Bob Dylan

The Ballad of Frankie Lee and Judas Priest

Composed by Bob Dylan

Song Review by

"The Ballad of Frankie Lee and Judas Priest" is one of the simplest songs on John Wesley Harding, one of popular music's most difficult albums. Clearly Dylan was attempting to write a parable of some description, with a narrative followed by a "moral" at the end of the story. In this case, the story concerns two old friends, Frankie Lee and Judas Priest, and the eventual betrayal of Frankie by Judas. The story, most argue, is a simple parable alluding to Jesus' temptation by the Devil. Dylan sings in the song's concluding verse, "The moral of this story, the moral of this song/Is simply that one should never be where one does not belong," written with simplicity and grace. Unfortunately, the preceding verses are filled with rather dull dialogue, and the song lacks the tightness of verse that is so much a feature of many of the songs on John Wesley Harding. Many critics have attributed "Judas Priest" in the song as being Dylan's manager at the time, Albert Grossman (calling him the "little neighbor boy"), although this literal translation of the song does not increase its depth or value. Musically, the song is also rather slight, with just a circling chord progression and bland melody to offer no hook to the tune. Unsurprisingly, there have been no notable performances of the song by other artists, and Dylan has rarely performed the song in concert.

Appears On

Year Artist/Album Label Time AllMusic Rating
John Wesley Harding 1967 Mobile Fidelity Sound Lab 5:35
Nashville Skyline/New Morning/John Wesley Harding 1997 Legacy / Columbia 5:35
Bob Dylan [Limited Edition Hybrid SACD Set] 2003 Legacy 5:35
Iden & Tity 2004 Sony Music Distribution 5:34
Nashville Skyline/John Wesley Harding 2006 Sony Music Distribution 5:35
The Original Mono Recordings 2010 Columbia / Legacy / Sony Music Distribution
The Complete Album Collection, Vol. 1 2013 Columbia / Sony Legacy 5:33
blue highlight denotes editor's pick