Bob Dylan – Murder Most Foul | Lyrics Meaning & Song Review

The maestro of music, Bob Dylan himself made a return in 2020 with a brand new song; “Murder Most Foul.” The song will be significant for several reasons. This is Bob Dylan’s first original release since 2012. It is also his longest song yet, clocking at a staggering 16 minutes and 55-seconds! Yes, you read that right.

The song title “Murder Most Foul” is derived from Shakespear’s great work ‘Hamlet.’ It is no coincidence that the assassinated king (Hamlet’s father) mutters these words. This song by Bob Dylan is a tribute to the late American President John F. Kennedy who was assassinated while parading the streets.

Releasing the song, Bob Dylan left a note to his fans; “Greetings to my fans and followers with gratitude for all your support and loyalty across the years. This is an unreleased song we recorded a while back that you might find interesting. Stay safe, stay observant and may God be with you.”

Listen to “Murder Most Foul” by Bob Dylan

“Murder Most Foul” Lyrics Meaning & Song Review

The 17-minute anthem details the events surrounding the assassination of John F. Kennedy and the cultural impact it had. The lyrics also mention many references to people, places, and events throughout the years.

Verse 1

In the first verse of the song, Bob Dylan goes into very graphic and explicit details of the assassination of John F. Kennedy in broad daylight. The singer imagines how Kennedy must have felt riding in that parade, feeling on top of the world. But little did he know that he was being driven to his own slaughterhouse. “Shot down like a dog in broad daylight,” is Bob Dylan’s conclusion of one of the darkest days in United States history.

Bob Dylan also mentions the ‘Magic Bullet‘ that killed President Kennedy–a reference to how impossible the trajectory of the bullet that hit the president was. This lead to many theories speculating that there was more than one gunman involved in this assassination. He calls it the “greatest magic trick.”

Dylan also mentions how heartless politics can be. There was no grudge against John F. Kennedy personally. This was most likely a political influence. Because it is just a matter of electing a new president once Kennedy is taken out. And hence, it becomes a murder of the most foul nature!

Verse 2

In this verse, Bob Dylan namedrops many songs and movies and people. A few notable mentions are The Beatles and their hit track “I Want to Hold Your Hand,” “Ferry Cross the Mersey” by Gerry and The Pacemakers band, “Good Times Roll” by The Cars, Grassy Knoll is a small hill near where Kennedy was killed, the alleged last words heard by Kennedy “Mr. President you can’t say Dallas doesn’t love you” by Texas First Lady, Elm Street on which Kennedy was killed and the reference to the movie ‘Nightmare on Elm Street,’ Dealey Plaza in front of which the assassination took place, and Oswald and Ruby referencing to Lee Harvey Oswald, the man identified as the killer, and Jack Ruby who murdered Lee Harvey Oswald before he was put to trial. So the truth surrounding the murder of JFK will remain a mystery forever.

Verse 3

“Murder Most Foul” return to the murder scene and details more on this unfortunate incident. Bob Dylan also pokes at the mystery of John F. Kennedy’s brain being missing from The National Archives in 1966.

“Wake up, little Susie” is a song by the Everly Brothers from 1957. “Dizzy, Miss Lizzy” is a 1958 song by Larry Williams. Patsy Cline a famous American singer is also namedropped cleverly in the lyrics. “I’m just a patsy” is part of the plead of innocence by Lee Harvey Oswald.

‘Zapruder film’ is a recording by Abraham Zapruder who recorded the parade of John F. Kennedy and managed to capture the murder on tape. Below is the tape.

With this, Bob Dylan pronounces the beginning of the age of Antichrist, because this act was of the most foul in nature.

Verse 4 & 5

While Bob Dylan pays home to late radio host Wolfman Jack, he invites Wolfman to play a series of songs. Each line on this verse references to either a song or an artist prominent in the history of music.

Several notable songs and artists are mentioned below;

  • Tom Jones – What’s New Pussycat?
  • Billy Joel – Only the Good Die Young
  • the song ‘Tom Dooley’
  • ‘St. James Infirmary’ song
  • Etta James – I’d Rather Go Blind
  • ‘Scratch My Back’ song
  • Marilyn Monroe
  • The Animals – Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood
  • The Eagles – Take It to the Limit
  • Queen – Another One Bites the Dust
  • ‘The Old Rugged Cross’ hymn
  • Oscar Peterson, a Canadian Jazz pianist
  • Dickey Betts – Blue Sky
  • Bugsy Siegel, an American mobster
  • Ella Fitzgerald – Cry Me a River
  • Lindsey Buckingham and Stevie Nicks
  • Nat King Cole – Nature Boy
  • Joe South – Down In The Boondocks
  • ‘It Happened One Night,’ 1934 movie
  • Elvis Presley – One Night of Sin
  • ‘Merchant of Venice’ play by Shakespear
  • Frank Sinatra – Stella by Starlight
  • Misty – 1961 movie
  • Anything Goes – 1934 musical
  • Old Devil Moon song
  • Nina Simone – Memphis in June
  • The Ordinary Boys – Lonely At the Top
  • Lonely Are the Brave – 1962 movie
  • Little Richard – Lucille
  • ‘Deep in a Dream’ written by Jimmy Van Heusen
  • Beethoven – Moonlight Sonata
  • ‘Key to the Highway’
  • Henry Clay – Marching Through Georgia
  • ‘Dumbarton’s Drums’ – a traditional Scottish song
  • Walter Donaldson – Love Me Or Leave Me
  • ‘Blood-Stained Banner’ – a reference to the confederate flag of America

So if you are stuck at home in quarantine due to Coronavirus AKA COVID-19, Bob Dylan just gave you a list of classic songs and movies and novels. Dig in.

Let us know what you think about this epic poem “Murder Most Foul” by Bob Dylan in the comments below.

Check out the complete lyrics and further song meaning on Genius.

Adam McDonald

Hi! I am the founder and lead author and editor of Justrandomthings music community. A vast range of personal interests from Hip-Hop to Country to Hard Rock and Punk music will keep you entertained.

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19 Responses

  1. JLG says:

    “Nightmare on Elm Street” references both the series of movies but also the JFK asassination: the motorcade had turned onto Elm Street in Dealey Plaza when the shots began to ring out.

  2. Cerry Klaver says:

    “Murder most foul, as in the best it is. But this most foul, strange and unnatural. GHOST. … Hamlet. Everyone was told that a poisonous snake bit me when I was sleeping in the orchard. But in fact, that’s a lie that’s fooled everyone in Denmark. You should know, my noble son, the real snake that stung your father is now wearing his crown.” [Hamlet, Act 1, Scene 5, page 2]

    There is so much to unpack here. The business of murder interwoven with references to music, our culture, and the disintegration of the Hope that was America. Most of these songs & cultural icons have double-meanings. Wolfman Jack = the radio personality and most likely the CIA (George H.W. Bush whose secret service code name was Timberwolf). “Speaking in tongues” is a metaphor for being snake-tongued (double-crosser). The references to Royalty & the speech JFK made about the evil of secret societies. The CIA is the agency that coined the term “conspiracy theory” for anything evidence, etc. that countered the official “Magic Bullet Theory” proffered by the government. A term that became part of our common vernacular even today. Many other icons (King, Bobby Kennedy, Malcolm X, Marilyn Monroe, Hoffa, JFK, Jr. “John John”) are thought to also have been assassinated by the CIA in conjunction with the Mafia (Bugsy Siegel, Sinatra).

    All of their deaths were done in a symbolic manner. I think Dylan is telling us to keep digging & demand answers.

  3. Cerry Klaver says:

    “Murder most foul, as in the best it is. But this most foul, strange and unnatural. GHOST. … Hamlet. Everyone was told that a poisonous snake bit me when I was sleeping in the orchard. But in fact, that’s a lie that’s fooled everyone in Denmark. You should know, my noble son, the real snake that stung your father is now wearing his crown.” [Hamlet, Act 1, Scene 5, page 2]

    There is so much to unpack here. The business of murder interwoven with references to music, our culture, and the disintegration of the Hope that was America. Most of these songs & cultural icons have double-meanings. Wolfman Jack = the radio personality and most likely the CIA (George H.W. Bush whose secret service code name was Timberwolf). “Speaking in tongues” is a metaphor for being snake-tongued (double-crosser). The references to Royalty & the speech JFK made about the evil of secret societies. The CIA is the agency that coined the term “conspiracy theory” for anything evidence, etc. that countered the official “Magic Bullet Theory” proffered by the government. A term that became part of our common vernacular even today. Many other icons (King, Bobby Kennedy, Malcolm X, Marilyn Monroe, Hoffa, JFK, Jr. “John John”) are thought to also have been assassinated by the CIA in conjunction with the Mafia (Bugsy Siegel, Sinatra).

    Let’s keep digging.

  4. Michael says:

    What did Hamlet’s father want? He wanted revenge for a Murder Most Foul. JFK is the gost screaming out for revenge.

  5. Jeff says:

    “When you go down to Deep Ellum
    Keep your money in your shoes”
    Deep Ellum Blues (sometimes Deep Elm Blues) is a traditional song played by the Grateful Dead and by Bob Dylan.

    Thank you for providing a key to many of the references in this cool new Bob Dylan song!

  6. Dave Ruth says:

    let the good times roll, by the cars? i was thinking bb king

  7. Dave says:

    Bob’s Requiem – his valedictory for What Was Us
    Thanks Mr Dylan, Sir.

  8. Dave says:

    Some folks have criticised the dirge like vocals and instrumentation of this song. It is both a dirge for JFK and the USA. Our future as a country died that day with Kennedy. The forces of darkness have taken us to the depths of despair that now encircle the globe. It is a dirge for civilisation.

  9. Arizona Gregg says:

    You missed a lot of things. I’ll list a few off the bat. Early he references three specific people(s) involved in the assassination. First “sliding down the banister” is a sly reference to the slippery FBI informant Guy Bannister (played by Ed Asner in (“JFK”) who was a lower tier player in the actual assassination and with whom Oswald did some counterintelligence work for in New Orleans (Oswald’s Fair Play For Cuba org. which was a CIA front). The ferry across the Mersey does name check the 60s song but also obliquely references David Ferry, a man cog who actually knew a young Oswald in New Orleans and who was murdered the eve before he was to testify in the ‘67 Garrison trial. (Played by Joe Pesci in the movie JFK). He was a real-life mentor of sorts to the young, fatherless Oswald. Also, the three bums which you mentioned. They’re others but that’s all for now.

  10. howard kernes says:

    Down in the boondocks is a Joe South song

  11. C says:

    Such great references to the truth that will be revealed in the coming days, weeks, and months! MSM of course will either ignore it or won’t understand. But thanks to Q, many of us will!

  12. david philpott says:

    The song is amazing, and painful.

  13. jim hellen says:

    Dylan, obviously a fan of the harmonica, includes two songs by the instruments Founding Fathers: “Scratch My Back” by Excello recording artist Slim Harpo and “Key to the Highway” by Chess superstar and Muddy Waters sideman, Little Walter. As a harmonica player myself, I understand why Dylan chose to immortalize these two men; they were both amazingly talented and fiercely individual. It is my understanding that Dylan wishes a new generation to discover the music of these men and, as a result, find comfort during these trying times. So I ask, “Ain’t that what the blues has always been about?”

  14. Nace says:

    One night of sin is an Elvis song
    Lucille is by Little Richard

  15. Louis says:

    This is a serious trip down the silk-route of cultural history!
    Hats off to Bob Dylan and his magic!

  16. Jim Baxter says:

    Grower Avenue references Warren Zevon’s Desperados under the Eaves

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