Bob Dylan’s 70th birthday

by on May 24, 2011 at 1:06 am in Music | Permalink

It is today,  here are a few underrated highlights of his career:

1. No Direction Home, the biopic directed by Martin Scorsese.  It’s one of the best documentaries on American music more generally, and a superb albeit hagiographic portrait of Dylan and his music.

2. The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan and Another Side of Bob Dylan and Blood on the Tracks and most of all Bob Dylan’s Greatest Hits volume II are the albums I listen to most often.  The last one sounds horrible from its name, but it was conceived conceptually, avoids the traditional problems of greatest hits albums (unlike Vol. I), and has some not otherwise available tracks; highly recommended.  Then comes Time Out of Mind.  I think of Bringing it All Back Home as the “best” Dylan album, but I enjoyed it so much at age fifteen that I don’t listen to it much today.  Blonde on Blonde is overreaching and Highway 61 Revisited is half wonderful, half embarrassment in the lyrics.

3. Dylan as disc jockey is first-rate, and you can buy his XM Satellite Radio selections of early American music.  He has an encyclopaedic knowledge of the period.

4. As a singer Dylan is influenced by Al Jolson and Bing Crosby, as an acoustic guitarist he remains underrated.

5. Dylan once said that Barry Goldwater was his favorite politician.

Jason May 24, 2011 at 1:16 am

“Time Out of Mind” is my favorite, I cannot tire of it.

Jacqueline May 24, 2011 at 1:26 am

You know *who else* liked Bob Dylan?

The Cylons, that’s who.

SteveX (formerly Steve) May 24, 2011 at 4:05 pm

…and Jimi Hendrix

Justin Wehr May 24, 2011 at 1:26 am

Excellent. I didn’t know about some of these things. Thanks, Tyler.

Which of Dylan’s songs rank the highest for you?

The ones that get the most play from me are (1) Boots of Spanish Leather, (2) Man of Constant Sorrow, (3) Girl From the North Country, and (4) One Too Many Mornings.

Scott Lahti May 24, 2011 at 1:31 am

I hope at least one person asks Bob, How does it feel…to be 70?

His XM show Theme Time Radio is indeed a treasure, as much for his interstitial commentary and dry humor as for the Borgesian tonal archives at his fingertip recall. His obituary tribute therein to Charlton Heston, for his early civil-rights marching as for other things, was memorable.

A toast, then, in the form of Sebastian Cabot – Mr. French from “Family Affair” – and his gentleman’s-gentlemanly pressing of ”Like a Rolling Stone”, through the miracle of YouTube:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bBMzZ2PD4r8

Should that world-weary word-to-the-wise – Cat Stevens’ ”Wild World”, eat your heart out! – launched with deceptively sunny Old Spice sea-shanty jaunt but soon enough laced with offhand jabs of withering sarcasm (that first tossed-off ”Didn’t you!?”: priceless; the baby-talk contempt in ”ya wanna make a DEAL?”: doubly so) see a clear day for too long this side of forever, I have a feeling a…hard rain’s gonna fall…

Kevin May 24, 2011 at 1:55 am

What are the traditional problems of greatest hits albums? I would really love to read a post about that ;-)

spenser May 24, 2011 at 1:57 am

Blonde on Blonde overreaching and Bringing It All Back Home his best? Interesting…

Favorite Dylan songs:
1.) My Back Pages [this song is criminally underrated]
2.) Sad Eyed Lady of the Lowlands
3.) Like a Rolling Stone
4.) Bob Dylan’s 115th Dream

SteveX (formerly Steve) May 24, 2011 at 4:13 pm

“Just Like World War III Blues”

“All Along the Watchtower”

Edward May 24, 2011 at 3:16 am

Can’t mention his singing influences without Woody Guthrie, listen to Bob’s “When I Got Troubles” recorded during his high school days- straight Woody Guthrie on that song.

dirk May 24, 2011 at 3:36 am

Let’s also mention that Bob was a herion addict for years — yet was really cool yet we still have a war on drug users in this country.

To quote Bill Hicks: “If you don’t like drugs, take every great rock-n-roll album you own and burn it. Because all those people who enhanced your lives were really high. The Beatles were so high they let Ringo sing a few songs.”

widmerpool May 24, 2011 at 4:43 am

Most of the sixties ‘greats’ are ludicrously overrated by nostalgic boomers, but Dylan really must be the worst. Just not worth listening to at all.

Anderson May 24, 2011 at 9:23 am

Oh dear. So many deluded people surrounding Widmerpool wherever he goes.

I believe Montaigne somewhere quotes a philosopher to the effect that one who fails to find value in a classic should first ask himself, What is deficient in me that I cannot appreciate this work?

AnotherTom May 24, 2011 at 10:18 am

I’m not Widmerpool, but I am similarly unappreciative of Dylan’s supposed quality. I “blame” my lack of appreciation for Dylan on my:
1. Not taking drugs; and
2. Deriving enjoyment from being able to understand what a singer is singing.

dirk May 24, 2011 at 12:34 pm

You have obviously not spent any time listening to Dylan because he articulates his words clearer than most singers. It’s when he speaks that he’s hard to understand…

Mr. Tamborine Man May 24, 2011 at 4:01 pm

dirk,

Trying seeing him in concert and you just might have to eat your words.

SteveX (formerly Steve) May 24, 2011 at 4:11 pm

@AnotherTom:

“Deriving enjoyment from being able to understand what a singer is singing.”

Apparently, you’re not a big Kurt Cobain fan either.

widmerpool May 25, 2011 at 4:43 am

Your argument fails in that Dylan is not a classic. He’s just some guy aging white Americans like out of nostalgia.

98.7% of the worthwhile pop music from the sixties and early seventies was made by black people or South Americans. White people didn’t really get going until the post punk era.

Rich Berger May 24, 2011 at 5:33 am

Bob may indeed have a wide knowledge of folk/pop music, but the show did have a research team.

vanya_N May 24, 2011 at 6:10 am

“as an acoustic guitarist he remains underrated.”

Unless you make a better case this is a fairly silly statement. Dylan is a very good acoustic guitar player, and I don’t know who would claim that he is not. He can break out a fine Delta blues, he can do some nice picking. His ’90s playing is probably even better than his early 60s work. But there are literally thousands of very fine acoustic guitarists in the world. Are you claming Dylan was groundbreaking in some way? Dylan is not half the guitarist that Ry Cooder and Jorma Kaukonnen were during the same period. He’s not as original as John Fahey. I’d rank Dylan well below James Taylor as a guitarist for that matter.

vanya_N May 24, 2011 at 6:13 am

I just noticed that Gibson guitars ranked Dylan #21 among All Time Acoustic Guitarists as recently as last year.

http://www.gibson.com/en-us/Lifestyle/Features/top-50-acoustic-1027/

At that position he’s certainly “rated” and I would argue well “overrated”.

Ian Leslie May 24, 2011 at 6:25 am

Interesting as ever. I agree with most of what you say although I’d add that in the case of BoB/Highway 61, ‘overreaching’ was part of the point of Dylan around that period – so was embarrassment. He wasn’t aiming for ‘just so’ but way beyond it.

Vanya – I’d say that, outside of the circle of aficionados of which you’re so ostentatiously a part, most casual fans think of Dylan as little more than a strummer. They’re wrong. That’s all.

Eric May 24, 2011 at 3:54 pm

True fact. Whenever I play something like “Don’t Think Twice Its Alright” for non-Dylanites, the response is usually, “this wasn’t Dylan playing the guitar right?” Although I would agree with Vanya that putting him among the all-time greats is silly

Nicolas May 24, 2011 at 7:28 am

+1 for Blood on the Tracks. Don’t like Blonde on Blonde very much, if I’m honest.

jm May 24, 2011 at 8:42 am

Best tunes change every other week. At moment 1-Something There is About You, 2-Where Are you Tonite, 3-Tomorrow is a long time, 4-Abandoned Love, 5-Isis, 6-Never Say Goodbye, 7-Just Like Tom Thumb’s Blues, 8-Simple Twist of Fate, 9-Standing in the Doorway, 10-Tell Me that it isn’t True…….Happy 70th Bob !!!

Brian Timoney May 24, 2011 at 9:08 am

Since paper citations are used to measure influence in academia, I would challenge the charge of Dylan being overrated by pointing to both the quantity and variety of his songs covered by others. And when Hendrix, The Byrds, Van Morrison, The Band, and Guns N Roses all count Dylan covers in their own personal top 5, well, the burden of proof is on the haters.

BT

p.s. Not a baby boomer…

Ted Craig May 24, 2011 at 9:18 am

I think Dylan’s most underrated works are his Christian albums.

anonygoat May 24, 2011 at 11:48 am

this is obviously correct.

o. nate May 24, 2011 at 2:13 pm

I was just going to say that – especially _Saved_. That’s a rollicking good album for anyone who can appreciate gospel-rock.

Hoosier May 24, 2011 at 9:47 pm

Shot of love really surprised me as well. Its really rocks.

Dean Sayers May 24, 2011 at 9:20 am

“5. Dylan once said that Barry Goldwater was his favorite politician.”

“Give the anarchist a cigarette; the times are changing but he just forgets.”

jm May 24, 2011 at 9:22 am

“When i was in Woodstock, it became clear to me that the whole counterculture was one big scarecrow wearing dead leaves…it had no purpose in my life. It’s been true ever since, actually.”

“MONEY DOESN’T TALK, IT SWEARS.”

-B Dylan

Matthew May 24, 2011 at 10:04 am

I like his reading of his own poem “Last Thoughts on Woodie Guthrie”. http://www.bobdylan.com/songs/last-thoughts-woody-guthrie

jb May 24, 2011 at 10:16 am

Salute him when his birthday comes

Scott Sumner May 24, 2011 at 10:27 am

The so-called “Royal Albert Hall” bootleg, (which is not actually Royal Albert Hall) is my favorite album by any artist.

http://www.amazon.com/Bootleg-Vol-Royal-Albert-Concert/dp/B00000JV7J/ref=ntt_mus_ep_dpi_15

Donald A. Coffin May 24, 2011 at 11:43 am

I first encountered Dylan’s work in a Shopper’s Fair discount store in 1964, when I found The Times They Are a-Changin’ in a bin. What captured me was not the songs, because I couldn’t listen to them in the store, but the beginning of 11 Outlined Epitaphs, which were the liner notes. Blew me away (and read them here: http://www.bobdylan.com/music/times-they-are-changin). I still am amazed that he wrote this when he was 23:

I am still runnin’ I guess
but my road has seen many changes
for I’ve served my time as a refugee
in mental terms an’ in physical terms
an’ many a fear has vanished
an’ many an attitude has fallen
an’ many a dream has faded
an’ I know I shall meet the snowy North
again—but with changed eyes nex’ time ‘round
t’ walk lazily down its streets
an’ linger by the edge of town
find old friends if they’re still around
talk t’ the old people
an’ the young people
runnin’ yes . . .
but stoppin’ for a while
embracin’ what I left
an’ lovin’ it—for I learned by now
never t’ expect
what it cannot give me

Of the albums, I’m torn between Blonde on Blonde and Blood on the Tracks. But Time Out of Mind, Love and Theft, and Good As I Been To You are all pretty damned good. But, then, almost everything up to and including Blood on the Tracks was more than pretty damned good.

Yancey Ward May 24, 2011 at 11:57 am

“A voice that came from you and me” is about the best description of Dylan I have ever heard.

When I was growing up, I hated his music, but it grows on you as you grow older.

BB May 24, 2011 at 12:27 pm

How does one get copies of “Theme-Time Radio Hour” that actually INCLUDE Dylan’s commentary. The ones to which Tyler linked all seem not to have the commentary (so far as I can tell), just the tracks. The tracks are obviously great, but….i

Ted Craig May 24, 2011 at 12:39 pm
Mr. Tamborine Man May 24, 2011 at 4:07 pm

Album: Blood on the Tracks
Song: Hurricane

Hoosier May 24, 2011 at 9:43 pm

Also, when asked in an interview with Rolling Stone about his favorite baseball team, he responded that he likes Detroit. Well if you’re reading this Bob, “Happy Birthday!” from one Tigers fan to another!

D. Nigel Hayes May 25, 2011 at 1:28 pm

TC gets points for this post. Dead-on with his analysis of Dylan’s albums, and the fact that he’s underrated on the acoustic guitar.

Ray Ban Eyeglasses June 9, 2011 at 5:29 am

This shows which they last very much lengthier and thus saving you income which could otherwise are actually utilized to purchase new ones.g

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