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Tuesday, 29 May, 2001, 10:42 GMT 11:42 UK
Bob Dylan: What is his legacy to music?

On his 60th birthday, Bob Dylan has been voted the greatest songwriter ever by BBC News Online users.

During the 1960's Dylan's songs, such as Mr Tambourine Man and Like A Rolling Stone, became an anthem for the generation.

Stevie Wonder called him one of the finest ever lyricists and Joe Strummer said: "He laid down the template for lyric, tune, seriousness, spirituality, depth of rock music."

What is his legacy to rock music? Is he the greatest, as many songwriters and BBC users believe? Or has judgment been clouded by nostalgia? Does Dylan's reputation need some downsizing?

This debate is now closed. Read a selection of your comments below.


Your reaction


A born artist, not a manufactured money-spinner

Sean, Belgium
I was born a sceptic. Only a recent interest has brought Dylan's depth and talent to my CD collection. Only now does my collection seem complete. He offers himself to be either loved or hated, but he never shifts to the fickle fads of fleeting fancy. A born artist, not a manufactured money-spinner.
Sean, Belgium

You can't argue with Dylan. HE does the writing, the playing, the arranging...the whole interpretation. If you say you don't like his singing, well then you reject expressionism. If you say you don't like his lyrics, you're ignoring brilliant phrasing. You simply cannot be considered a serious music fan and not be awed by him. He's the best, it's not even close really.
Abe Rondina, USA

The distinction needs to be made: Dylan was (is) a writer of great songs rather than a great songwriter: neither songwriting per se nor musicianship has ever been his top priority. What he is, beyond any doubt at all, is a truly great poet. I will happily contend that his poetry is among the finest the last sixty years has to offer. Long may he continue.
Robert, Germany


His skill at improvising is second to no one on earth

Jay, Canada
As a musician myself, I figure I have some qualification to state that Bob Dylan is one of the greatest, most talented people to ever come out of the music scene in the United States. People may think that Bob is a horrible singer, but in actuality he is one of the best, most original that ever lived. Sure it sounds harsh to people, but his skill at improvising is second to no one on earth, and that includes his phrasing as well.
Jay, Canada

Listen to Nina Simone cover "Just Like a Woman" and you can understand Dylan's skill at expressing complex emotions inside relationships. Bowie and the Beatles never achieved this.
Tim Sheahan, New Zealand

Bob Dylan could do three things: write lyrics, play a musical instrument and create classic tunes; something that the present generation of so-called pop stars palpably fail to do.
Paul Farrow, Durham

Bob Dylan is one of the most influential singer/songwriters of all time, that goes without saying. As for greatest lyricist ever...I'd give that title to Lennon. Without a doubt, the Beatles have done the most to influence popular music today.
Joe, USA


What is not debatable, is the fact that Dylan and artists like him, really 'felt' their music

PG, UK
Whether Dylan is the 'greatest' songwriter of all time depends on individual preference, as is shown in the range of comments. What is not debatable, is the fact that Dylan and artists like him, really 'felt' their music. They believed in what they were writing and they were trying to change things. I just wish that there could be a resurgence of this in today's popular music so that we could be saved from the manufactured, cheap, monotonous works of stupidity that are drummed out by Steps, Westlife etc. etc.
PG, UK

Bob Dylan is simply the greatest thing since the invention of French Toast.
George Dooley, USA

Bob Dylan is the opiate of the pseudo-intellectuals.
B. Campbell, USA

Bob Dylan composed music and wrote lyrics to many memorable songs. But he never wrote any computer software or got rich selling overpriced computer or communications gadgets. So who cares about Bob Dylan in the year 2001?
Louis B. Massano, USA


Bob Dylan could make a song about doing the dishes sound brilliant

Ron, UK
I must say I never did understand a lot of Bob's lyrics. However it is the way that they are delivered and arranged that makes him the greatest ever. I also think we sometimes overlook the masses of hits that other artists have had with his songs..none, I must say, as good as the original. Bob Dylan could make a song about doing the dishes sound brilliant.
Ron, UK

The lyrics of Dylan's early songs were the conscience of a generation. So may of the freedoms and human rights that we take for granted today simply did not exist in the early/mid sixties. Dylan's songs such as 'Blowing in the Wind', The Time are Changing', 'Ballad of Hattie Carol', 'Hollis Brow' etc highlighted the social inequalities of the times, and encouraged a young generation to do something about them. Not only is he a wonderful musician, but a great social reformer
John Gant, UK

Although a prolific songwriter, I can see no valid reason why he should be voted the best ever, that is rubbish, pure sentimental rubbish
Clive Morgan, England


I feel very fortunate that I have lived in the time of Dylan

Amanda Bradley, Seattle, Washington
I feel very fortunate that I have lived in the time of Dylan. I was sixteen when first I encountered him and every song and poem was and remains like a jewel. That he is still alive and well, still writing and performing is a great gift to all of us. Thank you Bob for all the years of great music. Happy Birthday.
Amanda Bradley, Seattle, Washington

Don't know. Is there a legacy? Neither me or my friends ever listened to Dylan, but we were hugely impressed by Hendrix's version of "All along the watchtower" when it came out. I think he is as overrated as U2 and Sting. Big names, huge sales, but mediocre music. Can't say anything about the lyrics.
Volker, England (ex Germany)

He is a symbol of a generation - lie back, don't be "negative", accumulate heaps of cash telling people what they want to hear and let your grandchildren clear up the mess you made of the world while you were making up songs blaming everybody else - show the world that, with slick marketing you can sell anybody as a singer and intellectual - thank God the 60s have gone, I just wish the apologists for that era of selfishness would retire!
Nick, UK

Only Paul Simon comes close to drawing any suitable comparisons with the man.
Dave MM Watson, UK

His reputation, people say, is his really good lyrics. Problem is his singing is so bad it's too much effort to take note of what it is he's wailing about. He can strum like a good 'un though.
Barry, England

Whichever mood I am in, there is a Bob Dylan song that I find myself in. And I do not mean only in terms of lyrics, but also in terms of music. What makes him even more admirable is the fact that he found time to devote for making life of humanity better by being an activist.
Fikri Sonmez, USA

I'm sure that Mr. Dylan is an example of that even if you can't sing, can't play any instrument and if you write something just remotely related to true poetry, but with the assistance from so-called rock-critics (99% of whom don't have music education or any proper education) and biased journalists and doing all the stuff in the right time you can become a legend. At times, it's just sad that such "artists" are being revered for producing nothing of significance either musically or lyrically.
Yon Krick, USA

His lyrics say more than any other songwriter's can and the feeling he puts into singing them would send shivers down anyone's spine. As I once read somewhere, "Dylan on a bad day outclasses most other musicians' masterpieces" - "And every one of them words rang true And glowed like burnin' coal Pourin' off of every page Like it was written in my soul from me to you, Tangled up in blue."
Tareth Casey, Somerset, England


No one touches his songwriting, or singing for that matter!

Andy Diamond, UK
It's hard to calculate quite how much Dylan has given music and poetry. But, for me, growing up in the 80's with the shallow trash that was chart music, I delved into my parents' record collection and discovered their Dylan record. I've been a fan ever since - no one touches his songwriting, or singing for that matter!
Andy Diamond, UK

His legacy - simple, that you can look like a real muppet and still be called "the best ever"!!
Scott, England

Before Bob Dylan came along rock & roll was stuck in its adolescent hand-holding phase. He showed a generation of performers, writers and fans that rock & roll could grow up.
T.J. Cassidy, U.S.A.


Many people have trouble separating the artist from the work

Donald Klees, USA
With Dylan, many people have trouble separating the artist from the work. That is to say, the legacy becomes confused with the ongoing additions to it. Dylan's voice understandably grates on a great many people. Having said that, even detractors must admit that he has expanded the range of possibilities in popular music in terms of musical and lyrical content and, yes, in terms of what kind of vocal delivery is appropriate.
Donald Klees, USA

Musical appreciation is a matter of personal taste. Myself, I don't particularly like Dylan's stuff, and I don't even like the Beatles! However, I'm prepared to believe that there are others out there with views different to mine. Personally, I think Bono of U2 took rock to a new level, and Bowie can never be beaten!
Diana, UK

Bob is good, but no more than a raw poet who can hang his words to a few simple melodies and the same four chords. Lennon and McCartney, (partly due to being European) can claim the prize for turning popular music into an art form. People should also remember that songwriting is about also about music and how words and music provide for each other. In this respect McCartney is the greatest songwriter and along with Lennon has influenced popular music the most.
Darren Harridence, UK

In the year 2041, who will our children be celebrating? Certainly not the collection of manufactured no-talent individuals of today!
Tom Webb, Belgium


You've gotta open up your minds and feel his Bobness in action

Kris, UK
You can split the population of the world into two separate flocks, those who get Bob and those who don't, and it's those who don't who we should pity. You've gotta open up your minds and feel his Bobness in action, it's all about his phrasing and his amazing voice. I'm a believer, he needs to be rediscovered by the young 'uns, he's still the Daddy. I'm only 18, original fans are in their 60's, and no other artist has such a wide appeal.
Kris, UK

What separates Dylan from other songwriters is the sheer magnitude of his songbook and the fact that the quality of the songs sustains such a high standard from beginning to end.
Srivatsan, India

When the history of 20th century popular music comes to be written from a perspective more distant than ours, two figures will stand out, to whom all the others will be seen as footnotes of greater or lesser import: Sinatra will be one and Dylan will be the other.
Steve Taylore-Knowles, Greece

Bob Dylan may be allegedly the greatest songwriter ever, but he's certainly lacking on the performance front. David Bowie knocks him into a cocked hat any day of the week for sheer musical skill, showmanship and flair. In another poll done by Virgin.Net, Dylan ranks a poor fifth when it comes to naming the greatest rockers ever, so I guess it depends on the criteria you use. Personally, Dylan bores me rigid with his self-indulgent lyrical apathy.
Amy, UK


Happy Birthday Bob!

Shiran Vyasa, Sri Lanka/ Canada
Bob Dylan without a doubt can be considered the greatest songwriter of our time. Until his debut, songs were very simplistic, usually about girls, romance, cars, dancing or any combination thereof. Dylan brought serious social issues and concerns into music. He mixed cutting commentary with sarcasm, humour, and plaintive pleas for introspection. He questioned human follies, the hypocrisy of politics, the tragedy of war, often mixing diverse musical styles from ballads, rock, folk, country, gospel and roots music. It was a potent combination that influenced countless musicians and songwriters. Happy Birthday Bob!
Shiran Vyasa, Sri Lanka/ Canada

The clichéd answer is that by marrying electric guitar with serious lyrics he invented modern rock. True as this is, for me though it's just the power and beauty of his own lyrics that stand as his greatest legacy.
Edward Haworth, UK

Wasn't he on the Magic Roundabout??
Tom, England


This guy is just the best

Jen, UK
Hey, come on, this guy is just the best. He's been around forever somewhere out there. My favourites - Boots of Spanish Leather; Highway 61; Positively 4th Street and the all time great - One Too Many Mornings. Pure joy, pure magic, where do I stop? Everyone has their own favourites, there are so many.
Jen, UK

The greatest??? The man can't sing, insists on using a mouth organ at every opportunity with the objective presumably being to make the foulest, most unpleasant noise possible!!! And most importantly what is going on with his hair???
Mark, England

Give me Abba any day. The BBs wrote great songs and the AAs performed them perfectly.
Terraliptar Ungomis, UK

Since 1964 I have really needed no other music - the Beatles, Stones, Hendrix, Sinatra, Madonna et al just pass alongside. Happy birthday and thank God for Dylan!
Tony Hough, UK

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24 May 01 | Music
Bob Dylan turns 60
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