Often regarded as one of the greatest songwriters of all time, Bob Dylan has been a major figure in popular culture during a career spanning nearly 60 years, and has sold more than 100 million records, making him one of the best-selling musicians of all time.
Much of his most celebrated work dates from the 1960s; Dylan’s social commentary on tracks like ‘Blowin’ In The Wind’, ‘A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall’ and ‘Masters Of War’ are a legacy of sorts, and became anthems for civil rights and anti-war movements.
But his repertoire also includes less politically charged but no less popular songs such as ‘Mr Tambourine Man’, ‘Like A Rolling Stone’, ‘All Along The Watchtower’, ‘Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door’, and ‘Make You Feel My Love’.
Dylan had a big influence on every major British popular songwriter of the 1960s, with his writing guiding the work of British stars including John Lennon and George Harrison of The Beatles, Mick Jagger of The Rolling Stones, and Pete Townshend of The Who.
Tudor Jones, a political historian and honorary research fellow in the history of political thought at Coventry University who wrote the book ‘Bob Dylan And The British Sixties’, said: “Dylan’s influence on songwriting in modern British popular culture during the 1960s was... profound and far-reaching.
“The effect of his influence was felt on three main levels: first, in widening the range of subjects and themes that could be addressed in the lyrics of popular music; second, in conveying the notion that lyrics could have something reflective and significant to say about contemporary society, human relationships or even the existential realities of the human condition; and third, in fostering a more personal and emotionally direct mode of address.”
Jones says that The Beatles’ songs were about “boy-girl romance” before Dylan exerted his influence and adds: “In Britain the influence of Dylan’s songwriting was particularly evident during the 1960s in the case of The Beatles, and John Lennon and George Harrison especially.”
Many major recording artists have covered Dylan's material, some even increasing its popularity, as was the case with The Byrds' cover version of ‘Mr. Tambourine Man’. and Jimi Hendrix's version of ‘All Along the Watchtower’.
One of Dylan’s most infamous periods came in 1965, with his controversial shift to electric guitar.
During his first tour as an electric act, Dylan’s choice of instrument regularly prompted boos from audiences expecting his trademark political acoustic music.
In a 2020 edition of The Big Issue, Dylan’s former guitarist Robbie Robertson said: “Playing those electric shows with Bob Dylan in the 60s, I did think at the time, I’ve never heard of anybody doing this kind of thing before.
“Someone on the scale that he was – the king of folk music, the voice, the guy that could write songs that caused armies to join together – suddenly changing everything and going in a different direction.
“And the way that people reacted – we got booed all over the world. But for us, it was about saying: ‘You know what? This music we’re making, it’s really good.’”
A musical chameleon
In 1966, Dylan withdrew from touring after a motorcycle accident, a period during which he recorded a large body of songs which became the album ‘The Basement Tapes’ in 1975.
In the late 1970s, he became a born-again Christian and released a series of albums of contemporary gospel music before returning to more familiar rock-based territory in the early 1980s.
In the 90s, Dylan began to make waves in other art forms, and since 1994 he has published eight books of drawings and paintings, and his work has been exhibited in major art galleries.
He has received numerous awards, including the Presidential Medal of Freedom, 10 Grammy Awards, a Golden Globe Award and an Academy Award, and has been inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
In 2016, Dylan was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature "for having created new poetic expressions within the great American song tradition.”
Known for his ability to surprise audiences with something daring and new well into his career, in December 2020 it was announced Dylan had sold his back catalogue to Universal Music Group in a deal reportedly worth 300 million dollars (£218 million).
The agreement, thought to be one of the largest in recent years, covered the copyrights to some 600 of the 80-year-old US musician’s tracks spanning his six-decade career.
It encompassed songs from 1962’s anthemic ‘Blowin’ In The Wind’ and 1964’s ‘The Times They Are A-Changin’, to this year’s acclaimed ‘Murder Most Foul’, taken from his
39th studio album Rough and Rowdy Ways, which scored Dylan his ninth number one album, breaking chart records in the process.
What is Bob Dylan’s net worth?
According to Celebrity Net Worth, Bob Dylan’s wealth is thought to total up to $375 million (£266 million).
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