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"Positively 4th Street" is a song written and performed by Bob Dylan, first recorded by Dylan in New York City on July 29, 1965. It was released as a single by Columbia Records on September 7, 1965, reaching #1 on Canada's RPM chart, #7 on the U.S. Billboard Hot 100, and #8 on the UK Singles Chart. Rolling Stone magazine ranked the song as #203 in their 500 Greatest Songs of All Time list.
The song was released between the albums Highway 61 Revisited and Blonde On Blonde, as the follow-up to Dylan's hit single "Like a Rolling Stone", but wasn't included on either LP. The song's title does not appear anywhere in the lyrics and there has been much debate over the years as to the significance or what individual the song concerns. Dylan once lived on 4th Street in Manhattan.
There is uncertainty about exactly which "4th Street" the title refers to, with many scholars and fans speculating it refers to more than one. New York City's 4th Street is at the heart of the Manhattan residential district Greenwich Village, where Dylan once lived. This area was central to the burgeoning folk music scene of the early 1960s, which centered around Dylan and many other influential singer-songwriters. However, the song also may concern Dylan's stay at the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis, where 4th Street S.E. is one of the two main roads crossing through the part of campus known as Dinkytown, where Dylan lived and performed.
The song is generally assumed to ridicule Greenwich Village residents who criticized Dylan for his departure from traditional folk styles towards the electric guitar and rock music.Many of the Greenwich Village folk crowd, who had been good friends of Dylan's, took offense and assumed that the song carried personal references. Noted Village figure Izzy Young, who ran the Folklore Center, had this to say of the accusation:
"At least five hundred came into my place [the Folklore Center]... and asked if it was about me. I don't know if it was, but it was unfair. I'm in the Village twenty-five years now. I was one of the representatives of the Village, there is such a thing as the Village. Dave Van Ronk was still in the Village. Dylan comes in and takes from us, uses my resources, then he leaves and he gets bitter. He writes a bitter song. He was the one who left."
Other possible targets of the song's derision are: Irwin Silber, editor of Sing Out! magazine and a critic of Dylan's move away from traditional folk styles; Tom Paxton, who had criticized the emerging folk rock scene of the period in a Sing Out! magazine article from autumn of 1965, entitled "Folk Rot" (although Dylan wrote and recorded "Positively 4th Street" months before the "Folk Rot" article was published);Phil Ochs was also claimed to be a possible target in Michael Schumacher's book There But For Fortune: The Life Of Phil Ochs, after Dylan got angry at Ochs for his criticism of the song "Can You Please Crawl Out Your Window?", which supposedly prompted Dylan to throw Ochs out of his limousine (though Dylan wrote and recorded "Positively 4th Street" months before this incident occurred in September 1965);Dylan's ex-girlfriend Suze Rotolo; and Richard Fariña (as reported by a counterculture insider in the 1960s, but like the other speculations, unverified). Another possibility is that "Positively 4th Street" (along with "Like a Rolling Stone") was directed at Edie Sedgwick and her association with Andy Warhol, though this seems very unlikely as Dylan recorded this song before his involvement with Sedgwick had turned sour.
In the book Dylan - Visions, Portraits, and Back Pages, compiled by the writers of the UK's Mojo magazine, there is some speculation that "Positively 4th Street", like other Dylan compositions of the time, was influenced by Dylan's experimentation with LSD. The book alleges that Dylan's feeling was that "LSD is not for groovy people: it's for mad, hateful people who want revenge." This allegation is supported by the derisive, attacking tone of many of the songs on Bringing It All Back Home and Highway 61 Revisited, as well as the harsh and powerful textures of Dylan's electric sound.