Faster than you can say, “Take your Dostoyevsky and shove it,” backlash from the haughtiest of literary scholars against Bob Dylan’s Nobel Prize for literature began right after the award was announced Thursday morning. Hogwash, we would eloquently retort.
Here are 10 Dylan songs that have deeply moved more people with their prose than the past 10 prize winners put together.
Blowin’ in the Wind (1963)
What it’s about: One of his first forays into more opaque lyricism, it became an anthem for the 1960s civil rights and anti-war movements.
Sample lyrics: “How many ears must one man have / Before he can hear people cry? / Yes, and how many deaths will it take till he knows / That too many people have died?”
The Times They Are A-Changin’ (1964)
What it’s about: One of his more overt protest songs, it transcended the politics of the era to later haunt baby-boomer fans who became parents of teenagers.
Sample lyrics: “Come mothers and fathers throughout the land / And don’t criticize what you can’t understand / Your sons and your daughters are beyond your command / Your old road is rapidly aging / Please get out of the new one if you can’t lend your hand.”
It’s Alright, Ma (I’m Only Bleeding) (1965)
What it’s about: A protest song against hollow protests, or something like that. One of his first and best that defy exact interpretation, though many keep trying.
Sample lyrics: “Temptation’s page flies out the door / You follow, find yourself at war / Watch waterfalls of pity roar / You feel to moan but unlike before / You discover that you’d just be one more person crying.”
Subterranean Homesick Blues (1965)
What it’s about: Arguably the first rap song, it’s a send-up of stiff conservative American values with loose but biting wordplay.
Sample lyrics: “Better stay away from those / That carry around a fire hose / Keep a clean nose / Watch the plain clothes / You don’t need a weather man / To know which way the wind blows.”
Desolation Row (1965)
What it’s about: Drawing upon an infamous lynching in his birth town of Duluth, the 11-minute epic shows the influence of T.S. Eliot while playing out like an art-house film.
Sample lyrics: “They’re selling postcards of the hanging, they’re painting the passports brown / The beauty parlor is filled with sailors, the circus is in town.”
Like a Rolling Stone (1965)
What it’s about: A reaction to his growing fame and loftier surroundings, it reads like the ultimate kiss-off to high-society New York from a Minnesota Iron Range boy.
Sample lyrics: “You used to be so amused / At Napoleon in rags and the language that he used / Go to him he calls you, you can’t refuse / When you ain’t got nothing, you got nothing to lose / You’re invisible now, you’ve got no secrets to conceal.”
Visions of Johanna (1966)
What it’s about: Ostensibly about an ex-girlfriend, it also touches on the influence of the Beat Poets and the quest for inspiration.
Sample lyrics: “We can hear the night watchman click his flashlight / Ask himself if it’s him or them that’s really insane.”
Tangled Up in Blue (1974)
What it’s about: D-I-V-O-R-C-E, in a nutshell, and the Molotov cocktail of memories entangled in it.
Sample lyrics: “I helped her out of a jam I guess / But I used a little too much force / We drove that car as far as we could / Abandoned it out west / Split up on a dark sad night / Both agreeing it was best.”
Man in the Long Black Coat (1987)
What it’s about: One of many Dylan tunes to channel biblical imagery, he seemingly applies it here to question his own goodwill.
Sample lyrics: “Every man’s conscience is vile and depraved / You cannot depend on it to be your guide / When it’s you who must keep it satisfied.”
Not Dark Yet (1997)
What it’s about: Like a lot of his recent songs, it seems to be about trying to age gracefully.
Sample lyrics: “Feel like my soul has turned into steel / I’ve still got the scars that the sun didn’t heal / There’s not even room enough to be anywhere / It’s not dark yet, but it’s getting there.”