Joey (Bob Dylan song)

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Song by Bob Dylan from the album Desire
Released January 5, 1976
Format Vinyl record

July 30, 1975 (basic track)

August 11, 1975 (overdub session)[1]
Genre Folk Rock
Length 11:05
Label Columbia
Writer(s) Bob Dylan, Jacques Levy
Producer(s) Don DeVito
Desire track listing

"Joey" is a song from Bob Dylan's 1976 album Desire. It was written by Dylan and Jacques Levy, who collaborated with Dylan on most of the songs on the album. In a 2009 interview with Bill Flanagan, Dylan claimed that Levy wrote all the words to this song.[2] Like another long song on the album, "Hurricane", "Joey" is biographical. The song is about the life and death of mobster Joey Gallo, who was killed on his birthday at Umberto's Clam House in Little Italy, on April 7, 1972.[3][4][5]


The song treats Gallo sympathetically, despite his violent history.[3][4] Gallo had been accused of at least two murders and had been convicted of several felonies.[4] But the song gives him credit for distrusting guns, being reluctant to kill hostages and shielding his family when he was being killed, and makes him appear to be an unwilling participant in the crimes of his henchmen, thus not deserving his fate.[4][5] As a result of the sympathetic treatment, critics such as Lester Bangs harshly criticized Dylan and the song. Bangs described it as "repellent romanticist bullshit".[4] However, Dylan claims that he always thought of Gallo as a kind of hero and an underdog fighting against the elements.[6] Besides his status as an outsider, Dylan was likely also drawn to Gallo's best friends in prison being black men.[7] In addition Gallo was able to gain sympathy in artistic circles by passing himself off as a cultured person victimized by the "system".[4]

The song has been described as including a demonstration of "the weak view of providence" in Dylan's songs,[8] that is, a view that God usually allows humans to act as they want, but occasionally intervenes when a grave injustice has been done or a special plan needs to be carried out.[8] In "Joey", this is demonstrated in the lines:

And someday if God's in heaven, overlookin' His preserve
I know the men that shot him down, will get what they deserve.[8]


In a readers' poll conducted by Mojo, "Joey" was rated the 74th most popular Bob Dylan song of all time.[9] Dylan rarely plays the song live and the song has rarely been covered by other artists, perhaps due to the questionable moralizing it contains,[3] though Italian-American outlaw musician Johnny Thunders recorded an abbreviated acoustic version on his album Hurt Me (1983). St. Louis garage-punk-blues band The Cripplers recorded a cover of Thunders' cover on their 2001 album, One More for the Bad Guys. A concert version of the song does appear on the live album Dylan and the Dead.[3]

The Brazilian singer Vitor Ramil has released a version named "Joquim" on his 1987 album 'Tango'.


  1. ^ Bjorner Columbia Recording Studios, New York City, August 11, 1975 Bjorner's Still on the Road. Retrieved July 29, 2010
  2. ^ "Bob Dylan Talks about His New Record with Bill Flanagan" (PDF). Retrieved 2009-07-08. 
  3. ^ a b c d "Joey". allmusic. Retrieved 2009-07-08. 
  4. ^ a b c d e f Varesi, A. (2002). The Bob Dylan Albums. pp. 131–133. ISBN 978-1-55071-139-4. 
  5. ^ a b Mellers, W. (1984). A Darker Shade of Pale. pp. 187–188. ISBN 0-19-503622-0. 
  6. ^ Williamson, N. (2006). The Rough Guide to Bob Dylan 2. p. 187. ISBN 978-1-84353-718-2. 
  7. ^ Shelton, R. (1997). No Direction Home. p. 466. ISBN 0-306-80782-3. 
  8. ^ a b c Spiegel, J. (2006). "With God (and Socrates and Augustine) on Our Side". In Vernezze, P.; Porter, C. Bob Dylan and Philosophy. p. 136. ISBN 0-8126-9592-5. 
  9. ^ "100 Greatest Dylan Songs". Mojo. Retrieved 2009-07-08. 

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