Top 10 Bob Dylan Lyrics of All Time

Known as The Bard and likely the greatest songwriter of all time, Bob Dylan has inspired more people to pick up an acoustic guitar than any luthier. Perhaps even more than any guitar-making company.

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With songs like “It’s Alright, Ma (I’m Only Bleeding)” and “A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall,” Dylan writes short stories, choruses and one-liners as if transcribing them from the heavens. But, what is the best of the best? We dive into Dylan’s best 10 lyrics—those lines that have since been blended into the fabric of history.

1. “The Times They Are A-Changin'”

Not Dylan’s first hit, but the song that defined him as the voice of a generation, this song includes the iconic chorus (and song title name), as well as the epic socially relevant today stanza:

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 agin’
Please get out of the new one
If you can’t lend your hand
For the times they are a-changin’

2. “Blowing in the Wind”

The song that put Dylan on the map, “Blowing in the Wind” is about the inescapably numinous quality of the truth. Like the song above, it’s always moving, shifting, changing. But always there. Sings Dylan,

Yes, and how many times must a man look up
Before he can see the sky?
And how many ears must one man have
Before he can hear people cry?
Yes, and how many deaths will it take ’til he knows
That too many people have died?

The answer, my friend, is blowin’ in the wind
The answer is blowin’ in the wind

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

A more dream-like stream-of-consciousness song, this might be one of the first rap songs of all time. Dylan provides the striking beat with his acoustic and sings,

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

4. “A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall”

A song that not only talks about change—Dylan’s favorite topic—but one that portends it with a bit of doom and gloom, “A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall” is a warning. Sings Dylan,

And what did you hear, my blue-eyed son?
And what did you hear, my darling young one?
I heard the sound of a thunder, it roared out a warnin’
Heard the roar of a wave that could drown the whole world
Heard one hundred drummers whose hands were a-blazin’
Heard ten thousand whisperin’ and nobody listenin’
Heard one person starve, I heard many people laughin’
Heard the song of a poet who died in the gutter
Heard the sound of a clown who cried in the alley
And it’s a hard, and it’s a hard, it’s a hard, it’s a hard
And it’s a hard rain’s a-gonna fall

5. “Shelter from the Storm”

Oh, relief. Life is hard. There’s pain, suffering, debt, anger, sadness. The list goes on. But relief! What a wonder. Dylan hits the point home here in this classic, singing,

Suddenly I turned around and she was standin’ there
With silver bracelets on her wrists and flowers in her hair
She walked up to me so gracefully and took my crown of thorns
Come in, she said
I’ll give ya shelter from the storm

6. “Mr. Tambourine Man”

A song often covered, this might sum up Dylan’s acoustic prowess in the 1960s. While he’d already gone electric, this album palliated fans who yearned for his poetry over the wooden instrument. Sings Dylan, as if in a dreamy fantasy,

Though I know that evening’s empire has returned into sand
Vanished from my hand
Left me blindly here to stand, but still not sleeping
My weariness amazes me, I’m branded on my feet
I have no one to meet
And the ancient empty street’s too dead for dreaming

7. “Tangled up in Blue”

“Tangled up in Blue” is a song of fate and love, which is described as being intertwined and tortuous. Sings Dylan with a strange forlorn joy in his heart, lamenting,

But all the while I was alone
The past was close behind
I seen a lot of women
But she never escaped my mind, and I just grew
Tangled up in blue

8. “Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right”

The breakup song to end all breakup songs. Dylan is leaving. The love didn’t work. No use in trying to get anything of that time back, he tells, singing,

It ain’t no use in callin’ out my name, gal
Like you never did before
It ain’t no use in callin’ out my name, gal
I can’t hear you anymore
I’m a-thinkin’ and a-wond’rin’ all the way down the road
I once loved a woman, a child I’m told
I give her my heart but she wanted my soul
But don’t think twice, it’s all right

9. “Isis”

If the song above didn’t satisfy your needs for a breakup song, this one surely will. It’s all about a quest completely made up to distract someone who’d just lost his love. The singer’s adventure partner dies along the way and Dylan sings,

I picked up his body and I dragged him inside
Threw him down in the hole and I put back the cover
I said a quick prayer then I felt satisfied
Then I rode back to find Isis just to tell her I love her

10. “Subterranean Homesick Blues”

Another pseudo-rap, this song has more lyrics than Dylan’s got hairs on his head. It’s also one of the first great music videos. Sings the boisterous Bard,

Johnny’s in the basement, mixin’ up the medicine
I’m on the pavement, thinkin’ about the government
The man in a trench coat, badge out, laid off
Says he’s got a bad cough, wants to get it paid off
Look out kid, it’s somethin’ you did
God knows when, but you’re doin’ it again
You better duck down the alleyway, looking for a new friend
The man in the coon-skin cap in a pig pen

Photo by Christopher Polk/Getty Images for VH1

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