Gotta Serve Somebody

Album: Slow Train Coming (1979)
Charted: 24
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  • This song is about finding meaning in life through serving God. At the time of writing, Bob Dylan was a born-again Christian, hence the song's religious message:

    You're gonna have to serve somebody
    Well, it may be the devil or it may be the Lord
    But you're gonna have to serve somebody
  • John Lennon thought this song was "embarrassing" and wrote "Serve Yourself" in response to it. The song criticized Dylan's preaching and instead asserted:

    You gotta serve yourself
    Ain't nobody gonna do it for you
  • Devo would cover this song live as their Christian rock alter-egos, Dove.
  • Natalie Cole (the daughter of Nat King Cole) covered this on her 1999 album, Snowfall on the Sahara. This cover version featured a new verse that Dylan had written especially for Cole.
  • In 1980, this song was awarded the Grammy Award for Best Rock Vocal Performance by a Male. Dylan performed the song at that same ceremony.
  • Slow Train Coming was Bob Dylan's first release since becoming a born-again Christian. Much of the album thus deals with Dylan's faith and Christian teachings. While the religious nature of the record alienated many of Dylan's older fans, the album also gained Bob a new wave of Christian fans.
  • Along with the Slow Train Coming tracks "I Believe In You" and "When You Gonna Wake Up," this was one of three songs Dylan played when he was musical guest on Saturday Night Live, October 20, 1979. It was the only time he appeared on the show.

Comments: 24

  • Steve from Western North CarolinaBob Dylan strips away all the frills and charades of life to reveal the one of the only truths in this life---you are "gonna have to serve somebody"--like it or not. God has put before us "life and death, blessings and curses"...urging us to "choose life so that we and our descendants may live". Choose wisely!
  • Ejm from Hong KongLooking at this song some 30 years later and where Bob has come and gone in between, I think it's a pretty amazing return to Dylan's form. Christian themes aside, what he says is true and choosing a god, good or evil, can be seen as an allegory. He mixes allusions to every type of work, pointing to corruption and dishonesty being wrong. Personally, it has little to do with which god you choose and far more to do with what religions and philosophy generally seeks to suggest for people to make their societies work. When it came out, I compared it, unfavorably, to Desire and Blood on the Tracks. I think over the years, I have changed that view.
  • Wilhelm from StockholmThe Lennon reaction to the song mentioned below is interesting. When Lennon wrote the song ”God” in the early 70’s he declared his independence and rejected not only religion but also the Beatles and his old idols, among them Dylan: ”I don’t believe in Zimmerman”. Using the Zimmerman name was probably to suggest that Dylan was a phony, hiding behind an artist name. I like to think that Bob noticed this and that this song is a subtle come-back: ”Hey John, I don’t really care if you call me Zimmy or Bobby or Ray. But we both know that you’re not truely free”.
  • Shoeless Hillbilly From West By God from West Virginia I want to compliment this whole thread and all who posted comments.Everyone posted something mostly positive but even posts from those who wasn’t particularly fond of the song gave their opinions with intellect & respect and each and everyone added more to the knowledge of whoever like myself would come along and see this I wish we could somehow get this out as a example of what the web could be Thank you Thank you all Bravo
  • Martin Normanton from Walsall, UkFar too many verses saying the same thing in tediously different examples, though a much shorter version would be OK. The music is boring too.
  • Barry from Sauquoit, NyOn October 20th 1979, Bob Dylan performed "Gotta Serve Somebody" on the NBC-TV program 'Saturday Night Live'...
    At the time the song was at #27 on Billboard's Hot Top 100 chart; eight days later on October 28th, 1979 it peaked at #24 {for 2 weeks} and spent 12 weeks on the Top 100...
    Mr. Dylan, born Robert Allen Zimmerman, will celebrate his 74th birthday come next May 24th {2015}.
  • Tony Soprano from Mercer County, NjDon't forget folks that this particular Dylan tune was featured on THE SOPRANOS. It's available on the soundtrack too boot.
  • Barry from New York, NcI love the electric piano on this song. Also great drumming from Pick Withers late of Dire Straits.
  • Zane from Indianapolis, InI was not aware that Pete Seeger had writing credits for "Turn, Turn, Turn". On my Byrds album they give writing credits to "Ecclesiastes 3:1-8", which is fairly common knowledge. I guess you learn something new everyday. I'm anxious to find and listen to the Pete Seeger version. He must have added the actual turn, turn, turn part and other lines, "I swear it's not too late"...
  • Thomas from Somerville, AlOr is he saying that one is the same as the other. Is God good and the Devil bad? Or, is the Devil just the evil personification of God?. It may be the Devil or it may be the Lord but, you gotta serve somebody. You know what they say, there are no atiests in the foxhole or on death row.
  • Lou from Scranton, PaTurn, Turn, Turn was written by Pete Seger, not Dylan
  • Andy from Custer, SdInteresting about the Lennon answer song. Here you see the difference between these two musical geniuses. One chose to accept that there is a Battle of Evermore between good and evil going on. The other did not. In their choices you see which master they decided to serve. No matter what you do, you are serving one or the other. There really is no serving yourself alone.
  • Madalyn from Greensburg, Pawow i never knew that but i think bob is a great guy and very smart...he calls a spade a spade...i saw him in concert he was great...a night of my life i will never forget...and its those kind of moments that are brought to us by God...
  • David from Lawson, MoThe best thing about Bob's fling with Born Again Christianity, is that he played some really great concerts in some small places like the Uptown Theatre in Kansas City and you could get a great seat up close and see him a couple of nights in a row.
    I still see him sitting at the piano playing In The Garde in those white shoes -- Great
  • Rodney from Mountain Home, ArThis song is directly inspired by the Bible expressing the thought one either serves God or money, etc. In other words, we are either slaves to righteousness or slaves to sin.
  • Ken from Louisville, KyJohn Lennon recorded (but never released) a profane-riddled "answer" song called "Serve Yourself!" during the "Double Fantasy" studio sessions in 1980.
  • Suzi from Charleston , Scthis song was released after he became a "born again christian"
  • Nathan from Defiance, OhI think Bob Dylan believes in god, but not in orgainzed religion.
  • Barry from New York, NyThis song and the album's musical sound is great. If you listen to Dire Straits' first two records, the album SLOW TRAIN COMING is sort of their third, although only Mark and Pick Withers worked on it. I love the fender rhodes electric piano on this song.
  • Wes from Springfield, VaThe only Bob Dylan song I really like.
  • Carol from Thatplace In San Diego, CaOdd thing...I posted something about this song and how true the statement of it is on my web log not too long ago before coming across this site via a Google search on an entirely different subject altogether...Funny how things work out like that sometimes, eh? Serving yourself isn't actually different than serving the devil at all. The only reason the devil is the devil is because he got very impressed with himself one fine day when he noticed how beautifully God had created him. At that very moment, he became self-serving and self-promoting rather than continuing on as being the God-serving, God-glorifying creature he was created by God to be. And, believe it or not, there is tremendous freedom in losing one's life and thereby finding his life hidden with Christ in God so that he may have power to serve the Living God! Anyone who is truly a servant of God through Jesus Christ is merely a love slave. A love slave is someone who has been set free from slavery but chooses, of his own volition, to stay and serve his master even though his freedom was freely given to him with no holds barred.
  • Tom from Cincinnati, United StatesMost of the Bob Dylan songs I heard grownig up were "covers" by other artists or groups, for example, "Turn, Turn, Turn," by The Byrds.

    When this song came out, I was teaching a (believe it or not) Sunday School class of adults ina small, southeastern Ohio town. I played the song and opened the class for discussion.

    In 2000, I made a business call in Deluth, MN. Bob's house there has a plaque on it. A lot of memories came flooding back.

    From a perspective of 20-years' hindsight, I understood what he was saying in this song: None of us is really free; wherever we find ourselves, whatever station in life--we have to "serve somebody" to maintain it...even if that "somebody" is ourselves, to maintain the lifestyle we want.

    The lyrics "it may be the Devil or it may be the Lord" serve as extremes only, meaning there is no escape. Each of us is beholden; nobody is truly free. It is a brilliant lyric, and one of Dylan's finest.

    "You may call me 'Zimmie'" is there to reinforce that "Bob Dylan" acknowledged that no matter his fame, he will always be Robert Zimmerman.
  • Mike from Darkside Of The MoonIt's an incredible song from an incredible album!
    I think the biggest fear of Bob's secular fans was that he had changed, albeit for the better, they feared he would no longer release secular music.

    I love most of Dylan's music, but this is his crowning achievment, in my opinion.

    The whole album is fantastic!!
  • Chetan from Bangalore, IndiaI hope those "shocked and disappointed" fans back then have realized their mistake. it's a brilliant song!
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