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Bob Dylan — Desolation Row
Album: Highway 61 Revisited
Avg rating:
6.5

Your rating:
Total ratings: 2439








Released: 1965
Length: 11:20
Plays (last 30 days): 2
They're selling postcards of the hanging
They're painting the passports brown
The beauty parlor is filled with sailors
The circus is in town

Here comes the blind commissioner
They've got him in a trance
One hand is tied to the tightrope walker
The other is in his pants

And the riot squad, they're restless
They need somewhere to go
As Lady and I look out tonight
From Desolation Row

Cinderella, she seems so easy
"It takes one to know one," she smiles
And puts her hands in her back pocket
Bette Davis style

And in comes Romeo, he's moaning
"You belong to me, I believe"
And someone says, "You're in the wrong place, my friend
You'd better leave"

And the only sound that's left
After the ambulances go
Is Cinderella sweeping up
On Desolation Row

Now the moon is almost hidden
The stars are beginning to hide
The fortune telling lady
Has even taken all her things inside

All except for Cain and Abel
And the hunchback of Notre Dame
Everybody's making love
Or else expecting rain

And the good Samaritan, he's dressing
He's getting ready for the show
He's going to the carnival
Tonight on Desolation Row

Ophelia, she's 'neath the window
For her I feel so afraid
On her 22nd birthday
She already is an old maid

To her death is quite romantic
She wears an ironed vest
Her profession's her religion
Her sin is her lifelessness

And though her eyes are fixed upon
Noah's great rainbow
She spends her time peeking into
Desolation Row

Einstein disguised as Robin Hood
With his memories in a trunk
Passed this way an hour ago
With his friend, a jealous monk

Now he looked so immaculately frightful
As he bummed a cigarette
Then he went off sniffing drainpipes
And reciting the alphabet

You would not think to look at him
But he was famous long ago
For playing the electric violin
On Desolation Row

Dr. Filth, he keeps his world
Inside of a leather cup
But all his sexless patients
They are trying to blow it up

Now his nurse, some local loser
She's in charge of the cyanide hole
And she also keeps the cards that read
"Have mercy on his soul"

They all play on the penny whistle
You can hear them blow
If you lean your head out far enough
From Desolation Row

Across the street they've nailed the curtains
They're getting ready for the feast
The phantom of the opera
In a perfect image of a priest

They are spoon-feeding Casanova
To get him to feel more assured
Then they'll kill him with self-confidence
After poisoning him with words

And the phantom shouting to skinny girls
"Get out of here if you don't know"
Casanova is just being punished
For going to Desolation Row

At midnight all the agents
And the superhuman crew
Come out and round up everyone
That knows more than they do

And they bring them to the factory
Where their heart attack machine
Is strapped across their shoulders
And then the kerosene

Is brought down from the castles
By insurance men who go
Check to see that nobody is escaping
To Desolation Row

Praise be to Nero's Neptune
The Titanic sails at dawn
Everybody's shouting
"Which side are you on?"

And Ezra Pound and T.S. Elliot
Fighting in the captain's tower
While calypso singers laugh at them
And fishermen hold flowers

Between the windows of the sea
Where lovely mermaids flow
And nobody has to think too much
About Desolation Row

Yes, I received your letter yesterday
About the time the doorknob broke
When you asked me how I was doing
Was that some kind of joke?

All these people that you mentioned
Yes, I know them, they are quite lame
I had to rearrange their faces
And give them all another name

Right now I can't read too good
Don't send me no more letters, no
Not unless you mail them from
Desolation Row
Comments (702)add comment
 kevrey wrote:

Quite the lyrics. How his brain put out line after line after line, creating pages of prose, was quite amazing.




Not prose, poetry!  
One of my favorite songs for decades now, but still squeezing new feelings out on rehearing.  Just the penultimate verse - so much going on in that one micro-story:

Praise be to Nero's Neptune
The Titanic sails at dawn
Everybody's shouting
"Which side are you on?"

And Ezra Pound and T.S. Elliot
Fighting in the captain's tower
While calypso singers laugh at them
And fishermen hold flowers

Between the windows of the sea
Where lovely mermaids flow
And nobody has to think too much
About Desolation Row

I would recount my thought and feeling interpretations, but instead I will follow the advice of the Boss "...the poets down here don't write nothin' at all, they just stand back and let it all be."
One of the many reasons I love RP is because Bill and Rebecca play songs even when they get low overall average ratings - Bombino at 6.3 followed by Dylan at 6.5 (albeit Dylan seems to bring out the most polarizing of ratings).  
Let's face it - a music station's survival depends on having listeners that stay on board, yet RP plays songs that potentially alienate some listeners.  This speaks to an integrity of the song choosers that is sorely lacking on so many other stations.
Keep on being bold and honest, B & R!
ok ok

the nobel ain't for his harp playing

got it 
11:20
If there was a chance to give 11 to a song, this woud be it.
That people rate this 1 makes you realise what is wrong with the world. Unbelievable foolery. Just listen and enjoy, the world would be a far better place 
6.5?  That's staggering. 10 for me, genius is genius. 
C'mon brother Bob.

Tour the Midwest this Summer.

Get on the Highway 61 and play a few shows in Hannibal or Keokuk,  or even Keosaqua.  
Nobel prize?

Freaking yes. 
its all been said before:

Make the best out of the bad, and just laugh it off.

You didn't have to come here anyway. 

Just remember...every picture tells a story, don't it? 
Quite the lyrics. How his brain put out line after line after line, creating pages of prose, was quite amazing.
 cycleman wrote:

This is a classic Dylan song...not played very often....I heard Chris Smither do this live at the Falcon Ridge Folk Festival in Hillsdale, NY 2 years ago...it was a moving cover of the song.



Chris Smither's cover of this is fantastic.  Makes the song much darker, sadder.
 Laptopdog wrote:

Bunch of whiners! This is poetry. This is music history. This is classic Dylan. If you don't like it, move along, you unappreciative neanderthals.




Pardon the fuck out of us Philistines. What you see in this is beyond me.
 SwimsALot wrote:
Don't insult the Neanderthals, after all some of us are descendants. Perhaps troglodytes?

Laptopdog wrote:
Bunch of whiners! This is poetry. This is music history. This is classic Dylan. If you don't like it, move along, you unappreciative neanderthals.
 

 
What about "Ugly Bags of Mostly Water"?
 Tippster wrote:
Desolation Row sure is long, monotonous, and dreary.
 
Your observation is duly noted.
probably my favourite Bobbie Dylan track. No idea what it’s about, but it’s a thought  banquet of reflections and references.



 zacharybnowak wrote:
My most-skipped artist. Some poets should just...write poetry.
 

I understand the sentiment; but I feel  that; if you write something, you are entitled to arrange it any way you want. If you like covers better, that's OK; but the writer gets first cut.
My most-skipped artist. Some poets should just...write poetry.
 Laptopdog wrote:
Bunch of whiners! This is poetry. This is music history. This is classic Dylan. If you don't like it, move along, you unappreciative neanderthals.
 
What have you got against neanderthals? 

Surely one of Dylan's Top 10.  Or 20.  It's not so easy to winnow such a songography to a few mere lyrics or titles.  
Desolation Row sure is long, monotonous, and dreary.
 On_The_Beach wrote:
Great spirits have always encountered violent opposition from mediocre minds.
- A.E.
 

Heaven exists for the victims of mediocre minds.
I prefer the alternate version of "Desolation Row" from The Bootleg Series Vol. 7. It's a bit more subdued, if that's possible; the lyrics are front and center and the flamenco-style guitar fills aren't there, nor are they missed. 
Now I know where The Old 97's got the inspiration for their song "Champaign, Illinois." Much prefer that over this.

I-L-L!!!
Timeless brilliance.
Perfect RP. Thank you.
 tonyinnj wrote:

Wendy O Williams usta chainsaw TV's when she was with The Plasmatics...
 
I'm not ashamed to say I was in the front row for one of those WOW shows!
Too long with no variation.
Good poetry,  not Nobel Prize stuff in my opinion, but quite solid.
Fascinating interpretations of the lyrics of this song (one of Dylan's best IMHO) here:
https://songmeanings.com/songs...
Take your pick!
Don't insult the Neanderthals, after all some of us are descendants. Perhaps troglodytes?

Laptopdog wrote:
Bunch of whiners! This is poetry. This is music history. This is classic Dylan. If you don't like it, move along, you unappreciative neanderthals.
 

A neighbour gave me this LP circa 1967.   11, 12 year old me had a little trouble dialing in.

Don't worry.  By the time I was 19, I fully understood how absolutely, stunningly brilliant Dylan was.
 shtevie wrote:
Great song but that's n0t Bloomfield on this track. Its CHARLIE McCOY! One of the reasons Blonde on Blonde was recorded in Nashville. :-)

 

 joelbb wrote:
I'm with you, Tony.  The song does have a lot of verses, but every damn one of them contains some of the best R&R lyrics ever written.  And with Mike Bloomfield plating guitar, it does move along.  A contender for the title Bob Dylan's Greatest Hit.
 

 dwlangham wrote:
God All Mighty, SHUT THE FUCK UP ALREADY.
 
Classy.    
Did your Kid Rock 8-track fall in the spittoon?
Sure, you Philistines diss Dylan, but where else have you ever heard "Noah's Great Rainbow"? Anywhere, not only in a song lyric? I think the Nobel committee did the right thing. Another 100 years will see if this choice lasts, but we'll (not) see.
Curious that the lyrics should be so complex and the music so simple. 
I am sure the lyrics are wonderful, but the music along with it makes this song completely unlistenable. 
One of the great things about Bob Dylan...is his ability to allow the listener to greatly anticipate whatever the hell comes next in succession.
 Laptopdog wrote:
Bunch of whiners! This is poetry. This is music history. This is classic Dylan. If you don't like it, move along, you unappreciative neanderthals.
 
You're right, it is classic Dylan. 
Genius he might be but his voice is a whiny same every song too long endurance test.
 Laptopdog wrote:
Bunch of whiners! This is poetry. This is music history. This is classic Dylan. If you don't like it, move along, you unappreciative neanderthals.
 
Wow!   That’s a lot name calling.  Not sure it’s helpful, but I’ll take the bait you self-important arbiter of all that is worthy.   It may be poetry, but I listen to the radio to hear music, and this along with most of Dylan’s early stuff isn’t very musical.   I actually prefer his mid-to-late career stuff better when he learned to write a song.  

Oh yeah, and I do skip this song every time it comes on.  Thanks again to RP for giving us this option.  
superb...who could not be bowled over with this poetry!
Nobel Laureate!  So well deserved. 
Clueless haters, take a seat.  Listen and learn. 

2016 Nobel Prize in Literature
"for having created new poetic expressions within the great American song tradition"

 CoYoT51 wrote:
Some many of his songs are quite the same. One thing remains 100% the same: my wish for them to end!
 
Not all candles are easy to light, hang in there buddy, you'll find a match
 thais wrote:

Dear, that´s exactly what happened to me.
Yes, it took lots of time.
But, I´m happy that I have had the patience.
Now I'm happy for all this effort.
 
It didn't take any time at all to appreciate this when it came out. I guess we were in a different mindset in those days.
 mjvander wrote:
Can we get a Zero added to the rating scale?
No, we can't
Now, go away and don't come back.

 Ptijoc wrote:
It needs time to like Dylan, it needs time to appréciate his lyrics, his music, his voice. It has taken half of my life. But it was worth, years after years i realise that i listen to his music more and more. Take time and try! And dont come complain after that it's too good and that you can't stop listen to him!
 
Dear, that´s exactly what happened to me.
Yes, it took lots of time.
But, I´m happy that I have had the patience.
Now I'm happy for all this effort.
just the best
dire
He was not such a bad singer, compared to the super bad harmonica player he was.
Oh, he's still alive?
Brilliant just brilliant! Who else would play tracks like this
For a more uptempo version see My Chemical Romance's on the Watchmen soundtrack.
 On_The_Beach wrote:

High praise indeed; think how many metal bands would like to sound like chainsaws!  ; )
 
Wendy O Williams usta chainsaw TV's when she was with The Plasmatics...

Tony in NJ
W.A.S.T.E.
The Times They Are A-Changin........maybe Bob could you do a remake of this song and call it "Isolation Row" !! 
I've always loved this song.
Listening today, I am especially appreciating Charlie McCoy's marvelous guitar work.
I know Mike Bloomfield featured strongly on this album, but I believe it was McCoy who played on this track. And I think McCoy carries the song musically, bringing it to life with his elegant finger picking.

It is such a wonder to me, to be alive in this time of recorded music!

On top of that, to have one of the world's most brilliant DJ's bringing much of the best of this music to my ears: it just completely defies "coincidence." IMHO.

LLRP

Agreed. This is the place for songs like these - used to be a challenge amongst us as teenagers to learn and sing such songs. :)
Laptopdog wrote:
Bunch of whiners! This is poetry. This is music history. This is classic Dylan. If you don't like it, move along, you unappreciative neanderthals.
 

Can we get a Zero added to the rating scale?
Haters gonna hate, but for me this always ends too soon
Brassens en plus grognon.
 Ptijoc wrote:
It needs time to like Dylan, it needs time to appréciate his lyrics, his music, his voice. It has taken half of my life. But it was worth, years after years i realise that i listen to his music more and more. Take time and try! And dont come complain after that it's too good and that you can't stop listen to him!
 

Exactly my experience! Always knew about his outstanding lyrics but took me fifty years to get used to his voice. I will never regret it!
 joelbb wrote:
I'm with you, Tony.  The song does have a lot of verses, but every damn one of them contains some of the best R&R lyrics ever written.  And with Mike Bloomfield plating guitar, it does move along.  A contender for the title Bob Dylan's Greatest Hit.
 
There's a reason why he won the Nobel Prize for Literature
I’ll remember to never read the comments again. This was pretty disappointing.
 Brison57 wrote:


Hey Lapdog
I think I have a better understanding of how President Trump has a fan base.
Thanks for that
 

You couldn't be more wrong, Brison57. More delusionally, pathetically, idiotically wrong.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fhP0zwaJhQY

Can't help but think of this when I hear Robert Zimmerman.  Go ahead, call me a Philistine. 
If I had skill as a painter, I'd paint the vignettes from this song onto one great big rollicking canvas.... An easy 10 for me.
 kingart wrote:


Who is Hilter?
 
There's a Monty Python skit that will explain that one. Or maybe it's a typo.
So, did he ever do this live and if so, how the hell did he memorize it all? That's a talent but damn...his voice. Interesting anyway. 
Some many of his songs are quite the same. One thing remains 100% the same: my wish for them to end!
Oh my, can this just end. Might be poetry, but the harmonica is way way too much. Don't get me wrong, I like most of Dylan's work. 
I have been awestruck by "Bob Z" for 56 years. I hope to have many more!
 hopper99 wrote:
Released 1965. 
Tolerable, ok.  But what was good then is not necessarily good now. This one has outlived it's whatever...
 

That's right, but it's "its".
Not a Dylan Fan, thanks Bill for making me tolerate it. 
However I do appreciate his contribution to music. 
10
 Brison57 wrote:


So did Hilter's
 

Who is Hilter?
You can't beat this one:

Now he looked so immaculately frightful
As he bummed a cigarette
Then he went off sniffing drainpipes
And reciting the alphabet



Marveling at the brain that could conjure up such lyrics. 

Please make it stop...
It needs time to like Dylan, it needs time to appréciate his lyrics, his music, his voice. It has taken half of my life. But it was worth, years after years i realise that i listen to his music more and more. Take time and try! And dont come complain after that it's too good and that you can't stop listen to him!
Still a very long and cringing song to my ears (thanks PSD!)  The out of tone and pitch is apparently his trademark and he lives well on it for a while.  Never got the feeling for the whining voices in general. 
 Utopia_Bold wrote:

Heresy: Bob Dylan is over rated and BORING!

I wish Radio Paradise would stop playing Dylan's meaningless, whining, so-called poetry that goes on for ever and ever and ever. Sounds like he's choking to death on the harmonica. And he got the Nobel Prize! STOP! STOP STOP! Make it stop! ARRRRRRRGH!
 

That was a harmonica? No wonder I didn't see two cats fighting on the back fence when I rushed to the window!
 tkosh wrote:
The Bob Haters always come.  It's fun to read them!  Dylan's place in history will outlive them all.
 

So did Hilter's
 Laptopdog wrote:
Bunch of whiners! This is poetry. This is music history. This is classic Dylan. If you don't like it, move along, you unappreciative neanderthals.
 

Hey Lapdog
I think I have a better understanding of how President Trump has a fan base.
Thanks for that
Released 1965. 
Tolerable, ok.  But what was good then is not necessarily good now. This one has outlived it's whatever...
 Laptopdog wrote:
Bunch of whiners! This is poetry. This is music history. This is classic Dylan. If you don't like it, move along, you unappreciative neanderthals.
 
dog wank and blind faith, aand we have moved along, as did Dylan when he went electric ...
The Bob Haters always come.  It's fun to read them!  Dylan's place in history will outlive them all.
Bunch of whiners! This is poetry. This is music history. This is classic Dylan. If you don't like it, move along, you unappreciative neanderthals.
Yeah Bill, it says last played in May but I definitely know this was on in June some days ago. It's a punishment for every listener with good taste, but we will get through... again. {#Laughing}
 mike.cryer wrote:

Well said Wardleader - written with wit and dry humour. Though I didn't get the MEDICARE references, but then I'm English and we JUST ABOUT still have a universal healthcare system available for all free at the point of use. At the moment!

 
Maybe interesting to note that the ratings histogram contains 202 votes for "sucko barfo", and 306 votes for "godlike".  The total number of votes for 7,8,9, and 10 ("quite likeable" to "godlike") all together is 993.
 
Just sayin'. {#Propeller}
Applying to this; one of the three levels of appreciation:

Hate
Tolerate
Masturbate 
Make it stop
 gmichaelt wrote:
What does the pithy above have to do with the fact that this song is a lyrical turd?
 
Try not to worry about it.
 On_The_Beach wrote:
Great spirits have always encountered violent opposition from mediocre minds.
 
What does the pithy above have to do with the fact that this song is a lyrical turd?
Hit PSD as I always do with BOOOOOOOB NOOOOOOO MAKE IT STOOOOOP DYLAN and got Willie the pimp by Zappa. Exellent work radio Paradise !
 quintana wrote:
What an annoying song and it just doesn't seem to end...
 
It doesn't seem to have a beginning or middle, either. Stratospherically over-rated. Pretentious lyrics. Embarrasssing, really.
An amazing Dylan track. One of hundreds. Please keep playing Bill.
What an annoying song and it just doesn't seem to end...
 Wardleader wrote:
Dylan is so great it is hard to process sometimes, but having lived as long as I have, I can only laugh that there is a disagreement from people who apparently need a 3rd party verification that the sun is warm on their face, that the moon is bright at night and who really is great as an artist.   All by yourselves, you have figured out there is no merit what so ever for this artist.  None, he is not just someone's whose work you don't get care for, but somehow is here to cause you pain?  Really, and now, I have just wasted a few seconds I won't get back, but it was worth it.  In some small way to defend art and poetry in the face of a bottomless sewer of philistines from here and all over the world.  Other than yodeling, I am not sure anything really disturbs me that much that I have to complain about it.   But Dylan is so clearly one of the great poetic lights of the 20th Century, that it is hard to listen to people complain.   Now, here is something important to complain about.   MEDICARE FOR ALL  It is introduced in the House as HR676 almost every year and has 120 sponsors, including my congressperson.   If you want complain about music, get your ears checked with quality health care from the coming Universal Health Care system in the USA.  Thank You for your attention.{#Meditate}

 
Well said Wardleader - written with wit and dry humour. Though I didn't get the MEDICARE references, but then I'm English and we JUST ABOUT still have a universal healthcare system available for all free at the point of use. At the moment!
Dylan is so great it is hard to process sometimes, but having lived as long as I have, I can only laugh that there is a disagreement from people who apparently need a 3rd party verification that the sun is warm on their face, that the moon is bright at night and who really is great as an artist.   All by yourselves, you have figured out there is no merit what so ever for this artist.  None, he is not just someone's whose work you don't get care for, but somehow is here to cause you pain?  Really, and now, I have just wasted a few seconds I won't get back, but it was worth it.  In some small way to defend art and poetry in the face of a bottomless sewer of philistines from here and all over the world.  Other than yodeling, I am not sure anything really disturbs me that much that I have to complain about it.   But Dylan is so clearly one of the great poetic lights of the 20th Century, that it is hard to listen to people complain.   Now, here is something important to complain about.   MEDICARE FOR ALL  It is introduced in the House as HR676 almost every year and has 120 sponsors, including my congressperson.   If you want complain about music, get your ears checked with quality health care from the coming Universal Health Care system in the USA.  Thank You for your attention.{#Meditate}
There are not enough lyrics in this ditty. 


I'm with you, Tony.  The song does have a lot of verses, but every damn one of them contains some of the best R&R lyrics ever written.  And with Mike Bloomfield plating guitar, it does move along.  A contender for the title Bob Dylan's Greatest Hit.
I'm one of those happy he got the Nobel Prize.  BTW, got to see this live: April '66.  Still raises what's left of the hair on my head.  Blessings to the haters!
He did amazing new arrangement of this at Desert Trip.  
 Lazarus wrote: 
Yeah, but Zimmy's song never seems to end.  I once took a nap during the middle of it and woke up in time for the final verse.

You should check out the Old 97's reworked version.  It's called "Champaign, Illinois", rocks really nicely, and clocks in at a manageable 3:25. 

They got Bob's permission for a rewrite and gave him a songwriting co-credit:
"Champaign, Illinois" - 3:25 (Bob Dylan/Rhett Miller)

It's on the album The Grand Theatre, Volume One


I've had meaningful relationships that were shorter than this song, with a lot less forced rhyming to boot.
Bobby's on tour. Gonna see him soon. Hope he covers this one in a completely unexpected arrangement, and makes you go: WTF...oh I get...I like it.   
Great spirits have always encountered violent opposition from mediocre minds.
- A.E.
lol
 Xpat wrote:
Wow. This is pure Dylan poetry, as good as I've heard.
 
Heresy: Bob Dylan is over rated and BORING!

I wish Radio Paradise would stop playing Dylan's meaningless, whining, so-called poetry that goes on for ever and ever and ever. Sounds like he's choking to death on the harmonica. And he got the Nobel Prize! STOP! STOP STOP! Make it stop! ARRRRRRRGH!
Hell man,

Id sing a terrible song too if I could hang out with Allen Ginsberg. Just a tab will do it.... 
Pure poetic genius. A track to define its time and sadly any other time too.
 a_genuine_find wrote:

would almost prefer a Natalie Merchant remake {#Stop}

 

 
Don't give her any ideas.  She might just stop twirling and take you up on it.
Just wait.  When you find yourself on the Row. Looking around. Taking it all in. 

And you see this strange man playing a harp. Is it the Joker? Is it the thief? 

Nah....its a Nobel prize winner.  
{#Frustrated}
What a horrible song. A solid 1. 
 markybx wrote:

Yeah well, my parents couldn't understand why I wasn't in to Big Band and Frank Sinatra or why I liked "jungle music". I guess eclectic taste comes with age. But take heart, don't just look at the mean average rating, but also the median and modal. 10 gets the most votes.

 
Eclectic taste does not automatically come with age, as evidenced by the abundant negative comments in theses threads by the "classic rock" crowd against any music made after 1975.  Anyhow, good tune; I don't care about the ratings here much.
Nobel prize winning lyrics!  Absolutely Love Dylan....
 daniel_rusk wrote:
Aweful. It never stops. Torture.

 
Agreed, would almost prefer a Natalie Merchant remake {#Stop}
0 - Sonic Allergen
 
Not a constant fan of Dylan, but 6.5?
C'mon people, this is a masterpiece of descriptive poetry and his voice is somewhat tolerable. S/B 7.5 methinks. 
Aweful. It never stops. Torture.
Far too long a song. Of course, 10 seconds of any Dylan is too long.