To do: Update links to Spotify. Put in scores and links to AllMusic and Wikipedia. March 2019
|"Play it fucking loud"|
I’m gonna let you pass
Yes, and I’ll go last
Then time will tell who has fell
And who’s been left behind
When you go your way and I go mine
Dylan has gone his way all his life, and is the most important song-writer not just of his generation, not even just of the 20th century, but of all time. His influence is almost incalculable.
I have seen him live twice. First time was in the Seventies at Blackbushe Airport in front of an immense crowd when he was riding on the crest of his second wave of popularity and creative energy. He was probably at his peak of popularity then, because he was able to command much greater audiences than when he toured the UK in the Sixties. But the Sixties was his main creative period, and the point at which he commanded the attention of the world, and changed the face of music forever. That would have been the time to see him. I saw him again recently, at Bournemouth, on his Never Ending Tour. A low key event. He tours now, turning up at odd venues all over the world, and people don't even notice. We spent the day in Bournemouth, and would occasionally get chatting to people - "And what are you doing in Bournemouth today?" - "We're hear to see Bob Dylan" - "Oh, he's playing here today? I didn't know." He played a set of his own songs mixed in with a lot of covers of old crooner songs. He was dressed like a crooner. And he didn't say a single word to the audience. Not even hello or goodbye!
Having listened chronologically to all the music his creative periods fall into three periods - the Sixties is his main period, and is the essential Dylan; from The Freewheelin' Dylan in 1963 through to Blonde on Blonde in 1966 he produced a body of work that stands as among the greatest artistic work of mankind. After the strains of his 1966 tour of England, he withdrew both physically and creatively, using a mysterious motorbike accident as his excuse. He then released a series of somewhat off the cuff, weird, or highly individual albums - he appears in this period to be rejecting his image and status, experiencing huge personal issues with how has been perceived by the public, the press, and the music industry. The first of these, John Wesley Harding in 1967, was thrown together quickly by a scratch band Dylan pulled together at the last minute. I like it - it's odd, light, quirky, and quite gently rejects his image: "Nothing is revealed". During this period Dylan was also (initially) trying to record a proper Dylan album with The Band, but it appears that he didn't feel comfortable revealing his serious work to the critics, and it was only during his resurgence in the mid Seventies that he felt confident to have some of the recordings released as The Basement Tapes. The mid Seventies resurgence began in 1974 when he changed record labels and got together again with The Band to tour for the first time since 1966. The album of that tour, Before The Flood, was well received, though also gained the criticism and complaints that Dylan seems to have experienced too much during his career. The first attempt at a serious album, Planet Waves, with The Band, didn't quite work, but returning to old record label, and pulling together new musicians, Dylan released the extraordinary Blood On The Tracks, again railing against the critics and the image created around him, but this time in very confident and assured manner. The follow up album, Desire, was a lesser album but was also solid, but he began to trail off with Street Legal in 1978, and then again entered a troubled period with the first of his Christian albums, 1979's Slow Train Coming. The Eighties is Dylan's worse period, and after a series of patchy albums, in which his own contributions were becoming fewer and fewer, his creativity completely dried up and by 1992 he had withdrawn into releasing comforting albums of covers, and it's not until 1997 that he recovers his confidence enough to return to song-writing. He now enters his third creative period - his mature period, starting with 1992's Time Out of Mind.
Bob Dylan (//; born Robert Allen Zimmerman, May 24, 1941) is an American poetic songwriter, singer, painter, writer, and Nobel Prize laureate. He has been influential in popular music and culture for more than five decades. Much of his most celebrated work dates from the 1960s, when he became a reluctant "voice of a generation" with songs such as "Blowin' in the Wind" and "The Times They Are a-Changin'", which became anthems for the Civil Rights Movement and anti-war movement. Leaving behind his initial base in the American folk music revival, his six-minute single "Like a Rolling Stone", recorded in 1965, enlarged the range of popular music.
Dylan's lyrics incorporate a wide range of political, social, philosophical, and literary influences. They defied existing pop music conventions and appealed to the burgeoning counterculture. Initially inspired by the performances of Little Richard and the songwriting of Woody Guthrie, Robert Johnson, and Hank Williams, Dylan has amplified and personalized musical genres. His recording career, spanning more than 50 years, has explored the traditions in American song—from folk, blues, and country to gospel, rock and roll, and rockabilly to English, Scottish, and Irish folk music, embracing even jazz and the Great American Songbook. Dylan performs with guitar, keyboards, and harmonica. Backed by a changing lineup of musicians, he has toured steadily since the late 1980s on what has been dubbed the Never Ending Tour. His accomplishments as a recording artist and performer have been central to his career, but his songwriting is considered his greatest contribution. Since 1994, Dylan has also published seven books of drawings and paintings, and his work has been exhibited in major art galleries.
As a musician, Dylan has sold more than 100 million records, making him one of the best-selling artists of all time. He has also received numerous awards including eleven Grammy Awards, a Golden Globe Award, and an Academy Award. Dylan has been inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, Minnesota Music Hall of Fame, Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame, and Songwriters Hall of Fame. The Pulitzer Prize jury in 2008 awarded him a special citation for "his profound impact on popular music and American culture, marked by lyrical compositions of extraordinary poetic power." In May 2012, Dylan received the Presidential Medal of Freedom from President Barack Obama. In 2016, he was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature "for having created new poetic expressions within the great American song tradition".
A Spotify account is needed to play the music in the links. Selected "Bootleg" and other relevant albums are inserted where appropriate in the order they were recorded rather than released, as valuable background information. The Basement Tapes, however, is placed at the date of release, as that release was in itself significant.
|Bob Dylan (1962)|
|The Witmark Demos (2010)|
|The Freewheelin' Bob Dylan (1963)|
All the songs here are Dylan's, and include "Don't Think Twice, It's All Right", "A Hard Rain's a-Gonna Fall" and "Blowin' in the Wind". Phew.
|Live at Carnegie Hall 1963 (2005)|
|The Times They Are a-Changin' (Jan 1964)|
|Another Side of Bob Dylan (Aug 1964)|
|Live 1964 (2004)|
|Bringing It All Back Home (March 1965)|
|Highway 61 Revisited (Aug 1965)|
|Live 1966 (1998)|
(All the audience comments have been removed from this Spotify version - here's a film of the incident.)
|Blonde on Blonde (July 1966)|
|The Cutting Edge (2015)|
|John Wesley Harding (Dec 1967)|
|Nashville Skyline (1969)|
Dylan's country album. This is probably his oddest album - it doesn't sound like Dylan at all. Not in the voice, the music, the lyrics, or the attitude. It's a a pleasant album with some pleasant songs, but - hey - just about anyone could have made this, and it sounds like just another soft country rock album. This is really the start of Dylan's fallow period which would last until Blood On The Tracks. He wasn't the voice of a generation nor did he win the Nobel Prize for pleasant trivia like this. The closest he comes to being Dylan is a couple of lines in Lay Lady Lay: "His clothes are dirty but his, his hands are clean / And you’re the best thing that he’s ever seen".
|Self Portrait (June 1970)|
|New Morning (Oct 1970)|
|Another Self Portrait (2013)|
|Pat Garrett & Billy the Kid (July 1973)|
|Planet Waves (1974)|
|Before The Flood (June 1974)|
This is a very strong recording. The tour was a huge success, and this album shows why. Dylan is clearly energised and in command. And The Band are playing at their peak. When it was released there was some discussion and disappointment that one and a half sides were just The Band doing their own material, but they are a great band, and their own songs are classics, so there's no complaints from me.
|Blood On The Tracks (Jan 1975)|
|The Basement Tapes (June 1975)|
|The Basement Tapes Complete (2014)|
|Desire (Jan 1976)|
|Hard Rain (Sept 1976)|
|Live 1975 (2002)|
|Street-Legal (June 1978)|
|Bob Dylan at Budokan (April 1979)|
|Slow Train Coming (Aug 1979)|
|Shot of Love (1981)|
I'm remembering now that a friend got into the album at the time and urged me to listen to it, and I did indulge him one evening, but all I was hearing was the Christian aspects, and rejected it. Listening now, I'm starting to appreciate what he heard back then. This was the start of Dylan's "recovery", and the album has very strong moments. Not a great album, but much better than its undeserved reputation.
Actually, there's just as many Christian songs on this album as on the last one.
Hmmm. I think I prefer Shot of Love.
|Real Live (1984)|
|Empire Burlesque (1985)|
|Knocked Out Loaded (1986)|
It's looking so far as if the Eighties were Dylan's least interesting period - something he holds in common with other artists. What exactly was it about the Eighties that resulted in so many major artists failing to produce worthwhile music?
Actually, I don't dislike this. There are elements of his various styles and approaches, though he only has single writing credit on two of the songs - others are covers, traditional, or collaborations. Brownsville Girl, widely regarded as the best song on the album, and by some as one of his best ever songs, is a collaboration with Sam Shepard.
This is an interesting album - definitely, along with Oh Mercy, his most intriguing and attractive work of the Eighties.
|Down In The Groove (1988)|
|Dylan & the Dead (Feb 1989)|
|Oh Mercy (Sept 1989)|
|Under The Red Sky (1990)|
|The Bootleg Series Volumes 1–3 (1991)|
|Good As I Been To You (1992)|
And, by golly, I do like this.
|World Gone Wrong (1993)|
|MTV Unplugged (1995)|
|Time Out Of Mind (1997)|
|Love and Theft (2001)|
|No Direction Home (2005)|
|Live At the Gaslight 1962|
A record of one of his early gigs. For Dylan fans only.
|Modern Times (2006)|
It's listenable, but flimsy. Because some critics are happy that he's not releasing weird stuff, or anything attacking them, they regard this as one of his best albums. I think they need to seriously revisit the core Sixties albums. Gee.
|Tell Tale Signs (2008)|
This album is a mixed bag. There's good stuff and OK stuff and not so OK stuff in here.
|Together Through Life (2009)|
|Christmas In The Heart (Oct 2009)|
Dylan can do what he wants. And if wants to make an album of nonsense, then so be it. This is not on the same level as Phil Spector's Christmas Album, and is best ignored completely.
|The Tempest (2012)|
Dylan's best album of his mature period, and his best album since Blood On The Tracks. This is genuinely a great album, and astonishing that he can produce work of this quality. OK, some of the mature period albums were indicating that he hadn't completely lost it....
|Shadows In The Night (2015)|
|Fallen Angels (2016)|
Essential albums are marked *
Best of a period are marked !
- Bob Dylan (1962)
- The Freewheelin' Bob Dylan (1963) *
- The Times They Are a-Changin' (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)
- Self Portrait (1970)
- New Morning (1970)
- Pat Garrett & Billy the Kid (1973)
- Dylan (1973)
- Planet Waves (1974)
- Infidels (1983)
- Empire Burlesque (1985)
- Knocked Out Loaded (1986)
- Down in the Groove (1988)
- Oh Mercy (1989) !
- Under the Red Sky (1990)
- Time Out of Mind (1997)
- Love and Theft (2001)
- Modern Times (2006)
- Together Through Life (2009)
- Christmas in the Heart (2009)
- The Tempest (2012) * !
- Shadows in the Night (2015)
- Fallen Angels (2016)
- Triplicate (2017)
* BestEverAlbums All
* PasteMagazine Top15
* RollingStoneReadersPoll Top 10
* CoS All
* Nerve All
* UCR All
* Thought Top 5
* TopTens All
* Spinditty Top 10
* PNT Top 10
* Ranker All
Highway 61 Revisited (1965)
Blonde on Blonde (1966)
Bringing It All Back Home (1965)
The Freewheelin' Bob Dylan (1963)
Blood on the Tracks (1975)
Live 1966 (1998)
Before The Flood (June 1974)
John Wesley Harding (1967)
The Times They Are a-Changin' (1964)
The Basement Tapes (1975)
The Tempest (2012)
Love and Theft (2001)
A Hard Rain's Gonna Fall (1963)
This is a new type of song. It is grounded in a folk tradition, and there is a sense of it being timeless - which is always what Dylan wanted. He never wanted any of his work to be pinned down to any one instance. This song could be hundreds of years old - it borrows an ancient tradition of folk songs as its frame, and this song initially appears as though it could be from any place, any time. It sounds familiar. - it could be any folk song or love song: "Where have you been my darling young one?" This is a familiar folk song refrain, as used for example on the nursery rhyme Billy Boy:
Oh, where have you been,
Billy Boy, Billy Boy?
Oh, where have you been,
I have been to seek a wife
Yet the images that follow are remarkable. Quite stunning. And this is where the poetry comes in. He is using symbolism - the poetry used by Baudelaire: " eye brimming with involuntary tears / He dreams of gallows while smoking his hookah" to construct a series of images and symbols that paint a bleak picture:
I saw a highway of diamonds with nobody on it
I saw a black branch with blood that kept drippin'
I saw a room full of men with their hammers a-bleedin'
I saw a white ladder all covered with water
Just a single one of those images gives pause for thought and speculation - "a highway of diamonds with nobody on it". It's a remarkable image that captures the imagination - we want to know why nobody is on that highway of diamonds, let alone why there is such a highway, but already we have moved on to the next image: " black branch with blood that kept drippin". It's breathless and dazzling. We catch glimpses of ideas - the black branch with blood reminds us of the poem Bitter Fruit which was famously set to music as Strange Fruit and sung by Billie Holiday.
Southern trees bear a strange fruit,
Blood on the leaves and blood at the root,
Black bodies swinging in the southern breeze,
Strange fruit hanging from the poplar trees.
And with the lines
And what did you hear, my darling young one?
I heard the sound of a thunder that roared out a warnin'
He is echoing the 1949 Pete Seager protect song, If I Had A Hammer:
If I had a hammer,
I'd hammer in the morning
I'd hammer in the evening,
All over this land
I'd hammer out danger,
I'd hammer out a warning
So Dylan is aware of, and bringing together all these separate elements - literature, folk song, protest song, symbolism, poetry, politics, and weaving them into a new structure.
Because he wants it to be timeless, he never pins it down to one thing, though in 1963 it was the height of CND and the protests against nuclear weapons. The refrain "It's a hard rain's a-gonna fall" while allowing for today's concern about climate change, at that time seemed well suited to fears of a nuclear fall out. People took up Dylan's song and sung it on the Aldermaston march. In August of that year the Test Ban Treaty came into force. Was the song responsible for bringing about the ban? Of course not. But it was timely. And it remains timely now because Dylan keeps it open and possible. Some people dislike that open symbolism - they want more certainty. But Dylan has never been about certainty. Has always stepped away from it because "the executioner's face is always well hidden."