I have a joke I like to tell that my favorite Dylan song is “One Headlight”… written by Jakob Dylan, Bob’s son. (Okay, so it’s not much of a joke.)
The Wallflowers are a rock band that are essentially a vehicle for Jakob Dylan. Their big moment came in the mid-’90s with the success of sophomore album Bringing Down the
House Horse and single “One Headlight.” It’s become a seminal track for fans of “straight-ahead rock,” as Stephen Thomas Erlewine described it in his review of one of the band’s albums.
“One Headlight” balances gravity and serenity with a gorgeous sound, anchored by his gentle guitar licks and assured vocal presence (which is much more appealing than his dad’s trademark rasp). The smooth surface of the song ripples with each crescendo to the chorus, which is so sweeping and memorable that Rolling Stone ranked this one of the great pop songs of all time.
The lyrics are just as good as the tune: Dylan jumps through images of grief and emptiness at the loss of “my only friend.” His turns of phrase are occasionally fantastic (“here in between the city walls of dyin’ dreams”), even if I find some of his wordplay a bit lazy (“I turn the engine but the engine doesn’t turn”). The words are vague and poetic enough that it’s easy, even tempting, to project your own meaning on them: Is he talking about suicide? Cancer? Writer’s block?
Regardless your take, “One Headlight” is a modern classic.