Gotta Serve Somebody

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“Gotta Serve Somebody”  is a song by Bob Dylan from his 1979 studio album Slow Train Coming.  It won the Grammy Award for Best Rock Vocal Performance by a Male in 1979.  The song was recorded in May of that year at Muscle Shoals Sound Studios in Sheffield, Alabama.  It stands as Dylan’s latest hit single, peaking at #24 on the Billboard Magazine Hot 100 singles chart.  The b-side, “Trouble in Mind” was a Dylan original that was recorded for “Gotta Serve Somebody” ’s parent album but was ultimately left off it.  (More from Wikipedia)

The best known of Bob Dylan’s Christian albums was the previous album Slow Train Coming, which produced the hit song Gotta Serve Somebody, the topical song “Slow Train” (also relatively rare by this point in Dylan’s career) and the charming children’s song “Man Gave Names to All the Animals” – this one ends abruptly before naming the snake (and Dylan later verified that he meant the one in the Garden of Eden).  But several of the songs didn’t pull any punches or seek shelter in allegory, notably “Precious Angel”, “When You Gonna Wake Up” and “When He Returns”. 


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Bob Dylan’s Christian hit song Gotta Serve Somebody is a litany of people in various fields and various places in their lives who have to make that choice.  In this song, Dylan shows that he hasn’t lost his sense of humor:  In the final verse, he lists names instead, including two of his own nicknames – “You may call me Bobby, you may call me Zimmy” (taken from his original surname Zimmerman) – and then two from a comedy shtick of the day – “You may call me R.J., you may call me Ray” – that is, the character Ray J. Johnson, Jr. that was created by Bill Saluga.  


But this is no easy theology.  The chorus of this song includes the lines, “Well, it may be the Devil or it may be the Lord / But you’re gonna have to serve somebody”. 


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Bob Dylan was still a polarizing figure in the late 1970’s, and Slow Train Coming alienated at least as many fans as it attracted.  Still, in its first year, the album outsold two of Dylan’s best albums, Blonde on Blonde and Blood on the Tracks in their first years; and Gotta Serve Somebody was a #24 hit single – his highest placement in the Billboard Hot 100 since Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door in 1973


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Some of the criticism of Dylan’s Christian albums is quite harsh.  For what it’s worth, a 2013 readers’ poll in Rolling Stone magazine ranked Gotta Serve Somebody as Bob Dylan’s second worst song, with “Man Gave Names to All the Animals as the fourth worst. 


(August 2014)


Last edited: March 22, 2021