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Music

How a classic Bob Dylan song inspired an iconic Steely Dan album

Bob Dylan has lived a life of mythical proportions. His many exploits read like the legends of old that feature wandering troubadours attempting to set their immediate world to right through sharp lyricism and emotive musical scores, as well as many extra-creative exploits that seem unfeasible to the common man. 

He’s always had his finger on the cultural pulse, and it is this, in combination with his incisive perception, allowed him to rise meteorically to become one of the most essential artists of all time, delivering both pertinent lyrical moments and scores that appeal to both the emotion and reason. His lengthy 2020 epic ‘Murder Most Foul’ is one of the best recent examples of this notion. 

In terms of artistic output, Dylan is possibly the most prolific songwriter of the last 60 years. Whether it be the protest music of his early folk era, his more hard rock-oriented material or even his later flirtation with experimental hues, there’s a lot much to explore in his extensive back catalogue, with something for everyone, reflecting just how dextrous of an artist he really is.

Hailed as the voice of a generation alongside The Beatles, Dylan helped to establish some of the most critical facets of modern songwriting, and without these consequential efforts, it wouldn’t just be music that looked and sounded very different, but the world too. This is a testament to the quality of his work, as only the finest songwriters can boast critical and commercial success as well as having a positive, tangible effect on the world. 

Unsurprisingly, Dylan has influenced scores of artists from a myriad of different backgrounds. Whether it be his contemporaries, such as The Beatles, who credit him with introducing them to the power of weed – which kicked off what is arguably their most fruitful period that started with 1965’s stoned opus Rubber Soulor more questionable outfits such as Counting Crows, who Dylan wasted no time in regarding as “a piece of shit”, his impact is clear for everyone to see, and it is likely that in the same way as the greats of old such as Beethoven or Mozart, he will be studied in hundreds of years to come.

One of the most eminent acts that Bob Dylan has had a defining impact on is the world’s premium rabble of yacht rock misanthropes, Steely Dan. Genius musicians in their own right, whilst their colourful technical flair surpasses that of Dylan, they are also noted as being some of the finest lyricists out there, with their style of prose something akin to a mix of Thomas Pynchon and the science fiction greats of the 1940s such as C. M. Kornbluth.

However, Dylan also had such a great impact on them that the opening line from his 1965 track ‘It Takes a Lot to Laugh, It Takes a Train to Cry’, “Well, I ride on a mailtrain, baby / Can’t buy a thrill”, was lifted to give them the title of their acclaimed debut album Can’t Buy a Thrill, as pointed out by Andy Gill in 1998’s Don’t Think Twice It’s Alright.

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