Bob Dylan has been awarded the Nobel Prize for literature “for having created new poetic expressions within the great American song tradition.” A journey that begin with American folk music at a café in Minnesota, saw the singer and songwriter explore several genres like blues, rock and roll, gospel as well as Scottish and Irish folk music.
While he was always known for his performances and song recording, Dylan’s major contribution to the world of music are his lyrics which inspired civil rights and anti-war movements across US and the world.
The artist is now 75-years-old and has been performing for decades with changing line-ups and going for new genres. With over 100 million records, Dylan is the best-selling musician of all time.
Here are some lyrical marvels from Dylan’s diverse list of hits.
1. It’s Alright Ma (I’m Only Bleeding)
Performed first in 1964 and recorded a year later, this song is described as a ‘grim masterpiece’ and features some of Dylan’s most memorable lyrics till date. With haunting lyrics, the song means a lot to Dylan.
“Disillusioned words like bullets bark
As human gods aim for their marks
Made everything from toy guns that sparks
To flesh-colored Christs that glow in the dark
It’s easy to see without looking too far
That not much Is really sacred.”
2. ‘Mr. Tambourine Man’
This popular track is one of Dylan’s songs known for surrealist imagery and taking inspiration from artists. The interpretations of the track range from religious ideas to a call for the singer’s muse and even a reference to drugs like LSD. Unlike ‘I’m Only Bleeding’, this song is described as bright as it calls on the character to play a song as the narrator follows.
“Take me on a trip upon your magic swirlin’ ship
My senses have been stripped, my hands can’t feel to grip
My toes too numb to step, wait only for my boot heels
To be wanderin’
I’m ready to go anywhere, I’m ready for to fade
Into my own parade, cast your dancing spell my way
I promise to go under it.”
3. ‘I Shall Be Released’
Another song that resonated with the youth in the late 60s, this track talks of a prisoner yearning to be released and talks about the cruelty of the justice system while also serving as an anthem for rights groups.
“Standing next to me in this lonely crowd,
Is a man who swears he’s not to blame.
All day long I hear him shout so loud,
Crying out that he was framed.
I see my light come shining
From the west onto the east.
Any day now, any day how,
I shall be released.”
4. ‘All Along The Watchtower’
The song which Bob Dylan has performed live more than any other song of his, ‘All Along The Watchtower’ is called Dylan’s most haunting track ever, as it tells the tale of a clown who thinks he is being robbed and a thief that sees everything as a joke. The song promises an epic ballad in the beginning but soon the end of the song comes up, intriguing the listener and leaving space for their own interpretation.
“There must be some kind of way out of here, ”
Said the joker to the thief,
“There’s too much confusion, I can’t get no relief.
Business men – they drink my wine
Plowmen dig my earth
None of them along the line
Know what any of it is worth.”
5. ‘The Times They Are a-Changing’
Written with the intention of creating a song for change, the track proved very influential among the youth in the 60s as well as coming decades. The universal appeal of Dylan’s lyrics made the song a timeless message of change and has been covered by an array of artists. Steve Jobs also recited a verse of the song at his first shareholders meeting in 1984 and the song proved as an inspiration for the anti-war movement.
“Come senators, congressmen
Please heed the call
Don’t stand in the doorway
Don’t block up the hall
For he that gets hurt
Will be he who has stalled
There’s a battle outside ragin’
It’ll soon shake your windows
And rattle your walls
For the times they are a-changin”
Dylan’s lyrics and their timeless appeal have inspired generations and have been adopted as anthems for rights movements as well as young minds that went on to bring change. He gave a new dimension to storytelling through songs.