The Myth and the Missed: Bob Dylan Revisited
[Originally published on TIDAL Read]
Bob Dylan is America’s greatest living artist.
There I said it. This is not an argument you’re going to win against me.
Since bussing to New York Town in 1961 and swiftly taking the world by storm, rock and roll’s poet laureate – who turns a round 75 years old today – has produced some of the most vital music and songwriting of the last century, shaping American music, culture, politics, art and literature in his prolific wake.
Setting a standard of artistry and intellectualism unprecedented in popular music, inspiring everyone from The Beatles, David Bowie and Bruce Springsteen to every new generation of folk singers, rock and rollers, writers, artists and thinkers. Dylan’s influence is so incredible that it’s impossible to imagine an American music or cultural landscape that resembles itself without him.
Bob Dylan’s accolades include 11 Grammys, a Golden Globe and an Oscar, a special citation from the Pulitzer Prize jury, and inductions in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, Minnesota Music Hall of Fame, Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame and Songwriters Hall of Fame. In 2012 President Obama bestowed Bob with the Presidential Medal of Freedom, and since the 1990s critics and academics have been formally lobbying to award him the Nobel Prize in Literature.
The most daunting thing about understanding an artist as mythologized as Bob Dylan is knowing how to approach his work.
With 37 studio album, not to mention live recordings, compilations, bootlegs and innumerable writing credits, even a self-described Dylan fanatic like myself hasn’t heard it all, and much of it I haven’t heard more than once or twice. Anxiety-inducing though this may be for the Dylan completest, I also find it incredibly inspiring his catalogue is so colossal (and still growing) that it can be dissected and experienced in inexhaustible ways.
The advent of music streaming offers a new chance to fully and freely explore Bob Dylan’s discography like never before. Where you once had to pay $10 to $20 for an album, forcing all but the completely obsessed to pick and choose among Dylan’s massive output, you now have unrestrained access to his sprawling back catalog (with currently over 1,500 individual tracks streaming on TIDAL by our count).
This is your time to rediscover the Bob Dylan you thought you knew, or, if you’re so lucky, to dive into his work for the very first time.
Maybe you’ve heard Freewheelin’, Highway 61 Revisited or Blonde On Blonde more times than you can count, but how often do you spin the incredible records in between? Perhaps you’re intimate with Bob’s work from the ’60s and ’70s, regularly immersing yourself in The Times They Are A-Changin’, Bringing It All Back Home, Nashville Skyline, Blood On The Tracks and Desire, but you forget to put on his excellent later albums such as Oh Mercy, Under The Red Sky andWorld Gone Wrong.
Have you ever sat and fully soaked in late career renaissance embodied by the masterful triptych of Time Out Of Mind, Love And Theft and Modern Times? How about his classic live albums like Live At Carnegie Hall, Before The Flood, Hard Rain, Dylan & The Dead and MTV Unplugged. Don’t even get me started on his distinguished Bootleg Series, now 12 volumes deep and rising.
Maybe you’ve joked about his less-understood Christian period, but have you actually listened to Slow Train Coming orSaved? There are some great songs in there. Even Bob’s most criticized or forgotten works, such as Street Legal, Empire Burlesque or Down in the Groove, are interesting fence posts in tracing the evolution of his career. And given the recent critical reassessment of his long-hated Self Portrait, they could be the next to be hailed as his misunderstood masterpieces.
The point is, there’s no longer an excuse to limit yourself to a select few because of limited access. Nor should you limit your exposure to Bob’s work based on longstanding, critically-enforced narratives that try to assess any song or album’s worth. Not before you hear it for yourself. This is true for Bob Dylan, as it should be for artists of every level and longevity.
Of course, the TIDAL Editors have labored over a number of excellent playlists and articles exploring Bob Dylan’s rich catalog is various ways.
You can revel in the transcendent craft of Bob’s songwriting, and the incredible breadth of his influence, with our brand new Covering Dylan playlist, featuring 100 of our favorite performances of his songs by other artists.
Be sure to check out our in-depth guide to The Bootleg Series, along with its accompanying playlist. And read about one of Bob’s most beloved albums, Highway 61 Rewind, in our Rewind piece from last year.
Now forget half of what I just told you and go discover (or rediscover) the music of Bob Dylan for yourself.