Lists

The Very Best of Bob Dylan's Weirdest Lyrics

Stop trying, scholars: You'll never get inside Dylan's mind. But these lyrics are sort of telling.
Stop trying, scholars: You'll never get inside Dylan's mind. But these lyrics are sort of telling. Alberto Cabello/Wikimedia Commons
Even if the “the times, they are a changin',” Bob Dylan certainly hasn’t been doing anything different. At 80 years old, the cultural icon is just as prolific as ever, releasing new albums and touring once more after taking some time off because of COVID shutdowns. Dylan seemingly isn’t short on cash either; he recently sold his entire songwriting catalog to Universal Music in one of the biggest acquisitions in modern record history. Are the kids dialing it up to “Hurricane” again?

The iconic artist will be making a stop in Irving this week for a March 10 show at the Pavilion at Toyota Music Factory, where he's expected to perform some of his most iconic hits alongside selections from his most recent studio album, 2020's Rough and Rowdy Ways. Dylan has released 39 albums throughout his career, so even the most dedicated fan may not be able to sing along with him for them all. Sure, you know every note of “Idiot Wind,” but can you remember the second verse to “Cry A While"? Do you even know that one?

Dylan is one of the greatest wordsmiths in history, but even Shakespeare has a few lines that leave historians scratching their heads. Here are some of Dylan’s weirdest lyrics.

“Gates of Eden,” Bringing It All Back Home

“To curbs 'neath holes where babies wail, though it shadows metal badge.” Come on Bob, “badge” and the last letter of the previous sentence, “attached” don’t rhyme.

Dylan has had a much stronger reputation than this. After he received the Pulitzer Prize in 2008 for his songwriting career, the poet and journalist Robert F. Thomas argued  in his nonfiction book Why Dylan Matters that Dylan’s work was inspired by ancient Greek and Roman prose

“Saved,” Saved
“I want to thank You, Lord. I just want to thank You, Lord. Thank You, Lord.” Now, this wouldn't be so weird coming from Johnny Cash or Creed, but this was among Dylan’s Christian phase. Dylan went through several cycles of renewed (and rejected) Christianity throughout his career. Although he rarely gave much insight on his personal beliefs in interviews, Dylan made a rare exception in 2005 when he discussed his faith with Martin Scorsese for the director's 2005 documentary No Direction Home. In the doc, Dylan said he vaguely believes in God but doesn't commit to a specific religion.

“Wiggle Wiggle,” Under the Red Sky
“Wiggle, wiggle, wiggle like a gypsy queen. Wiggle, wiggle, wiggle all dressed in green.”

In his five decades of performing and writing, Dylan has never received a critical backlash like the one he got for “Wiggle Wiggle,” which he has insisted was a children’s song. In 2013, Rolling Stone magazine readers voted it the worst song of his entire discography.

"Murder Most Foul," Rough and Rowdy Ways
"Wolfman, oh Wolfman, oh Wolfman, howl. Rub-a-dub-dub, it's a murder most foul."

There were plenty of weird lyrics to choose from this 17-minute song Dylan released in 2020 about the assassination of JFK. Dylan's timing was odd, to say the least. But ultimately, any lyric with "Wolfman" and "Rub-a-dub-dub," gets our vote, especially when the song is about a murder.

“Sweetheart Like You,” Infidels

“What's a sweetheart like you doing in a dump like this? You know a woman like you should be at home.” Even in 1983, Dylan prophesied sexist Redditors.

Dylan had already received blowback for some of the comments he made about his ex-wife following their divorce in 1977, especially with the fiery lyrics to his song “Idiot Wind,” (such as, "You're an idiot, babe/
It's a wonder that you still know how to breathe") which were believed to be his response to the challenging divorce proceedings.

“Dignity,” Bob Dylan’s Greatest Hits Vol. 3

“I went into the city, went into the town. Went into the land of the midnight sun.” This one isn't so weird, necessarily, but stretches the limits of what should be considered Dylan's “greatest hits.”

Dylan isn’t the type to celebrate his own work without creating something new, and 1994’s Bob Dylan’s Greatest Hits, Vol. 3 includes classics such as “Tangled Up In Blue” alongside many new songs such as “Dignity.”

“Honest With Me,” Love and Theft

“Well, I'm stranded in the city that never sleeps. Some of these women, they just give me the creeps.” Again with the romantic musings.

Released in 2001, Love and Theft came out during a particularly interesting era for Dylan. He was in production on the film Masked and Anonymous, his first appearance in a non-documentary feature in decades. Both Love and Theft and Masked and Anonymous were met with tepid reactions among casual listeners and longtime fans.

“Dirge,” Planet Waves

“Like a slave in orbit, he's beaten 'til he's tame.” Look, this was 1974, so we’ll give Dylan a little credit for not always being so woke.

Dylan has generally been praised for being ahead of his time when it comes to social causes, and many of his most iconic tunes were incorporated within protest art during the early Civil Rights Movement.

“Must Be Santa,” Christmas in the Heart

"Dasher, Dancer, Prancer, Vixen, Carter, Reagan, Bush and Clinton." Not the reindeer lineup we remember.

Christmas in the Heart is one of Dylan’s rare 21st century albums that has sparked as much discussion and debate as his classic work. Was it intended as a sincere celebration of the holidays, or a mockery of commercialization and adherence to tradition? Is it any good? Fans can’t seem to decide, and Dylan himself has been as elusive in answering as ever.

“Long and Wasted Years,” Tempest

“What you doing out in the sun anyway? Don’t you know the sun can burn your brains right out?”

Thanks for the tip, Bob. Tempest was acclaimed by modern critics when it debuted in 2012, but Dylan became surprisingly absent from the public spotlight in the decade after. 2020’s Rough and Rowdy Ways marked his return to new material.

“Gotta Serve Somebody,” Slow Train Coming

“Well, it may be the devil, or it may be the Lord. But you're gonna have to serve somebody.”

John Lennon famously hated this album. Gee, we wonder why. It wasn’t the first time that Dylan and Lennon traded blows, as the two had a history of criticizing each other through their lyrics. However, Paul McCartney thanked Dylan for getting the Fab Four stoned once, admitting that “I could feel myself climbing a spiral walkway as I was talking to Dylan.”

“Joey,” Desire
“Joey, Joey. Why did they have to come and blow you away?”

For context, this is intended as a song about an actual murderer. “Joey” is one of the many songs that Dylan wrote as a semi-biography of a famous figure. Joey Gallo, also known as “Crazy Joey,” was an Italian-American mobster convicted of conspiracy and extortion. He led the Colombo crime family in the 1960s, and his 1972 murder in Little Italy has never officially been solved.

“If Dogs Run Free,” New Morning

“If dogs run free, then what must be. Must be, and that is all.”

What?

We can give Dylan some slack on this one, as he wasn’t exactly aiming for the “Like a Rolling Stone" audience. The lyrics in New Morning were later adapted for the picture book If Dogs Run Free, which Dylan wrote for young readers in 2013.
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Liam Gaughan has been covering film and television since before he had a driver's license, and in addition to the Observer has been published in About.com, Schmoes Know, Taste of Cinema and The Dallas Morning News. He enjoys checking classic films off of his watchlist and working on spec scripts.