Bob Dylan

Positively 4th Street

Song Review by

"Positively 4th Street" was one of Bob Dylan's biggest hits, reaching the Top Ten in 1965 as a follow-up to "Like a Rolling Stone." As has often been pointed out, rarely has a big pop hit featured such nasty lyrics. We are not talking here about the profanity or violence of gangsta rap, but interpersonal nastiness, digging deep into another person's psyche to make them feel as worthless as possible. The level of bile was slightly coated by the music, which was a fairly good-natured folk-rock melody that, like "Like a Rolling Stone," highlighted the piping organ of Al Kooper. Dylan starts right off by accusing the unspecified second-person target of the song as having a lot of nerve to say they're his friend, then reeling off verse after verse lambasting him or her for being a two-faced backstabber. Indeed the melody is pretty repetitive, never getting out of the sequence it passes through in the first four lines, and it's a bit surprising that it got to be as big a hit as it was. Dylan was huge after "Like a Rolling Stone," though, and that no doubt gave it a window of daylight into AM radio play lists that it might not have had at most other times. Dylan doesn't let up, eventually concluding that he wishes the target of his rage could stand in his shoes to see what a drag she or he is to see from the outside. There's been a lot of speculation over the years as to who "Positively 4th Street" is about; most likely it's a composite of several people from his past Dylan bore a grudge toward. Though the title of the song is never heard in the lyric, 4th Street was a key thoroughfare in the Greenwich Village where Dylan made his name, and understandably many in the Village thought the song might have been about them, and were furious about it. "Positively 4th Street" attracted a relatively small group of covers over the years, by such disparate artists as Lucinda Williams, Johnny Rivers, and the Byrds. The last of those are esteemed as the best Dylan interpreters, yet their version, from Untitled, is not memorable and rates among their less-notable Dylan covers.

Appears On

Year Artist/Album Label Time AllMusic Rating
Bob Dylan's Greatest Hits 1967 Legacy / Sony Music Distribution 4:12
Biograph 1985 Columbia 3:54
Bob Dylan's Greatest Hits, Vol. 3 1994 Columbia 0:00
Masterpieces 1998 Columbia 3:52
The Essential Bob Dylan 2000 Columbia 4:09
The Best of Bob Dylan, Vol. 2 2000 Columbia 4:09
No Image 2000 Sony Music Distribution 3:54
No Image 2000
Various Artists
Realm Records 4:09
Rock Hits of the 60's 2001
Various Artists
Sony Music Distribution 4:09
Greatest Hits, Vol. 1-3 2003 Legacy / Columbia 4:12
John Lennon's Jukebox 2004
Various Artists
EMI Music Distribution 3:54
Dylan 2007 Legacy 3:54
Peace And Love [Madacy] 2008
Various Artists
Madacy 4:09
Playlist: The Very Best of Bob Dylan '60s 2008 Legacy / Playlist 3:54
The Best of the Original Mono Recordings 2010 Columbia / Legacy 3:51
Music & Photos 2013 Columbia 3:54
The Complete Album Collection, Vol. 1 2013 Columbia Records / Sony Music 4:10
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