In Celebration of Bob Dylan Turning 76 + Amoeba's 20% Off Sale, A Career Overview & Guide To Building Essential Dylan Library

Posted by Billyjam, May 24, 2017 01:14pm | Post a Comment

Today's installment in this weeklong Amoeblog birthday series, which honors Bob Dylan's 76th birthday with an accompanying Amoeba Music instore 20% off sale today, is the series' most important and personal for me. The artist born Robert Allen Zimmerman in Duluth, Minnesota, on May 24th, 1941 has for me consistently ranked as among the most important artists of all time, of all genres. A dedicated fan since I was just a little kid too young to understand his deeply layered lyrics, when my dad introduced me to him via his repeated plays of the albums Bringing It All Back Home (also avail on 180 gram vinly LP and on 2LP MFSL reissue as cover above) and Nashville Skyline (also avail on MSFL reissue vinyl), I credit both my musically diverse late father and Bob Dylan's music for giving me an appreciation of American music from Woody Guthrie's protest folk era, to country music (including my intro to Johnny Cash) and most importantly preparing me for rap music, in particular the rhyming structure of hip-hop. So for this birthday week Amoeblog series on Dylan I will provide a random timeline of Dylan events: tracing such moments as his famous mid sixties press conference in San Francisco up to his 2016 Nobel prize in literature. Also included  in this piece are references to many key Dylan albums / a suggested rough guide to building the basic essential Dylan music collection. Naturally with such a deep body of work (the online Amoeba shop numbers 400 Dylan titles!) this piece will only scratch the surface. Note that all Bob Dylan product found at Amoeba (LP, CD, DVD, posters etc.) are on 20% off sale today and instore only at Amoeba's three locations: Berkeley, San Francisco, and Hollywood.

On March 19th, 1962 a new folk singer named Bob Dylan would quietly arrive on the scene with the release of his self-titled debut album. Bob Dylan (also avail on LP/vinyl). Consisting of cover versions of old folk songs, it was released by Columbia Records thanks to the label signing by A+R rep / talent scout John H. Hammond, who also produced the album. By commercial standards, this album was a total flop but Hammond saw beyond that despite whatever haters at the time said. The reality is that, upon hearing the album and this new artist, many at the time wondered how such a horrible singer could get signed to any type of deal. But believers, like Hammond, saw beyond the obvious superficial flaws of Dylan's singing voice (an acquired taste, no doubt, but proved that you didn't have to have a classically trained voice to be appreciated. Later artists like Lou Reed benefited from Dylan).

Other believers/fans of Dylan from early on included such artists as The Beatles and The Rolling Stones. and of course The Byrds who would successfully cover such Dylan songs as "Mr Tambourine Man" and "Chimes of Freedom." Bob Dylan was the first of countless album projects Dylan was responsible for. In all they would number 40 studio albums, in addition to endless bootlegs (such as The Basement Tapes: Raw The Botleg Series), a ton of live releases (my personal fave been the 1974 double album with The BandBefore The Flood - also on LP/vinyl), and soundtrack contributions, plus countless collaborations such as the short lived supergroup of three decades ago The Traveling Wilburys (along with George Harrison, Jeff Lynne, Roy Orbison, and Tom Petty).  .

As so many have pointed out over the decades, Dylan's role in contemporary culture transcended  making head nodding catchy pop music. His lyrics managed to connect to a whole generation in the ever changing era of the 1960s when he was instrumental in helping galvanize the civil rights movement. Impresively Bob Dylan continues to record and release albums at: his most recent studio album been Triplicate  from couple of months ago. And sure these may not be as radically influential as his earlier decades body of work, Dylan's continued influence in contemporary rock, folk or pop music is undeniable!

Speaking of pop music, Dylan's biggest pop hits included "Like A Rolling Stone" which in 1965 reached #2 on the US singles chart, 1969's "Lay Lady Lay" (from the aforementioned Nashville Skyline) that reached #5 on the UK charts where in 1964 his stellar second album The Freewheelin' Bob Dylan featuring such original songs as "A Hard Rain's Gonna Fall," "Blowin' in the Wind," and "Don't Think Twice It's Alright." had been a number one chart topping hit LP. [Note the album cover, shot on W. 4th Street in Dylan's Greenwich Village stomping grounds of the time was so iconic that it would be recreated in the 2001 sci-fi film Vanilla Sky] . That album would go Platinum in the UK, in addition to reaching #22 on the US charts where it registered Gold status. But Gold record plaques and hit records, chart positions and sales figures have never meant much to the artist whom the Nobel Prize committee recently summed up his back-catalog as "a large number of albums revolving around topics like the social conditions of man, religion, politics and love."  Since day one Bob Dylan has made a career of simply marching to his own beat, regardless of what anyone else thinks or says of him. This he famously proved back in the first part of the sixties as he was rising to fame, by risking been viewed as turning his back on devoted folk fans who would loudly boo him when he went electric. And for this stubborn individuality alone, Dylan deserves the ultimate respect in my opinion.

July 1965 Newport Folk Festival that got Dylan booed for going electric

Bob Dylan San Francisco Press Conference 1965 Dec 1965

Not known for doing a million interviews like so many artists, Dylan prefers to speak through his music rather than the stereotypical traditional Q+A magazine interview format. But when he is interviewed he often gives some pretty enlightening or at least entertaining responses to questions. An example would include the recent era interview in 2009 when interviewer Bill Flanagan quizzed Dylan on what his take on politics was at the time, to which he replied, “Politics is entertainment, it’s a sport!" But the ultimate, most classic Dylan interview in which the tables are turned and the rules changed, has to be his December 1965 interview (seen above). It was while he in the Bay Area and gave a rare (and most entertaining) press conference when he met with the Bay Area press at the KQED studios at 4th and Bryant Streets in San Francisco. "A bravura performance which was almost as entertaining as one of his concerts, fending off presumptuous and sometimes stupid questions with replies that were either baffling or surreal or contemptuous, or all three," reviewed the British newspaper The Telegraph. While nowhere near as confrontational as the Sex Pistols would be a dozen years later with the press and the public when they came to San Francisco in January 1978, Dylan's interactions and responses were more humorous than contemptuous. And bear in mind that he was only 24 and already had been pigeonholed as so many things by the media that he was meeting in this rare interview setting. And he had fun with it all: mocking the media long before such a practice was a thing. “I think of myself as a song-and-dance man," he responded to the reporter who earnestly asked: "Do you think of yourself as a protest singer or a rock and roll singer?” Dylan biographer Chris Morris beautifully summed the artist and his richly diverse body of work when he wrote, "Is there any way to adequately survey a career of such prolific density, diversity, and depth, or a life so rich in dramatic changes, twists, and reversals? He’ll never tell us himself: Even at his most forthcoming, Bob Dylan has been cryptic; at his worst, he is a master dissembler. Millions of words have been expended probing his life, and scholars have trailed him tirelessly; in the late ‘60s, “Dylanologist” A.J. Weberman incurred his wrath by picking through his garbage in an attempt to divine his essence.

In the end, Dylan’s music may be the best skeleton key we have to explore America’s most protean musician, who changed the very face of folk and rock ‘n’ roll." That is so true! It also touches on the fact that, of all artists, Bob Dylan has more damn books and essays written about him than most other contemporary music figures. These include the early Anthony Scaduto biography (pictured left). Published in 1971 this recommended book traces early life in Minnesota and his formative music career years in NYC's Greenwich Village up to his global rise to fame in the mid-1960s.

Dylan is also the subject of several documentaries including most notably D. A. Pennebaker's landmark 1967 film Don't Look Back covering Dylan's 1965 UK concert tour. The newer DVD/BLU-ray versions of this historic music film, that was first screened publicly on May 17, 1967 at the Presidio Theater in San Francisco, includes a bonus documentary: also by D. A. Pennebaker and edited by Walker Lamond entitled 65 Revisited. Then there's  Martin Scorsese's equally engaging required-viewing 2005 documentary No Direction Home: Bob Dylan that lovingly traces the life of the legendary figure whom Scorsese clearly admires greatly.  Of that documentary Chris Morris observed,  "In Martin Scorsese’s 2005 film No Direction Home, about the musician’s early life and his career through ’66, Dylan himself says that throughout the metamorphic stages of his career he was “constantly in a state of becoming.” Vocalist Liam Clancy, a Greenwich Village folk scene contemporary, aptly compares him in the documentary to the shape-shifters of Celtic mythology: “It wasn’t necessary for him to be a definitive person.”

Bob Dylan/D.A. Pennebaker's oft paid homage to "Subterranean Homesick Blues" music video for the song from 1965 album Bringing It All Back Home

Dylan's seventh studio album Blonde on Blonde (also on LP/vinyl) the ambitious double album released in 1966 and featuring such classics as "Rainy Day Women #12 & 35," "Stuck Inside of Mobile with the Memphis Blues Again,"    "Leopard-Skin Pill-Box Hat," and "Just Like a Woman" is considered by many as the artist's finest, most brilliant album as it displayed the uncanny vivid lyrical gift for painting pictures with his words. It was also showcased his introduction to recording in Nashville. But for me Bringing It All Back Home is the album that remains my all time Dylan favorite. Maybe because it was the first one I heard when, as a young kid I was spellbound by the cover art and sound of tracks like "Subterranean Homesick Blues," "Bob Dylan's 115th Dream," or "Maggie's Farm." Too young to understand any of the lyrics, except I knew that I did not want to work on Maggie's farm (whoever she was), or to distinguish between the LP's split folk and electric sides, I was drawn in by this unique music and this man's weird but commanding voice. I also credit the poet Dylan's pre hip-hop era rhyming style in preparing me for hip-hop music and later decade rap records like Slick Rick's "Children's Story." Of course Dylan's influence in hip-hop and this album in particular (including the aforementioned D.A. Pennebaker filmed) "Subterranean Homesick Blues" song's accompanying innovative video which, made decades before MTV and "music videos" as a medium), would later be paid homage to by De La Soul (among many others). As far as sampling Dylan in hip-hop many did over the years.  For example The Beastie Boys frequently sampled his songs including the line "I'm going back to New York City, I do believe I've had enough" from “Just Like Tom Thumb’s Blues“ off Highway 61 Revisited on their 1992 Check Your Head album track "Finger Lickin' Good."

Patti Smith December 2016

Back in December Patti Smith delivered an emotional rendition of Bob Dylan's "A Hard Rain's A-Gonna Fall" at the Nobel Prize ceremony in Stockholm, Sweden (see performance at the 1:03:00 mark in the video above) that followed the Swedish Academy's Nobel presentation speech where Dylan was lauded because he, "changed our idea of what poetry can be." Sometime earlier in 2016 when it was first announced, via Twitter, it was tweeted that Dylan would get the NobelPrize in Literature, “for having created new poetic expressions within the great American song tradition. As such Dylan was the first American to be awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature since 1993 when author Toni Morrison was honored. "If you look back, far back, 2,500 years or so, you discover Homer and Sappho and they wrote poetic texts that were meant to be listened to, that were meant to be performed, often with instruments. And it's the same way with Bob Dylan," said Nobel secretary Sara Danius of the Swedish Academy, calling Dylan, "a great poet in the English-speaking tradition!" Dylan's win came as a surprise t many and beat the odds, literally. 50/1 were the odds of him winning given by the bookmaker Ladbrokes just one week ago when the New Republic ran a preview story with the headline: "Who Will Win the 2016 Nobel Prize in Literature? Not Bob Dylan, that's for sure." But Bob Dylan, who was given the odds of winning a 50/1 chance by bookmaker Ladbrokes, did win, but not without controversy.

Not surprisingly to delighted onlookers, in his typical lovable-weirdo, against-the-grain form, Dylan didn't bother to show up for the Nobel ceremony, leaving many thinking that he was shunning the award altogether including the significant accompanying (almost a million dollar) cash prize. Hence why Patti Smith showed up on his behalf. But then early last month on April 1st, following five months of uncertainty and speculation, Dylan donning a black hoodie showed up finally accepting in person his Nobel prize in literature. That was at a closed private cordial ceremony in Stockholm that was attended by just twelve members of Swedish Academy, according to several news reports who noted how he did not give a speech at said gathering. Note that to receive the eight million kronor (approx $891,000) that comes with the Nobel prize the only requirement is that Dylan give a lecture (could be even a short speech or a performance): something which he has not yet done. He has until June 10th, 2017 to do provide this which could even be a videotaped version, to get the prize money.

The Legendary Broadcasts: 1960-1964

Which in terms of his discography brings us to Dylan's latest studio release: the ambitious triple album that arrived in Amoeba at the end of March Triplicate that was released by Columbia/Legacy on 3CD, 3 LP and in Deluxe 3LP edition. Particularly poignant was the Amoeba review that accompanied the March 31st release that accurately noted "While figures as unique, influential, and prolific as Bob Dylan tend to be remembered over time as caricatures of themselves, it can be easy to lose track of the quality of their later career output, and even become dismissive of it. While Dylan's monumental influence has become undeniable, the debate as to the quality of his execution of both recorded and live material, and his appreciation (or lack thereof) of his adoration seems to be an unending one. But if there's one thing that Dylan's brilliant 2015 Musicares acceptance speech taught us is that he's well aware of all this, and believes he's been both shortchanged by his harshest critics, and perhaps overpraised by his die-hard disciples. In his speech, he illustrates how many of his best remembered lyrics were influenced by various American folk songs, and insinuates perhaps his originality stems from his extensive knowledge of these now largely forgotten tunes and standards. So if you're a bit perplexed by the idea of Dylan's latest release, a triple album of material from the already mined Great American Songbook, think of how there may never have been a Freewheelin' or Highway 61 without "Sentimental Journey" or "Once Upon a Time," and surrender to the road-worn, sincere, and reverent voice reimagining "Stardust," and dig the dark swing, and grinning groove of "The Best Is Yet To Come.""

Acoustic Recordings: Legendary Radio Broadcasts 3CD set

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