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YMMV / Bob Dylan

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  • Archive Panic: For a man his age and with a career as long as his, Dylan is notoriously prolific. To date he's released thirty-six studio albums and fifty-eight singles. Then there are the many live albums, Bootleg Series albums, and other compilations.
  • Awesome Music: Here's a fun game. Find any familiar rock artist from the same era. Compare their first album entirely before Highway 61 Revisited to their first entirely after. (Even The Beatles? Especially The Beatles.)
  • Award Snub: He's been a Grammy darling since The '90s, but before then his only win was Best Rock Vocal for "Gotta Serve Somebody" from Slow Train Coming. The Freewheelin' Bob Dylan? Highway 61 Revisited? Blonde on Blonde? Zero nominations for any of them. Blood on the Tracks did win one... for Best Liner Notes.
    • Ended when the campaign for a Nobel Prize in Literature for Dylan's lyrics finally succeeded in 2016.
  • Broken Base:
    • The split between "Dylan the protest singer" and "Dylan the rockstar" is legendary.
    • It is easy to forget that the outcry over his conversion to Christianity, with the first tour unexpectedly switching to an all gospel format with no pre-conversion songs and forty-minute onstage lectures, was probably a bigger break even than the "going electric."
  • Covered Up: All too often (this list could take its own page), with Jimi Hendrix's version of "All Along the Watchtower" being the most prominent example, and it's often considered to be *better* than Dylan's version. Dylan himself seems to think so since he apparently now plays the song in Hendrix's style in live performances.
    Bob Dylan: [Introducing "To Make You Feel My Love"] This is a song I wrote for Garth Brooks. Regrets, I've had a few...
  • Critical Dissonance: The much-reviled Self Portrait hit #1 in the UK and #4 in the US, and generally has a better reputation in the Dylan fandom than among critics note . Along with the divisive status of being his first Christian album, Slow Train Coming had mixed reviews but was a Top 5 hit on both sides of the Atlantic. On the other hand, Infidels and Oh Mercy were both hailed by critics as returns-to-form but couldn't even crack the Top 20.
  • Epic Riff: Very short opening samples of songs like "The Times They Are a-Changin'", "Like a Rolling Stone", "Lay Lady Lay", "All Along the Watchtower", or "Rainy Day Women #12 & 35" are more than enough for listeners to identify.
    • Not as well-known, but 1980's "Solid Rock" is probably the purest example of this in his catalogue.
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    • He Lampshades this in "Sitting On a Barbed-Wire Fence": "I know you're gonna think this song is just a riff."
  • Everyone Is Jesus in Purgatory: Many of Dylan's songs have overt connections to civil rights and/or philosophical and social themes.
  • Genius Bonus: Numerous references in his songs to everything from Shakespearian characters and historical figures to pop culture and current events.
  • Genre Turning Point: The day he started playing rock music.
  • Germans Love David Hasselhoff: There's an annual celebration marking his birthday in Shillong, India.
  • Growing the Beard: "Blowin' In the Wind" marks the start of his truly original, thoughtful songwriting.
    • After the ill-received Self Portrait (allegedly supposed to be bad) New Morning and to a much greater extent Blood on the Tracks were seen as a sort of re-growing of the beard. Likewise, Time Out of Mind saw a big shift in Dylan's style and was seen as a comeback after an inconsistent period in the 80s and early 90s, this one seems to have stuck as the subsequent albums, save the oddball, uncharacteristic charity cover album Christmas in the Heart, have been extremely well received.
  • Hilarious in Hindsight: The numbers 12 and 35, as in "Rainy Day Woman #12 & 35", when multiplied, produce a certain number which in the 1990s rose to prominence within the stoner subculture.
    • The line "Even the president of the United States sometimes must have to stand naked" in "It's Alright Ma (I'm Only Bleeding)" from Bringing It All Back Home gets a huge cheer from the audience on the 1974 live album Before The Flood.
    • You can get an extra chuckle from the one-eyed midget bit in "Ballad of a Thin Man" if you picture Bushwick Bill in the role.
    • The second verse of 1981's "The Groom's Still Waiting at the Altar" reads like a custom-written reply to the controversy 35 years later when he waited a couple weeks before contacting the Nobel Prize committee to say he would accept the award.
      Try to be pure at heart, they arrest you for robbery
      Mistake your shyness for aloofness, your silence for snobbery
      Got the message this morning, the one that was sent to me
      About the madness of becomin' what one was never meant to be
    • The Bobby Dylan and his Guitar 1967 satire by MAD (here and here), in the wake of his recent standards albums, which have included some Irving Berlin songs. He actually did a Richard Rodgers song ("Blue Moon") only a few years after that cartoon.
  • Ho Yay: "Ballad of a Thin Man" (see the Ho Yay page for specific examples in the song)
    • And for some people, his interactions with John Lennon...
  • Memetic Mutation: Dylan's lyrics get quoted early and often.
    • "The pumps don't work 'cause the vandals took the handles!"
    • "The sun is not yellow, it's chicken!"
    • "Knockin' on heaven's door..."
  • Seasonal Rot: Varies from person to person and most people find at least one song they like on even the least liked Dylan albums. The least loved period of Dylan's work seems to be from the 80s (though most of the albums have some group that appreciates them, especially Oh Mercy). That said, Self Portrait, Dylan, Saved and Down In The Groove seem to be seen as his least rewarding albums. Dylan probably has it worst though, it was compiled from outtakes, had no input from Bob himself and has never even been released as a standalone CD in the US (it was released on CD in Europe for a short while, and also included in the Complete Columbia Albums box set).
    • When they first came out Dylan's Christian albums received a lot of outrage but people's perception of them, especially Slow Train Coming, has mellowed out over time.
  • Shocking Swerve: The last verse of "Black Diamond Bay".
  • They Changed It, Now It Sucks!: When he switched from acoustic to electric, many of his fans were not happy.
    • When he switched from electric to country music for a couple of years, fans were not happy either. Ditto when he converted to Christianity and would only play his then-recent Gospel songs in concert for a while, totally abandoning any of his pre-Gospel work. Those who aren't diehard fans, who don't follow his work very closely, often have this reaction to his newer music (specifically his new, more gravelly, growly voice), and this applies double for when such people go to his concerts: questions of why he plays keyboard all or almost all of the entire time, and not his guitar, abound.
    • Even before "going electric", Dylan faced criticism from the folk community for ditching protest songs in favor of a more impressionistic, surreal type of lyricism.
    • Making a Christmas album, Christmas in the Heart which is a straight out Cover Album of Christmas Songs was also fuel for criticism.
  • Vindicated by History: Many of the above examples ended up getting high praise from both critics and fans years later - often, curiously enough, coinciding with the releases of the corresponding Bootleg Series releases.
    • Some of his live performances have also ended up getting this. The 17 May 1966 Free Trade Hall show from Manchester (often mislabelled as taking place at the "Royal Albert Hall") stands out as a particularly compelling example. Dylan was ruthlessly heckled during the electric set, and it is now regarded as one of the all-time great rock shows. (This may partially be down to technical problems with the sound system at the venue; people who were there for the show have claimed that the bootlegs of the performance and its official release on The Bootleg Series Vol. 4 sound vastly superior to the way the show sounded live).
    • The Christian period is still very divisive among fans, but a few individual songs are now considered classic Dylan ("Gotta Serve Somebody", "Precious Angel", "I Believe In You", "Pressing On", "Every Grain of Sand").
  • Wangst: The narrator of "Idiot Wind" spends the majority of the song engaging in metaphorical wangst, before brilliantly reversing it in the final lines.
  • What Do You Mean, It's Not Didactic?: Just about everything Bob Dylan ever wrote. It doesn't even seem to matter what he says in interviews about what a song does or doesn't mean (although more often than not now he just avoids those sorts of questions altogether).
    • The Bob never answered those questions; he's just more subtle now. Ed Bradley asked him in the 2000s if his latest album was a new departure, and Bob ran Bradley into the dirt with a story about how an old jazzman showed him this "mathematical chord progression" that emotionally effected the listener every time. Back in 1965, some (even more) hapless reporter asked Bob about his "message" (captured on camera in Don't Look Back) eliciting the scathing reply:
    "What's my message?" Bob seizes a mercury arc light from the coffee table. "'Keep a cool head and always carry a light bulb!'"
    • Or the Playboy interview by Nat Hentoff: Bob ended up editing all his answers into surrealistic evasions, with Hentoff's cooperation. (Allowing the subject to edit his answers is SOP at The Paris Review, interestingly. But not like that.)


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