D is for Dylan – Folkie to RockPoet

Friday 28th September

I was 11 when Dylan cut his first record, so I was unaware of him until the singles ‘Subterranean Homesick Blues’ and ‘Mr. Tambourine Man’ and ‘Like A Rolling Stone’ came along. He was though, for me, just one of so many on the exploding mid-sixties scene.  He must have made some lasting impression though, as one of the first LP’s I ever bought was ‘Bob Dylan’s Greatest Hits’ in 1970.  I played the thing to death, and then slowly worked my way back through ‘Blonde on Blonde’ to ‘The Freewheelin’ and his debut album.  So in a strange way I retraced his journey from Rock-Poet back to Folkie.  I don’t actually buy all that betrayal stuff, how he let down the protest movement.  Dylan’s albums have always had a mix of political or external issues and personal love songs.  And there was no sudden move into rock’n’roll, it was far more gradual, and he like everyone else was being influenced by The Beatles and The Byrds and the whole shift into more electric sounds throughout the sixties.

But over and above the voice, that whining, sometimes sneering, sometimes beautifully wooing voice were the songs themselves.  At first, like almost everyone else I was dazzled by the poetry, the fantastic lines, the mix of hip street language and strange psychedelic images ‘Jewels and binoculars hang from the head of the mule’ or ‘like a raven with a broken wing’ or ‘in that jingle-jangle morning I’ll come following you’.  Or the great anthems ‘With God on Our Side’ ‘The Times They Are A Changin’. Or ‘A Hard Rain’s A Gonna Fall.’  But more and more over time I have come to realise what a great musician he was, what fabulous melodies he conjured up.

This first flowering of bewildering talent and the torrent of albums, seven in just four years (and one of those a double) was like a crazy motorcycle ride into the dark.  The crash came in late 1966 when Dylan, after what may or may not have been a serious tumble from his motorbike, decided to climb off the star-maker machine and take some time out.  He would never again achieve quite this momentum or prodigious output.  Maybe he didn’t want to.  But what was to follow was still brilliant.  To be continued…..