Bob Dylan songs are the personification of the American folk and cult figure in rock music. By the age of 75 received all the most prestigious awards – from nine Grammys to the Pulitzer Prize in 2008. But the most important one in his career was the Nobel prize, oddly enough, in the field of literature for “for having created new poetic expressions within the great American song tradition”. Whatever the wording means, Dylan’s contribution does not cause criticism. The Rolling Stone magazine recognises him as the second most important musician after The Beatles in the history of rock music. Bob Dylan songs raise questions that are important not only for America. We have analysed several of them to understand why Dylan’s literary heritage is no less important than his musical legacy.
Blowin’ in the Wind — 1963
One of the most impressive of all the compositions of Dylan is a song about the meaning of life and answers to key questions:
How many roads must a man walk down
Before you call him a man?
How many seas must a white dove sail
Before she sleeps in the sand?
Dylan’s friends and older colleagues covered the song too, including Duke Ellington, Neil Young, Stevie Wonder and Elvis Presley. Even Pope John Paul II asked for a performance of the song at the Vatican at the Congress in 1997. Just having a performance of Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door was not enough.
The Times They Are A Changin’ — 1964
This was the main hit song from Dylan’s third album. He addresses it to all: writers, critics, senators, politicians. The lyrics turned out to be prophetic. Less than a month later, John Kennedy was shot and the song became the embodiment of changes in politics and society. Pop culture only strengthened the meaning of the song, it appeared at beginning of the movie Watchmen. The movie explores the topic of equality in the world and the balance between the good and the evil.
Like a Rolling Stone — 1965
This composition takes an honourable first place in the rating “500 Best Songs Of All Time” by The Rolling Stone magazine. This is a ballad about feeling homeless and unknown. It touches even the souls of those who do not worry about material problems. The success of Bob Dylan songs lies in its simplicity. The meaning is clear to everyone, and the unobtrusive chorus with the phrase “How does it feel” quickly gets imprinted in memory.
A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall — 1962
Bob Dylan loves analogies with nature and beautifully wraps metaphors not only about the wind, but also about the rain. In this song he rhetorically questions and answers various things, similarly to the way the 17th-century Scottish poet Lord Randall did. The song about the blue-eyed son is written in a more complex poetic size than Bob Dylan songs that he wrote later in his career. This only adds a deeper, more philosophical meaning to it.
Subterranean Homesick Blues — 1965
The video for this song perfectly supplements the overall composition. The author tuns cards with the lyrics one after another. The line “Look out kid” goes through the entire song. Subterranean Homesick Blues is another beautiful rock and roll song-instruction by Dylan.
What’s your favourite Bob Dylan song?
Text: Irina Gorskaia