Bob Dylan has always been a musician that is a sum of his parts. As a lyricist, he is as all-encompassing as they come, pivotal and powerful in equal measure. As a vocalist, he is unique in his delivery, finding a warming and worldly tone that few can refuse. A singer-songwriter, author and visual artist in his own right, he is often regarded as one of the greatest songwriters of all time.
He has been a heavyweight in popular culture for more than 50 years. Admittedly, his most iconic works stemmed from the 1960s, a tumultuous decade that provided the young Robert Zimmerman with many a topic to write about. His songs from that gigantic decade included ‘Blowin’ in the Wind’ (1963) and ‘The Times They Are a-Changin” (1964). These two songs, in particular, would become anthems for the nascent civil rights and anti-war movements. During this period, Dylan incorporated a range of political, social, philosophical and literary influences. This broke down the walls of contemporary musical conventions and fed into the narrative of the burgeoning counterculture.
He has since written songs about no end of varying topics. In 2020, he delved into the assassination of JFK with ‘Murder Most Foul’, a seventeen-minute masterpiece that surprisingly, even to Dylan, became his first Billboard 100 number one hit. It is a testament to his legacy that he has been bestowed with a host of the world’s most illustrious prizes. The Presidential Medal of Freedom, ten Grammy Awards, a Golden Globe and an Academy Award. Furthermore, he has been inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame and the Songwriters Hall of Fame.
This glamorous list does not end there. In 2008, the Pulitzer Prize Board awarded him a special citation for “his profound impact on popular music and American culture, marked by lyrical compositions of extraordinary poetic power.” This was followed up in 2016 with Dylan being awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature for “having created new poetic expressions within the great American song tradition.”
All this makes us wonder, though, who are this titan troubadour’s favourite musicians of all time?
Well, the clue is in the title of his 1965 single ‘Like a Rolling Stone’. Ironically, The Doors producer Paul Rothchild said the song challenged the British Invasion group’s supremacy: “What I realised when I was sitting there is that one of US—one of the so-called Village hipsters—was making music that could compete with THEM—The Beatles, and The Stones, and the Dave Clark Five—without sacrificing any of the integrity of folk music or the power of rock ‘n’ roll.”
There is little surprise that to Dylan, the Stones are “the greatest rock and roll band in the world and always will be”. The freewheelin’ troubadour has always had a soft spot for Jagger and the band, as both he and they took off on their meteoric rise around the same time, culminating in a special bond that has even seen them share a stage on occasion.
Both have had an enormous impact on contemporary music and debates surrounding both have existed since the ’60s. What is interesting, though, is that although they have had a very healthy chart rivalry over the years, both juggernauts have remained complimentary of the other.
Coming back to Dylan’s famous statement hailing the Stone as the best of all time, he concluded by saying that they were “the last too”. It’s a damning indictment of the music that followed, but, when you break it down, few acts are as potently and devoutly rock and roll as the Stones.
“Everything that came after them, metal, rap, punk, new wave, pop-rock, you name it… you can trace it all back to the Rolling Stones,” it’s a reflection of the band’s lasting imprint on the most precious parts of music. “They were the first and the last and no one’s ever done it better.”
For music fans, it is warming to see successful musicians being respectful of each other rather than disparaging, as is so often the case. Once, Stones guitarist Keith Richards repaid Dylan’s grace in saying: “I’d work with Bob any(where). I’d work with Bob in hell or heaven. I love him.”
The two factions of 1960s fandom have shared the stage on a few occasions. Firstly, Jagger and Dylan worked together when paying tribute to the Beatles at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, also guesting at a 1995 Montpellier show as well as numerous other dates over the following years.
With the release of Dylan’s last album, 2020’s Rough And Rowdy Ways, the Minnesota native has been in a reflective mood. In the expansive single, ‘I Contain Multitudes’, Dylan name-checks the Stones, many of their contemporaries, historical figures and a Harrison Ford franchise.
“I’m just like Anne Frank, like Indiana Jones. And them British bad boys, The Rolling Stones.” It’s a fine doff of the cap from one legend of the 1960s to another.
In a rare interview with The New York Times promoting his last record, as a “lark” Dylan was asked to name one, if any, Stones songs he wishes he had written. His response was classic Dylan. “Oh, I don’t know, maybe ‘Angie,’ ‘Ventilator Blues’ and what else, let me see. Oh yeah, ‘Wild Horses.'”
It’s clear that Bob Dylan will always be a Rolling Stones fan.