This week celebrates singer-songwriter and Nobel Price laureate Bob Dylan’s 76th birthday.
His most recent release continues the tradition of releasing Sinatra cover albums with his first triple album entitled Triplicate. It’s a running joke that Dylan never had the greatest singing voice but these past few years have seen some of his most glowing reviews regarding his vocal performances.
It seems his crackly voice has aged like a fine wine and perfectly suits the American songbook standards about love and loss. But the truth is that while Dylan may have always had a rough voice, he was also always a fantastic and expressive singer.
1965 – “Like A Rolling Stone”
His first huge hit was notable for a number of reasons, including its length and abstract lyrics. It was also one of the first put-down songs and one of the best. Dylan’s vocals on the original single release drip with venom and vicious wordplay. The song takes on a new confrontational snarl when played during his world tour the following year and has to be heard to be believed; it’s true punk before punk was even a thing.
1969 – “I Threw It All Away”
Dylan was low-key in the late 60’s and early 70’s. He had (temporarily) quit smoking and all of a sudden his nasal drawl became a charming country twang. His most charming album ever Nashville Skyline comes from this year and has one of his best deep cuts in his career. Dylan writes and croons a simple but effective song, cutting to the nerve with vocals that would make Hank Williams proud.
1975 – “Tangled Up in Blue”
Blood on the Tracks was considered Dylan’s return to form in the mid 70’s. The opening track sets the tone for the rest of the album; a sprawling, emotionally abstract set of songs about the pains and trials of love. It also fully displays his signature talk-sing hybrid that demonstrates how much of a storytelling master he is. The song is now a Dylan concert staple, with the cascade of lyrics begging for Dylan to improvise and rap out an alternative version seemingly every performance.
1983 – “Blind Willie McTell”
There’s only three elements, but that’s all you need sometimes to make an impact: Dylan’s vocals, piano and Mark Knopfler’s acoustic guitar. This mournful dirge about the history of the country and its inescapable ties to its slavery roots is carried beautifully by a voice that was on the threshold of losing the smoothness that made it famous in the 60’s and 70’s. Yet that roughness only added extra sadness and set the stage for Dylan’s later career.
1997 – “Love Sick”
The opening track of Time Out of Mind set the benchmark and standard for Dylan’s voice up until the present day. It’s now a growl, a howl and a throaty come-on all at once. It’s also worth pondering that the style of this song and album perhaps triggered Dylan to revisit the late-night torch song he’s now fully explored in his recent Sinatra albums.
Happy Birthday, Bob. Your melodies always haunt my reverie, and I’m once again with you.