cover of Must Be Santa is a fast-paced romp.

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  1. Here Comes Santa Claus
  2. Do You Hear What I Hear?
  3. Winter Wonderland
  4. Hark the Herald Angels Sing
  5. I’ll Be Home For Christmas
  6. Little Drummer Boy
  7. The Christmas Blues
  8. O Come All Ye Faithful (Adeste Fideles)
  9. Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas
  10. Must Be Santa
  11. Silver Bells
  12. The First Noel
  13. Christmas Island
  14. The Christmas Song
  15. O’ Little Town of Bethlehem

Tempest (2012) – This is a very good album. Bob Dylan’s voice is getting a little gruffier, but it’s mostly in a good way. He sounds more like Louis Armstrong than anyone else. Considering that Tom Waits has been trying to make his voice sound like this for years, I’d say it’s not all bad. Scarlet Town and Pay In Blood represent some of his best work in years.


  1. Duquesne Whistle
  2. Soon after Midnight
  3. Narrow Way
  4. Long and Wasted Years
  5. Pay in Blood
  6. Scarlet Town
  7. Early Roman Kings
  8. Tin Angel
  9. Tempest
  10. Roll on John

Like I said earlier, this list is for people who’d like to start exploring Bob Dylan’s music and I intentionally left live albums and bootlegs off the list. It’s not supposed to be a catalog of every good song he ever sang. I compiled this for the same reason I compiled my recent list of good movies you might not have heard about. Friends are always asking for suggestions, and I thought I’d just put my thoughts in writing so I can email them the link.

I’ve written more on Bob Dylan’s music here:

Bob Dylan’s Best Music: A Cheat Sheet
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10 thoughts on “Bob Dylan’s Best Music: A Cheat Sheet

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  • March 14, 2012 at 12:26 pm

    Thanks a million for this, I appreciate the info.

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  • July 10, 2013 at 5:53 pm

    Thanks so much for this. Was trying to supplement my Dylan collection (Love his early works, trying to cherry pick the best post-1980 works) and your post was soooo helpful. Ended up buying many of the albums, but in some case just went with your song suggestions. Can’t wait to see the post updated with his latest release, Tempest.

    • July 11, 2013 at 8:53 am

      Thanks, I had forgotten to update this post. Your comment reminded me to add a word or two about Tempest, which is a very good album.

      Is there anyone from the ’60s who is still putting out material like this? David Bowie, who rose to popularity about a decade after Dylan’s emergence, just released a well-received album. But isn’t he the exception that proves the rule? Is there anyone else that consistently puts out new material like Bob Dylan? I don’t think so.

      I remember Elton John complaining a few years ago about the modern music business. He was describing his antipathy toward interviews and promotions and music videos and said something like, “why can’t I just write and record songs and play them in front of audiences the way Bob Dylan does.”

      That’s what good music is really all about, and it sums up Bob Dylan’s work ethic and enduring success pretty well.


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