Monday, May 23, 2011

Celebrating Bob Dylan: happy 70th birthday, Bob!

Bob Dylan turns 70 tomorrow, May 24th.

It's impossible to accurately measure Dylan's artistic achievements of the last 50 years or to overestimate his place in America's history. One could make an argument that he is the nation's preeminent artist, living or dead.

I won't try to do that here, but when he finally passes, you can be sure a lot of newspaper pundits will make that claim with confidence and no small justification. His artistic achievements go far beyond most of the great American writers you can think of off the top of your head: Hawthorne, Hemingway, Faulkner and Frost. Maybe even Mark Twain.

In some ways he is more like a Russian novelist than an American pop star. Along with the Beatles, Muhammad Ali and Mahatma Gandhi, he may be one of the most widely recognized icons of the 20th century.

He certainly belongs on any Mount Rushmore of American musicians. The debate would be who to put next to his visage on the side of the mountain. Armstrong? Guthrie? Sinatra? Presley? Springsteen? You get the point. He belongs among the greatest of the great. His influence on popular culture is inestimable.

Considering that Dylan has never been known as a very fine singer, this is not just a major achievement, it's an incredible achievement. We tend to value the singer more than the song. But Dylan's production as a songwriter is so outstanding, and his artistic vision so expansive, he seems likely to be nominated for the Nobel Prize in literature before too long.

He writes with keen passion and worldly, hard-won wisdom about life's big topics: religion and politics; love and war; race and finance. His best songs paint vivid pictures of smalltown snapshot moments but he can offer biting commentary on the most significant, historic movements and disasters, too.

Philadelphia's WXPN will be playing a list of 70 Dylan songs tomorrow to celebrate his birthday. I have no idea how many of my favorites, listed below, will be on the WXPN playlist. I feel sure I will hear this from more than a few friends: "how could you forget THAT one!?!"

A couple of years ago I was gathered with my son, Luke, and several of his friends and we all decided to jot down our favorite ten Dylan songs. There were five of us and out of the 50 total songs we compiled, only four or five songs were on someone else's list. We spent the rest of the evening marveling at one another's choices and wondering how we could have been so clueless and forgetful.

It's a daunting task. Try for yourself! Good luck! I had to get my collection of Dylan CDs out to help me put the list together.

1. Like a Rolling Stone (Highway 61 Revisited), 1965
2. Masters of War (The Freewheelin' Bob Dylan), 1963
3. Tangled Up in Blue (Blood on the Tracks), 1975
4. Desolation Row, (Highway 61 Revisited)
5. Just Like a Woman, (Blonde on Blonde), 1966
6. Maggie's Farm, (Bringing It All Back Home), 1965
7. Ballad of a Thin Man, (Highway 61 Revisited)
8. Mississippi, (Love and Theft), 2001
9. The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll (The Times They Are a-Changin'), 1964
10. It Ain't Me Babe, (Another Side of Bob Dylan), 1964

11. All Along the Watchtower, (John Wesley Harding), 1967
12. Sad-Eyed Lady of the Lowlands, (Blonde on Blonde)
13. This Wheel's on Fire, (The Basement Tapes), 1975
14. Don't Think Twice, It's All Right, (The Freewheelin' Bob Dylan)
15. Lily, Rosemary and the Jack of Hearts, (Blood on the Tracks)
16. My Back Pages, (Another Side of Bob Dylan), 1964
17. Hurricane, (Desire), 1976
18. Lay Lady Lay, (Nashville Skyline), 1969
19. A Hard Rain is Gonna Fall, (Freewheelin')
20. All I Really Want to Do, (Another Side of Bob Dylan)

21. Every Grain of Sand, (Shot of Love), 1981
22. Chimes of Freedom, (Another Side of Bob Dylan)
23. It's Alright Ma, I'm Only Bleedin', (Bringing It All Back Home)
24. Queen Jane Approximately, (Highway 61 Revisted), 1966
25. Knocking on Heaven's Door, (The Ballad of Billy the Kid), 1976
26. Positively 4th Street, (Bob Dylan's Greatest Hits), 1967
27. To Be Alone With You, (Nashville Skyline)
28. Stuck Inside of Mobile with the Memphis Blues Again,(Blonde on Blonde)
29. Blowin' in the Wind, (Freewheelin')
30. Visions of Johanna, (Blonde on Blonde)

31. High Water (for Charlie Patton), (Love and Theft)
32. Quinn the Eskimo, (Self-Portrait), 1972
33. Tonight I'll Be Staying Here With You, (Nashville Skyline)
34. Red River Shore, (Telltale Signs), 2008
35. Mr. Tambourine Man, (Bringing It All Back Home)
36. Idiot Wind, (Blood On the Tracks)
37. Clothes Line Saga, (The Basement Tapes)
38. Absolutely Sweet Marie, (Blonde on Blonde)
39. I Threw It All Away, (Nashville Skyline)
40. It Takes a Train to Laugh, It Takes a Train to Cry (Highway 61 Revisited)

41. Dear Landlord, (John Wesley Harding)
42. Love Minus Zero/No Limit, (Bringing It All Back Home)
43. The Times They Are a Changing', (The Times They Are a Changing')
44. Most of the Time, (Oh Mercy), 1989
45. If Not For You, (New Morning), 1970
46. Shelter From the Storm, (Blood On the Tracks)
47. Subterranean Homesick Blues, (Bringing It All Back Home)
48. I Shall Be Released, (The Bootleg Series, vol. 2), 1991
49. Leopard Skin Pill Box Hat, (Blonde on Blonde)
50. It's All Over Now, Baby Blue, (Bringing It All Back Home)

51. Romance In Durango, (Desire)
52. Po' boy, (Love and Theft)
53. Jokerman, (Infidels), 1983
54. With God On Our Side (The Times They are a Changin')
55. Tryin' to Get to Heaven, (Times Out of Mind)
56. Mozambique, (Desire)
57. Catfish, (The Bootleg Series, Vol. 3), 1991
58. Please Mrs. Henry, (The Basement Tapes)
59. Just Like Tom Thumb's Blues, (Highway 61 Revisited)
60. I Pity the Poor Immigrant, (John Wesley Harding)

61. She Belongs to Me, (Bringing It All Back Home)
62. Ain't Talkin', (Modern Times)
63. Everything Is Broken, (Oh Mercy)
64. From A Buick Six, ( (Highway 61 Revisited)
65. I Want You, (Blonde On Blonde)
66. Girl From the North Country, (Nashville Skyline)
67. 'Til I Fell in Love With You, (Time Out of Mind)
68. If You Gotta Go, Go Now (Bootleg Series, Vol. 2)
69. Million dollar Bash (The Basement Tapes)
70. Not Dark Yet, (Time Out of Mind)

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