The man won the Nobel Prize in Literature earlier today (the first musician to do so), and since my aversion toward reading fiction books has made Dylan the first literature laureate I was familiar with since Peruvian novelist Mario Vargas Llosa won in 2011 (and the reason I was familiar with him is mainly that I am also Peruvian), I felt the need to offer some celebration of his work.
I read a few complaints that Dylan’s reward had more to do with Hippie nostalgia than anything else because he hasn’t really written rousing captivating music since the seventies, but this is kind of the way the Nobel goes. Writers, more usually than not, get rewarded late in their careers, years after they’ve produced their best work. At least that was the case with Vargas Llosa.
However, we’re not here to argue but to celebrate, and thus, I offer a sample of my favorite Dylan songs (in no particular order):
“Don’t Think Twice, It’s Alright”
My love for this song is only partially rooted in the fact that it was used to magnificent effect in one of the best episodes of one of the best television series ever made. I loved it before I heard it on Mad Men, and it’s become my favorite Dylan song since.
“I’ll Be Your Baby Tonight”
People mostly remember Dylan for his political stuff (and for “going electric”, I guess), but I’ve always had a fondness for soft, romantic Dylan. This song from the underrated album John Wesley Harding is not only romantic, but also quite sexy, which is something you wouldn’t often say about Dylan’s music.
“Lay Lady Lay”
Another romantic and sexy Dylan song. This one comes from Nashville Skyline, which is another uncharacteristic album for Dylan, who decided -in the middle of the heated political climate of the late sixties- to just take off and record an album deeply influenced by country music. You can hear it in his voice, which is much softer, closer to a crooner than the raspy folk singer people had come to know.
“Tonight I’ll Be Staying Here with You”
Yet another romantic Dylan, and another song from Nashville Skyline. What can I say? I like his country phase quite a bit.
“It Ain’t Me Babe”
If I’m being completely honest, I prefer both the Johnny Cash and June Carter Cash version and the Joan Baez version. But Dylan did write the song, and it’s a pretty great one.
“Tangled Up in Blue”
This is probably the best example of this list of the sort of song that was probably responsible for getting Dylan that Nobel. The lyrics on this one are quite something, mixing first and third person narratives with a bunch of crazy poetic metaphors.
“You Ain’t Going Nowhere”
“Oohs” and “Ohs” isn’t what you think about when you think of Bob Dylan songs, but there’s something about this one that has appealed to me. It definitely fits that early folk-song mode, with a simple structure with episodic verses telling similar stories. And a lot of harmonica.