Ranking the 5 Best Songs on Bob Dylan’s Masterpiece Double Album ‘Blonde on Blonde’

The thrilling peak to which Bob Dylan had been rising throughout the early part of the ’60s undoubtedly occurred with Blonde on Blonde, released in 1966. Dylan combined some of the wild, electric rock that he had perfected on his previous two records with a series of elegant ballads that found him reaching new levels of confessional eloquence.

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Fourteen songs comprise the two LPs. We’ve gone out on a serious limb and chosen what we believe are the five best. See if you agree.

5. “Absolutely Sweet Marie”

Blonde on Blonde often gets lumped in with the raucous Dylan-goes-electric period, but that’s not all that accurate an assessment. The album actually often has more in common with country music than rock. But “Absolutely Sweet Marie” is one of the songs on the record where the tempo is juiced up and the players go at it with abandon (especially Dylan himself on harmonica). Some all-time great one-liners can be found within this song, but, like a lot of the best tracks on this album, it’s ultimately driven by hurt and disappointment.

4. “One of Us Must Know (Sooner or Later)”

Dylan enlisted some of the finest session players in the land on this record. (Nashville and New York, where the album was recorded, were great places to find them). On “One of Us Must Know (Sooner or Later),” the stunning piano work of Paul Griffin pushes a song that’s great on paper to another dimension, as his playing dovetails with the urgency of Dylan’s messaging. The narrator desperately wants to get to a place of serenity in the wake of a breakup, and hopes his ex will too, but each seems too wounded to make that leap.

3. “Just Like a Woman”

Dylan has taken grief over the years for some of the phrasing in the choruses, with some folks feeling that the lines about what a woman embodies are sexist. But that overlooks the fact it’s the narrator who has hit rock bottom at the end of this relationship. He knows that it’s ending, but it’s because of his own failings. The lines in the final verse about the wistful nature of a future meeting between the two evoke deep wells of feeling. Let’s also shout out the beauty of this arrangement, with every instrument doing just enough to accentuate the arc of the narrative.

2. “Visions of Johanna”

Here’s another track from Blonde on Blonde where the instrumentalists manage to create magic, even as they know to stay out of the way of the lyrics so that they can make their proper impact. That allows Dylan enough space to paint this surreal tableau, with imagery that’s showy and yet never distracting and always serving the greater purpose. Of course, most of the song is the narrator’s attempt to drag his thoughts to somewhere benign and even fun. It’s a far better alternative than dealing with the heartbreak over Johanna’s departure.

1. “Sad-Eyed Lady of the Lowlands”

Dylan used the entire final side of the double album to speak of his love for his wife Sara. There’s something gallant and epic about the music, about how it keeps sauntering forward alongside the singer as he makes his pleas. As Dylan keeps coming up with new traits about this woman he’s celebrating, you expect him to make some final, decisive point, until you realize the pile-up is the point. There is no end to the reasons he loves her. As he sits by her gate waiting for her answer, we realize that we’ve just heard one of the great love songs of all time.

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Photo by Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

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