Greatest hits: album reviews

The Prince of peace is a King among musicians

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 14 October, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 14 October, 2007, 12:00am

The first time Bruce Springsteen heard Bob Dylan, he was in the car with his mother. The radio was playing Dylan's Like a Rolling Stone. His mother looked at him and said: 'That guy can't sing.'

But Springsteen's mother was wrong. Not only could Dylan sing, but he turned out to be one of the greatest singer-songwriters of the 20th century.

Dylan, the newly-released compilation album, is a testimony to Dylan's greatness. The 18 tracks on the album are American classics. Each of them represents a stage in Dylan's life and art which, despite the fact that numerous books have been written on them, remain shrouded in mystery.

The album begins with Blowin' In The Wind and The Times They Are A-Changin', the two protest songs that became the soundtrack to the civil rights movements.

While the former poses questions about peace and freedom, the latter turned Dylan into the 'Prince of Protest', a label he has strived to get rid of ever since.

In the essay World Gone Wrong Again, writer Tom Piazza says Dylan is a typical American artist because he embodies contradiction.

After releasing hugely successful acoustic albums such as The Freewheelin' Bob Dylan, the artist went electric and released Bringing It All Back Home, which saw the birth of folk-rock and featured America's first rap song, Subterranean Homesick Blues.

The album upset many of his fans who saw the album as a betrayal of folk music.

Their protests reached epic proportions at the 1965 Newport Folk Festival where Dylan was booed off stage for playing the electric guitar number Maggie's Farm. He returned, in tears, to sing the acoustic It's All Over Now, Baby Blue as a farewell to his earlier sound and his folk fans.

His follow-up, Highway 61 Visited, is a full-blown rock album with angry songs such as Like a Rolling Stone which, according to Paul McCartney, 'seemed to go on and on forever' and is 'just beautiful'.

Positively 4th Street, released as a single, was seen as an attack on those who criticised Dylan for going electric.

Both songs are bitter, with direct and expressive lyrics, and paved the way for songwriters to express personal feeling.

'Now we can write about anything,' said Joni Mitchell after she heard the song.

Dylan also includes the artist's popular numbers from the 70s, such as Tangled Up In Blue and Hurricane, as well as recent releases such as Someday Baby from his 2006 album Modern Times.

It ends with Forever Young, in which Dylan sings: 'May you build a ladder to the stars/and climb on every rung.'

Musicians and music fans owe a lot to Bob Dylan and his genius. Here's hoping he stays forever young.