Bob Dylan’s 10 Best Love Songs



Bob Dylan celebrated his 80th birthday this week, a remarkable milestone for one of the greatest songwriters of his — or any other — generation.

A timeless man who has constantly sought to evade his pursuers through multiple periods of aesthetic evolution, Dylan is an artist who has worn many masks throughout his time in the public eye.

From his initial press biography – replete with half-truths and playful inventions – to his role as a protest singer; from going electric to escaping the public eye via a “motorcycle accident”; from his comeback “Blood On The Tracks” to his embrace of Christianity, to his current chapter – arguably kicked off by 1997’s mighty “Time Out Of Mind” – it’s unclear which Dylan is the “right one.” Or maybe none of them are.

What is clear, however, is that Bob Dylan’s work will outlive all of us – a unique catalog, which speaks eloquently of the time it was created while constantly striving for the universal. And there is nothing more universal than love. From his debut album to his latest opus, Bob Dylan has repeatedly returned to the matter of the heart – from infatuation to loss, few have channeled the specter of passion so powerfully.

Here, the Clash writers offer personal picks from Bob Dylan’s love song archive.

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‘Like a woman’

I was never a massive Dylan guy myself. But since almost everyone around me worships the man I periodically revisit to see what the fuss is about. Rarely works, tbh, except in the case of this song, which absolutely haunts my bloody soul. What is it about? Dylanologists argue over whether he’s poking fun at Andy Warhol’s muse, Edie Sedgwick, or pining for folksinger Joan Baez.

No matter. It’s about femininity in general, innit – young femininity, seen through the lens of a bruised male ego. That murderous line in the middle – mist, amphetamines, pearls – is as vivid a lyrical resemblance as anything in Byron or Shakespeare, an acid broadside hurled at his fragile inamorata.

Latter Day Dylan Stans feels he pulled that line out of his ass, lyrically, on the day of the recording session. But I don’t buy it. He is hurt and mean. Like a little girl. (Andy Hill)

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Although he’s famous for knowing who his songs were about, there’s something beautiful about Sara’s flagrance, dedicated to his first wife Sara Lownds.

Fusing domestic bliss and mystical imagery, this love song transforms memories into myths, telling their love story like a kind of hypnotic legend. Celebrating the magic of the mundane as he reminisces about days at the beach with his kids and all the places he wrote his love songs, Sara shouts her love from the rooftops but focuses on a comfortable married life. rather than fleeting passion. (Lucy Harbron)

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‘Girl from the North Country’

In the same vein as ‘If You See Her, Say Hello’, ‘Girl From The North Country’ is a classic tale of the disappearance of the one who got away. Firmly anchored in his country and its folk routes, the track feels like a heartbreaking moment leaving behind his past, both the girl he loved and his old home. It’s sparse and simple, almost childish in its vulnerability as Dylan barely veils his grief behind his good wishes.

An ode to how the ghosts of lost loves will follow you wherever you run, ‘Girl From North Country’ is full of tenderness and the subtle poetry of Dylan’s early works. (Lucy Harbron)

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“Romance in Durango”

At its heart, “Romance in Durango” is a love story about two lovers on the run from a gang. The lyrics of the song are: “I sold my guitar to the baker’s son / For a few crumbs and a place to hide / But I can have another / And I’ll play for Magdalena while we roll…” It depicts a tender image of lovers doing what they can to survive. It feels like an extension of his time filming and composing Pat Garrett and Sam Peckinpah’s Billy the Kid, which was filmed in Durango, Mexico.

But that’s not the song’s only story. The hero of the tale also laments the murder of a friend named Ramon. Was Ramon a lover? Is it a story of unrequited love, or has the hero pulled the trigger? Classically, Dylan never confirms this, instead shifting the focus to the runaway lovers. Musically, it’s filled with soaring violins, mariachi horns, and intricate guitar work that fits the story perfectly. (Nick Roseblade)

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‘Isis’ opens with the following lines: “I married Isis on the fifth day of May / But I couldn’t hold her very long / So I cut my hair and I rolled right away / To the wild unknown land where I could make no mistake”.

As “Isis” progresses, it is the story of a man who marries a woman called Isis. Shortly after, he goes in search of adventures and treasures. As the song progresses the narrator realizes his mistake and that what he was looking for was at home the whole time “Then I went back to find Isis just to tell her I love her” .

Dylan’s brilliance is the way he uses his real life situations for his songs, but does it in a way that makes you wonder if he did it or not. This is evident on ‘Isis’. The song was written during a separation with his wife Sara. The themes of separation were not lost on this rabid fanbase who tried to piece together what was happening back home in the music.

‘Isis’ ends with the lyrics: “Isis, oh, Isis, you mystical child / What drives me to you is what drives me crazy / I still remember the way you smiled / The fifth day of May in the drizzle ‘rain’ which takes us back to the beginning and is one of the most romantic things Dylan has ever written. (Nick Roseblade)

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“Temporary as Achilles”

A rare moment of nostalgia, “Temporary Like Achilles” makes rejection sexy. Crooning to a slow, brooding beat, you can hear Dylan throwing out a strop with every word. Pleading, “you know I want your love/darling, why are you so hard?”, ‘Temporary Like Achilles’ creates a bluesy track from Dylan’s trampled feet, for once unable to get what he wanna.

Full of rich imagery of Greek gods and abstract visions in an effort to hide his wounded ego, it’s a different take on Dylan’s love songs. (Lucy Harbron)

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‘Spanish Leather Boots’

Undeniably one of Dylan’s greatest love songs, ‘Boots Of Spanish Leather’ combines his best bits; an emotive, muted acoustic guitar accompaniment, holding heavy lyrics telling a story.

Dripping with grief and regret, it has a real notebook quality, as if it was constructed from a single liner, scribbled down deep in heartbreak. Resulting in lyrics that read more like sonnets, this piece could be taken straight from Keats or Byron’s anthology.

Staying on the same path of nostalgia from start to finish, all focus remains on the tender lyrics that are subtly heartbreaking and blatant in their genius. (Lucy Harmon)

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“Tangled Up In Blue”

Much to Dylan’s personal protest, the 1975 album “Blood On The Tracks” is enduring as a breakup album. It’s easy to see why: it’s a song cycle of fractured love stories, with characters allowing themselves to enter each other’s lives, only to leave before the impact can truly be realized.

“Tangled Up In Blue” is the story of a poor boy who falls in love with a rich girl, a song that puts aside class differences – “Dad’s bankbook wasn’t big enough” – and capricious paths. A song that crosses America from the Great North Woods to Delacroix, it somehow never travels anywhere, the kind of impermanence that only leads to ending up in the same place.

The lyrics are about being cursed by minor differences, while reveling in the grace common humanity can afford. Backstage at a striptease, Dylan ends up listening to Dante’s lines being recited, before beginning his journey again. Typical of its parent album, the narrative spins and spins, folding in on itself – all held together by love, however, and the sense that a connection, once established, is not easily ignored. As he says, “We always felt the same / We just saw it from a different perspective…” (Robin Murray)

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‘Absolutely sweet Mary’

A song written for ‘Blonde On Blonde’, ‘Absolute Sweet Marie’ lacks the emotional weight of ‘Sad Eyed Lady Of The Lowlands’, and the Kerouac-inspired stream of consciousness that propels ‘Visions Of Johanna’.

What it exploits, however, is the delirium of love, the way your senses can be overthrown; it’s an undeniably sweet and very sensual song, filled with Dylan’s unique use of imagery – from “the Persian drunkard” to “the ruins of your balcony”, its dreamlike narrative disruption is gently overwhelming.

A song that seems to portray Dylan as an outlaw in love – “to live outside the law, you have to be honest” – it subverts those notions in a sly and satirical way, one the movies would arguably never catch up to. not before the dawn of the 70s.

An amphetamine-driven Billy The Kid who “can’t give bad company his address”, Dylan just wants to love and be loved back. (Robin Murray)

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‘Love sick’

Much has been made of the work of Bob Dylan’s last days. With Johnny Cash, The Bard has traced a different rock lexicon, which moves from the promise of youth to the weight of experience. ‘Love Sick’ – from his 1997 album ‘Time Out Of Mind’ – finds Dylan hounded by the past, a sick and cynical soul unable to ignore his memories.

Stark and relentless, “Love Sick” uses an economy of phrasing – “Sometimes / Silence can be like thunder” – it’s simply unforgettable, a haiku-like resonance that distills its verbosity into a thick, tar. A song that dares to be simply, ‘Love Sick’ is the most resentful lover, bound by their own feelings, desperate to be free of themselves – in the end we find only abandonment. “I don’t know what to do / I’d give anything / To be with you…” (Robin Murray)

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