Bob Dylan Countdown #172: “Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door”Posted: February 2, 2012
To the casual Bob Dylan fan, I’m sure that this ranking will seem odd. Who knows, maybe even many of the diehards will rage against the injustice of it all. But to these ears, “Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door” is a rock standard for its simplicity and sentimentality, but not for any of the unique qualities inherent in so many finer Dylan songs.
Now, I do like the song, or else I wouldn’t have it rated it all. Its directness makes it easily accessible, which is necessary for a song that has to make an impact to a movie audience concentrating on what’s happening on-screen. It also says its peace and moves on quickly, a bite-size morsel perfect for radio programmers. And, most of all, it has a melody and chord pattern that make it sound like a hymn that’s been around since the dawn of time. Couple that with a chorus that rivals the coda of “Hey Jude” for its sing-along capability and you’ve certainly got a notable achievement.
That said, there is something a little cliched about the song, the whole big death scene thing it represents. Some people might get misty-eyed thinking about a man preparing for the next world as his life’s final moments spill out. By contrast, the verses always remind me of when Bugs Bunny pretends that Elmer Fudd finally got him: “It’s gettin’ dark, Doc.”
Defenders of the song might look for hidden meanings in the brief lyrics. Maybe the lines about dropping the badge and the guns symbolize that man, for all his weapons and emblems of power, is ultimately helpless against fate. Or maybe Dylan just thought the words fit nice with Slim Pickens biting the dust in the scene of Pat Garrett & Billy The Kid graced by the song.
So #172 is fair to these ears. I liken the song’s success to Pink Floyd having a hit with the discofied “Another Brick In The Wall” or Chuck Berry’s only #1 being the novelty song “My Ding-A-Ling.” My final point on why I can’t get behind “Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door” as a much better countdown player: I feel like it’s one of the few Bob Dylan songs that could have been written by somebody other than Bob Dylan.