In 1959, Robert Allen Zimmerman, an introverted teenager with an acoustic guitar and a harmonica, renamed himself Bob Dylan after the Welsh poet Dylan Thomas. Although he would reveal much later that Arthur Rimbaud and John Keats were major influences on his song writing, it was evident within a couple of years that this young man had melded poetry, protest, and song to create a unique style that rewrote the existing conventions of popular music. He was a modern day troubadour. At a time when pop was marked by cutesy love songs and catchy clear-cut rhythms, the deceptive irregular cadences of Dylan's folksy approach, the pinched and nasal tonality of his voice, and the elegiac lyrics that created anthemic songs of socio-political protest gave his music a stamp of astonishing power and originality. Now that he is 70, it seems apposite to recall how much he defined the music of the Sixties — that musically tumultuous decade, which fashioned the trajectory of popular music like no other since and which created music that lives with us even today. Most musicians and groups in that era — including The Beatles — were influenced by him in one way or another.
Over the years, there has been of course more than one Dylan. The acoustic folk of Blowin' In The Wind and A Hard Day's Rain a-Gonna Fall gave way in the mid-Sixties to a fusion of blues and rock, a period that produced two of his finest albums (Highway 61 Revisited and Blonde on Blonde) and saw him reach the heights of his creativity. In 1975, he reminded his fans that his genius was very much intact with his dark and brooding Blood On The Tracks, after which his music took on a new and soulful character in his so-called Christianity phase. By the early Nineties, it was widely believed that Dylan had exhausted his creative genius, but he surprised everyone with his 30th Grammy-winning Time Out Of Mind, which found a place in Rolling Stone magazine's list of 500 Greatest Albums Of All Time. Of course, his place is music history owes principally to the audacious originality of his earlier work, that period in the first half of the Sixties in which he inspired an entire generation of musicians and charted a new direction for rock and rhythm and blues. Elvis Presley was the world's first true rock and roll star and The Beatles enjoyed the greatest fan following, but it was Dylan, contemporary bard and thinking person's musician, who persuaded us with his nasal twang and sparse instrumentation that pop could be a challenging, thought-provoking, and serious musical genre.