3 Bob Dylan Songs that Will Help You Be a Better Songwriter

If you were to poll every living songwriter and ask them who the best living songwriter was, the winner would almost assuredly be Bob Dylan. Sure, Paul McCartney might get some love. Joni Mitchell and Kendrick Lamar, too. But Dylan is almost universally known to be the one who got it right most often. There’s a reason he’s called the Bard.

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But one of the marks of a great artist is the way he or she inspires. If a novice looks to the artist and their talent makes them want to quit, then that star hasn’t done their job. So, if Dylan truly is the peak of peaks, it’s important to look at which songs of his can help others get better at the craft. Here below, are three Bob Dylan songs that will help you be a better songwriter.

[RELATED: How Bob Dylan Confronted Mortality on “Not Dark Yet”]

“It’s Alright, Ma (I’m Only Bleeding)”

Is this the first rap song? Either way, Dylan offers rhyme after rhyme, rhythmically and indelibly all over a sharp acoustic guitar riff-beat. It’s simple but yet groundbreaking. But more than the music, it’s the language that Dylan displays that’s inspiring and exciting. Released on Dylan’s 1965 album Bringing It All Back Home, the song concludes the masterful LP. And on the offering, Dylan, sharp tongue and all, sing-speaks his wisdoms,

Darkness at the break of noon
Shadows even the silver spoon
The handmade blade, the child’s balloon
Eclipses both the sun and moon
To understand you know too soon
There is no sense in trying

Pointed threats, they bluff with scorn
Suicide remarks are torn
From the fool’s gold mouthpiece the hollow horn
Plays wasted words, proves to warn
That he not busy being born is busy dying

“Tangled Up in Blue”

Released on Dylan’s 1975 album Blood on the Tracks, this song was produced by Dylan’s brother David Zimmerman. But more than any familial connection, the song is a bright, jangly offering about heartbreak. It’s also a song that tells about a dozen tales about a dozen characters. It’s a song that goes and goes on like a book of short stories. It’s effortless but so precise with its vivid language and specific detail. You could do worse if this was the one song you listened to for the rest of your life. On the colorful track, Dylan sings,

Early one morning, the sun was shining
I was laying in bed
Wondering if she’d changed it all
If her hair was still red

Her folks, they said, our lives together
Sure was gonna be rough
They never did like mama’s homemade dress
Papa’s bankbook wasn’t big enough

And I was standing on the side of the road
Rain falling on my shoes
Heading out for the East Coast
Lord knows I’ve paid some dues getting through
Tangled up in blue

“Desolation Row”

Another album ender, this was the last song on Dylan’s 1965 LP Highway 61 Revisited. And it’s maybe his best song (a title too difficult to actually define with any real finality). The song is the best of both worlds of the above tracks. It’s vivid, rich with story and character, simple and yet complex. But what’s perhaps most pleasing on this song is its continual refrain. It’s as if we’re walking down a moonlit street full of people that live in Dylan’s mind. The road is Desolation Row. And it’s a place we can live in, visit, and know thanks to the Bard. On it, he sings,

Selling postcards
Of the hanging
They’re painting
The passports brown
The beauty parlor
Is filled with sailors
The circus is in town
Here comes
The blind commissioner
They’ve got him in a trance
One hand is tied
To the tight-rope walker
The other is in his pants
And the riot squad
They’re restless
They need somewhere to go
As Lady
And I look out tonight
From Desolation Row

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Photo by Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

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