The Songs

A brief list of some of Bob Dylan's songs featuring cars and motorbikes... 

Question: What are your songs about?
Dylan: Some of my songs are about four minutes, some are about five minutes and some, believe it or not, are about 11 or 12. 

Sometimes a car is just a car. A bike is just a bike.  

However, despite Bob Dylan's dismissive and bemused attitude toward questions during the 1965 San Francisco press conference about the 'philosophy' of the Triumph motorcycle t-shirt on the cover of Highway 61 Revisited, there can be detected a purpose and intention in the use of references to cars and motorbikes in his songs. Just as there can be said to be a purposeful intent behind much of what Bob Dylan writes.

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In Tangled up in Blue, there is a car used as a metaphor for a relationship, for example. Two people in an enclosed physical or emotional space, moving through the moment inextricably linked. The line, 'We drove that car as far as we could/Abandoned it out West' is followed immediately by the protagonists splitting up as soon as the journey is over and the car is abandoned. 

As an extension of this metaphor, there is a stanza in Brownsville Girl as he is driving in her car (a 'busted down Ford').

'Well, we’re drivin’ this car and the sun is comin’ up over the Rockies
Now I know she ain’t you but she’s here and she’s got that dark rhythm in her soul
But I’m too over the edge and I ain’t in the mood anymore to remember the times
when I was your only man
And she don’t want to remind me. She knows this car would go out of control'

Again, the relationship is represented by a car. The narrator is driving, trying to maintain (emotional and physical) control. He needs to focus on the here and now, and his partner understands this. The car going out of control would be his emotional reaction which could lead to the destruction of the current relationship. The later line, “We’re going all the way ’til the wheels fall off and burn...” is indicative of seeing a path of action through to the end - even when that end could be catastrophic. 

Of course, the entire song, in the case of Dylan's cover of Hank Snow's Ninety miles An Hour (Down A Dead End Street), is an analogy for a doomed and adulterous temptation. 

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There are some references to cars that are relating to energy, drive, restlessness and the potential for self-destruction (the 'crash'). This Wheel's On Fire is an example of this in a youthful and 'fiery' way, with a touch of irony, sarcasm and gall. In the reflection of someone older, we hear in Summer Days, 'Well, I got eight carburetors and boys, I’m using ’em all/I’m short on gas, my motor’s starting to stall' which is still about wanting to maintain that drive and motion, pushing oneself to the limits, but recognizing the constraints of age. 

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In Lonesome Day Blues, the line 'I’m forty miles from the mill—I’m droppin’ it into overdrive/Settin’ my dial on the radio/I wish my mother was still alive' concerns the rapid movement through life (is he heading away from the mill or towards it?) and how poignant memories can fill a seemingly mundane moment so intensely. 

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Urban decay and dissolution is represented by the use of negative car images - 'boulevards of broken cars' (Beyond Here Lies Nothing) and 'Where all the cars are stripped between the gates of night' (Golden Loom). They could be said to enhance the dismal atmosphere of anti-social, emotionally disconnected environments against which the singer is building a contrasting positive image of internal emotional connection. 

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In Let's Keep It Between Us, a song dealing with the outside world making judgements and interfering with personal matters, there is the line 'backseat drivers don’t know the feel of the wheel' in a clear analogy. If the car is a relationship, or even representing movement along the road of life, the backseat drivers are the people who are vocally 'meddling' in a person's chosen route without being aware of the position, difficulties or goals of the 'driver'. 

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There are other links, other metaphors, other analogies... these are just a few isolated thoughts. Not everyone will agree with the above ideas. Look at the lyrics yourself. Listen to the songs. Draw your own meanings and conclusions. Most of all, enjoy the music! 

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Angelina


There's a black Mercedes rollin' through the combat zone


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Beyond Here Lies Nothing

I'm movin' after midnight
Down boulevards of broken cars

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Bob Dylan's Blues

Lord, I ain’t goin’ down to no race track
See no sports car run
I don’t have no sports car
And I don’t even care to have one
I can walk anytime around the block

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Brownsville Girl

Well, we drove that car all night into San Anton’

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Clean Cut Kid

He stole a Rolls-Royce and drove it in a swimming pool


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Day of the Locusts


Took hold of my sweetheart and away we did drive


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Dead Man, Dead Man


The race of the engine that overrules your heart


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Gates of Eden


The motorcycle black madonna
Two-wheeled gypsy queen


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Golden Loom


Where all the cars are stripped between the gates of night


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High Water (For Charley Patton)


I got a cravin’ love for blazing speed
Got a hopped-up Mustang Ford
Jump into the wagon, love, throw your panties overboard

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Honest With Me


I’m crashin’ my car, trunk first into the boards

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Hurricane


He said, “I saw two men runnin’ out, they looked like middleweights
They jumped into a white car with out-of-state plates”


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It's All Good

Cop cars blinking, something bad going down


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Let's Keep It Between Us


Backseat drivers don’t know the feel of the wheel


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Lonesome Day Blues


I’m forty miles from the mill—I’m droppin’ it into overdrive


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Ninety Miles an Hour (Down A Dead End Street)


As a bad motorcycle with the devil in the seat


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Percy's Song


A crash on the highway
Flew the car to a field


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Quit Your Low Down Ways


You can try to flag a ride back home, pretty mama
But you can’t ride in my car no more


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Rainy Day Women #12 & 35


They’ll stone you when you’re riding in your car


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Shot of Love


Don’t even feel like crossing the street and my car ain’t actin’ right


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Someday Baby

When I was young, driving was my crave
You drive me so hard, almost to the grave


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Summer Days


Well I’m drivin’ in the flats in a Cadillac car


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Talkin' World War III Blues


And I drove down 42nd Street
In my Cadillac. Good car to drive after a war


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Tangled Up In Blue


We drove that car as far as we could


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This Wheel's On Fire


This wheel’s on fire
Rolling down the road
Best notify my next of kin
This wheel shall explode!


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Union Sundown


And the car I drive is a Chevrolet


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