Today as part of spotlight segment of my page, I want to focus on one of the most important figures in music, Bob Dylan. His career has lasted and has gone through many phases, some great and some not so great, but one undeniable fact is that he is one of the best songwriters in the world. This week is his birthday, let’s celebrate the career of Bob Dylan.
He was born on May, 24th 1941, named Robert Allen Zimmerman. He was raised in Minnesota and in 1960 he moved to New York to pursue his music career (Wikipedia, 2019). He was given a chance by producer John Hammond and with him he recorded his first album, Bob Dylan. But his success came with his second album The Freewheeling’ Bob Dylan. That album included the song Blowin’ in the wind, and with that, he became the voice of a generation in the middle of fighting for changes and civil rights. This album also contained A hard rain’s a gonna fall and Don’t think twice it’s alright. This is considered his folk-protest songs period. His music was mostly acoustic ranging from subjects like the murder of Medgar Evers to his views on the social climate of the world.
His next album The Times they are a changing continued placing Dylan as social voice and an influential songwriter. For a young man, he was already writing songs with deep lyrics defying the kind of songs that mostly were being played on the radio. Restless Farewell is a beautiful song included in this album, and even though the version on the album does not sound good, there is a live version on a concert in honor of Frank Sinatra that for me is better than the recorded on the album. The title track is almost prophetic in the lyrics and his warnings about how the times will change and we must change with it.
His next album was Another side of Bob Dylan, this album featured more songs that drifted away from the protest songs he was characterized for. The songs include All I really want to do, To Ramona and It ain’t me, babe. The highlights for me are the songs My Back Pages and Chimes of freedom. But this album still featured Dylan with his harmonica and acoustic guitar. But soon that would change.
A true artist is not afraid to change and follow his instincts and if fans follow great, if not great also. This is something The Beatles and Bob Dylan had and maybe that’s why they revolutionized music. Bringing it all back home was a defining album and a transition from folk to rock. For the first time, he was backed by a band using electric guitars and drums, a move that alienated some fans of the folk music genre. But for the rest, it was the beginning of a new and great writing period for Dylan. His lyrics became more interesting, telling crazy stories and of course he still spoke his mind. The album features the classic Mr. Tambourine Man, one of my favorites Love minus zero/no limit. One amazing song is Its alright ma, I’m only bleeding. The lyrics on that one is just great. Next came the album Highway 61 Revisited that included his first song to reach number 2 on the Billboard charts, Like a Rolling stone. Is a song that went against all formats, is a song with no bridge, no guitar solo is just verse and chorus for more than 5 minutes and the lyrics take you a wild ride. This album is completely electric with occasional acoustic song backed by the band. Desolation Row shows Dylan ability to write great long songs, lasting over 11:00 minutes but never becoming tiresome.
Blonde on Blonde ironically is one of his best-regarded albums. Musically and lyrical is a different album, both for Dylan and for the music at the time. The album features the amazing Sad Eyed Lady of the Lowlands, a 14-minute epic. This album marks the end of an experimental element in Dylan’s albums. The ’60’s ended with the albums John Wesley Hardin and Nashville Skyline, both albums were more country styled and his voice sounded different.
The new decade Dylan began with Self Portrait an album he described as his attempt to destroy his myth. Like Lennon, he became tired of all the expectations and the image that he was given and released this album of covers and traditional songs. Then he released New Morning, this might be his first streak of simpler albums compared to the ones he did before, but there were always good songs like Knocking on heaven’s door from the Billy the Kid soundtrack and Forever young from the album Planet Waves.
Then in 1975, he released Blood on the tracks, in my opinion, his best album and one of the best albums of all times. He denies this claim that the songs are based on his relationship with his wife Sarah, regardless if that’s true or not, the songs lyrically are great and on another level for love songs. The first song, Tangled up in blue, is a masterpiece. Idiot Wind is a raw song where Dylan goes off on a reporter or someone talking about him, Dylan always saying the song had no one in mind.
His next album, Desire, is an album with songs co-written with Jacques Levy. It is a good album, the thing that stands out is the constant use of a violin and a backing vocal. Hurricane is the best song in the album, written for Rubin Carter, the boxer imprisoned for a crime he did not commit. The decade would end with the album Street Legal, not a complete great album, but has some good songs in it, especially Changing of the guards.
The end of the ’70s and most of the ’80s saw the Gospel period. Dylan became a born again Christian and he took his songwriting abilities and wrote powerful songs of conviction and faith. The album Slow train coming was well received, with the song Gotta serve somebody winning a Grammy. Precious Angel and I believe in you are really good songs. I found a quote from Dylan that I find so incredible and true, he said “Years ago they … said I was a prophet. I used to say, “No I’m not a prophet,” they say “Yes you are, you’re a prophet.” I said, “No it’s not me.” They used to say “You sure are a prophet.” They used to convince me I was a prophet. Now I come out and say Jesus Christ is the answer. They say, “Bob Dylan’s no prophet.” They just can’t handle it” Dylan (Wikipedia, 2019). This era produced a mix of good albums and some not so good ones. Infidels is a great album and even though it still featured Gospel-themed songs it also had other topics in the songs.
In 1987 he was part of the super group The Traveling Wilburys with George Harrison, Tom Petty, Jeff Lynne, and Roy Orbison and made two albums that were very well received. And he finished the decade with the great album Oh Mercy.
Time out of mind marked a return to form for Dylan. The theme feels like he was thinking on the end because many songs dealt with loss, how it was not dark yet but it was getting there, trying to get to heaven before they close the door and so on. the album at first, I liked a few songs but over the years it has grown on me. I think is one of his finest albums.
His next albums have been very well received and in my opinion are some of his best work and to say that on an artist releasing more than 30 albums is rare. Love and Theft is a great album, including my favorite song Mississippi. Modern Times follows a similar style to Love and theft and Together through life is my least favorite of his latest albums, the songs were co-written with Robert Hunter. His last album with original material was the album Tempest released in 2012. This is a great album. the first 5 songs are really good and the tittle song, Tempest, about the Titanic is so great, even mentioning Leo DiCaprio referencing the film. The last song is a touching tribute to John Lennon.
Bob Dylan is a unique artist, he has lasted as an important figure for decades. Little is known about him because as far as I know he hardly gives interviews, he has released a book one day I hope to read it. I always say to people that say he can’t sing, to go beyond that and listen to what he is saying, concentrate on the lyrics, the stories and the poetry that are in each of his songs. To me, along with Lennon and Paul Simon, he is one the best songwriters ever!
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