The opening lines of this song ("They're selling postcards of the hanging, they're painting the passports brown...") refer to three men who were in town with the circus and were accused of raping a girl in Duluth, Minnesota. On June 15, 1920, a mob broke them out of jail and lynched them. Postcards with pictures of the hanging were sold as souvenirs. Dylan's father, Abraham Zimmerman, was 8 years old and living in Duluth at the time of the hangings.
This is the last track on the album. It is eleven minutes long, and was Dylan's longest song up to that point. Dylan rarely plays it at concerts, but when he does, it can stretch out to 45 minutes.
When trying to interpret this song, keep in mind that Dylan was experimenting with LSD around the time he recorded it.
This was never released as a single, probably due to its length, but the Highway 61 Revisited album went to #3 US and #4 UK.
Dylan performed this for the first time at the Forest Hills Music Festival in Queens, New York on August 28, 1965, after he electrified the Newport Folk Festival. It was part of the acoustic set Dylan played before bringing on his electric band.
Live versions are included on Dylan's MTV Unplugged, and Live 1966.
This was covered by My Chemical Romance for the end credits of the 2009 superhero movie Watchmen.
This was the first Bob Dylan recording that bassist and guitarist Charlie McCoy played on. He would go on to contribute to every Dylan album from 1965 to 1970. His initial contribution, however, was the result of an apparent accident.
When McCoy was in New York for a visit, his friend, producer Bob Johnston, arranged for him to go and see a Broadway show. Johnston suggested that he drop by the nearby Columbia Studios to pick up the tickets. "He introduced me to Dylan," recalled McCoy to Uncut magazine March 2014, "and he said to me, 'I'm getting ready to record a song, why don't you pick up the other guitar and play?' We had time for one take, one playback and then for another session. And that was 'Desolation Row'."