Yesterday was singer-songwriter Bob Dylan’s birthday, and it’s worth noting and commemorating the legacy he has left in music. Turning 79-years-old, Bob Dylan has made quite the impact throughout the duration of his music career, remembered for how his songs became anthems of their current eras. His lyrics and writing helped artfully define the decades.
Robert Allen Zimmerman was born on May 24, 1941, in Duluth, Minnesota. Dropping out of college at the end of his first year, in May 1960, he traveled to New York City to perform. By January 1961, he was able to visit his musical icon Woody Guthrie, one of the most significant figures in western folk music.
Bob Dylan’s music was known for stapling anthems during peak times in American history. He released his folk-heavy self-titled album for the first time in 1962. However, he hit his breakthrough in 1963 after releasing The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan. His famous songs “Blowin’ in the Wind” (1963) and “The Times They Are a-Changin'” (1964) served as anthems for the civil rights and anti-war movements.
In 1965 and 1966, Dylan, although the leading songwriter of the American folk music revival, was also considered the “spokesman of a generation.” By this time, he started to use more rock-inspired instrumentals, eventually recording three of the most important and influential rock albums of the 1960s in a matter of fifteen months. These albums were Bringing It All Back Home (1965), Highway 61 Revisited (1965), and Blonde on Blonde (1966).
Rolling Stone commented on his six-minute single “Like a Rolling Stone” (1965), “No other pop song has so thoroughly challenged and transformed the commercial laws and artistic conventions of its time, for all time.”
By July 1966, Dylan had to stop touring after a motorcycle accident, but it didn’t stop him from making music. He continued to record with The Band, a Canadian-American rock group that included Rick Danko, Garth Hudson, Richard Manuel, Robbie Robertson, and Levon Helm. They recorded The Basement Tapes in 1975.
By the late 1960s and early 1970s, Dylan started to record more country music, releasing John Wesley Harding (1967), Nashville Skyline (1969), and New Morning (1970). Then, by the late 1970s, Dylan became a born-again Christian, releasing a series of gospel albums before returning to rock again by the early 1980s. But the most noted works of his later career were Time Out of Mind (1997), Love and Theft (2001), Modern Times (2006), and Tempest (2012).
Dylan wasn’t only a legendary songwriter, but he was also an author and painter. Not only did he become one of the best selling musicians of all time, selling more than 100 million records, but he also received notable awards including the Presidential Medal of Freedom, ten Grammy Awards, a Golden Globe Award, and an Academy Award. He was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame, and the Songwriters Hall of Fame. In 2016, he won the Nobel Prize for Literature “for having created new poetic expressions within the great American song tradition.”
Dylan has also toured with some of the biggest legends in music. In 1986 and 1987, he toured with Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers and the Grateful Dead. His tour with the Grateful Dead resulted in a live album called “Dylan and the Dead.” Unfortunately, it received negative reviews, getting called “quite possibly the worst album by either Bob Dylan or the Grateful Dead.”
Nevertheless, Bob Dylan has ultimately made one of the biggest impacts in music history and will always be known as one of the greats. By the 2010s, he recorded a series of three albums inspired by traditional American standards. Again, Bob Dylan’s career was defined by his ability to make music that became anthems of specific eras in American history. Still releasing impactful music today, he announced that he’s releasing a double album in June 2020 called Rough and Rowdy Ways, his first album in eight years. He had been touring steadily since the 1980s, called the Never Ending Tour.