"Positively 4th Street" written by Bob Dylan...
You've got a lotta nerve to say you are my friend
When I was down you just stood there grinnin'
You've got a lotta nerve to say you got a helping hand to lend
You just want to be on the side that's winnin'

You say I let you down, ya know its not like that
If you're so hurt, why then don't you show it?
You say you've lost your faith, but that's not where its at
You have no faith to lose, and ya know it

I know the reason, that you talked behind my back
I used to be among the crowd you're in with
Do you take me for such a fool, to think I'd make contact
With the one who tries to hide what he don't know to begin with?

You see me on the street, you always act surprised
You say "how are you?", "good luck", but ya don't mean it
When you know as well as me, you'd rather see me paralyzed
Why don't you just come out once and scream it

No, I do not feel that good when I see the heartbreaks you embrace
If I was a master thief perhaps I'd rob them
And tho I know you're dissatisfied with your position and your place
Don't you understand, its not my problem?

I wish that for just one time you could stand inside my shoes
And just for that one moment I could be you
Yes, I wish that for just one time you could stand inside my shoes
You'd know what a drag it is to see you

Lyrics submitted by democracys

"Positively 4th Street" as written by Bob Dylan

Lyrics © AUDIAM, INC

Lyrics powered by LyricFind

Positively 4th Street song meanings
Add your thoughts


sort form View by:
  • +10
    General Commentthis is the best way to say " fuck you " gently
    Bobdylanooon August 31, 2012   Link
  • +5
    General CommentI think this song is about a passive aggressive, manipulative friend who always knows what to say and goes through all the motions but, in the end, that person is no friend at all. He/she is toxic.

    It feels great to recognize people like that and to finally get rid of them from your life!!
    bananabeeon September 21, 2010   Link
  • +3
    General CommentThis song is acually about reporters cuz dylan hates them. He wrote it because they were always on his back and acted like his friends and then wrote bad things about him in newspapers and magazines...i took a class on him lol.

    Dylan is my absolute favorite singer ever, hes so real and so cool. I really started listening to him my freshman year of high school when a lot of my friends turned on me and this song helped me laugh at them and realize that I dont need them. Its a great song and hes an unbelievable artist.
    julie2188on September 25, 2004   Link
  • +3
    General CommentOkay, this is a long post and I may repeat myself, but it's not an English essay. I hate to sound like the Old Dylan Crone, but does anyone remember Bob's extremely competitive and vitriolic relationship with his one-time early Village friend and major folk-activist-singer Phil Ochs?

    Ochs, who wrote and sang some of the most important anti-war and protest songs of the '60s and early '70s, was a key player in the same Village folk scene as Dylan, the early days of the Vietnam War.

    Ochs' 1976 suicide is my reason for bringing his name onto this thread of speculation about Dylan's song Positively 4th Street.

    For over 10 years -- from the time Dylan wrote the song, sometime in 1965, until April, 1976. when Ochs' committed suicide -- there were few questions among those close to Dylan -- or even among the fans who had followed Dylan's career from Day I -- that the bitter lyrics of 4th Street were inspired by and aimed solely at Phil Ochs.

    Of course, there have always been those who believe that Dylan's song is about the blood-sucking press.

    Do you, Mr. Jones?

    Most of any early speculation about the meaning or target of the song can be traced to a few people formerly linked to Dylan who crawled out of the woodwork (seeming to seek their own 15 minutes of fame) with public announcements that they just might be the one who was the focus of the song's bitter words. Included were Irv Silber, Suze Rotolo, and Tom Paxton.

    Immediately following Ochs' suicide, such discussion quickly dried up. It seemed impolite, impolitic, and to some, even cruel, to possibly link Dylan's caustic lyrics to his mid-'60s fall-out with Ochs.

    It also probably seemed more so since Bob was in the midst of the Rolling Thunder Revue, a tour in which Ochs had asked to be included. Bob nixxed the idea, most likely because Ochs' drinking and drugging were completely out of control and his physical condition was abysmal.

    It's been said -- and written -- that Bob refused to allow Ochs on the tour because Ochs called him a "cheap little Jew" in an interview with journalist Harry Smith.

    Ochs had said much worse about Dylan during their mid-'60s mega-feud, and Bob had always come right back at him, so I don't believe Ochs' obnoxious comment, made in the advanced stages of alcoholism and manic-depression, to be the reason he wasn't included in the RTR.

    Bob's got a long memory, it's true, but he wouldn't have been that petty knowing that Ochs' mental and physical conditions were at rock-bottom when the comment was made.

    Known foremost for his refusal to compromise his political activism-protest and/or topical songwriting for commercial success in the early to mid 1960s, Phil Ochs had watched from the front lines as his friend -- and main songwriting competitor -- Dylan, moved beyond orthodox folk and political songwriting and became even more popular.

    For making what Ochs considered a traitorous move, Ochs began to both revile -- yet still envy -- his friend. But, by late 1964, the two were no longer friends at all. In fact, they were having incredibly nasty public arguments.

    In many of these arguments, their verbal lobs became more and more incendiary, particularly as Bob's career far surpassed Ochs.'

    Despite the sympathy gained by Ochs during that period, more often than not he was the initiator of the arguments.

    Those who have followed Dylan's career for the same four decades as I must agree that while Bob has never enjoyed confrontation, he has never back down from it. His ability to use words to cut like a slicing knife has long been his best defense mechanism.

    In a 1964 issue of Broadside (published just after Newport), critic Paul Wolf made Ochs' case vis-a-vis the differing artistic songwriting styles between Dylan and Ochs, then proceded to rip Dylan to shreds for leaving the purist folk group.

    As their one-time friendship came to a boiling point in '64-'65, Ochs, always known to hold his own in arguments with most anyone, found himself unable to withstand Dylan's stinging volleys: "You ought to find a new line of work," and "Why don't you just become a stand-up comic?"

    Bob recorded Positively 4th Street in '65 during the sessions for Highway 61 Revisited, but it was left off the album and issued as a single (which hit the Top 10) before making its' way onto later Dylan works Greatest Hits and Biograph.

    While Positively 4th Street was recorded first in the fall of '65, Dylan wrote it prior to that, a point worth remembering when speculating about or for whom the song was written.

    The vitriolic Dylan-Ochs arguments and subsequent falling-out during '64 and '65 were legend and were punctuated (!) by the much-ballyhooed incident (in the fall of '65) when Dylan chose to play his new song (Positively 4th Street) for Ochs, who just happened to be riding in Dylan's limo at the time.

    Only Dylan knows exactly what criticism Ochs offered about the lyrics of the song -- lyrics that HAD to hit home to Ochs -- but whatever Phil said so angered Bob that he shoved his (former) friend from the limo while shouting at him: "You're not a folksinger -- you're a journalist!"

    At that time in Bob's young life, for him to call someone a "journalist" was, indeed, a severe insult, particularly to a songwriter and Dylan contemporary such as Ochs.

    It's long been common knowledge that even when they were at each others' throats, Ochs continued to admire Dylan's works.

    It's also been written that Dylan's callous remarks haunted Ochs for the rest of his life. This is most likely true, given the often sensitive nature of musicians and other artists.

    It should also be noted that Ochs began many of the arguments to which Bob responded. Bob, too, is a sensitive artist, despite what is often misperceived as cockiness, indifference, even boredom.

    What wasn't well known until after Ochs' suicide in 1976 was that for years the activist-songwriter had been a severe alcoholic and prescription drug abuser, all while also suffering from bipolarism and clinical depression.

    Ddespite the acrimony between the two troubadors, Dylan contended with Phil in much the same way as he had done with his notorious harasser and trash-mongerer, AJ Lieberman, from whom he continued to take late-night phone calls long after their highly publicized verbal and physical altercations.

    While Phil and Bob maintained their strained on-again, off-again relationship, Ochs continued to admire Bob's works, and Bob condoned more than his share of "inappropriate conduct" from Phil.

    It's interesting that over the past 10-15 years there's been remarkable new interest and questioning of who it was that Dylan's lyrics targeted in Positively 4th Street. More proof that Bob's works continue to transcend the generations.

    Prior to 1980, most longtime Dylan followers took it for granted -- albeit, silently -- that Bobby wrote the song with no one other than Phil Ochs in mind.

    The speculation began anew -- and among a new generation of Dylan fans -- with the recent release of the film "Factory Girl," based on the life of Edie Sedgwick, a Warhol's dilettante who'd had a minor affair with Dylan (much briefer and significantly more minor than portrayed in the film).

    For years after their famous feud, Dylan continued to befriend and offer assistance to Ochs, whose career was struggling during the '70s.

    They were seen having drinks together several times in the early '70s, and in 1974, when an Ochs-organized concert to publicize the Chilean coup d'état of 1973 appeared to be headed down the proverbial toilet, Dylan offered to be on the program, infusing the concert's depleted funds with money from tickets that sold out quickly when word went out that Dylan would be appearing.

    So, by now you know my thoughts as to who Bob was thinking when he wrote the harsh lyrics to Positively 4th Street. It was Possitively Phil Ochs.

    I know the reason
    That you talk behind my back
    I used to be among the crowd
    You're in with

    No, I do not feel that good
    When I see the heartbreaks you embrace
    If I was a master thief
    Perhaps I'd rob them
    zimmiegirlon April 20, 2008   Link
  • +3
    Song MeaningI believe this song is a direct defense and attack on Irwin Silber, a leader of the folk scene at the time. I have a copy of Sing Out magazine from November 64 where Silber, who was the editor, wrote a scathing criticism of Dylan in an article called 'An Open Letter to Dylan'. In that article he accused Bob of betraying his folk fans in favor of rock music, glory and money. Positively 4th Street came out about 3 months later and to me it is Dylan using his new-found power to squash a bug with a top-ten pop song sledgehammer. To me it's one of the great comebacks of all time. The title is apparently a reference to the West 4th Street address where Dylan stayed when he was living in Greenwich Village.
    LeeRudyardon January 22, 2014   Link
  • +2
    General CommentI just want to say that I love the poetic structure of the lyrics, where nothing rhymes in a single verse, but the second and fourth lines of a pair of two verses rhyme. (I'm not sure if "verses" is the accurate term to describe each group of four lines, but hopefully you know what I mean.)
    Bluewaveson October 15, 2010   Link
  • +1
    General CommentHeh heh, this song cheers me up no end when I'm in a foul mood. The bitterness is so heartfelt, yet he's got a sense of humour about the whole thing. You get the feeling he's *really* enjoying having the upper hand with this person for once.
    gracelynon July 23, 2002   Link
  • +1
    General CommentYes I agree, The last 4 lines are the best! One of my fave Bob Quotes.
    Qsqawon July 30, 2002   Link
  • +1
    General CommentIt's been said this is about the folkies who turned on him after he went electric at Newport. (I've heard it said recently that it was about Joan Baez, but I'd never heard that before and don't believe that interpretation.)
    eytanmirskyon October 14, 2004   Link
  • +1
    General CommentA long time ago, I heard that this song was aimed at the British press, who turned their backs on Dylan after his motorcycle accident. He hadn't been doing much after the accident, and apprently got blasted for his ennui. They blamed him for letting everyone down at a time when they really needed him. I also heard that the Fourth Street referred to in the title is not the one in NYC, but in London.
    teachernthehoodon January 30, 2005   Link

Add your thoughts

Log in now to tell us what you think this song means.

Don’t have an account? Create an account with SongMeanings to post comments, submit lyrics, and more. It’s super easy, we promise!

Back to top