"Tangled Up In Blue": What's the Best Version?

About the Song
Alright, alright, we all know that "Tangled Up in Blue" is Bob Dylan's magnum opus. It tells a hell of a story, it's in the third person, first person, and zooms through the past, present, and future. It's a life simultaneously observed from the ground floor and from above, and perhaps, stands as the ultimate statement about Bob Dylan's romantic life. True to it's never ending and kaleidoscopic nature, there are dozens of versions of this tune available for listening. The genesis of this evolving song is the first cut off of 1975's Blood on the Tracks. It's not the best version of the song, but it does set a baseline standard of excellence in which all subsequent versions of this song are judged. Time to rank 'em:

1. "Tangled Up In Blue": Real Live, 1984
Somehow, burned out 1980's Bob pulled more emotion out of this song than ever before during his 1984 tour of Europe. Lucky for us, this version saw the light of day in the otherwise totally average Real Live album. Here, the real gem is Bob's vocals. In his finest 80's form, he sings this song with the same passion and conviction that he donned his gospel era songs with. Sure, Bob changes some lyrics here, which is standard faire for this song, but the real surprise is the way he changes words without changing them in a literal sense. Instead, he changes the meaning by singing certain words differently. Almost everything sounds like it has an exclamation point after it. You can almost hear the sweat pour down his face and see the bright stage lights illuminate his figure. It's all together the greatest version of "Tangled Up in Blue":

2. "Tangled Up In Blue": Live, 1978
Sure, plenty of folks didn't take a liking to Bob's attempt to imitate the big sound of Bruce Springsteen's E Street Band in the late 70's. The results were a half hazard, haggardly (beautiful) album Street Legal and subsequent North American tour in 1978. Despite the bands big game, complete with background singers and saxophones, Bob still had the fire burning within to team up his band to put a genius twist on his classic tune "Tangled Up in Blue". The song's chord structure, time signature, and melody are rendered completely differently here. One listen, and you'll forget how the original sounded. There's so much additional meaning and context added to the original here, with the saxophone and organ adding high drama to nearly create a one act stage on play. Right around the time of the recording below, Bob also had a spiritual encounter with Jesus. Subsequently, some of the lyrics are changed-he no longer stops into a strip club, and reads the Bible instead of poetry. So much going on here, and Bob once again proved that his songs were tapestry to be painted over again and again...listen  to this astonishing version below:

3. "Tangled Up in Blue": Live 1975: Rolling Thunder
If Bob singing "Tangled Up in Blue" on Real Live epitomizes the best of his 80s spirit, the version he regaled audiences in New England for his 1975 Rolling Thunder Tour showcases his 70's work and style at its finest. His voice is different every decade, and in the 70's his singing was perhaps at it's peak. He didn't over emote, but rather, made language his game, squeezing every ounce out of each word, always taking care to sing clearly and directly. Below, there's Bob, not in his 80s leather jacket and cross erring, but with his painted face, mid life crisis (he hits everything 10 years earlier), and dark eyes. Watch below:

4. "Tangled Up in Blue": Blood on the Tracks, 1975
I'm hesitant to rank the original version of this song "last", but nevertheless, here we are. The first version of the song is of course excellent. The opening sounds of Bob strumming on the acoustic are utterly classic, unforgettable, and exciting. It's immediately apparent that this is a story song among story songs: "Early one mornin' the sun was shining'...". Hear where it all got started, before the song took the road and headed for another joint:

Lastly, let me know if there are any other great versions of this song I should know about.


  1. Thanks. I absolutely agree with the choices, and the order. Some have criticised the vocals in Real Live as being self-parody but I disagree. It's his song and I reckon he can perform it any way he wants to - and I like this one. I was lucky to be at the Wembley concert when this was recorded - not a great venue but great performances. And the 1978 torch song version was excellent too. I was disappointed when this wasn't on the official Budokan live album. Perhaps we'll get a Bootleg Series of the best of 1978 shows, like the Charlotte one, with extras of songs not sung that day (like the other torch version - I Want You).

    1. I share yr sentiment re: the Budokan album. 78-to borrow a phrase-journeys through dark heat!

  2. I think you missed arguably the best version off altogether...namely the one on the original bootleg series...disc 2

    1. The orig BOTT tapes? Dang I overlooked em. Your right, though, I think that cut is better than the offical album version.

  3. Undoubtedly, and I have heard hundreds of versions of TUIB, the original BOTT version is still the definitive version. From of the opening picking/strumming of those classic two chords to the impeccable, emphatic singing to the fantastic harmonica solos, THIS is THE version. Show me a better live version, because I haven't heard it yet.

  4. They are all incredible,but the 78 charlotte version is other worldly!! i have more than 20,000 bob songs in itunes,if i was forced to pick just one live song,that would be a serious contender,it's just so different,Wow!


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