Ok, so I realize that until now I’ve only written about hip-hop, but today I’m going to ramble about one of our county’s great artists: The man, the legend, the unintelligible, Bob Dylan.
It took me twenty-five years to accept the genius of Bob Dylan, and I largely blame 1967’s dismal “greatest Hits’ collection. Part of the problem is that Dylan’s most popular songs have either been ruined from being on the soundtrack of too many nostalgic 60’s films (“Blowing in the Wind”, “The Times They Are A-Changing”) or were never so hot to begin with “Rainy Day Woman”). Also, Dylan’s material covers too much ground to be represented well by ten tracks. It ends up just being a mish-mash of styles and genres, nuggets of brilliance that don’t really work when placed together. I was forced to listen to “Greatest Hits” on too many car rides in high school, and it almost turned me off to Dylan for good.
What finally changed my mind was a copy of “Highway 61 Revisited” that came free with a copy of L’Espresso, which is Italy’s version of Time, only with more boobies. I had heard “Like A Rolling Stone” a million times, but this was the first time I really listened to it. Besides the fact that it is a good song, it has got to be one of the most viscous singles released until rappers started releasing dis tracks in the 80’s. I was suffering from a nasty dot com hangover, and Dylan’s tirade was the perfect revenge anthem to all of the yuppie assholes who made my city so unbearable in the late 90’s. –
“You've gone to the finest school all right, Miss Lonely
But you know you only used to get juiced in it
And nobody has ever taught you how to live on the street
And now you find out you're gonna have to get used to it.”
All the angry punk rock anthems in the world can’t compete with Dylan’s vitriol on that track. The rest of the album holds up as well. Ok, so the lyrics don’t always make much sense, and it can get uncomfortably jammy at times, but it’s still really, really good.
Since I was in Italy, and it was tough finding decent music, I started buying all of the Dylan records I could find. I started with his most famous, 1963’s “The Freewheeling Bob Dylan.” Despite the fact that it contains one of his most popular songs, it is not one of his best albums. First of all, do you really ever feel the need to hear “Blowin’ in the Wind?” Because I don’t. It’s sort of like a lot of the Beatles’ stuff – totally ruined by repetition. It’s still worth owning, however, for “Oxford Town”, and the brilliant “Masters of War”
Next I picked up hi s debut, 1962’s “Bob Dylan”, which is notable for Dylan’s touching ode to Woody Guthrie, as well as his covers of old blues songs. For a young Midwestern Jewish kid, he sure sold lines like “Lord I’m fixin’ to die.”
1966’s double album “Blonde On Blonde” has some fine moments that build on the more rock and psychadelic leanings of Highway 61 and Bringing it All Back Home. However, too much of the album seems to conflate being on acid with being creative, and it’s not nearly as effective today as it must have been when it was released.
My favorite album of Dylan is 1964’s “The Times They Are A-Changing”. The title track is pretty brilliant, if overplayed. The rest of the album is full of angry folk music that attacks American hypocrisy, classism, and racism. It has also got some gorgeous ballads, and is consistent the whole way through. Fans of Elliot Smith should check this out, as Smith was obviously inspired by Mr. Dylan.
I haven’t really listened to any thing else Dylan has done. 1975’s “Blood On the Tracks” is a pretty heavy break up record, but it gets a little to jam-rock for my tastes. I’ve heard bad things about a lot of his output from the late 70’s, and I sort of feel like I own enough Dylan at this point. His last few albums have gotten rave reviews, but again, I’m not really desperate to add more Dylan to my collection. It’s not that he’s not great, it’s just that I have to make room for some of the other billion good artists out there.
While Dylan’s nasally voice may not be for everybody, he has a rightful spot in the pantheon of great American musicians, as well as great pop musicians. Next you get shit from a European about how the US has no culture, you can reply “Oh yea?!? Well what about Bob Dylan, muthafucka?” That’ll teach the Europeans to think they are better than us just because their countries aren’t full of ignorant superstitious Christians who don’t know shit about anything beyond their television…what-EVER.
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