Graham Reid | | 2 min read
Those wondering about the current tributes to Bob Dylan – who signed his first record contract 60 years ago – needn't look too far for the reason: The man whose self-titled debut album in 1962 sold a paltry 5000 copies just turned 80.
Dylan was the poetic songwriter who changed the coordinates of popular music when he introduced contemporary issues (civil rights, racism, the nuclear threat) into staid, traditional folk music; again when bringing a literary sensibility and surreal imagery into rock; and when the world was going Day-Glo post-Sgt. Pepper and into psychedelic hard rock (Hendrix, Cream) he delivered the acoustic, sepia-toned and Biblically-infused John Wesley Harding which ran contrary to everything hip, Hindu, elaborate and colourful.
And he opened a door between rock and country music through his friendship with Johnny Cash and albums like Nashville Skyline.
All that in just seven years in the 60s.
Last year's unexpected and lyrically dense Rough and Rowdy Ways confounded critics and audiences who have written him off quite a few times over the decades.
From the high-school kid whose ambition was to join Little Richard's band to a Nobel Prize for Literature is some journey but, as he noted in his Nobel Lecture,“songs are unlike literature. They're meant to be sung, not read”.
In thousands of concerts Dylan did that, even when his delivery could be a brutal mugging of his material. His hundreds of songs have been interpreted by everyone from buskers, Adele and Miley Cyrus to stadium shakers like U2 and Guns N'Roses.
And now Chrissie (The Pretenders) Hynde who -- during lockdown was inspired by Dylan's 17-minute Murder Most Foul from Rough and Rowdy Ways – has released the lowkey tribute Standing in the Doorway, recorded remotely with Pretenders' guitarist James Walbourne and which is the subject of a Sky Arts documentary (see below).
Sensibly Hynde sidesteps familiar Dylan – nothing blows in the wind, times aren't a-changin' – in favour of deep cuts like the title track (from Dylan's Time Out of Mind), In the Summertime and the beautiful Every Grain of Sand (both from the derided Shot of Love in his dogmatic Christian period), the aching You're a Big Girl Now and the odd, witty Don't Fall Apart on Me Tonight.
The most courageous version here is of the mythical, unnerving Blind Willie McTell and Hynde gets beneath its dark layers.
Here too are Love Minus Zero/No Limit (“My love she speaks like silence”) and the weary Tomorrow is a Long Time. On each she reminds us how romantic Dylan could be, combining elegant lyrics with engaging and timeless melodies.
Dylan once said, “To me the performer is here and gone. The songs are the star of the show, not me”.
In understated readings of these nine songs, Chrissie Hynde reenforces that principle: music endures beyond the life or presence of the songwriter.
Songs are to be sung.
Standing in the Doorway: Chrissie Hynde Sings Bob Dylan is available digitally with CD and vinyl editions due in August