Monday, 23 May 2011



Bob Dylan turns 70 years old tomorrow and although I’m sure he himself doesn’t mind in the slightest the fact that someone of his ability and talent is rapidly getting to the senior years of his life is worrying me. I can’t imagine talking about Bob Dylan in the past sense as he like only a handful of other artists of the 20th century apart from contributing to it also help define it, so for this person to start his last mile of his career is frustrating that at some point the well will run dry.

When writing about Dylan it’s very easy to Wikipedia his standard bio (Real Name Robert Zimmerman etc.), where he was born where he grew up, influences, vocal style, blah, blah, blah but its strange people don’t think to do this when talking about Van Gogh or Charlie Chaplin. It’s very easy to find out bio’s and personal history but people don’t seem to show the same level of interest in that side of these characters and icons where as for pop musicians it seems to be almost obligatory that we NEED to know where they went to school and smoked their first cigarette as if that somehow helped start them on their journeys.

Bob Dylan is one of those songwriters/artists/poets that along with someone like James Brown for example, don’t actually fit into an exact genre of music; they just make Bob Dylan and James Brown ‘type’ music. Just try and add a Bob Dylan track into your own i-Tunes list and see what comes up, Folk maybe, classic rock, country, R&B, and blues even. He technically fits into all these categories and at the same time none of them. Duke Ellington famously said “there are only two types of music, good and bad” the rest is really just for record shops and radio play lists to help keep artists in some sort of order. I still couldn’t tell you the difference between a Hip Hop record and an Urban one, so trying to slice country and Alt. country one is a losing battle from the get go.

Trying to explain to someone that has never listened to Dylan or thinks they know his music and have decided they don’t like it because they’ve heard an early acoustic song like ‘Blowin’ in the wind’ or worse still “don’t like his voice”. The phrase “wood for the frickin’ trees” does leap to mind. The lyrics, rhymes, and overall audio picture’s that he paints in the listeners mind are second to nobody before or since. A simple song like ‘Lily, Rosemary and the Jack of Hearts’ (from the Blood on the Tracks album) is a movie squeezed into a single track and that is one that I believe has tried (and not yet succeeded) to be turned into a full length movie as all the characters and stories interwoven are so complete and in depth it seems like you’re visualising everything as it happens. You don’t get that with Justin Bieber. Who in music today has the nerve or wordsmith and lyrical talent to through a line like "With your silhouette when the sunlight dims, Into your eyes where the moonlight swims, And your matchbook songs and your gypsy hymns, Who among them would try to impress you?" I mean I love 'Do-wah Diddy' as much as the next guy but Dylan was upping the game more than a notch or two. It was no coincidence that everyone from The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, Johnny Cash, The Byrds, Brian Wilson, Neil Young all sat up and took notice when Dylan rolled into town. For John Lennon the effect was immediate, he spoke of being almost embarrassed to write any more ‘She Loves You’ type of songs any more after hearing Dylan. From then on he wanted to grow individually and say something that appealed to his contemporaries and people his own age rather than 8-10 year old girls with posters to sign of their favourite Beatle. You can see the influence from straight from ‘You’ve got to hide your love away’ right up to ‘Working Class Hero’ and beyond. Even today Paul McCartney in a recent interview was asked which person alive would he like to interview and he said without hesitation “Bob Dylan”.

I will admit that not everyone gets his voice. I personally think that the words sound best when being stretched from his sand and glue vocal chords, and that a more proficient singer in the classical sense like Ella Fitzgerald or even Pavarotti might lose the inner meaning of ‘Desolation Row’ if they tried to belt it out. But for those of you that can’t be doing with it, look at the artists that have covered his songs.

Jimi Hendrix (All Along the Watchtower)
The Byrds (Mr Tambourine Man, You Ain’t Going Nowhere, Wheels On Fire, My Back Pages and many,many others)
Johnny Cash (It Aint Me Babe)
Elvis Presley (Tomorrow is Long Time)
Adele (Make You Feel My Love)

As his birthday approaches there are many books on him being released and each one of them can sum up and write about it’s subject in more detail and with more skill than I can, but as my pub bore version of events tries to do him justice I’ll simply just give you a top 10 Dylan songs and as Spotify either includes or deletes permission depending on the day you may need to pull out youtube to listen to them. Get out your musical shovels and dig deep, plenty of gold in the hill for everyone.

01) Stuck inside a Mobile with the Memphis Blues Again (Blonde on Blonde)
02) Subterranean Homesick Blues (Bringing it all back home)
03) Standing in the Doorway (Time Out Of Mind)
04) I want you (Blonde on Blonde)
05) Sad Eyed Lady of the Lowlands (Blonde on Blonde)
06) Ballad of a Thin man (Highway 61 revisited)
07) Simple Twist of Fate (Blood on the Tracks)
08) Just Like a Woman (Blonde on Blonde)
09) Lily, Rosemary and the Jack of Hearts (Blood on the Tracks)
10) Blind Willie McTell (unreleased song from the Infidels album sessions)

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