I wasn’t early to the party. It was about 1975 when my sister introduced me to Bob Dylan’s astonishingly iconic performances on music-cassette. It was a Greatest Hits Album with Dylan shot in blue in profile on the inlay card and I am forever grateful.
My sister had a small Sony Music-cassette compact system featuring a cassette deck and radio with two detachable speakers – mid-seventies cool for sure. Remember this?
She was training as a Nurse in the City of London at one of the UK finest teaching hospitals, paving the way for my arrival in the Smoke within eighteen months. She is two years older, had tried Gitanes before me and she had discovered Bob Dylan before me.
The Greatest Hits album – was in fact it was the Greatest Hits Volume 2 – from 1971 and was released in view of the dirth of new material from Dylan at the behest of Columbia Record’s label boss, Clive Davis. He became of some influence over my later career in music and some time later he left under a cloud. Initially reticent, Dylan had then agreed to compile it himself adding unreleased material from the Basment Tapes era but I am getting ahead here….
Bob Dylan’s Greatest Hits Volmne 2 – click the link below the image
I simply don’t believe anyone who says they don’t like Bob Dylan’s songs. I love almost all. That’s like saying I don’t really like Spring or Tulips. I get that his singing may sometimes be a challenge. His voice varies hugely from the sonous and walnut to a croak but his words, his rhymes and his use of language are simply sublime. Weaving morality tales and fables with the support of a simple folk riff, a country slide-guitar, a brassy pomp or a more complicated cajun orchestration.
Dylan – together with able foot-soldiers Leonard Cohen, Neil Young and Bruce Springsteen – is the Voice of several generations. From the early 1960’s and the era of the Protest Song and the Civil Rights movement, to Woodstock and to the Summer of Love – see here our previous post – Peace Sign and The Summer of Love – to later “difficult albums” that explore love, loss and religion to more recent masterpieces that dwell on death and legacy.
In 2016, Dylan became the first songwriter ever to win Nobel Prize For Literature.
Dylan has sold more than 100m copies of more than sixty albums. He has written, prolifically, broadcasted and podcasted for years and has nurtured a diverse and talented family.
I have seen Dylan perform live on several occasions including at Harvey Goldsmith’s promoted “The Picnic at Blackbushe Aerodrome” show in 1978. I still have the poster!
Despite at times ill-health, his commitment to endless touring – since the late 1990’s – has become an enduring legacy allowing the faithful to flock to see his performances. In the earlier years shows performances were loyal to familiar songs, more recently Dylan’s treatment of his standards, deconstructing them to within an inch of their lives, has not always been well received. I guess the master artist needs stimulation and revising original orchestrations must be a way to keep things interesting. After all they are his songs!
I was in Los Angeles in 1980 and visiting the celebrated and iconic Polo Lounge at Beverley Hills Hotel. Arriving in a city taxi we pulled towards the entrance of the hotel and there, getting into a cherry red compact car, was the diminutive and slightly stooped stature of our hero. Something very domestic, almost deliberately improverished and above all not really giving a f**k about expectation, perception or pretense. The very anthesis of the image of Californian life.
Every filmed interview of Dylan – and there really aren’t many – from 1965 in San Francisco, to D A Pennebaker’s “Don’t Look Back” – 1967 traipse around Europe – to the media coverage of the his investigature as a Nobel Prizewinner is punctuated by his well intentioned and sincere confusion by all the fuss. The younger Dylan explaining to an overly fawning interviewer, who was clearly irritating, that he had nothing of interest to share and shouldn’t presume to be able to. His reluctant assumption of the role as “Spokesman of his Generation” is just ours for the invention. His “I just set up my stall, played a few tunes and the rest is down to you” appears to be his honest belief. No master manipulator, no synical plan.
Like many have before you – can you help understand a little more about Dylan’s work by reading his own writing from the autobiographical “Chronicles Part One”? – Click the link below the image
Don’t tell me you haven’t tried! We’d all love to be able to master the riffs that make the songs sing – some will, some inevitably wont! I am one…..
The Music – there are sixty albums to chose from but can I suggest a couple of starting places. I’d also suggest that you don’t stream – please enjoy the packaging as well as the songs – please click the link below the image
The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan
Bringing It All Back Home
Blood on The Tracks – for me probably the Best…..
Time Out Of Mind
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Images courtesy of Milton Glaser, Sony, CBS and Columbia Record.