The "Best" Version of "Every" Song on the Never Ending Tour

1988-2019, Many Shows

Flagging Down the Double E’s is an email newsletter exploring Dylan shows of yesteryear. If you found this article online or someone forwarded you the email, subscribe here to get a new entry delivered to your inbox every week:

As this first year of Flagging Down the Double E's comes to a close, I want to thank everyone for reading, whether you came aboard in this newsletter's early days in the spring or during our recent Rolling Thunder 1975 marathon. I'm going to take a break for a couple months - for one, Bob didn't tour much in January, and for another, I'm beat - but wanted to leave you with something to tide you over until the newsletter returns.

Several years ago, I started a project to identify the best version of every song Dylan has performed on the Never Ending Tour. Not my personal favorites, necessarily, more like the fan-consensus picks. I didn't have the bandwidth to organize a fan poll for each one - we're talking hundreds of songs here. But then I realized, such a poll already exists. Only no one has realized it yet.

There's a popular Bob Dylan fan forum called Expecting Rain. I'm sure this is not news to many of you; Substack's analytics tell me it's been this newsletter's biggest source of subscribers after Google and social media. For many years, the forum has hosted discussion threads on individual songs in a series dubbed "Track Talks." The first one was in 2009. They're up to 522 songs now. 

In those 522 threads, people inevitably mention their favorite live performances. So, I figured, you could just look through each thread, see what Never Ending Tour-era live performance got mentioned the most, and, viola, you've got the "best" live version. All you'd have to do is track down all the recordings. Which I did.

"Wait a second," you're already exclaiming, "this seems like an extremely arbitrary and unscientific way to pick the best Dylan performances." To which I reply: "Yep!" 

That's why "best" is in quotes. The whole thing is subjective and idiosyncratic. Odd, even. In some cases, the most-cited performance might have been mentioned by a dozen people. In quieter threads, it only took two or three people saying they liked something to have it be the "winner." No one knew they were voting on my secret project. 

I see that as a feature, not a bug. It makes this list weirder and woolier than something more organized would be. In some cases, the "winners" will be performances many Dylan superfans know. In others, they will be not obvious at all (or, at least, wasn't to me). "Dude, everyone knows that Dublin '05 is the best 'Visions of Johanna,'" you, a Bob-bootleg-obsessive, say. Not according to this strange way of tabulating, it isn't (also, you're too old to be calling people "dude"). 

Even the most obsessive bootleg listener will probably find something new here. And, for the more casual fan, there's enough to get you started on great Never Ending Tour Dylan. More than enough, honestly…but then again, "more than enough, honestly" is arguably the theme of this entire newsletter.

A few ground rules I used (aka why “every” song is in quotes):

  1. Bob must have performed a song more than three times during the Never Ending Tour. Otherwise "best" is meaningless. There are plenty of compilations of songs Dylan performed just once or twice (I made one myself)

  2. No covers. That is, except the covers Bob claims he wrote himself. I'm looking at you, "Rollin' and Tumblin'."

  3. No "special" concerts: One-off events, sit-ins, awards shows, performances for Popes, and special residencies that didn't come during a tour (like his Supper Club 1993 stand). Admittedly a blurry distinction at times, but I basically wanted performances that came during "regular" Never Ending Tour shows, whatever that means.

  4. Obviously, there has to have been a Track Talk about it. That's most of the songs that fit rules 1, 2, and 3, but there are probably a few they haven't gotten to yet.

  5. When there were ties - and there were plenty - I picked the winner based on some combination of personal preference and trying to make sure a wide array of years/bands/eras got some shine. Fair warning: A few songs he’s never played that well. If you’re expecting a transcendent performance of “2 x 2,” good luck. (However, I am being completely sincere when I tell you this version of “Wiggle Wiggle” rocks.)

All that leaves us with 176 songs, from "Absolutely Sweet Marie" through "You're a Big Girl Now" (extremely niche trivia fact: Bob has never written a song beginning with the letter Z). 

Every year of the Never Ending Tour is covered. 1995 has the most songs, by a hair, with 12. The least, with 1, is 2007. Some of the last few years only have one song also, due to some disadvantages in this framework: 1) He doesn't play as many different songs a year as he used to, 2) The songs he did often sounded similar night to night, splitting the vote, and 3) Some of the Track Talk threads predate the last couple years.

I've pasted a download link below, and then the track list. A warning for you audiophiles: These files are in all-over-the-place lossy bitrates. They’re not tagged in a consistent way, though the key information is there. Oh, and there’s no album art (unless someone wants to create some?). Again, I started this as a project just for me several years ago. I bogged down partway through, and a few months back thought this newsletter offered a good opportunity to go back and finish it.

These 176 songs should give you plenty to listen to until this newsletter returns. Thanks to all the Expecting Rain commenters who contributed, without even realizing they were doing so. And thanks to you for reading. See you in 2021.

Download the full set here

Update #1: Reader Noel M created the album art above. Thanks Noel!
Update #2: Reader Marcos P went and tracked down lossless FLAC versions for every track! Download them in eight parts here (they’re big files): 1-A, 1-B, 2-A, 2-B, 3-A, 3-B, 4-A, 4-B.

Here's the track list:

  1. A Hard Rain's A-Gonna Fall - December 16 1995, Electric Factory, Philadelphia, PA

  2. Absolutely Sweet Marie - August 3 1997, Loon Mountain, Lincoln, NH

  3. Ain't Talkin' - October 27 2009, MetroCentre, Rockford, IL

  4. All Along the Watchtower - October 28 1992, Paramount Theatre, Springfield, MA

  5. Ballad of a Thin Man - November 22 2010, Terminal 5, New York, NY

  6. Ballad of Hollis Brown - November 13 2004, Gordon Field House, Rochester, NY

  7. Ballad of Frankie Lee and Judas Priest - September 25 2000, Guildhall, Portsmouth, England

  8. Beyond Here Lies Nothing  - October 14 2019, Frost Amphitheatre, Palo Alto, CA

  9. Beyond the Horizon - September 3 2008, Civic Auditorium, Santa Monica, CA

  10. Blind Willie McTell - March 25 2003, Brixton Academy, London, England

  11. Blowin' in the Wind - March 16 2000, Civic Auditorium, Santa Cruz, CA

  12. Bob Dylan's 115th Dream - October 19 1988, Radio City Music Hall, New York, NY

  13. Boots of Spanish Leather - June 30 1988, Jones Beach, Wantagh, NY

  14. Born in Time -  February 1 1998, Prudential Hall, Newark, NJ

  15. Bye and Bye - June 28 2005, Herschel Greer Stadium, Nashville, TN

  16. Can't Wait - March 2 2004, The Pageant, St. Louis, MO

  17. Cats in the Well - March 8 2004, Park West, Chicago, IL

  18. Chimes of Freedom - March 24 2001, Entertainment Centre, Newcastle, Australia

  19. Cold Irons Bound - November 17 2006, Patriot Center, Fairfax, VA

  20. Country Pie - May 19 2000, Spektrum, Oslo, Norway

  21. Cry a While - July 15 2014, Trädgårdsföreningen, Gothenburg, Sweden

  22. Dark Eyes - December 16 1995, Electric Factory, Philadelphia, PA

  23. Dear Landlord - October 30 1992, Endicott College, Beverly, MA

  24. Desolation Row - October 20 2003, Arena Berlin, Berlin, Germany

  25. Dignity - March 23 1995, Forest National, Brussels, Belgium

  26. Disease of Conceit - February 8 1990, Hammersmith Odeon, London, England

  27. Don't Think Twice, It's Alright - June 11 1998, Forum København, Copenhagen, Denmark 

  28. Down Along the Cove - October 28 2005, Ahoy, Rotterdam, Netherlands

  29. Down in the Flood - July 3 1996, Zeltfestival, Konstanz, Germany

  30. Drifter's Escape - June 25 1995, RFK Memorial Stadium, Washington, DC

  31. Driftin' Too Far From Shore - June 24 1988, Garden State Arts Center, Holmdel, NJ

  32. Duquesne Whistle - April 22 2016, Bunkamura Orchard Hall, Tokyo, Japan

  33. Early Roman Kings - November 10th 2014, Cadillac Palace Theater, Chicago, IL

  34. Every Grain of Sand - November 20 2003, Sheffield Arena, Sheffield, England

  35. Everything Is Broken - June 7 1991, Arena Parco Nord, Bologna, Italy

  36. Floater - November 26 2005, Point Theatre, Dublin, Ireland

  37. Forever Young - June 27 2004, Pearse Stadium, Galway, Ireland

  38. Forgetful Heart - November 20 2013, Clyde Auditorium, Glasgow, Scotland

  39. Gates of Eden - June 10 1988, Greek Theatre, Berkeley, CA

  40. Girl from the North Country - November 5 2003, Stadthalle, Freiburg, Germany

  41. God Knows - August 14 1994, Woodstock '94, Saugerties, NY

  42. Gonna Change My Way of Thinking - June 20 2011, Ramat Gan Stadium, Tel Aviv, Israel

  43. Gotta Serve Somebody - October 22 1998, Entertainment Center, Duluth, MN

  44. Hazel - April 22 2005, Fox Theatre, Mashantucket, CT

  45. High Water - August 3 2013, Verizon Wireless Ampitheatre, Irvine, CA

  46. Highlands - March 16 2000, Civic Auditorium, Santa Cruz, CA

  47. Highway 61 Revisited - October 12 2019, Santa Barbara Bowl, Santa Barbara, CA

  48. Honest with Me - April 24 2005, Orpheum Theater, Memphis, TN

  49. Huck's Tune - April 23 2014, Zepp Namba, Osaka, Japan

  50. I and I - November 10 1999, Veterans Memorial Coliseum, New Haven, CT

  51. I Believe in You - April 5 2009, Saarlandhalle, Saarbrücken, Germany

  52. I Don't Believe You - June 13 1989, Amphithéâtre de Fréjus, Fréjus, France

  53. I Feel a Change Comin' On - June 18 2010, Parco Ducale, Parma, Italy

  54. I Shall Be Released - July 16 2005, Benaroya Hall, Seattle, WA

  55. I Threw It All Away - May 2 2002, Ahoy, Rotterdam, Netherlands

  56. I Want You - November 15 1999, Barton Hall, Ithaca, NY

  57. I'll Be Your Baby Tonight - April 16 1994, Athletics-Recreation Center, Valparaiso, IN

  58. I'll Remember You - June 7 1991, Arena Parco Nord, Bologna, Italy

  59. Idiot Wind - April 5 1992, Palais Theatre, Melbourne, Australia

  60. If Dogs Run Free - April 1 2005, Auditorium Theatre, Chicago, IL

  61. If Not For You - October 8 1993, Cal Expo Amphitheater, Sacramento, CA

  62. If You Ever Go to Houston - October 17 2009, Arizona Veterans Memorial Coliseum, Phoenix, AZ

  63. If You See Her, Say Hello - October 19 1994, Roseland Ballroom, New York, NY

  64. In the Garden - October 19 1988, Radio City Music Hall, New York, NY

  65. In the Summertime - November 2 2002, Hara Arena, Trotwood, OH

  66. It Ain't Me Babe - February 11 1993, Hammersmith Ballroom, London, England

  67. It Takes a Lot to Laugh, It Takes a Train to Cry - December 14 1997, Metro, Chicago, IL

  68. It's Alright Ma (I'm Only Bleeding) - September 17 2000, SECC, Glasgow, Scotland

  69. It's All Over Now Baby Blue - April 25 1999, Hallenstadion, Zurich, Switzerland

  70. Joey - March 31 1995, Brixton Academy, London, England

  71. John Brown - June 14 1998, Stadthalle, Bremen, Germany

  72. Jokerman - November 25 2003, Hammersmith Apollo, London, England

  73. Jolene - July 5 2009, Rothbury Music Festival, Rothbury, MI

  74. Just Like a Woman - February 17 2003, Sydney Entertainment Centre, Sydney, Australia

  75. Just Like Tom Thumb's Blues - June 16 2008, Lazzaretto, Bergamo, Italy

  76. Knockin' on Heaven's Door - June 15 1989,Palacio de Deportes de la Comunidad de Madrid, Madrid, Spain

  77. Lay Lady Lay - July 23 1999, Tweeter Center, Mansfield, MA

  78. Lenny Bruce - April 3 2000, Five Seasons Center, Cedar Rapids, IA

  79. Leopard-Skin Pillbox Hat - April 17 2005, Orpheum Theatre, Boston, MA

  80. The Levee's Gonna Break - April 21 2012, Credicard Hall, São Paulo, Brazil

  81. License to Kill - June 17 1998, Forest National, Brussels, Belgium

  82. Like a Rolling Stone - March 3 2004, The Pageant, St. Louis, MO

  83. Lonesome Day Blues - November 13 2004, Gordon Field House, Rochester, NY

  84. The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carrol - April 16 2005, Orpheum Theatre, Boston, MA

  85. Long and Wasted Years - December 3 2014, Beacon Theatre, New York, NY

  86. Love Minus Zero / No Limit - April 7 1995, Edinburgh Playhouse, Edinburgh, Scotland

  87. Love Sick - June 9 1998, Globe Arena, Stockholm, Sweden

  88. Maggie's Farm - September 12 1993, Great Woods Center for the Performing Arts, Mansfield, MA

  89. Make You Feel My Love - February 19 1999, Broome County Veterans Memorial Arena, Binghamton, NY

  90. Mama You Been on My Mind - November 1 1992, F.M. Kirby Center, Wilkes-Barre, PA

  91. Man Gave Names to All the Animals - January 29 1990, Le Grand Rex, Paris, France

  92. Man in the Long Black Coat - March 12 1995, Palac Kultury, Prague, Czech Republic

  93. Man of Peace - November 15 1999, Barton Hall, Ithaca, NY

  94. Masters of War - April 8 2006, Maricopa County Events Center, Sun City West, AZ

  95. Million Miles - November 3 2004, Elliott Hall of Music, West Lafayette, IN

  96. Mississippi - February 10 2002, Cricket Arena, Charlotte, NC

  97. Moonlight - March 7 2004, Vic Theatre, Chicago, IL

  98. Most Likely You Go Your Way - June 21 1995, Theatre of Living Arts, Philadelphia, PA

  99. Most of the Time - May 9 1992, Event Center Arena, San Jose, CA

  100. Mr. Tambourine Man - July 1 1993, Poble Espanyol, Barcelona, Spain

  101. My Back Pages - April 24 1997, Stanley Theatre, Utica, NY

  102. My Wife's Hometown - November 14 2009, Wang Theatre, Boston, MA

  103. Nettie Moore - November 12 2006, Agganis Arena, Boston, MA

  104. Never Gonna Be the Same Again - November 3 1996, Soldiers and Sailors Memorial Auditorium, Chattanooga, TN

  105. New Morning - August 13 2006, Cooper Stadium, Columbus, OH

  106. Not Dark Yet - July 10 2004, Estadio Municipal Escribano Castilla, Motril, Spain

  107. Obviously 5 Believers - July 8 1996, Villa Manin, Codroipo, Italy

  108. One More Cup of Coffee - February 4 1990, Hammersmith Odeon, London, England

  109. One Too Many Mornings - October 19 1988, Radio City Music Hall, New York, NY

  110. Pay in Blood -  October 30 2016, Four Rivers Center, Paducah, KY

  111. Pledging My Time - October 26 1995, Indiana University Auditorium, Bloomington, IN

  112. Po' Boy - November 6 2001, Van Andel Arena, Grand Rapids, MI

  113. Political World - February 4 1990, Hammersmith Odeon, London, England

  114. Positively 4th Street - March 20 2004, Phoenix Concert Theatre, Toronto, ON, Canada

  115. Queen Jane Approximately - June 17 1996, Tempodrom, Berlin, Germany

  116. Quinn the Eskimo - November 23 2003, Shepherd's Bush Empire, London, England

  117. Rainy Day Women #12 & 25- July 3 2010, The Hop Farm, Paddock Wood, England

  118. Ring Them Bells - April 11 1995, Point Theatre, Dublin, Ireland

  119. Rollin' and Tumblin' - November 19 2012, Wells Fargo Center, Philadelphia, PA

  120. Saving Grace - February 28 2004, Cain's Ballroom, Tulsa, OK

  121. Scarlet Town - May 15 2015, Fox Theatre, Detroit, MI

  122. Seeing the Real You at Last - November 19 2000, Towson Center Arena, Towson, MD

  123. Señor (Tales of Yankee Power) - November 27 2005, Point Theatre, Dublin, Ireland

  124. Series of Dreams - April 6 1994, Adler Theatre, Davenport, IA

  125. She Belongs to Me - April 14 2007, Hallam FM Arena, Sheffield, England

  126. Shelter from the Storm - April 22 2005, Foxwoods, Mashantucket, CT

  127. Shot of Love - June 22 1989, Stadio Comunale, Livorno, Italy

  128. Shooting Star - November 3 2003, Hallenstadion, Zurich, Switzerland

  129. Silvio - June 24 1988, Garden State Arts Center, Holmdel, NJ

  130. Simple Twist of Fate - November 9 1992, Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall, Sarasota, FL

  131. Solid Rock - April 5 2002, Globe Arena, Stockholm, Sweden

  132. Soon After Midnight -  October 7 2016, Desert Trip, Indio, CA

  133. Song to Woody - October 30 2001, Brown County Arena Green Bay, WI

  134. Spirit on the Water - August 21 2012, Mayo Civic Center, Rochester, MN

  135. Standing in the Doorway - October 6 2000, Wembley Arena, London, England

  136. Stuck Inside of Mobile with the Memphis Blues Again - June 9 2008, ČEZ Aréna, Ostrava, Czech Republic

  137. Subterranean Homesick Blues - August 3 2002, Newport Folk Festival, Newport, RI

  138. Sugar Baby - November 19 2001, Madison Square Garden, New York, NY

  139. Summer Days - April 30 2003, Jillian's Parking Lot, Louisville, KY

  140. Tangled Up in Blue - July 5 2009, Rothbury Music Festival, Rothbury, MI

  141. Tears of Rage - April 5 2006, Rabobank Arena, Bakersfield, CA

  142. The Man in Me - November 2 1991, Stephens Auditorium, Ames, IA

  143. The Times They Are a-Changin’ - October 20 1989, Mid-Hudson Civic Center, Poughkeepsie, NY

  144. Things Have Changed - November 4 2014, Orpheum Theatre, Minneapolis, MN

  145. This Dream of You - October 11 2009, William Randolph Hearst Greek Theatre, Berkeley, CA

  146. This Wheel's on Fire - August 20 2001, Town Park, Telluride, CO

  147. Thunder on the Mountain - November 8 2017, Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum, Uniondale, NY

  148. Tight Connection to My Heart - February 5 1990, Hammersmith Odeon, London, England

  149. Til' I Fell in Love with You - November 13 2005, Hallenstadion, Zurich, Switzerland

  150. To Be Alone with You - April 25 2001, Show Me Center, Cape Girardeau, MO

  151. To Ramona - April 2 1995, Aston Villa Leisure Centre, Birmingham, England

  152. Tombstone Blues - October 7 2002, Pauline Davis Pavilion, Red Bluff, CA

  153. Tomorrow Is a Long Time - March 10 2000, Sun Theater, Anaheim, CA

  154. Tonight I'll Be Staying Here with You - April 19 1996, State Theatre, Portland, ME

  155. Tough Mama - April 12 2009, Heineken Music Hall, Amsterdam, Netherlands

  156. Trouble - October 23 1989, Boston Opera House, Boston, MA

  157. Tryin' to Get to Heaven - June 16 2011, Docklands, Cork, Ireland

  158. TV Talkin' Song - November 14 1990, Braden Auditorium, Normal, IL

  159. Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dum - July 15 2014, Trädgårdsföreningen, Gothenburg, Sweden

  160. Unbelievable - April 9 2004, The Orange Peel, Asheville, NC

  161. Under the Red Sky - May 1 1999, Silvretta Ski and Funsport Arena, Ischgl, Austria

  162. Visions of Johanna - September 24 2000, Guildhall, Portsmouth, England

  163. Waiting for you - October 22 2013, Mitsubishi Electric Halle, Düsseldorf, Germany

  164. Watching the River Flow - October 8 1993, Cal Expo Amphitheatre, Sacramento, CA

  165. What Good Am I - April 5 2013, SUNY Buffalo, Buffalo, NY

  166. What Was It You Wanted - January 12 1990, Toad's Place, New Haven, CT

  167. When I Paint My Masterpiece - October 12 2018, Paradise Cove at River Spirit Casino, Tulsa, OK

  168. When the Deal Goes Down - April 17 2007, National Indoor Arena, Birmingham, England

  169. Where Teardrops Fall - April 11 1995, Point Theatre, Dublin, Ireland

  170. The Wicked Messenger - November 25 2003, Carling Academy Brixton, London, England

  171. Wiggle Wiggle - July 21 1991, Kings Dominion Amusement Park, Doswell, VA

  172. With God On Our Side - December 4 1988, Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum, Oakland, CA

  173. Workingman's Blues #2 - November 27 2010, Foxwoods, Mashantucket, CT

  174. You're a Big Girl Now - April 19 1993, Von Braun Civic Center, Huntsville, AL

  175. 2 X 2 - August 18 1992, Massey Hall, Toronto, ON

  176. 4th Time Around - November 8 2000, Lehigh University Stabler Arena, Bethlehem, PA

Find the index to all shows covered so far here. Subscribe to get future newsletters delivered straight to your inbox here:


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