If you craned your neck skywards and looked for the highest of musical echelons, Bob Dylan would proudly sit about fifty feet above that with the smirk of a Nobel prize tucked firmly beneath his nose. The freewheelin’ troubadour is a singer-songwriter who has transcended genre, style and generations to become one of the most culturally relevant voices of the last hundred years. It’s safe to say that what Bob Dylan hasn’t overseen in his tenure as one of the greats isn’t worth seeing.
Such proud command of music has seen the singer consistently asked about his favourite bands, songs or albums. It’s a pursuit of personal favourites that we imagine has left Dylan a little numb to the public clamour for information that hides behind the requests. The singer-songwriter is rarely interested in such indulging affairs outside of his previously beloved radio show. During one interview, however, Dylan would oblige and provide a list of his favourite tracks from The Eagles and Rolling Stones, noting one of the former’s efforts as “one of the best songs ever” — perhaps the highest of praise.
Last year, the conversation arose as Dylan sat down with Douglas Brinkley of The New York Times to discuss his then-new album Rough and Rowdy Ways. The record is one of Dylan’s finest, which speaks highly of his longevity and sincere eye for societal reflections. One song featured on the album, ‘I Contain Multitudes’, was a track that many would now consider one of his best: “It’s the kind of thing where you pile up stream-of-consciousness verses and then leave it alone and come pull things out,” Dylan told Brinkley.
“In that particular song, the last few verses came first. So that’s where the song was going all along. Obviously, the catalyst for the song is the title line. It’s one of those where you write it on instinct—kind of in a trance state. Most of my recent songs are like that. The lyrics are the real thing, tangible; they’re not metaphors. The songs seem to know themselves, and they know that I can sing them vocally and rhythmically. They kind of write themselves and count on me to sing them.”
The prior single release, ‘Murder Most Foul’, saw Dylan reflect on a century of pop culture, noting many musicians and icons of the past decades within the song, including Don Henley and Glenn Frey of The Eagles. Brinkley asks Dylan for his favourite Eagles numbers and gets a straight-forward answer: “’New Kid in Town,’ ‘Life in the Fast Lane,’ ‘Pretty Maids All in a Row,’” he notes, before adding a huge mark of commendation, “That could be one of the best songs ever.”
Written by Joe Walsh, who wasn’t featured in Dylan’s song, the track was released on The Eagles‘ seminal 1976 album Hotel California and gave the usually shy Walsh a chance to shine. During a 1981 interview with the BBC, Walsh explained: “To make the Eagles really valid as a band, it was important that we co-write things and share things. ‘Pretty Maids’ is kind of a melancholy reflection on my life so far, and I think we tried to represent it as a statement that would be valid for people from our generation on life so far.
“Heroes, they come and go… Henley and Frey really thought that it was a good song and meaningful and helped me a lot in putting it together. I think the best thing to say is that it’s a kind of melancholy observation on life that we hoped would be a valid statement for people from our generation.”
The song may not be the most revered song from their hugely influential album, but it certainly has an extra weight behind it now. If you were ever looking for a moment in time when your work was truly recognised as a songwriter, then having Bob Dylan call it “one of the best songs ever” is about as perfect as it gets.