The 100 Greatest Artists of All Time: Bob Dylan

2nd place: Bob Dylan

As a singer, Bob Dylan has great power, and he is an excellent musical actor, with many characters in his voice. I could hear the political in his early songs. There’s something incredibly upsetting about someone singing with such power and really having something to say. But what struck me most was how much the road had influenced him: leaving Minnesota, touring, and coming to New York. There was such a hardness, a toughness in the way he approached his songs and his characters. This was a rebellion against the purity of folk music. In songs like “Like A Rolling Stone” or “Ballad Of A Thin Man”, there is no beating around the bush. Then the rebel rebelled against the rebellion.

Bob’s lyrics were primarily influenced by literary models, and so he used images that did not exist in the Tin Pan Alley tradition or in rock’n’roll. I saw him at those acoustic performances in 1965 and 1966, “Desolation Row” and “Mr. “Tambourine Man” and couldn’t believe how much this single man could convey with just a guitar and a harmonica around his neck.

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When he and I went to Nashville in 1966 to work on Blonde On Blonde, that was the first time I saw a songwriter write on a typewriter. We were in the studio, he had to rework a few lyrics for the songs we wanted to record, and I kept hearing his typewriter – click, click, click, drrinngg – at a crazy pace.

But the most important thing that I learned from Bob for my own songwriting is that you can break the traditional rules: how long a song can be, how much imagination is allowed when telling the story. It was great that someone had broken down the fences, that there were unlimited possibilities. By the way, if you write like he does and pack so many ideas into such catchy melodies, as a singer you have to phrase very well. His way of phrasing vocals was really special. He was able to convey his characters and images in a way that didn’t seem labored or contrived at all, so that it felt good musically and you could just go along with it without ever questioning the whole thing. And he often had an attitude in his voice that was just right for a particular record.

I think Bob loves a challenge. He’s always looking for ideas, something to keep him going. The songs he writes today are not a bit worse than the old ones. There is such a wonderful honesty in it. Bob is definitely a very good indicator for every young singer and songwriter. If you think he’s just written something really good, you should listen to one of Bob’s songs. Good things will always be measured by him. You can’t achieve much more than that.

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