The B List: Eight Great Tunes with Eight-Plus Verses

[Originally Published: September 27th, 2012]

Last weekend I walked into my local Berkeley coffee shop and Bob Dylan’s Desolation Row was playing on the stereo. I turned to my friend and asked if he had any way of identifying what verse we were at – but neither of us could place how far into the song we were, or how likely it was the song would still be playing when we left. It was, in fact, still playing when we left. Later that night, I saw Wilco at The Greek Theatre open with One Sunday Morning (Song For Jane Smiley’s Boyfriend) – yet another song with numerous (albeit short) verses, and thus was born this week’s B List. Interestingly, both of those songs, and many listed below, share the characteristic of also not having a chorus.

Hurricane – Bob Dylan

There was a time in high school where I could recite all eleven verses from Dylan’s protest song for boxer and accused murdered Rubin “Hurricane” Carter. If I had time to dig through enough songs, we could probably make a B List of only Bob Dylan songs that have eight or more verses. In addition to the mention of Desolation Row in the intro, Tangled Up In Blue, Lily, Rosemary and The Jack of Hearts, the list goes on and on.


Bob Dylan – Hurricane – 1975 Live by movisfree

Remember The Mountain Bed – Music by Wilco, Words by Woody Guthrie

In the late ’90s, Billy Bragg & Wilco had the honor of setting old sets of Woody Guthrie lyrics to music and releasing two volumes of albums called Mermaid Avenue. Wilco has a number of these songs in their live rotation including California Stars, Airline To Heaven, One by One and others. One of the most rarely played is Remember The Mountain Bed and its nine incredible verses.

All My Friends – LCD Soundsystem

Plenty of words in this LCD Soundsystem classic, even when James Murphy forgets entire verses when he’s live and in the moment.

Esther – Phish

There is no perfect way to count verses. Phish’s Esther for example, has no chorus – but also has at least three different vocal structures. At a minimum Esther has eight verses if you only count the “A” section of the song which leads off and returns at the end. But the “B” and “C” sections of the vocals aren’t a chorus either – so should you count them as verses? With the strict definition of verse, there is no right or wrong answer – feel free to discuss this quandary at your evening dinner table.

Did you know Esther was Phish’s first music video? Phish.net song history will fill you in on the details,

Perhaps most enigmatically, “Esther” was also the first subject for a Phish video. The computer-animated piece was designed by an acquaintance of the band, Scott Nybakken. Playing more like a slide show of still images than a full-motion cartoon, the video was shown between sets at the 7/19/91 Somerville Theatre show.

Alice’s Restaurant – Arlo Guthrie

Multiple appearances from the Guthrie family in this B List – not very surprising. Does any song that indeed contains a chorus spend less time singing it than Alice’s Restaurant? It appears at the beginning and at the end, and is absent in the middle 20 or so minutes of the song. Listening to this song in its entirety is a Thanksgiving tradition of mine and it should be one of yours too.

Suite: Judy Blue Eyes – Crosby Stills & Nash

It’s no surprise that a long tune with the word “Suite” in the title would make the list. It’s a stretch – you have to include the outro, but when you do – it’s eight verses on the dot split up through a few sections.

Reuben and Cerise – Jerry Garcia & Robert Hunter

“This song’s got a lot of words. I might, I might, I might not remember all of them” Jerry famously says to introduce this tune at Oregon State Prison with John Kahn in May of 1982. Reuben and Cerise stayed on the Jerry Garcia solo side of things with the exception of four performances by Grateful Dead.

Tyrone – Erykah Badu

You have to go to the extended version of this tale of a woman chastising her broke and self-centered boyfriend, but when you do – it more than makes the cut.

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6 thoughts on “The B List: Eight Great Tunes with Eight-Plus Verses

  1. larry Reply

    Interesting selection, Thank YOU

  2. Dan Reply

    Great picks. Another amazing one: “I Dream a Highway” by Gillian Welch.

  3. Matt Quinn Reply

    Does All My Friends have the lowest verse:chord ratio?

  4. eggman Reply

    I would add ‘When the roses bloom again’ (Guthrie/Tweedy). But nothing like ‘Subterranean Homesick Blues’ by youknowhom

  5. dackmont Reply

    And forget not “Tempest”, also from youknowhom, which according to Rolling Stone has 45 verses. (And surprise, no chorus.) Wonder how many songs could make this list five times over?

    Nice getting turned onto some new (for me) stuff, thanks!

  6. Diane Reply

    Re your comment that many of these songs don’t have a chorus, I’m reminded of a line in a Wilco song (a bonus track called Message from Mid-Bar) that says something like “When you don’t have a chorus, it’s verse after verse . . .after verse”

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