Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Dylan's Greatest Hits

Bowie said he had a voice like sand and glue. Obviously, it didn't matter, or conversely it was that gravelly voice that spat in the face of the smooth vocalese of The Hollies or The Beach Boys; there was nothing squeaky clean here. But as late as 1966, Dylan hadn't been able to top the charts. In 1965 as the Beatles reigned, a new west coast band with members borne of the folk scene and influenced by the Beatles' vocal harmonies exploded on the pop scene with a Bob Dylan song that invented a sub-genre of music. That band was The Byrds, the song, "Mr. Tambourine Man," with its trippy proto-psychedelic lyrics. The song vaulted to the top of the charts during a time when the Beatles ruled with "Help" and the Rolling Stones staked their turf with "(I Can't Get No) Satisfaction." Dylan’s melodies and lyrics were the stuff of covers, from Hendrix to Van Morrison, and yet Dylan tirelessly blazed new territory, finally breaking through on Top 40 radio while nullifying one of AM's most sacred rules the sub-three minute pop single. "Like A Rolling Stone" established Dylan as a hugely popular performer in his own right while setting the stage for exciting new artists emerging from the folk-rock sound. Simon and Garfunkel and the Buffalo Springfield redefined pop music as the Beatles themselves absorbed Dylan's influence on songs like "You've Got to Hide Your Love Away" and sumsequently releasing an entire album of blended acoustic and electric guitar-folk, Rubber Soul.

Dylan's Greatest Hits ends with material from Dylan's 1966 double album Blonde on Blonde and a single perfectly in step with the sound of both Highway 61 and his double album masterpiece, "Positively 4th Street." Blonde on Blonde created tremors of its own, openly embracing the drug culture with the raucous "Rainy Day Women #12 & 35" with its catch phrase, "Everybody must get stoned." Also present were songs that helped define Dylan's rock star posture while paving the way for a fresh approach to pop song writing going far beyond innocent love songs. "I Want You" and "Just Like a Woman" were nothing like The Beatles or The Beach Boys - "boys" being the operative word here.

In hindsight, despite spanning seven albums, Bob Dylan's Greatest Hits provides a cool snapshot of Dylan's 60s. The gap of more than a year between Blonde and John Wesley Harding, unheard of in 67, is filled with one of rock's great retrospectives.