This week Bob Dylan was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature for “creating a new form of poetic expression” in songwriting, which he undoubtedly did. Almost single-handedly Dylan brought to popular music a new perspective of intellectualised exploration of the human experience. When John Lennon heard Freewheelin’ moon-in-june lyricism was over. Dylan is the man who made pop music grow up from teeny-bop to an exuberant, exciting young adulthood. For that he deserves the prize. However, we cannot pretend the decision is not controversial. Is his storytelling as good as Steinbeck? No. Is his craft as masterful as TS Eliot’s? No. Far from it, in fact. But Bob Dylan changed the world – one could even confidently argue Dylan is the most influential figure ever to win this most esteemed of literary honours. Questions are raised over whether Dylan really displays in his work the gravity the award usually demands. This may be snobbery, but it is still worth arguing over. Dylan did, after all, write the three greatest nonsense works of the 20th century in Bringing It All Back Home (1965), Highway 61 Revisited (1965), and Blonde on Blonde (1966). Is nonsense valuable? It is when it’s teaching generations how to express themselves. Asked once on a radio phone-in show why his songs were so long, Dylan replied, “I get paid by the word.” So is Dylan the right man for the award? Well, giving it to a “song and dance man” is perhaps a bit silly. But also he probably deserves it more than anyone in the history of the Nobel prize. And that contradiction is very Dylan-esque.
But, while the world continues to argue this way and that over whether Dylan is a worthy winner of the Nobel Prize, here at Wales Arts Review we’ll just be playing his records. And here is a special playlist of Dylan favourites which we think settles the argument (and, yes, before you start, we know he didn’t write “Baby, Let Me Follow You Down”).