Bob Dylan’s Greatest Hits – Bob Dylan

Bob Dylan’s Greatest Hits

Bob Dylan



As noted before, I’ve mentioned that I despise greatest hits collections.  They don’t represent albums – the larger works of art that these select songs come from.  This holds true especially for Bob Dylan (this is the fifth mention of his name in this review, and yet, only the third sentence of it.  Stupid greatest hits’ title.) whose records during the 1960’s are seen as classics.  I admit, I’m not a huge Dylan fan, in fact, I don’t even own many albums of his yet (yes, yet, for I do want to listen to him a lot more – I mean, come on, it’s Bob Dylan), but even I realize some albums of his are so seminal: Blonde on Blonde, The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan, Highway 61 Revisited.  I include these three for a point – most of the ten songs found on Bob Dylan’s Greatest Hits are from these three influential records.  And so, one question that I always ask about greatest hits compilations is this: Why take the songs out of context?  No, I don’t have an answer – that’s my entire reason for my diatribe against these despicable discs.

That all being out of my system for now, this was my first taste of Bob Dylan (shudder, horrible mental image.  Could you imagine if I used that phrase while reviewing Michael Jackson? Double shudder.).  It had to be maybe eight or so years ago, so I would’ve been entering my teenage years.  By this time, I had already been playing guitar for a while, figured out that The Beatles are amazing, and was on my way to becoming quite dissolved into music.  I gained much of my early musical tastes from my parents and my guitar teacher.  Neither the former nor latter really liked Dylan.  Both groups expressed respect for the man, but just didn’t particularly like his music.  Hence, my hesitation to begin listening to him.   

Of course, everyone has to discover some of their own appreciations.  So, I took it upon myself to listen to some Bob Dylan.  Not knowing anything about him, other than a few songs on the radio and some history (I am of course referring to his introduction to The Beatles whereas he turned them on to pot.  Being a giant Beatles nerd, these anecdotes are important to me for no reason whatsoever, other than being extremely interesting), I sought out this CD first.  Because that is one thing about greatest hits CD’s – they allow someone to listen to an artist or band’s most popular songs.  This isn’t necessarily a “good” thing, but not a bad either.  I will always prefer whole albums, but if one needs to listen to a compilation beforehand, than it’s a start.

In the early ’60’s, Dylan became known for his style of folk music.  Influenced by Woodie Guthrie, Dylan (who had legally changed his name from Robert Zimmerman) populated his second album with protest songs.  Of course, on this greatest hits album, “Blowin’ in the Wind,” “The Times They Are A-Changin’,” and “Subterranean Homesick Blues” are all incorporated. 

Dylan isn’t just known early on for his protest songs though.  In him, the public has found one of the most acclaimed lyricists.  His songs read like poetry, and the images prevail to be just as, if not more, important as the music behind them.  “Go melt back into the night, babe, Everything inside is made of stone.”  “Though I know that evenin’s empire has returned into sand.”  “Johnny’s in the basement, Mixing up the medicine, I’m on the pavement, Thinking about the government.”  These selections (“It Ain’t Me, Babe,” “Mr. Tambourine Man,” and “Subterranean Homesick Blues” in order) show his predilection using the English language to its full capabilities.  His rhymes, his meter, and the flow of his words and syllables never ceases to amaze me.  His style of writing isn’t just imaginative; he also displays a tendency to be stimulating, as well.  While the words that he combines are lyrical, they also have a specific meaning behind them.  They refuse to be thrown together haphazardly.  Instead, this style seems to come so naturally to his mind because he has lasted over all of these years.

His words are, however, contrasted greatly by his voice.  This is always the first criticism of Bob Dylan, or so it seems.  Yet, it has some truth to it.  To describe his voice would be to describe how an ant picks up pieces of food ten times bigger than itself.  Only without the ant.  Or the food.  And his voice isn’t literally bigger than he is, since, you know, it’s not a physical thing.  But, you are left wondering how he pulls it off.  Like the ant, you sit there in awe about how Dylan has still become this popular and this influential with that voice.  Maybe, it’s that his lyrics are so utterly genius that his voice becomes second to the song itself.  Or maybe it’s a feat that’s accomplished because of his mandibles and exoskeleton.

 Until 1965, Dylan had only performed acoustic songs with the help of a harmonica.  This changed with Bringing it All Back Home and Highway 61 Revisted.  These were albums half-acoustic and half-electric.  Touring during this time became public spectacles.  The first show, at the Newport Folk Festival, he and the band played three songs all the while getting booed by some of the crowd.  Only three songs were played before Dylan walked off the stage (He did come back and play a few other songs – acoustically – but by that time, the hope was lost).  Then, at another show, the Manchester Free Trade Hall concert, some yelled out “Judas” at a quiet moment in between songs.  Despite this outrage at “going electric,” this time period for him produced some of his best work.  Using electric guitars influenced a creative challenge for him, one that he overtook.  With songs like “Subterranean Homesick Blues” and “Like a Rolling Stone,” this is just fantastic work.

Yes, this album helped me along the path to listen to Bob Dylan.  Nonetheless, it’s a greatest hits CD, or even vinyl since it did come out in 1967.  And it does take the songs out of context.  Hell, it opens with “Rainy Day Women #12 & 35” which was on Blonde on Blonde from 1966.  “Blowin’ in the Wind” follows that from 1963.  It ends with “Just Like A Woman” from 1966, again.  Even the track listing does a horrible job chronologically speaking.  They are great songs though, and that I will always admit.  I just prefer the overall artistic outlook of an album, seeing as (especially during this 1960’s period) they created definite artistic eras for Bob Dylan.

Buy This Album and Listen

Official Site


One Response to “Bob Dylan’s Greatest Hits – Bob Dylan”

  1. Should have reviewed The Essential Bob Dylan… does much better justice to his library, at around 30 tracks. Still a very good review, and I agree about Greatest Hits albums

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