ARTIST OF THE MONTH – BOB DYLAN
May 1, 2020
Fifty five years on from his domination of the UK album chart with five albums in the top twenty, and with the Nobel Laureate once again releasing new music with ‘Murder Most Foul’ and ‘I Contain Multitudes’, our Artist of the Month for May is the one and only Bob Dylan.
If music history has taught us anything, it’s that Bob Dylan has always played by no one’s rules except his own. And more to the point, these are rules that pretty much nobody but Dylan can fathom. So while you think you’ve got the map laid out and the route sorted, the way forward will unexpectedly and inevitably twist this way and that. As a wise man once pointed out, there’s “no direction home”.
It’s also worth taking the time to pause, look back and reflect on a period of time that encapsulated Bob Dylan’s rise from folk singer to rock star.
Indeed, it was 55 years ago this month that a quarter of the UK Top 20 Album Chart was occupied by Bob Dylan’s first five albums: ‘Bob Dylan’ (1962), ‘The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan’ (1963), ‘The Times They Are A- Changin’’ (1964), ‘Another Side Of Bob Dylan’ (1964) and ‘Bringing It All Back Home’ (1965)
Here at once was the evolution and metamorphosis of a crucial artist whose work filtered through to a wider British audience that was changing as fast as Bob Dylan was.
His eponymous debut was an album that celebrated its influences, but the tentative steps herein would come to be overshadowed by the giant steps taken by Dylan thereafter. Indeed, by the time of ‘The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan’, he emerges from the shadow of Woody Guthrie to find his own unique and singular voice. As evidenced by protest songs such as ‘Masters Of War’, the universal truths that beat at their core are as resonant today as they were back then, while the love songs continue to haunt.
‘The Times They Are A-Changin’ is where Dylan begins to refine and define his talents as he blends the personal with the political. The love songs ache with a particularly poignancy, while the remonstration of ‘Only A Pawn In Their Game’ among others is characterised by a greater nuance and sophistication. The title of the transitional ‘Another Side Of Bob Dylan’ says it all as Dylan prepares to outgrow his roots. Tellingly, it was an album that proved rich in pickings for 1965’ folk-rock boom, most notably with The Byrds’ reading of ‘All I Really Want To Do’.
The howls of rage and derision from the folk purists that greeted Dylan’s meshing of folk and rock on ‘Bringing It All Back Home’ only steeled his resolve to move further on. A true rarity, this is one of the few albums that can lay claim to altering the course of musical history, as his acoustic past fused with his electric future.
And this far down the line, he’s showing no signs of slowing down. The recent surprise releases, ‘Murder Most Foul’ – a meditation on the 1963 assassination of US president John F. Kennedy and the shadow that it continues to cast – and ‘I Contain Multitudes’ – a consideration of his not inconsiderable talents – are as profound and vital as those early releases.
Poet, singer, folkie, rock’n’roller, country star… take your pick; they all add up to Bob Dylan. And it all came together this time just over a half century ago.
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