Bob Dylan is an icon. As an artist, his reputation precedes him. Over his six decades as a musician, he’s experienced both sides of the coin and risen to god-like echelons. The most influential songwriter of all time aside from The Beatles, there’s no wonder that mountains of discourse have been written on his illustrious career.
Over the course of his life, Dylan’s undertaken nearly every artistic endeavour under the sun. Famously, during the mid-1960s, he turned his back on his traditional folk roots by employing a backing band and the electric guitar. Some of his other works are fused with jazz, gospel and world music, and there was also his divisive foray into Christian music. His discography is a real musical Odyssey, a testament to the oscillating life of the man known endearingly as ‘The Bard’.
If it is not already clear, Bob Dylan is incredibly dextrous. As a lyricist, he is as all-encompassing as they come, powerful and provocative in equal measure. As a vocalist, he is distinctive in his delivery, finding a warming and worldly tone that few can refuse, espousing the wisdom of years way beyond him. A singer-songwriter, author and visual artist in his own right, these three elements complement and compound each other, giving his work a density that even The Beatles don’t have. He’s modern culture’s resident polymath, and we’ll still be discussing him for years to come.
Notably though, his most iconic works originated in the 1960s, a turbulent decade that provided the young Robert Zimmerman with endless issues to write about. His songs from that monumental era include 1963’s ‘Blowin’ in the Wind’ and 1964’s ‘The Times They Are a-Changin”. These two songs, in particular, would become anthems for the nascent civil rights and anti-war movements. It was via classic tracks such as these that Dylan would propel himself into the hearts of his generation, and then everyone that followed.
However, for many of Dylan’s original fans, he made a critical artistic mistake in 1965 when he went electric on his fifth album, Bringing It All Back Home. The first half of the album features electrified songs, and the second half is mainly concerned with acoustic numbers.
Although at the time many reacted negatively to Dylan’s artistic choice, today it remains one of his most lauded body of works, as it saw him forsake the protest music of his first four records in favour of more surreal and challenging lyrics. Despite the album alienating Dylan from his folk peers, Bringing It All Back Home would be loved by many, featuring the stellar album opener, ‘Subterranean Homesick Blues’, which was Dylan’s first single to chart in the US.
Rightly, it is now coveted as one of the essential albums of all time, with everyone from John Hughes to Public Enemy citing it as a major inspiration on their artistry. It also had a transformative effect on East Bay punk legends Green Day, and took them in a direction that would see them hit heights never thought possible.
At the turn of the millennium, Green Day were at a “very big crossroads”. The once ubiquitous punk rock of the ’90s was no longer cool, as nu-metal was now the zeitgeist, with bands like Korn and Limp Bizkit all the rage. In addition to this, Green Day’s last two efforts, 1997’s Nimrod and 1995’s Insomniac had failed to find the same success as the band’s 1994 breakout, Dookie.
During the album’s writing and early recording sessions, Green Day frontman Billie Joe Armstrong repeatedly listened to Bringing It All Back Home, which has been credited with influencing the album’s increased musical experimentation and socially conscious lyrics. The work would eventually be titled Warning, and it remains one of the most refreshing moments in all of Green Day’s career. Featuring cuts such as the title track, ‘Waiting’ and ‘Minority’, it bridged the gap between the youthful rebellion of Green Day’s early years with the stirring social commentary of what was to come.
Much like the album that inspired it, Warning was divisive upon the time of release, but has aged like a fine wine, and it now gets spoken of as one of the very best Green Day albums. Significantly, it altered the band’s course, and set the scene for their most iconic album, 2004’s American Idiot. This story displays the extent of Bob Dylan’s influence on culture, as, without him, Green Day would not be one of the biggest bands on the planet. It’s frankly mind-blowing stuff.
Listen to ‘Warning’ below.