Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Bob Dylan--The Times They Are A-Changin (1964)

     There is not a lot to add here about Bob Dylan that has not already been said. It is important to note however, that if you are under the age of 40, many of you might wonder what the fuss was really all about. After all, in all of his years he only had four songs in the top 10. His voice has been parodied to the point of exhaustion, and in interviews (like the latest one in Rolling Stone), he comes as a cross between a curmudgeon and a religious zealot.
     Let me put it as succinctly as I can. There has been no one, over this enormous span of a career (now over 50 years) who writes like he can. Almost all of the songwriters in the rock era that we look to as great, has been influenced either directly or indirectly by Dylan's craft. You can take his voice or leave it (am not a great fan of his vocals overall), but you cannot challenge his way with a lyric. By the time The Beatles met him, he had already redefined folk music, written anthems that spoke to a generation, became disillusioned with folk music religiosity and with politics and had begun to turn inward.
     If you hear a singer/songwriter who sings in an introspective manner, you can thank Dylan for that. John Lennon would remark years later that it was Bob's music which taught him that you could write songs that were personal. As strange as it seems, it was not conventional for songwriters to write directly about themselves. Dylan broke the mold for that.
     Together, Dylan and The Beatles led music into the modern Rock era. The Beatles' music came from a fresh take on the Rhythm and Blues filtered Rock and Roll of the middle/late 50's. Dylan's rock came directly from Folk, which shocked many followers, but gained many more fans as the quality of his output never wavered.
     And what an output that was! "The Freewheeling Bob Dylan" (1963), "The Times They Are A-Changing" (1964), "Another Side of Bob Dylan" (1964), "Bringing It All Back Home" (1965), "Highway 61 Revisited" (1965), "Blonde on Blonde" (1966), "John Wesley Harding" (1967), "Nashville Skyline" (1969). Most artists would give anything to have ONE album that was as good as any of these. Instead he gave us an entire decade's worth.
     That is not to say that he sloughed off after that, however it is fair to say that he has had peaks and valleys over the last 40 years. For those who stopped paying attention after Nashville Skyline, it's worth noting (and listening to), his middle 70's output, including, "After the Flood" (1974), "Blood on the Tracks" (1975), and "Desire" (1976). I could list another ten albums that are essential listening after that. It's not like he's been coasting, but after a decade like the 60''s a hard act to follow....ask any of the Beatles.



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