As Bob Dylan returns to New Zealand this weekend, Dylanophile Matthew Hutching offers his take on the best of the veteran troubador's back pages... while Alan Perrot goes in search for the ultimate Dylan cover versions.

It's incredibly difficult trying to choose only ten songs for Dylan, it seems the only way is to boil them down to a canon of ten themes, sonic or lyrical.

So here we go, some ballads, some anthems, some carols; some despair, some hope. In no particular order:

Cry a While

I was 5th form when the album Love & Theft came out (it came out on 9/11). I had been brought up by a father who favoured the more acoustic albums: Blood on the Tracks, Desire, and strangely, the more apocryphal covers album Dylan and the 90s Good as I Been to You. As a teenager I predictably veered off towards all the louder albums, steeped in the belief that all the good stuff happened before I was born. But then Love and Theft came out. It was a teenage paradigm shift; realising that good new music is still possible. I was especially hooked on Cry a While not just for great lines like "I'm longin' for that sweet fat that sticks to your ribs" but also the rhythm change from straight to a shuffle chorus.

Forever Young

He was a new dad, writing a song for his kids. This song is gospel to me. If I could add more anthems to this list, Knocking on Heaven's Door and I Shall Be Released would be here. But Forever Young covers them well.


Love Sick

Best breakup song ever. Daniel Lanois' production encompasses the sound of despondence, and Dylan's lines shout indignant bitterness which all crumbles on the final line "I'd do anything to be with you." It's like a more tired, vulnerable form of Idiot Wind.

You're a Big Girl Now

Another true breakup song. There's an alternate take somewhere with beautiful pedal steel.

When the Ship Comes In

It's apocalyptic, prophetic, passionate, angry, hopeful. You have to be young to write a song like this.

Positively 4th Street

"You got a lotta nerve to say you are my friend." Teenage relationships summarised.

Just Like Tom Thumb's Blues

Some of the best amphetamine-driven lines ever written. This song crystallises the brilliant irreverence of rock music.

Most of the Time

An anthem of perseverance. As uplifting as a Springsteen song, but with Dylan's understated charisma.

Every Grain of Sand

I love how this song approaches the metaphysical so subtly, not heavy-handed, but affectionate and truthful.


Dad told me once that this is Winston Peters' favourite song. Amazing song in every way. Sly and Robbie on rhythm section, Mark Knopfler shredding, Dylan shouting out layer on layer of prophetic imagery...

The cover versions

Of course, some of Dylan's best known songs have become anthems for others. Arguably the definitive versions of All Along the Watchtower was by Jimi Hendrix and Hey Mr Tambourine Man was by The Byrds.

Canvas magazine's Alan Perrott went in search of some lesser-known gems among those who have attempted to make Dylan songs their own. Here's his playlist.