Happy birthday, Bob.
Happy birthday, Bob.
Here’s a recording of him at his first TV appearance, about age 22, singing the traditional ballad “Man of Constant Sorrow.” Notice in his early style the debt that Dylan owes to Woody Guthrie, who was born about the time the song may have been written (possibly by Dick Burnett, a fiddler from Kentucky), about a century ago.
I used to think that only he and Joan Baez were capable of singing his songs, but there have been so many good covers of his work in recent years, from artists who have broken away from his style, that I’ve revised that thought.
But Joan Baez is still the best at it.
Here is Joan in 1965 singing “It Ain’t Me, Babe”, which Dylan had released the previous year on Another Side of Bob Dylan. She may have been thinking about their broken romance as she was singing this.
Some people don’t care for Tom Wright, but those people aren’t the sort who like Bob Dylan either, so it’s a wash. Here Tom sings “The Hour that the Ship Comes In”, one of Dylan’s great eschatological hymns.
This is another in the “you’ll either get this or you won’t” department. And excuse the British accent.
May God bless and keep you always; may your wishes all come true. May you always do for others and let others do for you. May you build a ladder to the stars and climb on every rung; and may you stay forever young.”
Bob Dylan turns 70 today. Ouch. So I’ve arranged a party with some of his old friends singing his own work back at him. If you think Bob can’t sing (you’re not alone and you may be right, but not likely) we’ll let the others do it.
Joan Baez starts with Forever Young, trying to take the sting away from 70.
Eric Clapton joins with Love Minus Zero/No Limit at Bob Dylan’s 30th Anniversary Concert in 1993. Even if your sound is turned off it’s worth it just to watch Clapton’s fingering on the guitar.
Johnny Cash joins with Bob himself in the studio during the recording of the Nashville Skyline album in 1969, singing One Too Many Mornings. Listen to the clear, liquid tones of Bob’s voice during that period. Yes, he can sing. But he chooses not to.
The fourth and final in the series: This tune is so simple that it’s probably the most powerful of the four. It’s quintessential rock, and this ahead-of-its-time performance at the Newport Folk Festival in 1965 turned a page in musicology. It also made him some enemies: Should Dylan go electric or stay folk? As it turned out, he could do any darned thing he wanted.
Notice the booh-ing from the crowd as Dylan leaves the stage, and the frazzled Peter Yarrow coming forward to smooth things over.
Previous simple tunes in the series:
#1: Suzanne by Leonard Cohen with Judy Collins
#2: Jersey Girl by Tom Waits
#3: No Woman, No Cry by Bob Marley
Bob Dylan’s birthday comes every year about the same time as my own, but he has had a lot more of them. Bob was born in Minnesota on May 24, 1941 and named Robert Allen Zimmerman. The name “Dylan” he borrowed from Dylan Thomas, the Welsh poet whose lyrics influenced him greatly, as did the folk music of Woody Guthrie.
If you could pick a song that typifies Bob Dylan, what would it be? From which decade? Which phase of his career—War Protest? Folk? Blues? Talkin’ Blues? Rock? Country? Christian? Maybe a love song?
Which singer is most qualified to sing Dylan’s songs? Joan Baez? Judy Collins? Odetta? How about Johnny Cash, George Harrison or Jerry Garcia?
How about you? (And why not? A friend of mine says, “If Bob Dylan can sing, anybody can sing.”)
Some of Dylan’s most important war protest songs never get played on commercial radio (Masters of War, or With God on Our Side) and some of his greatest stuff has been buried in the all-too-popular ones like Blowin’ in the Wind, or Mr. Tambourine Man, or Lay Lady Lay. When was the last time you heard Love Minus Zero, or Idiot Wind?
You don’t like Idiot Wind, you say.
I’d probably pick Tangled Up in Blue as one favorite, but I don’t know if that’s his best work—and I don’t know which version I like better: the commercially viable one from Blood on the Tracks (sung in the first person); or the earlier acoustic version, sung in the third person and involving a love-triangle—and featuring his cuff-links slapping against the guitar as he played.
His best work may be Like a Rolling Stone, and not because Rolling Stone Magazine said so (they were trying to flatter themselves). I like the simplicity and the energy of that one, and I never get tired of it. It also represents a transformation between his folk and rock phases, and the song clearly gave him new direction after a near burn-out. Although he nearly got booed off the stage by the die-hard folkies when he showed up at the Newport Folk Festival with an electric guitar in 1965, he sang it anyway. Folk music survived the episode and rock didn’t do too shabbily for it either.
Enjoy this video before YouTube pulls the plug on it again for copyright infringement [Note: this is the fourth version I’ve used. It’s getting to be a game…].