No matter which genre of music you like, no matter your style and no matter your age, everyone knows a Bob Dylan song! We could write a multi-volume encyclopedia of Dylan’s songs; that’s how long he’s been a songwriter, and how long he’s been putting out music. Bob Dylan, born Robert Allen Zimmerman, is our first post in this series of America’s greatest songwriters.
While you might not find Dylan in the country music hall of fame, as he’s more of a folk singer-songwriter, he does have some country music ties. Kris Kristofferson, David Allan Coe and Waylon Jennings, part of the “Outlaw Country” movement, really loved Dylan’s music. Bob Dylan himself once requested a co-writing session with Texas folk legend, and another great American songwriter, John Townes Van Zandt. Songs like Lay, Lady, Lay; You Ain’t Goin’ Nowhere; and Girl from North Country, which was a duet with Johnny Cash, are all considered great country-music songs. You might not hear them played on today’s country music radio, but you wouldn’t have been able to escape hearing them in the ‘70s.
Long before people started writing songs in honor of Bob Dylan, the man got his start in 1962 with his self-titled debut album, which consisted primarily of traditional folk songs. He really broke out the following year with his album The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan and quickly cemented himself as a great songwriter.
What Makes Dylan So Great
A lot of people have a lot of different opinions on what makes Dylan such a prolific songwriter. In a word, however, one might say it’s “consistency.” Bob Dylan always manages to consistently put out songs that just grab you and make you think about what’s being said on the record.
Dylan’s ability to tell a story in his songs, while maybe not so fit for today’s country music radio hits, was certainly a contributing factor to his success decades ago. Before songs had to fit into a 3:30 window and have a 4-line verse leading into a chorus, Dylan’s songs were more like story chapters. You wanted to know why Dylan was “Tangled up in Blue,” or what being a “Rolling Stone” really meant. Bob Dylan presented stories for people, not just regular songs.
Bob Dylan represents a bygone era, to be sure, so a lot of fans of modern country music might not be going crazy over Dylan. However, true Dylan fans appreciate and pine for that era, and they like different merchandise and music that celebrates Dylan’s era.
There might be songwriters out there every bit as good as Dylan, but there will likely never be any better.