Harriet Archer is a lecturer in early modern English literature at the University of St Andrews, where she teaches modules on the English Renaissance, Bob Dylan, and popular music, and is the author of Unperfect Histories: the Mirror for Magistrates, 1559-1610 (Oxford University Press, 2017).


David Bond graduated from Johnston College, the University of Redlands, in 1975, with a BA in Religion with a minor in Transpersonal Psychology. He attended Duke University Divinity School and graduated from West Virginia University with a Master of Social Work in 1979. He is a practicing psychotherapist and has been writing poetry for over forty years.


Nicholas Bornholt is a freelance writer, editor and a co-creator of He holds a BA and MRes in English from Macquarie University, Sydney, Australia.


Jonathan Hodgers received his PhD in music from Trinity College Dublin, where he teaches in popular music. His core areas of interest are song lyrics, the music of the 50s and 60s, audiovisual aesthetics, and music in movies. Dylan and Cinema, his forthcoming monograph for Routledge, brings together these strands by examining Bob Dylan as a filmmaker.


James O’Brien is a writer and filmmaker. He holds a PhD in editorial studies and his dissertation focuses on Bob Dylan’s unpublished writings. Oxford University Press and others have issued his writings about Dylan’s work. OUP published his annotated bibliography of works about the director John Cassavetes.


Thomas Palaima is Robert M. Armstrong Professor of Classics at University of Texas, Austin and a MacArthur fellow. He has written over 500 commentaries, reviews, book chapters, features, and poems on what human beings do with their lives. These have appeared in the Times Higher Education, Michigan War Studies Review, Arion, Athenaeum Review, The Texas Observer, the Los Angeles Times, and

Scott F. Parker is author of Being on the Oregon Coast: An Essay on Nature, Solitude, the Creation of Value, and the Art of Human Flourishing and A Way Home: Oregon Essays as well as editor of Conversations with Joan Didion and Conversations with Ken Kesey, both published by University Press of Mississippi. He teaches writing at Montana State University.


Robert Reginio teaches modern literature in the Division of English at Alfred University. He currently serves as the Hagar Professor of the Humanities at the University. This spring he will be working in the Bob Dylan Archive researching the composition of the songs that would make their way onto the album John Wesley Harding.


Christopher Rollason is author of numerous articles and papers on Bob Dylan, and of the book Read Books, Repeat Quotations: the Literary Bob Dylan (2021). He has presented papers at major Dylan conferences, including Caen, France (2005) and Tulsa (2019). Recently, he was plenary speaker at a conference on Dylan and popular culture, University of Jaén, Spain.


Richard F. Thomas is George Martin Lane Professor of Classics at Harvard University, where his teaching and research interests are focused on Hellenistic Greek and Roman literature, intertextuality, and the works of Bob Dylan. Books include Virgil and the Augustan Reception (Cambridge 2001), Bob Dylan’s Performance Artistry (Oral Tradition 22.1 (2007)), and Why Bob Dylan Matters (2017).

Bob Dylan. The Philosophy of Modern Song. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2022. 352pp.

REVIEW BY Jonathan Hodgers, Trinity College, Dublin


Dylan’s long-awaited Philosophy of Modern Song defies easy categorization. It’s sixtysix mini-essays on sixty-six songs. Pictures account for much of the content. Despite the title, it is not always a straightforward work of philosophy. If anything, it’s an annotated playlist dotted with philosophical reflections. However, the term playlist doesn’t do the book justice given how elaborate (or tangential) the annotations are. It’s also unclear how essential some of the songs are to the essays. They’re apt to work as jumping-off points for exploring a given subject matter and are not there as simple recommendations.


The book’s unusual presentation finds parallels in the content. There’s no introduction or conclusion, omitting an explanation of the book’s raison d’être. In the interview conducted by Jeff Slate for the Wall Street Journal on the topic of the book, Dylan doesn’t address the book’s inspiration or how he picked the songs.[1] While the content can range widely, the essays follow a template of sorts. He will paraphrase the song’s plot and character dynamics, offer portraits of singers, describe particular performances, and reflect on musicological details or production qualities. He might also extemporize on the song’s themes. Different combinations thereof are regular. He juxtaposes the essays with images. Dylan calls them “running mates to the text.”[2] Sometimes, their connection is oblique. Other times, the images reflect the essays’ topics (the verbal/visual interplay is delightfully basic at times – actual eagles for the Eagles, for instance). The template helps keep the chapters fresh by balancing consistency within variation (not unlike aspects of the songs he praises). It’s not an especially formalist text, which may partly be the point. He heavily emphasizes music’s emotive impact. However, songwriting’s more technical aspects do occasionally come under the microscope.


The writing itself has a distinct style. The tone is erudite but not alienating. It bears comparison to the World Gone Wrong liner notes, but adapts a cleaner, more prosaic approach fit for broader public consumption. At times, it can be blustery or gushing (the Perry Como entry: “[he] could out-sing anybody. His performance is just downright incredible. There is nothing small you can say about it. The orchestration alone can knock you off your feet.”)[3] It can be prolix and prosaic, as with the “‘My Generation” entry: “They don’t like you because you pull out all the stops and go for broke. You put your heart and soul into everything and shoot the works.”[4] It’s vernacular, willfully leaning into cliché. He’s apparently having fun with the clichés too; his stitching them together has its own comedy value (“It’s just a hop skip and jump to cloud nine.”)[5] What they lack in inventiveness or precision, they make up for in tone. It’s the way one might pitch a song or singer to a friend – it’s not all terse, calculated soundbites but draws from common stock locutions that convey unpremeditated enthusiasm. Comma splices, tautologies, and repetitions add to the effect. (These techniques seem to work better when spoken aloud, as attested to by the couple of passages Dylan recorded for the audiobook.) He’ll also link clichés and round them off with a more unusual turn of phrase (“You’re tickled pink and walking on air, and there’s no end to space.”)[6]The blend of the familiar and the individual may be the point in some way. This tendency extends to the content. The combination of esoterica and unusual locutions with more conventional, encyclopaedic information gives the writing its richness (or, as he told Jeff Slate, the “pulling old elements together and making something new”).[7]


Despite the essays mostly adhering to a similar structural outline, there are qualitative and quantitative differences between them. Some songs inspire more fleshed-out ideas and insightful commentary than others. It’s curious what songs defeat him. He can’t seem to do much with the two Little Richard songs (“Tutti Frutti” and “Long Tall Sally”) but is clearly taken with “Old Violin” – or specifically, a special live performance enriched by Johnny Paycheck’s presence – which inspires some of the book’s best writing. He highlights both physical gestures and vocal touches that capture the bottled lightening of the performance, conferring upon it a fated quality. Perhaps his commentary succeeds here owing to its audio-visual reference point; his writing magnifies objective features rather than offering subjective impressions. As vivid as Dylan’s more subjective paraphrases can be, his readings sometimes seem off. “Your Cheatin’ Heart” doesn’t work well. Dylan rather perversely sidesteps the obvious romantic dynamic and substitutes it for a less convincing business arrangement. The “Come On-A My House” essay aims to give the song a sinister touch, but it’s just not there, at least not in the Rosemary Clooney rendition. Mostly though, his writing offers evocative vignettes that tease out the song’s depths and elucidate the musicians’ contributions in perceptive ways.


Dylan appears to use these songs to declare allegiances with certain genres quite separate from actually liking the representative song he’s chosen to write about. Something about these songs moved him to write about them, but that’s not to say they’re strictly commendable. Sometimes, it’s hard to believe he finds anything of genuine interest (such as with “Come On-A My House” – in keeping with the food references, he calls it a “little trifle.”)[8] However, it’s not so much his sincerity that matters (“I’m no more sincere than you” from Eat the Document springs to mind), more whether he sells these songs as having the qualities and values he ascribes to them. People’s tolerance levels will differ here. It’s unlikely anyone ever thought of Marty Robbins’ “El Paso” the way Dylan does, but he certainly presents an interesting case.


Gradations of rock ’n’ roll, blues, country, and Tin Pan Alley material spur most of the essays. Dylan omits much of the traditional material he made his name covering and adapting in the 1960s (“Jesse James” is the only representative). Perhaps unsurprisingly, he doesn’t care for pop (loosely defined). In reference to Johnnie Ray, Dylan says “his feelings were too direct-hotwired from his brain for a mere pop record.”[9] The term “mere” also appears in the “My Prayer” essay [10] He never makes clear what pop is (certainly, some of the songs he includes were emphatically popular and chart-friendly), yet he’s far from alone in using it as a catch-all term for songs considered inferior. Simon Frith identifies pop as a “residual” category, or “what’s left when all the other forms of popular music are stripped away.” Among other things, “It’s music produced commercially, for profit, as a matter of enterprise not art.”[11] Dylan’s idea of it seems similar.


The way Dylan uses pop exemplifies how he uses contrasts in general to illustrate good-versus-bad performance practices and attitudes. Part of Dylan’s modus operandi is to make antagonists of certain musicians and styles against which good songs and musicians must win out. In the “Your Cheatin’ Heart” essay, Joe Satriani (representing instrumental rock) stands in for guitar pyrotechnics without substance or respect for the song. Satriani is a virtuoso player but can of course play tastefully and judiciously. Satriani defended himself (“I think the great Hank Williams and I could have sorted things out and made some great music together”),[12] but these references have less to do with personal slights than venerating and denigrating types of songs and styles through loose metonymy. Satriani’s not alone either; Dylan does the same with Springsteen and the Beatles. Springsteen’s characteristic sound clouds Costello’s “Pump it Up,” for instance, while the Beatles’ faux-naivete and adolescent appeal contrast poorly with “London Calling.” The entire Chess stable (among them, Muddy Waters, Chuck Berry, and Howlin’ Wolf) takes a hit next to Little Walter, who “might have been the only one with real substance.”[13] These performers and styles play oppositional parts, indicating predilections that Dylan portrays as lesser next to the songs, styles, and musicians he promotes. Such artists are collateral damage in Dylan’s dispensing praise.


This praise is where we often find the most philosophical material. While they don’t occupy the bulk of the book, there are philosophical precepts insofar as Dylan draws general principles from specific songs. Many qualities that he esteems are aesthetic evergreens. Lewis Rowell provides a summary in the context of Ancient Greek music philosophy: “simple is better than complex, natural is better than artificial, [and] moderation in all things.”[14] The “Without a Song” essay touches on these facets in reference to Perry Como: “He was a Cadillac before the tail fins; a Colt .45, not a Glock; steak and potatoes, not California cuisine … No artifice, no forcing one syllable to spread itself thin across many notes.” Regarding “Take Me from This Garden of Evil,” Dylan says: “Nothing artificial about this song, nothing manufactured or contrived about it. Nothing cosmetic or plastic here.” He also writes that “Key to the Highway” is “Unadorned, with no histrionics – controlled, nuanced and true.”[15] Given his apparent interest in Greek myth and literature, it’s perhaps telling that Dylan’s criteria have an overall classical inclination. In the “Doesn’t Hurt Anymore” essay, he offers a tell-tale sign: “He’s no rapper. More like an ancient Greek poet; you know exactly what he’s saying and who he’s saying it to.”[16]


Other entries praise judiciousness, balance, and brevity. In the “Your Cheatin’ Heart” essay, he tells us that “The fiddle and steel guitar phrases are a great part of the melody. Each phrase goes hand in hand with the voice. This … takes simpatico players and is done with very simple notes of a chord, played with the exact correct intensity… Phrases like this are worth more than all the technical licks in the world.”[17] Alongside this dig at perceived immoderation and showiness, one can detect a distrust of the glossy professional and respect for the street-schooled amateur. Aristotle would recognize Dylan’s attitude. In referring to music’s role in education, he avers that “pupils … not [be] made to attempt the extraordinary and extravagant feats of execution which have recently been introduced into competitions … Performances should be carried only to the point at which students begin to be able to appreciate good melodies and rhythms.”[18]


À la Plato, Aristotle’s teacher, Dylan also praises the permanent and lasting. What counts is what’s durable. For “Ball of Confusion,” he writes: “The reality of this song is that it’s just as true now as the day it was recorded.”[19] It also crops up in the “Black Magic Woman” chapter; those too in thrall to musical and literary rules “run the danger of never transcending craft to create anything truly lasting.”[20] He’s more explicit in the Wall Street Journal interview: “A great song [is] timeless and ageless.”21 This mindset even extends to his pastimes. He tells Jeff Slate that boxing is “functional and detached from trends.”[22]


As familiar as some of his judgments are from historical literature on music, he brings a host of newer parameters into his critique. Some are recognizable from popular music aesthetics in the rock era and in part stem from standards he himself helped to set. Broadly, we can see Dylan align with what Keir Keightley would see as Romantic authenticity, gravitating towards: “tradition and continuity with the past; roots; sense of community; populism; belief in a core or essential rock sound; folk, blues, country, rock’n’roll styles; gradual stylistic change; sincerity, directness; ‘liveness’; ‘natural’ sounds; [and] hiding musical technology.”[23] Dylan touches on these qualities in his interview with Jeff Slate: “[The songs] were straightforward, and my relationship to them at first was external, then became personal and intense. The songs were simple, easy to understand, and they’d come to you in a direct way.”[24] While his allegiances roughly lie with these Romantic precepts, Dylan does not always fit into them neatly. Individual songs capture his attention based on different criteria (what Keightley would see as modernist authenticity, indicated by a fondness for experimentation and progress). Novelty for its own sake doesn’t impress Dylan, but innovative, trailblazing songs like “Tutti Frutti” and “My Generation” are not overlooked.


Relatedly, mavericks operating within, outside, or against the mainstream garner his sympathy. The criteria are expressed neatly in the “Poison Love” entry when Dylan refers to Johnnie & Jack: “They deserve to be in all the halls of fame, because they are innovators – innovators on the highest level – and don’t jump through hoops for anybody.”[25] In this context, unpretentious journeymen also fare well; as already noted, Dylan writes admiringly of Perry Como, but Bobby Darin too earns his praise. Believability counts for a great deal. We’re told that “When [Como] stood and sang, he owned the song and he shared it and we believed every single word. What more could you want from an artist?”[26] Indeed, believing the singer (over and above adherence to technical norms or conventionally pretty vocals) is part of Dylan’s influence – practically a testament to his own achievements. This leads us to a peculiar quality of the text: its autobiographical quality.


At times, his takes on songs and performers resonate with Dylan’s history. One can see parallels between the people he writes about and Dylan’s own life, as if he were explaining himself through analogous individuals. A reflection on Nuta Kotlyarenko in the “There Stands the Glass” essay offers tantalizing parallels with Dylan. Dylan’s version of Kotlyarenko’s biography practically remixes details from his own: Ukrainian Jewish ancestry; “trying his hand at boxing and acting”; moving from Minnesota to New York; and reinventing oneself.[27] Dylan essentially talks about himself at times; musing on Bobby Darin’s “Beyond the Sea,” he tells us that “Some people create new lives to hide their past. Bobby knew that sometimes the past was nothing more than an illusion and you might just as well keep making stuff up.”[28] Even the name doesn’t need to be changed. He also writes about Johnny Paycheck’s name change in ways that clearly resonate with his own re-branding from Zimmerman to Dylan. In telling us about laudable songwriting, he additionally highlights other writers’ approaches that contextualise his own. In the “Ruby, Are You Mad?” essay, he tells us how “the song morphed and grew … It was still the same song but the tiny grace notes and elasticity kept it alive, shook the dust from its boots. Of course, some people cried foul and those people should’ve stayed home.” Also, in reference to Dion, he says that “Most recently, he has realized one of his early dreams and become some kind of elder legend, a bluesman from another Delta.”[29] One can read a multitude of Dylan’s own experiences into these comments.


While Dylan broadly cleaves to Romantic authenticity as his yardstick, he is still apt to admire songs for contrasting reasons. He regularly praises the flexible and mutable. He appears to favour what Stephen Davies terms ontologically “thin” pieces. Thinner works facilitate more interpretation. Greater latitude is granted to the performer (within certain stylistic constraints).[30] “Thicker” works (for example, a significant amount of classical music) require greater fidelity to specifics, where new interpretations have much in common with earlier iterations. He appears to gravitate to both songs’ and artists’ adaptability: “Bobby Darin could sound like anybody and sing any style”; “[Little Walter] is an amazingly flexible singer”; and “The malleability of [‘Blue Moon’] frees it from being too associated with any single version and allows it to belong to everyone.”[31] He also touches on this in the Wall Street Journal interview: ‘A great song … can be played with a full orchestra score or by a strolling minstrel… A great song mutates, makes quantum leaps … It crosses genres … and can be played in …multiple styles.”[32]


He appears to trust less those “thick” songs too in thrall to arrangements. In the “Blue Moon” essay, he avers that “Some songs, like … ‘When I’m Sixty-Four’ … are as dependent on their arrangement as the music or lyrics for their identity. Not so ‘Blue Moon.’ ‘Blue Moon’ is a universal song that can appeal to anybody at any time.”[33] While I’m not sure this is meant pejoratively, one still senses a hint of distaste in context.[34] That being said, Dylan will promote the arrangement as the magic ingredient in a song. He tells us that for “It’s All in The Game,” “the arrangement is key.”[35] This is to say he’s not especially prescriptive. Qualities that get in the way in one song are precisely what another song thrives on.


Dylan also occasionally highlights songwriting techniques; for instance, he appreciates paradox. He unearths unspoken undertows that deepen the song’s meaning. As Cleanth Brooks illuminated in The Well-Wrought Urn (1947), the guise of simplicity or the direct attack (Brooks uses Wordsworth as an example) belies paradoxical situations that give ostensibly straightforward material extra resonance. Dylan astutely draws from The Who’s “My Generation” an anxiety on Townsend’s part that he will soon be the one the younger generation wishes would fade away. That awareness cannot be traced to any specific point in the song or line of the lyrics. Yet, the implicit fear can be intuited through a latent defensiveness. Dylan finds an analogous undertow to “Detroit City.”


Dylan wishes to preserve the capacity for people’s imagination to complete the song rather than have external imagery unduly influence their experience. He considers the background to “I’m A Fool to Want You” to be unhelpful trivia when “It’s what a song makes you feel about your own life that’s important.”[36] In the “Ball of Confusion” essay, he tells us “The song is like an old radio show, where you could just imagine what you’re listening to. And it made for a stronger experience.”[37] In the “Old Violin” essay, he references how the story behind “Save the Last Dance for Me” provides too many specifics that interfere with how the song resonates with an individual. He criticizes music videos for the same reason (“we are locked into someone else’s messaging of the lyrics.”)[38] He prizes imagination when it comes to songwriting too; in the Wall Street Journal piece, he attests that “Creative ability is about pulling old elements together and making something new, and I don’t believe silicon chips and passwords know anything about those elements, or where they are. You have to have a vivid imagination.”[39] Relatedly, one can detect hostility to anything too systematized or scientific. In the “Black Magic Woman” essay, he mentions that “What happens with words and music is more akin to alchemy … People can keep trying to turn music into a science, but in science one and one will always be two. Music … tells us time and again that one plus one, in the best circumstances, equals three.”[40] At times, he sounds like another philosopher with a distaste for a scientific approach to music: Jean Jacques Rousseau (from Rousseau’s “On the Principle of Melody”: “Let us … not think that the empire Music has over our passions is ever explained by proportions and numbers”).[41]


Dylan also has techniques for how he approaches his essays. The more informative sections can give way to speculations on alternative histories. He finds musing on these what-ifs edifying; it’s not at all incongruous with No Direction Home’s “I want a dog that’s going to collect and clean my bath!” (2005) or, more recently, his concoctions in “My Own Version of You” from Rough and Rowdy Ways (2020). In writing about pop music history, Gilbert Rodman points out that “one of the most difficult tricks in doing historical work is recapturing the sense of uncertainty that existed at some prior moment about what would happen next.”[42] Inevitability applied ex post facto has a way of drying up and ossifying the telling of history; instead, the trick is to imbue old facts with a sense of surprise and discovery by taking away that retrospective inevitability and restoring a feeling of uncertainty as to how history might unfold. In this manner, Dylan likes to upend inevitabilities by highlighting alternatives: “You have to wonder, what if Sam had sent Elvis over to Luther’s house instead of to Scotty Moore’s? Scotty and Bill would then have been backing up Johnny Cash, and Luther and Marshall Grant would have been playing with Elvis.”[43] More what-ifs include his speculations on Ricky Nelson’s lost acting opportunities in the “Poor Little Fool” essay. He also mentions alternative stories within the songs themselves, as with “Pancho and Lefty” (“In another life Pancho would’ve been in the bullring and Lefty on the Ryman country music stage.”)[44]


To close: there’s no shortage of work to be done linking The Philosophy of Modern Song up with Dylan’s previous pronouncements on musical aesthetics, but also the wider firmament of musical philosophy in general (at times, it seems as if Dylan has set up his essays to be purposely anti-Adorno – in praising “Keep My Skillet Good and Greasy,” he attests that “it follows no line, and one part can easily be replaced by another part.”)[45] And Dylan is engaged in philosophy here, insofar as he’s doing what Sharpe views as part of analytical philosophy: “making us reflect upon unconsidered presuppositions; [which] may lead us to reflect on our lives and our values and cause us either to value things differently or perhaps more directly to alter our conduct.”[46] Dylan throwing his weight behind these criteria counts, in other words, if, by doing so, he steers songwriters and critics towards them and away from others. From his observations, Dylan infers broader principles, suggests evaluative standards, and posits aesthetic verities. Quite apart from promoting any individual work, the book also venerates the medium of song and its ability to enrich our emotional lives through the deep, personal connections we form with their worldviews and sensibilities.


[1] Jeff Slate, ‘Bob Dylan Q&A about “The Philosophy of Modern Song”’, The Official Bob Dylan Site, 20 December 2022,

[2] Slate.

[3] Bob Dylan, The Philosophy of Modern Song (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2022), 11.

[4] Dylan, 41.

[5] Dylan, 154.

[6] Dylan, 153.

[7] Slate, ‘Bob Dylan Q&A’.

[8] Dylan, The Philosophy of Modern Song, 283.

[9] Dylan, 101.

[10] Dylan, 184.

[11] Simon Frith, ‘Pop Music’, in The Cambridge Companion to Pop and Rock, ed. Simon Frith, Will Straw, and John Street, Cambridge Companions to Music (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2001), 94–95.

[12] David Browne, ‘“Jesus, Bob”: How Some Musicians Feel About Being Dissed by Dylan in “Philosophy of Modern Song”’, Rolling Stone, 16 November 2022,

[13] Dylan, The Philosophy of Modern Song, 7–10, 159–61, 203.

[14] Lewis Eugene Rowell, Thinking about Music: An Introduction to the Philosophy of Music (Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 1984), 39.

[15] Dylan, The Philosophy of Modern Song, 11, 17, 202.

[16] Dylan, 198.

[17] Dylan, 165.

[18] Aristotle, Politics, trans. Ernest Barker, Oxford World’s Classics (Oxford; New York: Oxford University Press, 1998), 312.

[19] Dylan, The Philosophy of Modern Song, 79.

[20] Dylan, 275.

[21] Slate, ‘Bob Dylan Q&A’.

[22] Slate.

[23] Keir Keightley, ‘Reconsidering Rock’, in The Cambridge Companion to Pop and Rock, ed. Simon Frith, Will Straw, and John Street, Cambridge Companions to Music (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2001), 137.

[24] Slate, ‘Bob Dylan Q&A’.

[25] Dylan, The Philosophy of Modern Song, 82.

[26] Dylan, 13.

[27] Dylan, 23.

[28] Dylan, 87.

[29] Dylan, 144, 334.

[30] Stephen Davies, ‘Rock versus Classical Music’, The Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism vol. 57, no. 2 (1999): 199,

[31] Dylan, The Philosophy of Modern Song, 87, 201, 229.

[32] Slate, ‘Bob Dylan Q&A’.

[33] Dylan, The Philosophy of Modern Song, 229.

[34] The distaste is more apparent when one looks at Dylan’s other references to the Beatles of late, where he has been apt to view them in a jaundiced light. While I’m sure interpretations differ, I can’t help but hear the “I Want to Hold Your Hand” reference in “Murder Most Foul” as Dylan looking askance at the vaguely disingenuous, infantilising title (“Hush lil children, you’ll soon understand / The Beatles are coming they’re gonna hold your hand”). In the “London Calling” essay, he namechecks the song again, portraying the Beatles and their world as quaint and twee next to the real London as captured by the Clash. Once again, what’s faddish is superseded by the real and true.

[35] Dylan, The Philosophy of Modern Song, 245.

[36] Dylan, 9.

[37] Dylan, 79.

[38] Dylan, 151.

[39] Slate, ‘Bob Dylan Q&A’.

[40] Dylan, The Philosophy of Modern Song, 275.

[41] Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Essay on the Origin of Languages and Writings Related to Music, ed. and trans. John T. Scott, The Collected Writings of Rousseau, vol. 7 (Hanover, NH: University Press of New England, 1998), 269–70.

[42] Gilbert B. Rodman, ‘Histories’, in Key Terms in Popular Music and Culture, ed. Bruce Horner and Thomas Swiss (Malden, MA: Blackwell, 1999), 44.

[43] Dylan, The Philosophy of Modern Song, 17.

[44] Dylan, 59.

[45] Adorno, conversely, criticised this characteristic of popular music, where musical elements could be shifted around without affecting the whole (“Every detail is substitutable; it serves its function only as a cog in a machine”). See Theodor W. Adorno, Essays on Music, ed. Richard D. Leppert, trans. Susan H. Gillespie (Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 2002), 440.

[46] R. A. Sharpe, Philosophy of Music: An Introduction (Chesham: Acumen, 2004), 9.

Works cited

Adorno, Theodor W. Essays on Music. Edited by Richard D. Leppert,

translated by Susan H. Gillespie, Berkeley, CA: University of

California Press, 2002.

Aristotle. Politics. Translated by Ernest Barker. Oxford World’s

Classics, Oxford; New York: Oxford University Press, 1998.

Browne, David. ‘“Jesus, Bob”: How Some Musicians Feel About Being Dissed

by Dylan in “Philosophy of Modern Song”’. Rolling Stone, 16

November 2022,


Davies, Stephen. “Rock versus Classical Music.” The Journal of Aesthetics and Art

Criticism vol. 57, no. 2, 1999, pp. 193–204.

Dylan, Bob, dir. Eat the Document. 1972.

———. The Philosophy of Modern Song, New York: Simon & Schuster, 2022.

———. Rough And Rowdy Ways, Columbia – 19439780982, 2020, compact disc.

———. World Gone Wrong, Columbia – COL 474857 2, 1993, compact disc.

Frith, Simon. “Pop Music.” The Cambridge Companion to Pop and Rock, edited 

by Simon Frith, Will Straw, and John Street, Cambridge Companions to

Music, Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2001. 93–108

Keightley, Keir. “Reconsidering Rock.” The Cambridge Companion to Pop and

Rock, eds. Frith, Straw, and Street. 109–42.

Rodman, Gilbert B. “Histories.” Key Terms in Popular Music and Culture, edited

by Bruce Horner and Thomas Swiss, Malden, MA: Blackwell, 1999. 35–45.

Rousseau, Jean-Jacques. Essay on the Origin of Languages and Writings Related to

Music. Edited and translated by John T. Scott, The Collected Writings of

Rousseau, vol. 7, Hanover, NH: University Press of New England, 1998.

Rowell, Lewis Eugene. Thinking about Music: An Introduction to the Philosophy of

Music, Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 1984.

Scorsese, Martin, dir. No Direction Home: Bob Dylan, 2 discs, Hollywood:

Paramount, 2005. DVD.

Sharpe, R. A. Philosophy of Music: An Introduction, Chesham: Acumen, 2004.

Slate, Jeff. “Bob Dylan Q&A about ‘The Philosophy of Modern Song,’” The

Official Bob Dylan Site, 20 December 2022, interviewed-by-wall-street-journals-jeff-slate/.

Kenneth Daley is Associate Professor of English at Columbia College Chicago. He is the author of The Rescue of Romanticism: Walter Pater and John Ruskin (Ohio UP, 2001) and other essays and book chapters. Currently, he is editing Volume 6, Appreciations, and Studies and Reviews, 1890-1895, for The Collected Works of Walter Pater to be published by Oxford University Press.

Jonathan Hodgers received his PhD in music from Trinity College Dublin, where he currently lectures in popular music. His core areas of interest are song lyrics, the music of the 50s and 60s, audiovisual aesthetics, and music in movies. Dylan and Cinema, his forthcoming monograph for Routledge, brings together these strands by taking a close look at Bob Dylan as a filmmaker.

Nick Smart is Professor of English at The College of New Rochelle and lives in New York City. He has written about Bob in Dylan in Tearing the World Apart: Bob Dylan and the Twentieth Century (2017) and in The Journal of Popular Music and Society (2009). He is co-editor of Dylan at Play (2009).

Richard F. Thomas is George Martin Lane Professor of Classics at Harvard University, where his teaching and research interests are focused on Hellenistic Greek and Roman poetry, intertextuality, translation and translation theory, the reception of classical literature in all periods, and the works of Bob Dylan. He has authored or edited a dozen volumes and over 100 articles and reviews. Publications on Dylan include Why Bob Dylan Matters (Dey Street Books, 2017), Bob Dylan’s Performance Artistry (Oral Tradition 22.1 2007), co-edited with Catharine Mason, and the articles “The Streets of Rome: The Classical Dylan.” Oral Traditions 22.1 (2007), “Shadows are Falling: Virgil, Radnóti, and Dylan, and the Aesthetics of Pastoral Melancholy.” Rethymnon Classical Studies 3 (2007).

The Dylan Review would like to thank Nicole Font, Marina Pieretti, Clay Vogel, and Chris Walker for their contributions to this issue.

The Bootleg Series Vol. 14: More Blood, More Tracks [Deluxe]
 REVIEW BY Jonathan Hodgers, Trinity College Dublin

More Blood, More Tracks (2019) fulfills many fans’ wishes for broad access to the recording of one of Dylan’s most revered albums. The set’s pleasures are many, not least the complete New York sessions recorded in September 1974 (even those takes Dylan wanted to erase), but also remixes of the versions familiar to us from Blood on the Tracks (1975). The five tracks recut by Dylan in Minnesota that December are also present, but outtakes and demos from these sessions are lost. Nonetheless, More Blood, More Tracks is a cornucopia from the more fabled September stint that was represented by five songs on Blood on the Tracks. The New York recordings approximate chronological order on discs 1–6, with the Minnesota remakes closing the set on disc 6.

More Blood, More Tracks affords us an ideal forum to pore over Dylan’s choices. Looking at the New York takes, it is perhaps surprising that changes to most of the songs were relatively subtle between 16–19 September. The approach to “Buckets of Rain”, although revisited quite often, remains consistent. Others, such as “Lily, Rosemary and The Jack of Hearts” and “Shelter from the Storm” are achieved in remarkably few takes. Dylan revisits the songs to find the right performance, rather than explore their harmonic or melodic possibilities.

The set makes clear that Dylan had the songs’ musical scaffolding more or less set down in New York and carried it with him to Minnesota. Even the songs more radically altered in Minnesota retain their harmonic blueprints. Kevin Odegard has attested to this, barring Chris Weber’s input on the Minnesota “Idiot Wind” and the key change for “Tangled Up in Blue.”[1] That said, Dylan does take the opportunity in December to tweak some of the chord progressions, and in turn, alter the songs’ overall effect. Part of the pleasure of More Blood, More Tracks is the chance to compare all of Dylan’s options.

The set traces Dylan’s development of the songs from solo acoustic numbers to full band renditions, before his settling on a more spartan accompaniment featuring Tony Brown on bass, Paul Griffin on keys, and Buddy Cage on steel guitar. The sojourn on the 16th into full band renditions is noteworthy. This material on the second disc brings into focus how Blood on the Tracks evolved from contemporaneous Dylan albums. Although the links have always been there, it’s obvious from disc 2 that Blood on the Tracks initially had qualities in common with Planet Waves (1974), and even Nashville Skyline (1969). The guitar on early takes of “Simple Twist of Fate” recalls Robbie Robertson’s contributions to Planet Waves. In the second disc’s outtakes of “You’re Gonna Make Me Lonesome When You Go”, Dylan allowed country to color the arrangements. Country reappears in the final Blood on the Tracks, particularly on the Minneapolis “Lily.” But from the sessions, we can hear how the musical language of country had always been present.

More Blood, More Tracks makes it clear that the album’s initial musical palette moved from a Greenwich Village template into a country rock style not dissimilar to its immediate studio predecessor. Dylan fast abandoned this style on the second day of recording, but clearly was game to give it another go after some months had passed. The decision to re-record certain tracks in Minnesota resulted in five new takes to replace their New York equivalents originally chosen for the album’s running order. The most significant changes then occur between New York (NY) and Minnesota (MN), and a great deal of the set’s interest lies in the contrasts (and similarities) between them. Lyrical adjustments notwithstanding, Dylan made some structural changes to the songs in MN that bear comparison with their NY predecessors. What follows is a consideration of this musical evolution, followed by a brief reflection on the More Blood remixes and The Bootleg Series more generally. For convenience, the NY versions refer to
the “test pressing” takes[2] originally earmarked for the album but shelved in favor of their MN namesakes.

Harmonically, “Tangled Up in Blue” is a touch more nuanced in NY, with more changes occurring in the fourth, eighth, tenth, and twelfth lines (“If her hair…”; “Papa’s bank book…”; “Rain fallin’…” and “Lord knows…” respectively). Dylan streamlined these in MN, dropping either one or two chords. Yet, the harmonic conceit of the song remains consistent, with six of the first nine lines see-sawing between the tonic and an anomalous chord (D in NY, G in MN). In initially avoiding chords with any conventional harmonic relationship, Dylan affords us conditions which contrast with one another, yet that establish a connection within a field of tension. It’s easy to see this dichotomy as representative of the fated romance found in the lyrics. As each line expands on the couple’s deepening connection, the mysterious chord eventually vanishes in NY, replaced with chords endemic to the song’s key. The process repeats for each verse.

The NY and MN versions diverge subtly in this regard, however. In NY, Dylan doesn’t revisit the mystery chord when the verse comes to an end. The words “Tangled up in blue” are accented with an Emaj7 (an embellishment of the E major chord), the dominant (a B11 here, technically conflating the dominant and the subdominant) and finally the basic root chord on “Tangled.” In an interesting quirk, Dylan makes one final revisit to the mystery chord in MN, on the ideal word: “tangled.” There’s nothing especially noteworthy in Dylan’s (straightforward) use of an A and G together in MN; it’s interesting, however, that Dylan retained the same tonal distance found in the NY take where he moves from E to D. Dylan clearly intends this chordal relationship.

Curiously, Dylan may have intended an even more streamlined version of the song in MN. In his chord chart,[3] the last line reverses the dichotomous pattern found at the start of the verse (with the song originally in G, the last line initially progressed from F to G). Keyboard player Gregg Inhofer transposed these to the key of A for the band’s benefit. Dylan initially used an Em that Inhofer transposed to Fm; in the take that made the album, the band play F#m to conform to the vi of the A scale. Inhofer also deviates from Dylan’s template in the last two lines. It’s here we see written the familiar progression for the verse’s final line. In the key of A, the line moves from the anomalous G to the subdominant D, and finally the tonic A. It’s possible Dylan initially considered a starker transition for the line “tangled up in blue.” In the key of G, the move from F to G would have afforded an interesting counterbalance to how the verse opens (G to F). Conceptually, it mirrors the chords’ earlier relationship, feeding into the album’s Escher-like quality. This is something of an intellectual conceit, however, and it’s difficult to argue with the musical appeal of the finished product, whose chord changes complement the trochaic thrust of the line (“Tangled up in blue”). This preserves the approach found in the last line of the NY version, and also offers a more pleasing, poppier progression than Dylan’s mooted F to G ending.

Other features add interest once Dylan relocated to MN. In NY, bassist Tony Brown cleaves to the roots of Dylan’s chords, resulting in a folkier sound altogether in keeping with the neo-coffee house approach taken throughout the initial sessions. In contrast, Billy Peterson in MN plays against Dylan’s chords. He often plays an A bass note against a G chord. This was a purposeful decision made by Peterson,[4] and it meshes well with the tension established by Dylan’s alternating between A and G. Enhancing this is Dylan’s use of suspended chords in MN. After opening with an A major, he alternates it with an Asus4, indicative of travel and instability. He repeats this at the end of the verses, enlivening the lyrics’ frequent evocations of restlessness and movement.

The key change similarly has an impact. All of the NY sessions found Dylan using open E tuning. In MN, Dylan had originally wanted the song in G, before being persuaded by guitarist Kevin Odegard to try it instead in A. This energised the song’s performance; in Odegard’s words, “we went from Appalachia to Mississippi in changing that key from G to A”,[5] capturing the transition from folk to folk blues between NY and MN.

This adjustment to the album’s musical language indicates a broader shift in the Blood on the Tracks sessions from a Freewheelin’ (1963) bent to a more multi-colored sound suggestive of a number of Dylan eras. Odegard viewed the MN “Idiot Wind” as Dylan reconnecting with his “Like a Rolling Stone” or “Positively 4th Street” persona.[6] Once again, the broader sound palette of the MN sessions suggests a range of pasts co-mingling and overlapping, furthering the lyrics’ themes at an album-wide level.

The NY “You’re a Big Girl Now” switches initially back and forth between the I and V, until the third and fourth line, where Dylan introduces the IV. He uses an Emaj7 on the first two lines and transitions to a straight E major for lines 3 and 4. In MN, the first two lines alternate between the ii and iii, before transitioning to the I and IV in lines 3 and 4. This is an instance of Dylan making a sizeable change to the harmonic logic from the NY to the MN version. In NY, there’s something propulsive between the opening Emaj7 and the B11. With its blend of dominant and subdominant notes, the B11 asks for resolution more urgently and compels the returning tonic more emphatically. In MN, Dylan eases this by opening with two minor chords (Bm and Am), creating an unsettled quality, but without the same drive. As with “Tangled Up in Blue”, Dylan also sands away a few chord changes, streamlining the progressions.

In both NY and MN, Dylan lands on the tonic on the word “back” (for the phrase “back in the rain”), creating a pleasing synergy between the narrator’s return to the rain-drenched outside that somehow constitutes for him a home. He repeats the trick in the next line, returning to the tonic on “land.” It’s a neat gesture, demonstrating musically that the natural states for these two people are very different.

“Idiot Wind” is the most harmonically restless of the songs, befitting its mood. The song follows a sequence of two musically identical verses, followed by the chorus. Dylan herds the minor chords into the verses, mostly saving the majors for the chorus. The irony is palpable, with the confident movement between the I, IV and V in the latter sounding resolutely triumphant and assertive next to the minor chord shifts in the preceding verse. The directness of the lyrics in the chorus befits the approach, while circling around the ii, iii and vi in the verses encapsulates the lyrics’ confusion and indignation.

While Dylan ameliorates the chorus with IVs, each verse in both NY and MN opens with a sour minor chord and an unstable V before finding the tonic—capturing something of the song’s overall drive towards self-realization that characterizes the song’s progression as a whole. The NY features an additional gesture in this direction by including a suspended chord before the V. The song thereafter sticks mostly to the template laid down in NY, save for substituting a iii–IV progression for a iii–ii progression in the third and fourth lines, mirroring the MN opening of “You’re a Big Girl Now.”

In an amusing decision, More Blood, More Tracks does not exactly provide us with the test pressing’s “Idiot Wind.” The same take is included, but with a different organ overdub than the one originally mooted for the album. One hopes someone at the Dylan office was purposely trolling us trainspotters (“It’s still not complete!”)

In MN, “Lily, Rosemary and the Jack of Hearts” is in D, but in NY, the song is in open E like the others. Harmonically, the song remains almost identical, with a mostly similar progression around I, IV and V. The big changes are in tempo and instrumentation. Most seem to approve of the MN version, adding as it does some dynamism and momentum. More Blood, More Tracks also affords us with the excised NY verse long teased in lyric collections.

“If You See Her, Say Hello” from NY keeps to traditional E major chords. Dylan reshuffles a few of them and embellishes them in MN. With the song now in D major, Dylan includes a striking C for the long “hear” that ends the second line. C, not featured in the key of D, is conspicuous. It shares two notes with both the ii and vii° of the scale, giving it an unsettled quality. It works effectively to convey the sudden disquiet in Dylan’s voice. After a quick reorientation towards the V, he shifts to the vi chord (Bm). This chord opens the two subsequent lines (the pained “Say for me that I’m…” and “She might think I’ve forgotten…”). In tandem with Dylan’s vocals arching upwards, this vi chord lends much poignancy to the lyrics’ understatement.

In NY, Dylan uses the B11 for the “hear” pivot. Functioning as part dominant, part subdominant, it’s a notable voicing, found frequently in the NY versions. Dylan clips the “hear” in NY, however, whereas in MN, the word and its sequels (“chill”, “free”, “town” and “fast” in verses 2, 3, 4 and 5 respectively) are purposely elongated. The slightly ambiguous C in MN offers more of a twist on these words, before the shift back to A.

Unavoidably, the release is an occasion to further consider the relative merits of the two sets of sessions. Far from attenuating NY’s innovation, it’s apparent that the trip to MN found Dylan still alert to the possibilities of the songs. He continues to develop ways of exploring the songs’ central conceits and finds new ways to enrich the lyrics.

The Bootleg Series has increasingly become a space to experiment with Dylan’s mixes, and in a manner of speaking to de-historicize them and present the music in something approaching a natural state. Producer Phil Ramone’s reverb has been stripped from the songs, and the multitracks (where available) mixed into a new master. More Blood, More Tracks co-producers Steve Berkowitz and Jeff Rosen deliberated over this and ultimately decided on presenting the music sans various production decisions made at the time, including speeding up the songs by approximately 2– 3%.[7] Previous Bootleg Series releases have taken a similar approach (including 2008’s Tell Tale Signs and 2015’s The Cutting Edge), attenuating the producer’s original stamp and aiming at a new presentation of the music. As with much of the series, an ideology of purity, “access”, closeness and naturalness coalesces around the material.

The Bootleg 14 takes then sound unlike any of their previous releases. The remix, for all the debate it inspires, is more than welcome. In hindsight, the sporadic releases of the NY takes on various collections have been of less-than-ideal quality; the Jerry Maguire “Shelter From the Storm” (1996) now sounds a generation or two away from what More Blood, More Tracks gives us. On this set, Dylan’s vocals are startlingly present from the very first track. The music overall perhaps has greater warmth and intimacy than the original Blood on the Tracks. Ramone’s reverb has a spacious, nocturnal ambience of its own, and has been an integral part of Blood on the Tracks since its release. It’s a delight nonetheless to hear how bright some of the songs sound in their new iteration. The MN “Tangled Up in Blue”, long since internalized by Dylan fans, has taken on a sweeter quality, with the guitars now mixed higher and clearer.

Making no claims on being definitive, these remixes that conclude the set are yet another series of possibilities—further pieces of a shifting puzzle. Part of the set’s coherence stems from the relevance of alternatives to Blood on the Tracks, and how much their presence feeds into the album’s world. Much as the album seems to be both flashforward and flashback all at once, More Blood’s alternatives and remixes offer flashsideways—parallel, simultaneous permutations—wholly fitting for an album concerned with time, cycles, eternal return and predeterminism, but also whose release history has always elicited doubleness and alterity.

Given the expectations around the set, it’s edifying that More Blood, More Tracks has a narrative that satisfies in its own ways apart from simply being a compendium of ingredients for the eventual Blood on the Tracks. This is down to both Dylan’s working process and the compilers’ faith in its appeal; the latter’s decision to show the sessions’ linear progression happily offers a pleasing sense of journey and a satisfying dénouement in the MN remakes. Yet, the material’s release in this form was not inevitable, and the set’s “completist” mentality is itself worth pausing over in closing.

One gets the impression that the Dylan office is moving towards more comprehensive overviews of entire sessions that led to epochal albums. With something of a trilogy in place (2014’s The Basement Tapes CompleteThe Cutting Edge, and now More Blood, More Tracks), and more if one counts the 50th Anniversary collections (2012–14), Dylan’s studio chronicles are being made to parallel and offer alternative experiences to the albums that finally emerged from them. In tandem with the insight to be garnered from Tulsa’s Dylan Archive, process is taking a place alongside the finished product. Having proved itself both commercially and artistically viable, it is sure to be given further exposure.

With greater access also comes greater volition on the part of the listener. However cogent the process documented on More Blood, More Tracks is, one is not constrained by the tracklisting, and re-assemblage and playlists are inevitable with this set. For music taken to have such personal resonance with the artist, the set facilitates the listener’s capacity to personalize it, and in effect compile their own version of the album. Once up to me, Blood on the Tracks looks increasingly up to us.



The author would like to express his gratitude to Mark A. Davidson and Gavin Wynne for their many helpful comments during the drafting of this work. Special thanks go to Kevin Odegard for sharing his experience of the Blood on the Tracks sessions and for his invaluable contributions to “Tangled Up in Blue.”



Dylan, Bob. The 50th Anniversary Collection: The Copyright Extension Collection, Volume 1. Sony Music – no catalogue number, 2012, CD-R.

Dylan, Bob. The 50th Anniversary Collection 1963. Columbia – 88883799701, 2013, vinyl.

Dylan, Bob. 50th Anniversary Collection 1964. Columbia – 88875040861, 2014, vinyl.

Dylan, Bob. Blood on the Tracks. Columbia – 512350 2, 2003, compact disc. Originally released in 1975.

Dylan, Bob. The Bootleg Series Vol. 8: Tell Tale Signs: Rare and Unreleased 1989–2006. Deluxe Edition. Columbia – 88697 35797 2, 2008, compact disc.

Dylan, Bob. The Bootleg Series Vol. 12: The Cutting Edge 1965–1966. Deluxe Edition. Columbia – 88875124412, 2015, compact disc.

Dylan, Bob. The Bootleg Series Vol. 14: More Blood, More Tracks. Deluxe Edition. Columbia – 19075858962, 2018, compact disc.

Dylan, Bob. The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan. Columbia – 512348 2, 2003, compact disc. Originally released in 1963.

Dylan, Bob. Nashville Skyline. Columbia – 512346 2, 2003, compact disc. Originally released in 1969.

Dylan, Bob. Planet Waves. Columbia – 512356 2, 2003, compact disc. Originally released in 1974.

​Dylan, Bob, and The Band. The Bootleg Series Vol. 11: The Basement Tapes Complete. Columbia – 88875016122, 2014, compact disc.

​Fremer, Michael. “Bob Dylan’s ‘More Blood, More Tracks The Bootleg Series Vol. 14’ Review + Exclusive Interview With Co-Producer Steve Berkowitz.” Analog Planet. November 2, 2018.

Gill, Andy, and Kevin Odegard. Simple Twist of Fate: Bob Dylan and the Making of Blood on the Tracks. Cambridge, MA: Da Capo Press, 2005.

Odegard, Kevin. Interviewed by Jason Verlinde, Fretboard Journal. Podcast audio. February 2019.

Odegard, Kevin. Conversation with the author, May 2019.

Various. Jerry Maguire: Music from the Motion Picture. Epic Soundtrax – 486981 2, 1996, CD.

Wosahla, Steve. “Interview: More Blood, More Tracks…More Bob Dylan Stories.” Americana Highways. November 20, 2018.


[1] Kevin Odegard, in conversation with the author, May 2019.

[2] Please see appendix below for the track numbers of these takes on More Blood, More Tracks.

[3] Steve Wosahla, “Interview: More Blood, More Tracks…More Bob Dylan Stories”, Americana Highways, November 20, 2018,

[4] Andy Gill and Kevin Odegard, Simple Twist of Fate: Bob Dylan and The Making of Blood on the Tracks (Cambridge, MA: Da Capo Press, 2005), 128.

[5] Kevin Odegard interviewed by Jason Verlinde, Fretboard Journal, podcast audio, February 2019,, 00:39:54.

[6] Kevin Odegard, in conversation with the author, May 2019.

[7] Michael Fremer, “Bob Dylan’s ‘More Blood, More Tracks The Bootleg Series Vol. 14’ Review + Exclusive Interview With Co-Producer Steve Berkowitz”, Analog Planet, November 2, 2018,


The test pressing takes on More Blood, More Tracks.

Disc 1, track 11: “Lily, Rosemary and the Jack of Hearts”

Included on the test pressing, and the single disc edition of More Blood, More Tracks.

9/16/74: Take 2

Disc 2, track 5: “Meet Me in the Morning”

Edited version included on the test pressing, and previously released on Blood on the Tracks.

9/16/74: Take 1

Disc 3, track 3: “You’re a Big Girl Now’”

Included on the test pressing, and previously released on Biograph.

9/17/74: Take 2, Remake

Disc 5, track 3: “Tangled Up in Blue”

Included on the test pressing, and previously released on The Bootleg Series Volumes 1–3 (Rare & Unreleased) 1961–1991.

9/19/74: Take 3, Remake 2

Disc 5, track 10: “Idiot Wind”

Included on the test pressing, with caveats.

9/19/74: Take 4, Remake (with organ overdub)