Tryin' to Get to Heaven

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"Tryin' to Get to Heaven"
Song by Bob Dylan
from the album Time Out of Mind
ReleasedSeptember 30, 1997
RecordedJanuary 1997
StudioCriteria Studios (Miami, FL)
Songwriter(s)Bob Dylan
Producer(s)Daniel Lanois
Time Out of Mind track listing
11 tracks
  1. "Love Sick"
  2. "Dirt Road Blues"
  3. "Standing in the Doorway"
  4. "Million Miles"
  5. "Tryin' to Get to Heaven"
  6. "'Til I Fell in Love with You"
  7. "Not Dark Yet"
  8. "Cold Irons Bound"
  9. "Make You Feel My Love"
  10. "Can't Wait"
  11. "Highlands"

"Tryin' to Get to Heaven" is a song written and performed by the American singer-songwriter Bob Dylan, recorded in January 1997 and released in September that year as the fifth track on his album Time Out of Mind. The recording was produced by Daniel Lanois.

Composition and recording

The song is a medium-tempo folk-rock ballad whose narrator has traveled "all around the world" and, in the song's memorable refrain, is "trying to get to heaven before they close the door".[1] It is notable for being the only song on Time Out of Mind on which Dylan plays the harmonica.[2] In their book Bob Dylan All the Songs: The Story Behind Every Track, authors Philippe Margotin and Jean-Michel Guesdon call the song "hypnotic" and compare its sound to the work of Bruce Springsteen and Phil Spector. They note that Dylan's harmonica solo, which "requires several hearings to appreciate", achieves an unusual "electric" effect because of the way engineer Mark Howard ran it through a distortion box.[3] The song is performed in the key of A major.[4]

Critical reception

Dylan scholar Jochen Markhorst ranks the song among the author's "most beautiful works," noting that it's similar to but "more accessible" than the celebrated "Not Dark Yet" because it offers the "prospect of redemption in an afterlife".[5]

Spectrum Culture included the song on a list of "Bob Dylan's 20 Best Songs of the '90s". In an article accompanying the list, critic David Harris calls it "one of the many triumphs" on Time Out of Mind and notes, "More than anything, “'Tryin'’ to Get to Heaven' sounds like an aging songwriter taking stock, reliving glories of travel and sexual conquests before he skips off this mortal coil".[6]

A 2021 article in the Irish Independent named it one of the "all-time top 10 tracks by Bob Dylan", noting that, "as Dylan said of one of his own favourites, Neil Young’s 'Only Love Can Break Your Heart', you just want it to go on for ever".[7]

Live performances

Between 1999 and 2019, Bob Dylan performed the song 335 times in concert on the Never Ending Tour.[8] A live version from October 5, 2000 in London, done in a jazz arrangement and with a slower tempo, was officially released on The Bootleg Series Vol. 8: Tell Tale Signs: Rare and Unreleased 1989–2006.[9] The live debut occurred in Lisbon, Portugal on April 7, 1999, a performance that was made available to stream on Dylan's official website in August 1999.[10] Another live version, performed in Washington, D.C. on April 4, 2004, was made available to stream on Dylan's site that same month.[11] The last performance to date took place at The Anthem in Washington, D.C. on December 8, 2019.[12]

Cover versions

David Bowie's version, originally recorded in 1998, was officially released as a single on January 8, 2021.[13]

Robyn Hitchcock covered it on his 2004 album Spooked.

Joan Osborne covered it on her 2017 album Songs of Bob Dylan.[14]

Lucinda Williams has officially released two cover versions of the song: one on the Chimes of Freedom compilation album in 2012 and another for her 2020 live album Lu's Jukebox Vol. 3 - Bob's Back Pages: A Night Of Bob Dylan Songs.


  1. ^ "Tryin' to Get to Heaven | The Official Bob Dylan Site". Retrieved 2020-12-20.
  2. ^ "Lucinda Williams – Tryin' to get to heaven – The Best Dylan Covers | Born To Listen" (in American English). Retrieved 2020-12-21.
  3. ^ Margotin, Philippe (27 October 2015). Bob Dylan : all the songs : the story behind every track. Guesdon, Jean-Michel (First ed.). New York. ISBN 978-1-57912-985-9. OCLC 869908038.
  4. ^ Bob, Dylan (2013-09-16). "Tryin' To Get To Heaven". Retrieved 2021-07-03.
  5. ^ "Tryin' To Get To Heaven but not falling from the sky | Untold DylanUntold Dylan" (in British English). Retrieved 2020-12-21.
  6. ^ "Bob Dylan's 20 Best Songs of the '90s". Spectrum Culture (in American English). 2020-10-16. Retrieved 2021-05-01.
  7. ^ "Bob Dylan at 80: The times they aren't a changin' as master Dylan continues glorious career". independent. Retrieved 2021-05-22.
  8. ^ "Bob Dylan Tour Statistics |". Retrieved 2020-12-20.
  9. ^ "The Bootleg Series, Vol 8: Tell Tale Signs | The Official Bob Dylan Site". Retrieved 2020-12-20.
  10. ^ "Online Performances (". Retrieved 2021-03-06.
  11. ^ "Online Performances (". Retrieved 2021-05-05.
  12. ^ "Setlists | The Official Bob Dylan Site". Retrieved 2021-05-29.
  13. ^ "David Bowie - Mother/Tryin' To Get to Heaven | Rhino". Retrieved 2020-12-21.
  14. ^ "Cover versions of Tryin' to Get to Heaven by Joan Osborne | SecondHandSongs". Retrieved 2021-06-11.

External links

  • Lyrics from Bob Dylan's official site