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When considering Bob Dylan it's hard not to focus on his work in the '60s. He was a folk king whose political ballads fed the growing counter culture of the era. He was a Macklemore of his time -- alerting white people to the plight of black people in America.
In the critically beloved Mad Men everyone's favorite OG feminist Peggy Olson actually goes to a very early Bob Dylan show with a co-worker she didn't realize was gay who insists she cut her hair and join the '60s. Bob's trajectory wasn't dissimilar from Peggy's: the two were discovered when they were but babes -- both were 19 when they started their respective careers of prolific singer/songwriter and ad copy writer. They were both fostered by greats (Bob, Woodie Guthrie and Joan Baez and Peggy, Don Draper and Joan Hollaway) They both went through a lot in the '60s and came out of the tumultuous decade having honed their skills for the better.
Bob Dylan is probably most remembered for early work. After all, "Like a Rolling Stone" was one of his first big hits. But the man has been working pretty consistently since he was 19 years old -- having just released an album of Frank Sinatra covers, Shadows in the Night, only a year ago.
Unpacking this man's strange career is certainly interesting. While it's easy to gravitate to his hits he's had quite a few misses over the years. His need to always be evolving and experimenting and challenging himself has made his career a curious ride. While we focus pretty hard on his early years in the podcast there are many fun points in time when Bob was doing fun stuff. Even rap!
And Bob Dylan has also inspired many other musicians. We briefly discuss Bob Dylan's Turn to The Lord™ when he was going through his mid-life crisis. When he came out as born again Christian by releasing the song "You Gotta Serve Somebody" John Lennon recorded several home versions of a song directly responding to that song called "Serve Yourself" where he mocks Bob for going Ned Flanders all of the sudden.
With John Lennon it's almost impossible to get basic. He has quite a few frequently quoted and beloved songs. It's probably best to start with his first big hit "Like a Rolling Stone" just to be safe. "Like a Rolling Stone" changed music forever with its paradoxical mood (it was both upbeat and sad), interesting narrative (about a young rich woman losing it all and having to piece her life back together on her own), and a catchy rhythm that easily makes it an American classic. It's been covered over and over by bands like Green Day and yeah, The Rolling Stones. It's not entirely surprising either that Rolling Stone has chosen it as the best song of all time more than once.
It probably wouldn't also be a bad idea to check out any of the other huge songs Bob penned and performed like "The Times They Are A-Changin'", "A Hard Rain's Gonna Fall", and "Blowin' In The Wind". Navigate his discography freely. The political songs are cleverly painted and will make you nod in approval and agreement; the romantic songs are beautiful ballads that will make you long for great love; the humorous songs are a lot of fun. The last decade Bob has covered a lot of what he calls "traditional" songs -- he even has a Christmas album! Dive on in and the river will sweep you down an interesting path either way you go.
Wikipedia is always your friend when looking into a cultural phenomenon like this. Don't be ashamed to start there.
Meghan Welch is the 2015 runner-up for Wichita's Funniest Person, a hilarious comedian, and podcast co-host of U Breast Believe. She has also been a Bob Dylan fan since she was in middle school.
Meghan has heard lots of Dylan. So, it was hard for her to pinpoint her very favorite songs by the prolific songwriter which isn't surprising. Meghan did indicate that his folk stuff -- particularly his more political songs were her favorites. As a young person furious at the illnesses that infect our culture it's hard not to love these songs which are still extremely relevant to our times. "With God On Our Side" was the first song Meghan chose to play when we got together before the podcast. It's a straightforward tongue-in-cheek war anthem -- about how America will do well in any war as long as we have God on our side.
One of Meghan's favorite songs after Bob Dylan "went electric" is "Subterranean Homesick Blues". This is one of the blended songs from Bringing It All Back Home where his folk sensibilities were amplified by his new electrical sound.
But it's not all politics and sound. Bob was also a master of love songs. Meghan enjoys "Boots of Spanish Leather" when she wants to settle in with the sweeter side of Bob Dylan. It's the kind of song you'd imagine backing the world's sweetest jewelry commercial -- that is if Bob Dylan would sell out to anyone other than Pepsi.
Go ahead. Start with "The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carrol". Get sad. Get angry. It's what Bob would want.