The Essential Bob Dylan

Music review by
Mary Eisenhart, Common Sense Media
The Essential Bob Dylan Music Poster Image
Two-disc hits collection is great intro to Dylan's work.

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this music.

Positive Messages

Besides the occasional purely sweet song ("Forever Young," "If Not for You"), The Essential Bob Dylan includes plenty of tirades against injustice ("Blowing in the Wind"; "The Hurricane," a long tale of the murder trial of Rubin "Hurricane" Carter ). Some are more hopeful than others about anything getting any better. There are also songs that take a poignant look at people making a mess of their lives ("Just Like a Woman") and brilliant satirical put-downs of negative characters getting the boot from the singer's life ("Yes I wish that for just one time you could stand inside my shoes / You'd know what a drag it is to see you.")

Positive Role Models & Representations

The narrators in Dylan's songs usually come from a place of strong conviction and idealism, but if betrayed, can become cynical and angry -- why is the narrator so anxious to ditch the girl in "It Ain't Me Babe" and "Don't Think Twice, It's All Right"? But in general, Dylan's moral compass is cranky but well calibrated.

Violence

"The Hurricane" deals with a murder for which boxer Rubin "Hurricane" Carter was, in Dylan's and many other people's opinion, wrongfully convicted.

Sex

The dark "Just Like a Woman" features a chorus with the line "She makes love just like a woman." "Like a Rolling Stone" includes a reference to prostitution. "Lay Lady Lay," about a loving relationship, is a sultry invitation to "lay across my big brass bed."

Language
Consumerism
Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

"Rainy Day Women #12 + 35" famously contains the line "Everybody must get stoned," and judging by the gleeful partying atmosphere on the recording, seems to mean it. The central character in "Just Like a Woman," dealing with "her fog, her amphetamine, and her pearls," seems not to be having so much fun.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that The Essential Bob Dylan, a two-disc, 30-song collection released in 2000, is an excellent introduction to the legendary singer-songwriter's work, from protesting folk-singer ("Blowing in the Wind") to world-weary cynic ("Things Have Changed"). It gathers some of his most notable, representative works, many of which were hits for other artists ("Mr. Tambourine Man," "It Ain't Me Babe," "All Along the Watchtower,"  "I Shall Be Released"), in which, with verbal mastery and the fervent zeal of an Old Testament prophet, he examines life's hardships, social injustice, and tortured relationships -- and, as in "If Not for You," the occasional sweet one.  Some drug and sex references ("Just Like a Woman," "Rainy Day Women #12 + 35," "Lay Lady Lay") from the '60s era -- some dark, some upbeat.

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Teen, 14 years old Written bySuddenImpact July 20, 2014

It's Bob Dylan...

so you know it's going to be amazing! He is a classic artist, with great songs such as The Times They Are A-Changin', Blowin' In The Wind, All Al... Continue reading

What's the story?

Bob Dylan is the standard against which all other American singer-songwriters are measured. Rising up in the folk movement of the '60s, he wrote songs that were hits for others (\"Blowing in the Wind\"), and his works have stayed popular with generations of artists in the decades since. His lyrics -- economical, well chosen, and often bitingly satirical -- are more often directed at things gone wrong, from social injustice to bad relationships, but can deliver sweetness and fun just as well.

Is it any good?

The Essential Bob Dylan provides a great overview of the many moods, phases, and styles of Dylan's career from the '60s to 2000 -- and an opportunity to revisit a lot of 20th century history and pop culture, from civil rights ("Blowing in the Wind," "The Hurricane") to '60s drug-party culture ("Rainy Day Women #12 + 35") to the resurgence of Christian fundamentalism ("Gotta Serve Somebody"). Not to mention some of his notable collaborations, including with the Band ("Forever Young") and the Grateful Dead ("Silvio"). Dylan fans probably already have all the tracks on The Essential Bob Dylan on their original albums, but for those just joining the program, it's hard to imagine a better introduction. Many newcomers will probably recognize at least some of the songs from their cover versions and be interested in the originals, which are often more complex. They'll probably also be startled by Dylan's singing (or non-singing) voice, in which the urgency of the lyrics tends to be more important than sounding pretty.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about what Dylan's music meant to today's parents and grandparents, and whether it has anything to say to today's kids.

  • What do you know about the historical and political events Dylan is singing about in many of these songs? Does hearing the songs make you want to learn more?

  • Have you heard any of these songs performed by other people? What do you suppose they liked about the song?

  • Do you think "Forever Young" is a good song from a parent to his kids?

Music details

  • Artist: Bob Dylan
  • Release date: October 31, 2000
  • Type: Album
  • Label: Sony Music
  • Genre: Rock
  • Parental advisory: No
  • Edited version available: No

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