My picks for worst Dylan songs are failures of imagination, excuses for singing like a minotaur, or okay songs hobbled by contemptible arrangements. I could have added “Chimes of Freedom,” a Kristofferson cover with a terrified children’s choir, or “Dark Eyes” (I can’t better Theon Weber’s description: it’s transparently on Empire Burlesque so that stupid people can think it’s the one good song).
10. “Disease of Conceit” (Oh Mercy).
I don’t mind Dylan’s unexpected stresses; they function like iambic pentameter set to the rhythm of English subtitles. But the piano hook is anemic instead of stately, and he indicts an abstraction which can’t rebut the indictment (“What Good Am I” took care of that two tracks earlier).
9. “To Make You Feel My Love” (Time Out of Mind).
Garth Brooks, Billy Joel, Bryan Ferry are among the artists who have covered a plaint so generic that Garth Brooks, Billy Joel, and Bryan Ferry sing it exactly the same.
8. “When The Night Comes Falling From the Sky” (Empire Burlesque)
The arrangement gallumphing in an effort to persuade the principals that they’re having a good time, this 1985 oddity got more sensitive treatment at the hands of the E Street Band. And Roy Bittan’s piano is put to effective use. I’m all for Dylan and octagonal drums (“Tight Connection to My Heart” is one of his best songs), but he and Arthur Baker sound nauseated; Dylan in fact sings as if in the grips of nausea. The two-note blasts of synth horns, the backup singer echoing every word, not a single space for the song to breathe – all as gauche as Dylan’s earring. Plus, the song ain’t that good anyway (“I can hear your trembling heart beat like a river” is a detestable line, with or without Dylan’s Count Chocula vibrato.
7. “Neighborhood Bully” (Infidels)
Not about himself.
6. “Gotta Serve Somebody” (Slow Train Coming)
Not about God. The gleam of the studio rock arrangement makes it worse (and endless).
5. “Hurricane” (Desire)
I had to stop myself from including half of Desire. Admittedly, the fiddle and bongos catch the ear, but telling a straightforward narrative is hell on Dylan’s singing; it has moments where he is audibly trying to catch up with a verse.
4. “Lenny Bruce” (Shot of Love)
3. “Is Your Love in Vain” (Street-Legal)
Archie Bunker yelling at Edith’s corpse, to the accompaniment of saxophones.
2. “Joey” (Desire)
No reason why this fantasia about a king of the street and child of clay has to be eleven minutes and why the drums sound more garish than Empire Burlesque‘s electrobeats.
1. “Rainy Day Woman #12 and 35” (Blonde on Blonde)
Sure I hate fun. I like New Orleans funeral brass bands though! Dylan’s other song that stopped short of hitting #1 (guess the other) is worth playing once: at sixteen, thinking, “Oh my god he said STONED!”