In Essential Albums, our favourite artists dig up five records that they consider “Essential” by any definition they like. This time, we dig up what our favourite artists have to say about the one, the only, Bob Dylan.
It's official: after being rumoured for years, Bob Dylan has won the 2016 Nobel prize in literature.
It's the first time the honour has gone to someone from the popular music realm, but it doesn't feel wrong even to the high-art-minded purists (if such people still exist). Surely as many words have been written about Dylan's lyrics as the work of, say, Harold Pinter or Toni Morrison (the last American to win the prize for literature). His influence has touched almost everyone.
When Neil Young turned 70 last November we joked about how every single artist has a Neil Young cover in their repertoire. Well, when it comes to Bob Dylan, every single artist has something to say about him. And that's good, because it's hard to get him to say much about himself.
So we dug through our Essential Albums archive and found five great songwriters and comedians' reflections on his music and words. Considering how often his name is brought up in interviews, it really just scratches the surface.
"Wild and masterful explorations of what one can do with the human voice. As a composer you think about how every sound has pitch and amplitude and texture and duration, but the human voice is the only one that has an added layer, and it’s content. And that content colours everything around. I think that’s why the folk tradition could be so minimal, because it was the lyrics that were colouring and texturing everything."
"I think storytelling is kind of a lost art, especially in songs nowadays. That used to be the main part of a song, that it told a story. I think this album has some really weird stories."
"To me Dylan is really the king. When I went to college in upstate New York, Blood On The Tracks came out. There’s so many songs on that album that are so seminal. 'Idiot Wind,' it’s almost like he’s having a discussion with a person or the world. It almost cheapens it to say he writes great lyrics."
"I would say in a lot of ways that’s my favourite album, but you could also go with Blonde On Blonde, Highway 61. It’s like a cliché now, but when he went electric, the bravery it took... The fact that he went with his heart and went down this route, that to me defines an artist. You’re not doing it because it’s popular, and you’re not going to be dissuaded. Thank God there wasn’t any Twitter back then. He’d just get harassed."
"It feels like it could've been made in less than a day with the right players. You can hear mistakes on the record, you hear people miss notes. It's very raw and clearly very personal. It's well known that it's a divorce record, and so it's a great record to listen to when you're breaking up with someone. It has a distinct purpose. It's also just some of his best songs I think."
"I'll still be interested in what he's got to say forever. When he goes it'll be too soon. You can't say that about a lot of guys. You know, where you're like, you've said everything you're going to say? He still feels vital every year."
"I’m 50 physically, but I’m still 18 aspirationally. I still believe in human compassion, creativity and revolution. I love the Bob Dylan quote, 'He who isn’t busy being born, is busy dying.' That’s 150% true."