Bob Dylan

Tangled Up in Blue

Song Review by

It might be possible (and somebody may have done it already) to write a doctoral thesis on Bob Dylan's use of pronouns. If such a study were attempted, a great deal of space could be taken up with a discussion of "Tangled Up in Blue," a song Dylan wrote in 1974 that became the leadoff track of one of his greatest albums, Blood on the Tracks. The grand subject of Blood on the Tracks was the ups and downs of mature romantic relationships, and "Tangled Up in Blue" served as a masterful introduction, a seven-verse narrative about a couple or about a romantic triangle, or perhaps about several different couples. The ambiguity is increased by the different versions of the song that exist. Dylan first recorded it on September 12, 1974, and then re-recorded it four days later, initially opting to release the first version, which was put on the test pressing of Blood on the Tracks in November. (The second version was released on The Bootleg Series, Vols. 1-3 [Rare & Unreleased] 1961-1991 in 1991.) In these versions, the song is mainly in the third person. The first three verses describe a "he" and "she" and their romantic comings and goings. In the fourth verse, the narrator enters the story, becoming involved with the woman. But by the sixth verse, "he" has returned, though the narrator remains present, and despite material success, the relationship once again falls apart. At the end, the narrator, "still on the road," is determined to get back to the woman, having left everyone else behind. In late December 1974, while staying in Minnesota for Christmas, Dylan hired local musicians and re-recorded half the songs for Blood on the Tracks, among them "Tangled Up in Blue." In this third version, which was played with more instrumentation and in more of a pop style, the lyrics have been revised. Now, the "he" of the first three verses has been replaced by "I" and there are some other minor lyrical changes. The most altered verse is the sixth, though it retains some of the ambiguity of the three-way relationship. Without having previously mentioned a third character, the narrator begins the verse, "I lived with them on Montague Street," suggesting that he has joined an existing relationship. Again, it crumbles, and the song ends as in the first version. Blood on the Tracks was released in January 1975, becoming a chart-topping album, and "Tangled Up in Blue" was a Top 40 single. Though it has remained closely associated with Dylan, there have been half a dozen cover versions, notably one by Jerry Garcia in 1991 and another by Indigo Girls in 1995. Dylan performed the song regularly on the Rolling Thunder Tour of 1975-1976, and during his world tour of 1978. Along with most of his secular repertoire, it disappeared from his sets of 1979-1981, then returned to his set lists as of his 1984 European tour. Real Live, the concert album drawn from that tour, reveals extensive lyric changes, the most notable of which is the return to the third person in the first three verses. And the second-person pronoun is even introduced briefly in the third verse: "He" is said to have had a number of lovers, none of them "too refined, all except for you, but you were tangled up in blue." Despite numerous line changes, the overall story remains the same. The ambiguities in "Tangled Up in Blue," as well as the various versions, have led to varying interpretations. Dylan himself, commenting a decade after writing the song, talked about its changing tenses rather than its changing pronouns, commenting that he was trying to tell a story in the present and the past at the same time. John Herdman, in Voice Without Restraint (New York: Delilah Books, 1981), notes a parallel to the Scottish ballad "The Demon Lover" and suggests that all but the first and last verses refer to different women, not the same one. Robert Shelton, in No Direction Home: The Life and Music of Bob Dylan (New York: Beech Tree Books, 1986), speculates about whether the Italian poet praised in the fifth verse is Dante (which might relate the song to the episodic Divine Comedy), and states, "Dylan prefers the Real Live version." Of course, the song's very difficulty inspires interest, and "Tangled Up in Blue," which has remained in Dylan's sets over the years, is still considered one of his best 1970s compositions, earning its place as the leadoff track on Bob Dylan's Greatest Hits, Vol. 3 (1994).

Appears On

Year Artist/Album Label Time AllMusic Rating
Blood on the Tracks 1975 Columbia / Legacy 5:41
Biograph 1985 Columbia 5:45
The Bootleg Series, Vols. 1-3 (Rare & Unreleased) 1961-1991 1991 Columbia / Sony Music Distribution 6:51
Bob Dylan's Greatest Hits, Vol. 3 1994 Columbia 5:42
The Genuine Bootleg Series, Take 2 1996
No Image 1997 Columbia / Columbus
The Essential Bob Dylan 2000 Columbia 0:00
No Image 2000 Sony Music Distribution 5:42
No Image 2001 Sony Music Distribution / Columbia 5:43
Blonde on Blonde/Blood on the Tracks/Time Out of Mind 2001 Legacy / Sony Music Distribution 5:42
Bob Dylan [Limited Edition Hybrid SACD Set] 2003 Legacy 5:41
Greatest Hits, Vol. 1-3 2003 Legacy / Columbia 5:41
The Collection, Vol. 3: Blonde on Blonde/Blood on the Tracks/Infidels 2005 Legacy / Columbia 5:41
The Best of Bob Dylan [Sony/BMG 2005] 2005 Sony Music Distribution 5:43
Dylan 2007 Legacy 5:41
Discover Bob Dylan 2007 Legacy / Sony BMG 5:43
World's Best Dad [2007] 2007
Various Artists
Bmg Tv 5:43
Music & Photos 2013 Columbia 5:43
The Complete Album Collection, Vol. 1 2013 Columbia Records / Sony Music 6:54
Playlist: The Very Best of Bob Dylan 2014 Legacy / Sony Legacy 5:41
More Blood, More Tracks: The Bootleg Series, Vol. 14 2018 Columbia Records / Legacy / Sony CMG / Sony Music 7:19
Forevers Hits Universal Distribution