Bob Dylan’s ballade


Blood on the Tracks (1975) is one of Bob Dylan’s most popular, most successful, and most critically acclaimed albums. The album’s opening song, ‘Tangled Up in Blue,’ is similarly beloved. The musical structure of this song follows the scheme of a medieval song form, the ballade. This paper explores the underlying medievalism of ‘Tangled Up in Blue.’

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  1. 1.

    Bob Dylan, “Tangled Up in Blue,” Blood on the Tracks (Columbia, 1975). Copyright © 1974 by Ram’s Horn Music; renewed 2002 by Ram’s Horn Music. On the recording of the album, see Gill and Odegard (2004). For discussions of each song, see Heylin (2010, 17–55).

  2. 2.

    I play ‘Dame, de qui toute ma joie vient’ sung by Gothic Voices (1983), directed by Christopher Page, a performance which emphasizes the refrain line. For a discussion of form in a fifteenth-century ballade, ‘Resveilliés vous’ by Guillaume Du Fay, see Upton (2013, 106–13).

  3. 3.

    The complete lyrics can be found on Dylan’s website:

  4. 4.

    For years I heard this line as her offering him a plate, due to Dylan’s idiosyncratic pronunciation. The rhyme ‘pipe/type’ corrects my misperception.

  5. 5.

    Child 1882–1896 “243. The Dæmon Lover” can be seen online: A four-part study of the song’s history, with musical links, was published online by Sing Out! magazine (Bigger, 2012ad). Bigger notes the link with ‘Tangled Up in Blue’ in the third part of his study (2012c).

  6. 6.

    Blue Blood on the Tracks–era notebook owned by The Bob Dylan Archive® Collections, Tulsa, OK. The notebook is currently catalogued as “Small Notebook Number 6,” Box 99, Folder 6, and the page under discussion is page 13 (recto).

  7. 7.

    ‘Tangled Up in Blue’ Copyright © 1974 by Ram’s Horn Music; renewed 2002 by Ram’s Horn Music. Additional lyrics copyright © 2019 Special Rider Music. The photo is available online:

  8. 8.

    Hampton’s footnote credits the interview quotation to the website Expecting Rain,

  9. 9.

    Dylan was eleven in 1952 when MGM’s film of Ivanhoe, in glorious Technicolor produced by Pandro S. Berman, directed by Richard Thorpe, and starring Elizabeth Taylor, Joan Fontaine, Robert Taylor, and George Sanders was released. An English translation of De amore was published in 1941 and reprinted in paperback in 1969.

  10. 10.

    On Paul Clayton (1931–67) see Coltman (2008). Clayton was an academically trained folk song collector as well as a performer, and he recorded 19 albums of traditional American folk songs, one EP, and seven singles. Clayton and Dylan met in 1961. The two artists’ publishing companies sued each other over Dylan’s ‘plagiarism’ of Clayton’s song; the lawsuits were settled out of court. The 1923 publication of “Who gon bring you chickens” is available online:

  11. 11.

    The George Hecksher Collection, the Morgan Library & Museum, MA 6201. The Morgan library published a photograph of the first page of this notebook on Facebook:

  12. 12.

    The two songs on Blood on the Tracks whose lyrics were not copied in the Red Notebook are ‘Meet Me in the Morning’ and ‘Buckets of Rain,’ the first and last songs on Side 2 of the finished album.

  13. 13.

    Clinton Heylin also thinks the notebook reflects the order of composition (Heylin, 2001, 370).

  14. 14.

    The online audio journal Aquarium Drunkard provides links to five different live performances of the song, dating from 1976 to 2017:


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Correspondence to Elizabeth Randell Upton.

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Upton, E.R. Bob Dylan’s ballade. Postmedieval 10, 452–465 (2019).

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