Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Nurse the Hate: Happy Birthday Bob!

It’s Bob Dylan’s 70th birthday today, and as fine a day as any to celebrate arguably America’s greatest artist as any other. I am hopeful that any one reading this has multiple releases of Dylan’s, as to not have these is really to admit that you don’t have any appreciation of music at all. I have heard the flimsy excuses about his vocals being weak, his arrangements loose, and lyrically impenetrable. That is all complete nonsense. His high points are the high points in what is even possible in the medium of rock music, and once you get indoctrinated, you realize he actually can sing. You just have to stick with it. Look, you didn’t like beer the first time you had it. You stuck that one out and now are quaffing 7.8% alcohol IPAs whereas when you were 17 you were happy with a wine cooler in a plastic jug. Man up on this Dylan thing.

Dylan’s discography at this point is immense and pretty daunting to the uninitiated. His career can be explained rather quickly. He was a folkie and got lumped into the protest singers in the early sixties. By the mid sixties he got a killer rock band and created “serious” rock music. No Dylan, there is no Beatles from “Beatles For Sale” on. Things got crazy with drugs and public interest and he pulled the plug. He had some trouble getting his footing back until the mid 70s when he released a few great albums around his divorce. Things got pretty dicey for a long while in the 1980s with records that can be described as “spotty” at best. Out of nowhere, he comes back with three monster new releases starting in 1997 and follows with amazing collections of unreleased material. So, in my opinion, what do you need to get a grasp of Mr. Dylan?

First of all, don’t get Greatest Hits collections. He’s not a “hits” guy. Each of his records has a distinctive feel, and a specific mood. You want the whole thing and digest it as one thing, the way he meant to release it. There are about 50 to choose from. So what are the ones you need immediately? This is an easy Top Ten, and I'm not breaking any new ground here. Still, if you don't have these, shame on you...

1) Highway 61 Revisited (1965)- This is perhaps the greatest rock record of all time. Every song is spot on and has depth. To not have this at your home is a sin.

2) Blood On the Tracks (1975)- This is the “divorce” album. If you have a bad breakup, this is something you may or may not want to listen to. When you think about R&B songs that chart about losing a woman, and then you listen to this, it becomes obvious what children wrote those R&B songs. This is for adults.

3) The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan (1963)- This is his second release. Peter, Paul, and Mary were considered the leading folk artists. Then this kid releases a record with “Blowin In the Wind” and “Hard Rain’s Gonna Fall” on it. Thanks for coming everyone else…

4) Bringing It All Back Home (1965)- Half is acoustic and half with a badass roadhouse band. Everything is great on it. He is in a league of his own, and it seemed impossible to top this. Then he released Highway 61 shortly afterwards.

5) Live 1966- This was the tour behind Bringing It All Back Home. The acoustic set is great, but the electric set is maybe the most punk rock thing ever recorded. Pissed off English folkies boo him mercilessly, and he just crushes them with one great song after another with The Band backing him up. Best live recording ever?

6) Love and Theft (2001)- This is considered the second of his “trilogy” of comeback records. For me, this is the best. He lost whatever voice he had, so he just shifts into a blues croak and makes it all work. Mick Jagger is sixty jumping around in spandex bike shorts. Bob Dylan walks out on stage like a Southern gentleman from a period piece movie.

7) John Wesley Harding (1967)- A curious quiet little record that becomes more complex every time you spend time with it. There are no wasted words, and just feels concise. Most have a three verse model to them.

8) Time Out of Mind (1997)- A murky dark record that seems to dwell on impending death, it is shocking it came from the same guy that had released “Down in the Groove” and “Under the Red Sky” recently.

9) Desire (1976)- This is a departure in sound with a gypsy feel to it thanks to the violin all over it. There is exotic warm weather climate imagery, and some monster songs as Bob continues to play with word tense and cubism. This sounds like a loose and fun recording of some pretty serious material.

10) The Basement Tapes (1975)- Made when Bob pulled the plug, this is just him recording songs for fun in the basement with the Band. Um, this sounds a little better than any band practice tapes I was ever part of… Their throwaway songs became American songbook standards.

One of the breaks I got was to have the same birthday as Bob Dylan. I always feel bad when I hear someone say, “Oh I share a birthday with Fred Gwynn!” or "Robby Benson has my birthday.". It’s so much cooler to be able to drop Dylan. Dylan is as great as it gets, and even to have a flimsy association like a birthday is nice. I have listened to all these releases above a million times, and I never tire of them. There is always something new right below the surface if you pay attention. If I really get after it and Bob is still doing his thing next year, I’ll give you an even better list. “Great songs on dicey Bob Dylan records” Ah, but since this is 70 for Bob, let’s focus strictly on the high points…

Happy Birthday Bob. Thanks for the great music. And thanks for “Shot of Love” too.


At May 31, 2011 at 8:58:00 AM EDT , Blogger andrew said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

At May 31, 2011 at 8:59:00 AM EDT , Blogger andrew said...

All you need to know about Live 1966 is this - "Play fucking loud!"


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