Bob Dylan's top 10 infrastructure songs
In honor of Bob Dylan’s 70th birthday, the Infrastructurist compiled its list of Dylan’s top ten songs about infrastructure.
10. Down the Highway (The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan)
In the liner notes to Freewheelin’, prepared by Nat Hentoff, Dylan says of this blues number: “What made the real blues singers so great is that they were able to state all the problems they had.” Dylan’s problem in “Down the Highway” is that his woman has left him, and he reflects on his down luck during a lonely walk across America, from the Golden Gate bridge to the Statue of Liberty, on the side of its highways. The trek itself provides his only sliver of solace: “I ain’t got much more to lose / Right now I’m havin’ trouble / Please don’t take away my highway shoes.”
9. Highway 61 Revisited (Highway 61 Revisited)
As both a road and a tune, Highway 61 clearly hits close to Dylan’s heart; he has only played two songs more often in concert — “All Along the Watchtower” and “Like a Rolling Stone” — and the actual U.S. Route 61 stretches south from his native Minnesota all the way to New Orleans. In “Highway” the physical road takes a secondary role to the characters who convene upon it: from a rovin’ gambler trying to start a world war to the Abraham and the seventh son. Rolling Stone’s recent countdown of the top 70 Dylan songs puts it at No. 14 and quotes the artist: “I always felt like I’d started on it, always had been on it, and could go anywhere from it.”
8. The Levee’s Gonna Break (Modern Times)
When Dylan released Modern Times in August 2006, a year after Hurricane Katrina crushed the Gulf Coast, some writers considered the song a nod to the devastation. In all likelihood Dylan’s “Levee” has more to do with his practice of commandeering old blues numbers — in this case, Memphis Minnie and Joe McCoy’s “When the Levee Breaks” — than with any attempt at cultural commentary. Still, many of the lyrics could serve as suitable captions to the images of those fleeing New Orleans: “Some people on the road carrying everything that they own.”
7. From a Buick 6 (Highway 61 Revisited)
The narrator of this twisted love tune might be addressing his “junkyard angel” from the driver’s seat of his ride; then again, he might be singing from inside the trunk. After all, he appears to be on the verge of both personal and automotive breakdown: “Well, when the pipeline gets broken and I’m lost on the river bridge / I’m cracked up on the highway and on the water’s edge / She comes down the thruway ready to sew me up with thread,” Dylan sings on“Buick.” What’s clear, at least, is how Ray LaHood would interpret the song: Fix America’s pipelines and bridges.
6. Marchin’ to the City (Tell Tale Signs – Disc 1 version)
This track was released on volume 8 of the bootleg series but recorded during the Time Out of Mind sessions, and some of its lyrics can be found on that album’s “‘Til I Fell in Love With You.” Once again Dylan’s subject is a pretty girl who done him wrong; instead of hiking across the country as in “Down the Highway,” this narrator marches toward the city. The chorus of “Marchin’” suggests he has yet to arrive in town, but the random ramblings seem to fit the mind of someone strolling city sidewalks, and Dylan captures the strange solitude of urban life: “Loneliness got a mind of its own / The more people around the more you feel alone.”