An Analysis of Tangled up in Blue by Bob Dylan

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Updated: Aug 17, 2023
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“Tangled Up in Blue” was released in Bob Dylan’s album, Blood on the Tracks, on January 17, 1975.

Whenever I listen to this song, I feel as though I’m indulging in a relaxed narrative. The storyteller weaves a non-linear tale of different characters with nonchalance, assuring the listeners that despite the chaotic world, everything is well. I believe this song aims to evoke a connection between listeners’ personal experiences and the themes it presents. Some of these include traveling, assisting others, meeting new people, forming connections, and finding employment. This interpretation seems more plausible as the song’s narrative does not follow a linear trajectory, allowing it to lean towards a more idealistic perspective than a factual one.

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The orchestration in this song comprises instruments such as the snare drum, cymbals, acoustic guitar, piano, acoustic bass, a wind instrument (possibly flute), and harmonica, which signals the end of the lyrics. The snare drum features prominently in the mix, providing rhythm and structure to the song. A string instrument also emerges from the backdrop in the second verse, creating an antagonistic element due to its anxious-sounding tones clashing with the song’s overall flow. The other instruments remain relatively consistent throughout, except for the harmonica, which heightens its volume at strategic points in the stanzas to intensify suspense. The song concludes with Dylan’s characteristic harmonica playing.

The vocal delivery complements the song’s lyrics. I am particularly fond of his delivery of the recurring line “Tangled up in blue,” which serves as a hook creating tension. This climax is achieved by lowering and quieting the preceding word, followed by a bright, assertive declaration of “Tangled up in blue”. His vocal delivery aligns with the song’s rock genre yet maintains its unique quality. Dylan places significant vocal emphasis on the song lyrics, providing a symmetrical structure that facilitates audience comprehension. This approach provokes listeners to decipher the semantics, introducing an element of confusion regarding the lyrics’ denotations.

The rhyme scheme is ABCBDEFEGHJ(H/K)K. The H/K, labeled as such because midway through this line, Dylan intentionally rhymes a word with the preceding H line, followed by 3-5 syllables where the last word in the H/K line rhymes with the K line which consistently ends with “blue”. This complex scheme present in each of the seven stanzas adds to the song’s complexity, permitting Dylan a certain level of lyric modification as evidenced in various live performances.

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There is an interesting dynamic going on with the song’s meaning. I think this song could be read as a collection of his conquests with different women. Each stanza could be Dylan telling different, possibly intermingled stories about women he has been involved with in his life. The reason I get this feeling is because if he is referring to himself in the first person, the female he is talking about in the story changes. First, he’s waking up with her. In the second stanza, he just met her and she’s married. In the third stanza, she is in his mind. In the fourth stanza, she is a stripper and he either just met her or recognizes her. In the fifth stanza, he is at her house for the first time (she says she didn’t think he’d talk to her and she lights a stove). In the sixth stanza, he is living with her and the ‘them’ is first introduced. Finally, in the seventh stanza, he talks about them as a group and he says, “I don’t know what they’re doin’ with their lives”, suggesting friends (possibly girlfriends) that he is remembering and wondering where they are now. It reminds me of how I wonder what some of my old high school friends and lovers are up to now. This read of the song would fit with the non-linear progression of the story, since memories come up just like the song reads.

I would label the song as a success for several reasons. The first reason is that the song fits Dylan’s unique yet effective ambiguous storytelling style. He almost creates a story but it would fall apart if you read it holistically, which would coincide with the metaphoric ideas that come up with “Tangled Up in Blue,” the title of the song. The buildup and climax in vocals and instrumentation stay the same from stanza to stanza, with the exception of the closure which has the addition of the harmonica. Overall, all these elements come together in a congruent, polished work that suggests forethought and talent on the part of the maker of this song.

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An Analysis of Tangled Up in Blue by Bob Dylan. (2022, Nov 16). Retrieved from