Bob Dylan songs with ‘London’ in the lyrics - from Time Out Of Mind to The Clash

Mentions of London in Bob Dylans vast back catalogue are surprisingly rare.

From a pre-fame trip to perform in a BBC radio play to recent appearances at the Palladium, Bob Dylan has long had a connection with London.

But lyrically references to London are relatively rare - and we pick out just seven mentions of the word ‘London’ its here - but the city certainly has a place in Dylan folklore.

In December 1962, shortly before the explosion of his success, he appeared in the BBC radio play Madhouse on Castle Street. While in town, he put in an appearance at The Troubadour in Earls Court and came into contact with English folk music, which would prove influential.

By 1965 he was playing on his final fully acoustic at the Royal Albert Hall, to which he returned in 1966 with a show split between acoustic and electric. For many years the famous “Judas!” heckle was attributed to the venue, although that was actually at the Manchester Free Trade Hall.

Many visits have followed since, including famous comeback shows and jaunts around Crouch End and Camden.

According to the well-maintained (if sometimes selectively edited) official website, there are seven lyrical references to London.

1. Something’s Burning, Baby (1985)

“Something is burning, baby, here’s what I say. Even the bloodhounds of London couldn’t find you today.”

An inauspicious start to our list with a track from 1985’s Empire Burlesque, an album universally agreed to be not one of the genius’s finest (to put it kindly).

The song is Dylan in bitter heartbreak mode, uncharitable towards whoever it is that has riled him this time.

The tune is somewhere in the region of Oh, Sister from Desire (1976) but this time it is lost in Dylan’s own 1980s overproduction, like a dog barking out of the window in heavy motorway traffic.

2. TV Talkin’ Song (1990)

“One time in London I’d gone out for a walk past a place called Hyde Park where people talk ‘bout all kinds of different gods, they have their point of view. To anyone passing by, that’s who they’re talking to.”

In 2015, Ultimate Classic Rock ranked Dylan’s albums, with Empire Burlesque coming in at number 35 out of 39. Under The Red Sky (1990) was at number 30, despite the presence of opening track Wiggle Wiggle.

Also on that album is the boogie woogie of TV Talkin’ Song in which the evils of the TV god are preached at Speakers’ Corner before a riot breaks out (The revelation will be televised, if you will).

3. Jack-A-Roe (1993)

“Oh, there was a wealthy merchant, in London he did dwell. He had a lovely daughter, the truth to you I'll tell.”

Jack-a-Roe is taken from 1993’s folk standards album World Gone Wrong, which features a cover photo of Bob in a top hat at Fluke’s Cradle cafe in Camden.

The song dates back in some form or other since the early 19th century. Joan Baez recorded a version and it became a staple of Grateful Dead sets

It tells the story of a woman who pursues her sailor sweetheart across the seas by pretending to be a man named Jack-A-Roe. She rescues him from the battlefield and gets him to a doctor who heals his wounds. But the question behind the song is not who the characters are, but to whom the performer is singing.

“This couple they got married, so why not you and me?”

4. Not Dark Yet (1997)

“Well, I’ve been to London and I’ve been to gay Paree...”

Which is how spells ‘Paris’ in the listing for this track from 1997’s Time Out of Mind, which has recently had an exceptional ‘deluxe reissue’ makeover, released this year as Fragments.

Not Dark Yet appears to be the only true Dylan classic with ‘London’ among the lyrics.

In the late ‘90s it felt like a final meditation on death from a great artist.

But more than 25 years on, he’s still going and, in hindsight, he was only 56 at the time.

Furthermore he kept telling us he wasn’t done, but we wouldn’t listen.

“It’s not dark yet, but it’s getting there.”

5. London Calling (live 2005)

Not a Bob song, obviously, but a classic by The Clash. It’s conceivable that a hint of Dylan can be detected in Joe Strummer’s apocalyptic lyrics.

“London calling, yes, I was there, too

“And you know what they said? Well, some of it was true.”

Dylan performed the song twice at Brixton Academy in 2005. Audio is available on YouTube of an electrifying performance, with the band playing faithful to the original while Dylan gives the melody a Bob-over.

6. London Waltz (live 1963)

During a very early London show, at Dobell's Jazz Record Shop in January 1963, Dylan played this song by Eric Von Schmidt and Dick Farina, folk scenesters whom he knew from Greenwich Village.

In fact, under the name Blind Boy Grunt, Dylan provided backing vocals on the pair’s album, which featured London Waltz and was a UK-only release that winter.

The pair’s influence on Dylan’s music is clear, although this track is lyrically more limited than might be expected from the trio

“Well, we’re doin’ the London Waltz...if they got nothing else.”

7. Handsome Molly (1961/2)

A reader has pointed out that Dylan covered this Doc Watson song in the early ‘60s.

The jilted singer yearns to find his former fiancé, who left him at the alter and left the country - but he hasn’t given up.

“Well, I wish I was in London, or some other seaport town.

“I'd put my foot on a steamboat. I'd sail the ocean 'round.”