What can you say about Bob Dylan? The man is his own genre. No other songwriter from modern times can claim as much cultural and musical significance.
Nor has there been a troubadour as willing to take as many musical turns, challenging (and occasionally alienating) listeners with a body of work that constantly changes step, stumbling into and exploring unfamiliar territory.
The Allmusic.com website has this to say about Dylan:
Bob Dylan’s influence on popular music is incalculable. As a songwriter, he pioneered several different schools of pop songwriting, from confessional singer/songwriter to winding, hallucinatory, stream-of-conscious narratives. As a vocalist, he broke down the notion that a singer must have a conventionally good voice in order to perform, thereby redefining the vocalist’s role in popular music. As a musician, he sparked several genres of pop music, including electrified folk-rock and country-rock. And that just touches on the tip of his achievements.
Born in Duluth, Minnesota in 1941, Bob Dylan has released over sixty albums and compilations. During his rise to prominence in the early 1960s, he became more than a household name with folk-inspired songs like Blowin’ In The Wind and The Times They Are A Changin’. His early popularity and appeal almost ran contrary to the popular music of the time. While rock bands like the Beatles and Rolling Stones, and pop groups like the Beach Boys and the music coming out of Motown all were coming into their own, Dylan crafted folk tales that consisted of simple acoustic guitar arrangements and harmonica. The sudden popularity of his topical and socially-conscious music forever associated him with the civil rights movement and counter-culture of the era. By his early twenties, Dylan’s brand of folk-rock achieved commercial and artistic success that surpassed even that of his own musical idols Hank Williams and Woody Guthrie.
It’s hard to believe how fiercely he was criticized when he introduced electric instruments into his music in 1965. Highway 61 Revisited, released that very year, opens with the legendary six- minute song Like a Rolling Stone, which if anything signals the end of Dylan’s career as a protest singer and rebirth as rock n’ roll singer with something to say. In 2004, Rolling Stone magazine chose this song as the greatest song of all time, saying that “No other pop song has so thoroughly challenged and transformed the commercial laws and conventions of its time.” Touring at this time, Dylan divided his concerts into two sets: a solo acoustic performance, followed by a raucous electric set which featured Ronnie Hawkins’ band the Hawks, who would soon rename themselves as The Band. At times the electric set would be jeered by fans that still preferred to hear the acoustic folk music.
Over the course of the 1970s Dylan released more than ten albums, including Before The Flood, a double live album documenting his tour with The Band. He had recorded extensively with The Band in the late sixties writing several albums worth of music, some of which would eventually appear on The Basement Tapes. Dylan also worked with George Harrison, first appearing on Harrison’s debut solo album with If Not For You and later taking part in the Concert for Bangladesh in 1971.
Showing an interest in other arts, Dylan appeared in the 1973 film Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid. While the film is recognized as a one of director Sam Peckinpah’s major works, it’s often remembered for the music Dylan supplied the soundtrack, especially the sublime Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door. This soundtrack album is often overlooked in light of the huge successes that followed. In 1975 Dylan released something of a comeback album, with the deeply personal Blood on the Tracks. The album was a critical and commercial success with the songs Tangled Up In Blue, Simple Twist of Fate and Shelter From the Storm (all available as song lessons on Guitar Noise).
Sometime in the late 1970s Dylan announced he was a born again Christian and subsequently released a trilogy of spiritually themed albums. Among them was 1979′s Slow Train Coming which features guitar work by Dire Straits front man Mark Knopfler. The song Gotta Serve Somebody was a hit and won a Grammy award. Dylan again enlisted Mark Knopfler in 1983 to produce the album Infidels. This album is generally seen as Dylan’s return to secular music, although songs like Jokerman still contain biblical and religious references. If anything, the song melds Dylan’s socially conscious folk roots with a spiritual rebel message.
Constant touring throughout the 1980s may have helped Dylan lighten up. He played with Keith Richards and Ronnie Wood at the end of the Live Aid concert in 1985; toured with the Grateful Dead in 1987, releasing a live album, Dylan and the Dead, commemorating the occasion; and reunited with George Harrison to become a member of The Traveling Wilburys in 1988. Throughout the 1990s and 2000s Dylan continued to release strong albums that ventured into different musical territories, such as folk, blues, rockabilly and swing – almost anything distinctly American. In 2005, a Martin Scorsese documentary, No Direction Home, dissected Dylan’s life and music from 1961 to 1966. Dylan released the eighth installment of his bootleg series entitled Tell-Tale Signs in 2008. The twenty-plus songs consist of outtakes and rare songs recorded between 1989 and 2006. His most recent album, Together Through Life, was released in April 2009.