Desolation Row (11:31)

Cover of Bob Dylan: The Collection

From Bob Dylan: The Collection and 96 other releases

“Desolation Row” is the closing track of Bob Dylan’s sixth studio album, Highway 61 Revisited. It is noted for its length (11:21) and surreal lyrics. It was recorded on August 4, 1965, in Columbia’s Studio A in New York City. The two takes spliced for the album were the second and third time Dylan had sung the song. Charlie McCoy played acoustic guitar for the record, making it the album’s only track not to feature an electric guitar. An alternate version was also recorded with electric guitar and a prominent bass that was eventually released on The Bootleg Series Vol. 7: No Direction Home: The Soundtrack. Rolling Stone ranked the song as number 185 in their 500 Greatest Songs of All Time. Joe Strummer makes a reference to Desolation Row in his song “Coma Girl” released on Streetcore. It’s also referenced in Laura Branigan’s “Spanish Eddie” (David Palmer/Chuck Cochran), Atlantic, 1985.

In the New Oxford Companion to Music, Gammond described “Desolation Row” as an example of Dylan’s work that achieved a “high level of poetical lyricism.”

In an interview with USA Today on September 10, 2001, the day before the release of his album Love and Theft, Dylan claimed that the song “is a minstrel song through and through. I saw some ragtag minstrel show in blackface at the carnivals when I was growing up, and it had an effect on me, just as much as seeing the lady with four legs.”

It has been suggested that the title is a reference to Jack Kerouac’s novel Desolation Angels and John Steinbeck’s Cannery Row.

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  • ElRet

    I'll never forget how this song hit me when I first heard it.

    27 Jul 9:28am Reply
  • silversurfer250

    The beginning of the song is about 3 men that were in town with the circus, and were accused of raping a girl in Duluth, Minnesota. On June 15, 1920, a mob broke them out of jail and lynched them. Postcards with pictures of the hanging were sold as souvenirs. Dylan's father was living in Duluth at the time of the hangings. http://www.songfacts.com/detail.php?id=2266 (Ed. Note: Perhaps the result of LSD experimentation?)

    30 Jun 7:10pm Reply
  • Dreamsonashelf

    One of those moments when I want to leave a comment about how brilliant the lyrics are and I realise I've already done it before...

    2 Jun 1:58pm Reply
  • Dreamsonashelf

    Incredibly brilliant writing.

    28 Jan 11:38pm Reply
  • f-a-inf

    masterpiece, one of the best songs ever written

    22 Dec 2013 Reply
  • Nakkinak

    best lyrics in music history

    2 Oct 2013 Reply
  • JpSceadugenga

    Nice MCR cover

    7 Sep 2013 Reply
  • ralfsu

    But I still remember the entire thing word for word !

    13 Jun 2013 Reply
  • ralfsu

    It's weird how this was one of the songs that truly made me fall in love with Dylan's music yet now it seems oddly lifeless and musically boring to me... it's been such a long time since I last heard this one, and now its more like an artefact of days past than a huge favorite. The writing is wonderful, I like the macabre elements and fantasy-oriented visual collaging, I think it looks good on paper, but as a piece of music I don't find much to hang on to here... anymore...

    13 Jun 2013 Reply
  • DrMichaelGalvin

    Is it Dylan or Cate Blanchett?

    6 Jun 2013 Reply
  • DrMichaelGalvin

    From one of the best albums ever.

    6 Jun 2013 Reply
  • Big-Mac-Bo

    one of his best songs

    18 Apr 2013 Reply
  • tresfoufou

    SO GOOOOOOOOOOOODDDDDDDDDDDDDDDD

    12 Jan 2013 Reply
  • JerryZola25

    nice one

    15 Dec 2012 Reply
  • TheFructose

    Ever wonder what visual art sounds like? It's just so vivid.

    12 Dec 2012 Reply
  • poliphili92

    Wonderful piece of poetry! (2)

    28 Nov 2012 Reply
  • RetroRockRadio

    Long Track, but I like it. Seems kike there is no gray with Bob Dylan. People tend to either love his music or can't stand it. I'm one who loves his talent & always have.

    26 Nov 2012 Reply
  • Bird_Cooder

    Best Dylan song. For sure!

    31 Oct 2012 Reply
  • DenMicke

    One of the best...ever!

    13 Oct 2012 Reply
  • whydyadothat

    amazing

    8 Oct 2012 Reply
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