May 24, 2016

"Bob Dylan Is the Greatest American Singer of All Time."

"As the legend turns 75, it's time to reexamine his vocal talents alongside his songwriting...."

85 comments:

Rocketeer said...

I'm confused - I don't see a "The Onion" tag?

Carol said...

Sounds like Dylan is doing what Willie Nelson started doing 40 years ago - recording straightup standards. It was not a thing among really popular singers at that time. Weird voice and everything.

Is anything Dylan has out better than Willie's Blue Skies?

Patrick said...

Stupid. There's a wide gulf between "can't sing at all" and "greatest singer ever." Dylan is somewhere between those extremes, where, exactly is largely a matter of preference.

CWJ said...

"Greatest American singer" OK then.

G-Man said...

He could sing a bit in the 60s, but let's get real - he hasn't been able to carry a tune in a bucket for more than 40 years. Hell, the late Guy Clark's voice was angelic compared to Dylan's fingernails on a chalkboard.

Fernandinande said...

Rocketeer said...
I'm confused - I don't see a "The Onion" tag?


Based on this and the the Ali G. post, I have to conclude that Esquire is trying to compete with TheOnion.

Royal Jelly

CWJ said...

One could have so much fun with this. Compared to Kurt Cobain and the rest of the 90's, Dylan is .... at least comparable so who's to say. Forties, fifties, sixties singers like Sinatra et al don't count because they're really all Italians not Americans. All women. Well we didn't mean to count them. Anything prior to Dylan, heck who remembers that!

Still. Good for him.

MadisonMan said...

Why is vocal talents not in quotations?

AReasonableMan said...

The extreme idolatry of Dylan has always seemed slightly unhinged to me. His singing sucks. He is a decent songwriter but there is a lot of competition for best pop songwriter. He has a stronger claim on most pretentious songwriter, although even here there is a lot of competition. He failed to remain relevant past the 60's, except for Blood on the Tracks. This is a somewhat limited track record. Not a failure by any means, but perhaps not first rate either.

CWJ said...

Anyone who sang country and western? Well again, like the women, we didn't mean to count them.

Fabi said...

The Jewish John Denver.

(Am I banned now?)

Smilin' Jack said...

"Bob Dylan Is the Greatest American Singer of All Time."

Now, now, let's not make fun of a mere typo. Obviously they meant "Gratest."

JAORE said...

The extreme idolatry of Dylan has always seemed slightly unhinged to me.

Me too ARM, me too.

JAORE said...

FWIW, my wife and sister-in-law (using my ticket due to a conflict) saw Dylan in Alabama last year. Dylan fans both. Consensus was, "One of the worst concerts they have ever seen".

Four other friends were also present. They said that was a generous comment.

khesanh0802 said...

I know Ann's a big fan ( dates the hell out of her) but Bob Dylan could not sing in 1963 and he can't sing now. He writes pretty good songs sometimes, but he has never appealed to me as a singer. Now Joan Baez!

boycat said...

It's Bing Crosby, and it isn't even close.

--Crosby sold about a billion records, tapes, compact discs and digital downloads around the world, and is the biggest selling recording artist of all time.

--Crosby had sold 200 million records by 1960 and the figure had doubled by 1980. His cover of “White Christmas,” written by Irving Berlin, is still the bestselling recording of all time with The Guinness Book of World Records reporting worldwide sales of over 50 million singles. Total estimated sales of the song are near 100 million. “White Christmas” has entered the American pop charts 20 separate times and reached the No. 1 spot three times, in 1942, 1945 and 1947.

--Crosby made over 2,000 commercial recordings and 4,000 radio programs, in addition to a long list of film and television appearances, and is the most-recorded performer in history.

--Crosby had 41 No. 1 records (43 including the second and third chart-toppings of “White Christmas”). By comparison, the Beatles had 24, and Elvis had 18.

--Crosby's recordings hit the charts 396 times, more than Frank Sinatra (209) and Elvis Presley (149) combined, reaching the Top 10 203 times and spent 173 weeks in the No. 1 spot.

--Crosby was the voice of 13 Oscar-Nominated songs, four of which won the Academy Award for Best Song: “Sweet Leilani” (Waikiki Wedding, 1937), “White Christmas” (Holiday Inn, 1942), “Swinging on a Star” (Going My Way, 1944), and “In the Cool, Cool, Cool of the Evening” (Here Comes the Groom, 1951).

Dylan comes no where near any of these records.

David Begley said...

About time AA noted this date. I thought she forgot.

Nichevo said...

But Crosby is the voice of beauty, and Dylan the stormcrow. Don't you know that Althouse hates beauty and goodness, and likes all that which is bad? And you must like it, too.

Ann, you have this crushing need to be right, or rather, to have others say that you are right. Usually this is associated with childhood trauma but as we all know, with the horrible exception of having your father ignite an innocent five-dollar bill before your anguished gaze, nothing bad has ever happened to you! So what's your excuse?

traditionalguy said...

Dylan earned it. People who cut him down for his voice were not sensitive to the messages he was bringing. And he really did not care to explain it.

William said...

The way Audrey Hepburn was perfect for the princess part in Roman Holiday, some singers have the perfect voice for certain songs. Nat King Cole's rendition of Stardust will never be topped. That's a song that everyone has had a whack at, but Nat King Cole's voice embodies all the nostalgia and mystery of that melody. Hoary Carmichael, who wrote the song, has a passable take, but there's no wonderment in his voice. Doris Day has the best version of Que Sera Sera. It's her sunny, cheerful voice that makes the song seem so optimistic and reassuring. If Marianne Faithful sang it, the song would sound like a veiled death threat. Thus so with Dylan. He's got just the right voice for Desolation Row or Positively 4th St. If you're a pissed off adolescent with inchoate feelings of alienation and distrust, there's no greater singer than Dylan and no better lyricist. Still, he should stay away from the Sinatra stuff. The comparisons are invidious.

Bob R said...

Calling Dylan a "great" singer is simply trolling, and I don't believe the article made a real attempt to justify the word. I'd describe his singing as extremely effective at connecting the listener to the narrative and emotion of the lyrics. (The article essentially argues this.) While Dylan can do this well, he doesn't do it as well as Sinatra, and maybe George Jones, Cash, and Haggard. Crosby (and Cole and Astaire) are as good at narrative, but don't have the emotional impact (to me.) There are lots of people who can convey emotion without carrying the narrative and meaning.

Contrast this to "better" singers than Dylan who have a great vocal instrument, but might as well be singing scat. Fitzgerald, Torme, and Vaughn often fall into this category. (All great scat singers, by the way.)

Pianoman said...

No he isn't.

bagoh20 said...

I like Sinatra as much as anyone who grew up well past his prime era, but my girlfriend says he doesn't really sing, but just talks. I disagree with that, but I think it is true of Dylan much more. He's kind of a rapper - an older version of Kanye.

Sam L. said...

Bing Crosby; Nat "King" Cole; Mel Torme

Who Am Us Anyway? said...

Bob is an acquired taste, I grant that. But anyone saying his singing sucks is quite like a bourbon-hater proclaiming that a great Manhattan makes him want to throw up. All we can say is: "Noted," and then order another round.

tim in vermont said...

Jenny Lind, Leadbelly, Steven Foster, I am sure he carefully considered each of these and countless others. ..

I like Dylan fine, but why didn't he just say the greatest singer in the history of the world?

mockturtle said...

IMO, any number of Motown artists are better singers than Dylan.

tim in vermont said...

Joan Baez can drive you out of the room with that piercing vibrato, I will take Bob any day.

coupe said...

I think it's called audacity. The audacity that anyone would label something "the greatest."

Harrumph!

Char Char Binks said...

No.

Rhythm and Balls said...

The extreme idolatry of Dylan has always seemed slightly unhinged to me. His singing sucks. He is a decent songwriter but there is a lot of competition for best pop songwriter. He has a stronger claim on most pretentious songwriter, although even here there is a lot of competition. He failed to remain relevant past the 60's, except for Blood on the Tracks. This is a somewhat limited track record. Not a failure by any means, but perhaps not first rate either.

You don't get the generation. He was the voice of the Beats (I presume) where creative adventure was the defining characteristic. Can you name a more creative and thoughtful songwriter? I doubt it. On that score (which is a pretty important parameter), he wins. At least, that's the feeling I've always confidently gotten despite not even being anywhere near his biggest fan.

I mean seriously, he had a line in a song about calling up the operator and hearing her recite the time for a few hours (or something). He made more funny mundanities seem more profound than anyone else. The successful poet puts you at ease with all the things they notice around you worth finding beauty or interest in, that you never would have come up with on your own.

Paul said...

I like "Nashville Skyline". Richie Haven's cover of "Just Like A Woman" is my favorite. My favorite singers are Howlin' Wolf and Al Green. And I like Julie London a lot. There are others too. Notice I said my favorites, not "the greatest".

rcocean said...

A lot Dylan fans are a little odd. I knew one in college. Wrote poems that were published in the College newspaper, and had to take some kind of medicine for some kind so mental problem - probably depression.

One night in the dorms, i get up to go to the can and he sees me and waves me into his room. "You gotta listen to this, its so great". He has his record player set up and forces me to listen to some Dylan song. "That is so great" he says, after its done. "I've listened to it 15 times in a row".

He wanted me to stay and listen to more Dylan and talk more about his greatness but I begged off.

Paul said...

Dylan was a big influence on Jimi Hendrix' lyrics. Of course Jimi took it all someplace else too.

rcocean said...

I can see the attraction of Dylan. His lyrics are pretty good. However, his voice sucks and a lot his melodies are either mediocre or stolen from someone else.

Plus, even the best song lyric is inferior to most poetry.

Roughcoat said...

My vote goes to Dusty Springfield.

Roughcoat said...

But I do like Dylan. A lot.

I can't say who's the greatest. Lots of great singers.

rcocean said...

some singers have the perfect voice for certain songs. Nat King Cole's rendition of Stardust will never be topped.

I agree completely. The songwriter was so happy over Doris Day's version of "Secret Love" he burst into tears and thanked her.

Gahrie said...

Dylan was a great songwriter, and had a tremendous effect on music in the last half of the 20th century. But a great singer?

I think of Dylan and Carole King in exactly the same way...both great songwriters with mediocre voices. Their best work was performed by other people.

Doug said...

Sinatra. That is all.

Gahrie said...

The extreme idolatry of Dylan has always seemed slightly unhinged to me.

To me also...the same with Springstein...

Gahrie said...

I mean seriously, he had a line in a song about calling up the operator and hearing her recite the time for a few hours (or something). He made more funny mundanities seem more profound than anyone else.

Try Jim Croce....same type of songs, better voice, and a lot more fun to listen to.....

rhhardin said...

Tiffany Eckhardt, Cyndi Boste, Penelope Swales, but they're Australian.

Claire Pelletier, The McGarrigles, but they're Canadian.

Luke Lea said...

Would like to see him get the Nobel Prize for literature. Pass it on.

FullMoon said...

There is no greatest singer, and never will be..

And "unhinged " is a stupid word.

AReasonableMan said...

JAORE said...
FWIW, my wife and sister-in-law (using my ticket due to a conflict) saw Dylan in Alabama last year. Dylan fans both. Consensus was, "One of the worst concerts they have ever seen".


I had a similar experience thirty years ago. Dylan has written some good songs but the musicianship in the concerts and his singing on most recordings is pretty hard to overlook. I had a similar experience when I went to see Chuck Berry at Blueberry Hill in St Louis. The 'concert' was completely shambolic, to an extent that it became funny after the shock wore off. It doesn't burnish the legend. I assume these older guys are literally just in it for the money.

AReasonableMan said...

FullMoon said...
"unhinged " is a stupid word.


Not if you are a door.

Michael McClain said...

He's barely understandable, hardly "America's Greatest".

CWJ said...

Ritmo wrote -

"Can you name a more creative and thoughtful songwriter? I doubt it. On that score (which is a pretty important parameter), he wins."

Really? Are you really willing to write off Paul Simon that easily?

eddie willers said...

Every time I hear the name Mozambique, I start singing 'Mozambique' from the Desire album.

At least there he is singing with the someone I think is the greatest American singer....Emmylou Harris.

johnnymcguirk said...

Loudon Wainwright wrote a great tribute twenty-five years ago {https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=cWmtMp9oaEU}

Ron Snyder said...

Hardly, his croaking is very irritating.

Wilbur said...

He's no Jerry Vale.

ELC said...

Dylan sings like a hinge in desperate need of WD-40.

mockturtle said...

@Paul Al Green

One of the best!

Paul said...

Might be a spoonful of water

Save you from the desert sand

But a little spoon of your forty-five

Save you from another man


Howlin'Wolf

Paul said...

mockturtle, listen to Al Green sing "For The Good Times" and see if you can keep a dry eye...

Mark Caplan said...

Dylan is quite a dazzling vocalist except for his singing off-key through his adenoids while affecting a hillbilly accent.

Big Mike said...

Elvis Presley's range has been estimated at two and a quarter octaves, and possibly greater than that. American operatic singers such as Denyce Graves and Kathleen Battle are fantastic (though Battle is in the twilight of her career). Howard Keel in his heyday was wonderful.

Dylan? A fine songwriter who essentially made his genre. Not a great singer.

mockturtle said...

Besides my Motown faves I would have to go to another genre altogether and pick Leontyne Price, the great operatic soprano. Had the good fortune to hear live in Seattle. A voice for the ages.

mockturtle said...

@Paul: mockturtle, listen to Al Green sing "For The Good Times" and see if you can keep a dry eye...

Very nice!

Amexpat said...

Dylan was an extremely versatile singer and has excelled in a number of genres. The voice he chose for his early folk songs or his sneering rock songs may not be to everyone's liking, but they served the purpose he wanted to achieve artistically with the songs.

He could also, years ago, sing clean and "pretty" if he wanted to (listen to "Nashville Skyline" or "Another Self Portrait" if in doubt).

For an excellent discussion about the versatility of Dylan's singing, listen to this lecture by Steven Rings of the University of Chicago.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?t=1323&v=Qf7RGph3buc

donald said...

Hell yeah.

jr565 said...

Bob Dylan is not greatest singer of all time. I don't think he's even the greatest singer on a bob dylan album.

Temujin said...

That's like saying spam is the greatest food of all time.

I Have Misplaced My Pants said...

unlistenable--to me--voices:

Geddy Lee
Bob Dylan
Elvis Costello

that's it.

David said...

How about these? (Based on talent and versatility not fame or social impact.)

Linda Ronstadt
Sinatra
Sam Cooke
Dolly Parton
Bing Crosby
Nat Cole
Smokey Robinson
Merle Haggard
Ella
Glen Campbell
Louis Armstrong
Billie Holiday
Elvis
Nina Simone

Dylan can hang with this list but not at the very top.

Terry said...

Dylan always seemed to be trying to act a part. He wasn't hard scrabble. He was strictly bourgeois. Compare Dylan's bio with Merle Haggard's. Haggard spent his late teens in jail. Dylan spent his at the University of Minnesota.

Roy Lofquist said...

I've been listening to this same debate, over and over, for more than 50 years. War, war never changes. Whoops, wrong thread. Dylan's voice has always been quite erratic and his uneven performances have, quite properly, turned a lot of people off. My greatest disappointment is that he couldn't sustain what he had here in what I think was his best vocal ever.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LLmhxlAVmos

Oso Negro said...

If only Drudge would post a photo of Dylan with Scott Adams!

tim in vermont said...

Dylan also had the amazing good fortune to come along when I IV V songs still sounded fresh. Nobody would have the balls to push that I IV V stuff anymore. It would be like a player for the Yankees insisting on wearing the number 7.

The above was written with my tongue only slightly in cheek.

Brando said...

Vocal talents? His songwriting is one thing but IMO he succeeded despite his voice, not because of it. But de gustibus and all that.

swellmaniany said...

I saw him last year at the Ohio Theater here in Columbus. Excellent backing band. But aside from a reprise of Tangled Up In Blue, I literally could not understand a word he was singing. I don't know the lyrics to a lot of his songs, but usually you can pick up the words even when hearing it for the first time. But he was entirely unintelligible.

damikesc said...

Maybe the best songwriter. Iffy, but arguable.

He couldn't sing for shit.

uffda said...

I admire Dylan and Sinatra for the same reason - They go places in their phrasing that simply does not occur to most other singers. Where they differ is Sinatra triumphed with songs often previously recorded many times while Dylan is at his best only with originals.

Dylan doing All the Way reminds me that Pat Boone recorded Ain't That a Shame. And it was.


For bad live performances, seeing beloved Gordon Lightfoot after a 30 year interval, takes the cake. Sounded like he was channeling Gabby Hayes.

dustbunny said...

Yes, yes, yes!! People who think this is a joke are confusing pretty or melodic with powerful and soulful. Dylan changed the ways it is possible to deliver a song. Someone once described his voice as sandpaper to the heart. He makes you feel his love.

Unknown said...

wish I knew how to embed. Old and decrepit, not like Dylan.

http://www.goodnewsnetwork.org/forever-young-25-things-know-bob-dylan-75th-birthday/

Unknown said...

"Dylan's lyrics have been popular in U.S. legal opinions and briefs written by judges and lawyers. According to a 2007 study, Dylan lyrics were cited 186 times compared with 74 by the Beatles, who were runners-up." The lawyer connection.

El Camino Real said...

Dylan's artistry centered on his ability to sound like corrupt air being released from a dead, sun bloated raccoon.

PackerBronco said...


Blogger William said...
Nat King Cole's rendition of Stardust will never be topped.


Hate to break it to you, but it has already been topped --- by Mr. Louis Armstrong.

mikee said...

Disney's 1980 AIDS benefit for kids.
Dylan's version of "This Old Man Went Rolling Home."
He knew what he was singing about, and sang it well.

Diamondhead said...

I think there's a difference between "great singer" and "great voice." In terms of conveying feeling, he is a great singer. Personally, I like his voice, but I won't argue it's better than your typical American Idol winner's. I will argue that he's a much better singer though.

Donatello Nobody said...

What Doug said.

gerry said...

His voice is Nasal and annoying. I've wondered if he suffers sleep apnea. Maybe his snoring is artistic.

Rhythm and Balls said...

Really? Are you really willing to write off Paul Simon that easily?

I wouldn't write him off. But Dylan's most associative stuff came early on. Simon's stuff esp early on was tighter and more coherent than creative. Dylan's associations were wild.