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The better songwriter: Bob Dylan or Paul Simon?


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Showing 351-375 of 427 posts in this discussion
In reply to an earlier post on Jun 11, 2012, 9:31:18 AM PDT
JNagarya says:
Yes: "Peter, Paul & Mary" were commercial -- a kind of slick folk divorced from its roots.

Yeah: they sold more records than Dylan -- one of their biggest hits being "Blowin' in the Wind," the royalties for which went to Dylan.

In reply to an earlier post on Jun 11, 2012, 9:32:59 AM PDT
Last edited by the author on Jun 11, 2012, 9:37:30 AM PDT
JNagarya says:
At the time Dylan didn't achieve the sales of "Peter, Paul & Mary," because he wasn't yet known outside folk, which was not mainstream (except for "The Kingston Trio" and "Peter, Paul & Mary").

Posted on Jun 11, 2012, 9:34:15 AM PDT
Pumpkinhead says:
Tough choice. I know more Dylan than I do Simon, so Dylan I guess. Only Simon I know is Graceland and a few S&G singles. I have quite a few Dylan albums.

In reply to an earlier post on Jun 11, 2012, 9:35:23 AM PDT
JNagarya says:
Because Dylan is the greater lyricist.

As for his melodies being "average": Dylan's roots are in folk, primarily folk-blues. The music of musically untrained illiterates. Dylan was on the actual road; Berlin was uptown, ensconced in a supper-club.

In reply to an earlier post on Jun 11, 2012, 9:39:34 AM PDT
Last edited by the author on Jun 12, 2012, 2:40:19 AM PDT
JNagarya says:
Simon & Garfunkel began recording during the late 1950s-early 1960s in that era's "rock 'n roll" idiom. It wasn't until after "The Beatles" and Dylan that they became known and popular -- in large part because Dylan made superior lyrics acceptable to the mainstream.

In reply to an earlier post on Jun 11, 2012, 12:28:47 PM PDT
JNagarya,
I agree, well said.
John

In reply to an earlier post on Jun 11, 2012, 12:35:23 PM PDT
Here here.

Dylan lyrics seem to scratch the surface and give just a glimpse of stories that lie beneath that will never be fully known... only imagined.
Simon has this quality as well I think too, but to a lessor degree in my opinion.

In reply to an earlier post on Jun 12, 2012, 2:58:25 AM PDT
JNagarya says:
A perfect example of that sort of hinted-at mystery is in Dylan's brilliant version of the oft-recorded public domain chestnut "Delia" (on "World Gone Wrong"), from the very early twentieth century, about an actual love-triangle/murder.

And those who believe Dylan "can't sing" and or doesn't have a "pretty" voice (his voice being perfectly suited to his material) should listen closely to how he sings that, listening especially for the crack in his voice toward the end of the song, when the narrator's situation finally begins to penetrate his self-pity.

In reply to an earlier post on Jun 12, 2012, 2:59:57 AM PDT
JNagarya says:
"Graceland" is a great album. Beautiful to watch, too, with the African singers.

Posted on Jun 12, 2012, 5:02:56 AM PDT
Dugan Nash says:
I've seen it repeated several times here that Paul Simon writes the better music -- specifically better melodies -- while Dylan writes the better lyrics. Which begs the question, what makes a "good" melody? If it's pleasant? Catchy? Hummable? What if you don't LIKE pleasant, catchy or hummable? Is it still "good"?

This is not a joke or trick question on my part, because to me, the average jingle on a tv commercial might be more of all of those things than say, the average Dylan song, but which would I rather hear on my drive to work? Dylan, of course, and not just because of the lyrics. Those "catchy" jingles with the great melodies may go down easy, but they are instantly annoying.

And no, I'm not comparing to Paul Simon to a jingle writer or calling his songs "annoying", but for my tastes anyway, I think plenty of Dylan's music is perfectly written for the lyrics he writes. Take a song like "Masters of War", which is really nothing special musically, but.... could it be any other way? The stark and penetrating lyrics don't need more than what's there, so... it's perfect to me -- lyrics AND music -- or put another way, it's "good". Trying to give that song a stronger or "better" melody would only ruin it.

So it seems to me anyway that a "better" or "stronger" melody isn't always what's best for a song (just as a super-bitchin' Eddie Van Halen killer guitar riff that is incredibly difficult to play isn't always what's best for a particular song). In general, Dylan may not deal in complex melodies, harmonies, etc., but the music he writes is appropriate for the lyrics he writes and together they make some pretty damn good songs to me. Give Paul Simon the lyrics to "Like A Rolling Stone" and ask him to write better music or a stronger melody to it and I think he'd only ruin it.

So I like Dylan as a writer. Lyrics, music, all of it. If he's truly "better" or not I don't think can be proven either way...

Posted on Jun 12, 2012, 5:14:33 AM PDT
Last edited by the author on Jun 12, 2012, 5:15:26 AM PDT
D. Mok says:
> Which begs the question, what makes a "good" melody?

Valid question. Bob Dylan did write (or pilfer) some good melodies in the beginning of his career. But as time went on, his folk/blues melody well dried up, and he didn't care to refill by exploring harmony. So he's extremely repetitive. He was impressed by The Beatles' sense of unusual chord progressions and note choices, but he never managed to learn it. See what happens when somebody like George Harrison was able to take Bob Dylan's writing and put it to better melodies ("I'd Have You Anytime"). Gordon Lightfoot wrote lyrics just as deep as Bob Dylan, but since Lightfoot was so much better as a singer, he also came up with better compositions without sacrificing his lyrics.

Posted on Jun 12, 2012, 6:19:39 AM PDT
Dugan Nash says:
But what made these early melodies Bob pilfered "good" melodies and what made the melodies later in his career not "good" (or not AS good)?

What DEFINES a "good" melody vs one that is not good?

Posted on Jun 12, 2012, 6:31:49 AM PDT
D. Mok says:
> What DEFINES a "good" melody vs one that is not good?

Catchy. Has its own character. Doesn't go for the same intervals all the time. Not trapped by the pentatonic blues scale. Does distinctive things relative to the chord underneath. A seasoned songwriter can tell when another songwriter doesn't know what to do with the chord progression and resorts to something that "kind of works".

Example of a good Bob Dylan melody: "A Hard Rain's A-Gonna Fall"
Example of a bad Bob Dylan melody: "Subterranean Homesick Blues"

Example of a good U2 melody: "I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For"
Example of a bad U2 melody: "Beautiful Day"

Example of a good Led Zeppelin melody: "Over the Hills and Far Away"
Example of a bad Led Zeppelin melody: "In the Evening" (could have been one of 10,000 other blues melodies)

Example of a good Stevie Wonder melody: "Summer Soft"
Example of a bad Stevie Wonder melody: "Superstition" (pentatonic blues...yawn. The melodic horn and clavinet riffs were what made this song a hit)

Example of a good Michael Jackson melody: "Beat It"
Example of a bad Michael Jackson melody: "Scream"

Posted on Jun 12, 2012, 7:16:17 AM PDT
Geezerguy says:
I think Bob and Paul are two of the best American songwriters - period. However, I also think that their respective muses have both died and gone to muse heaven. For some time Dylan has sounded like someone TRYING to be Dylan. Simon has seemed to adopt various styles or sounds to mask that he can't write the quality of songs that he once could. For example, Surprise is a beautiful sounding album. Eno did a wonderful job. Simon the singer and musician did a wonderful job. I've listened to that album at least 50 times, but there's not one "song" from the disc that sticks in my mind. That said, these guys are brilliant. They've both contributed much more to the musical landscape than the vast majority of their peers. If a writer only has a finite number of quality songs in him, these guys both far exceeded the average.

In reply to an earlier post on Jun 12, 2012, 8:06:02 AM PDT
D Mok,
"Gordon Lightfoot wrote lyrics just as deep as Bob Dylan, but since Lightfoot was so much better as a singer, he also came up with better compositions without sacrificing his lyrics."
It sounds like you think Lightfoot is a better songwriter than Dylan. I like Gordon, but there are dozens, if not hundreds of singer/songwriters as good as him. IMO, Dylan is in a class by himself. And, while Dylan's melodies, and voice, are not 'pretty', they suit his style perfectly.
John

Posted on Jun 12, 2012, 8:11:29 AM PDT
D. Mok says:
> It sounds like you think Lightfoot is a better songwriter than Dylan. I like Gordon, but there are dozens, if not hundreds of singer/songwriters as good as him.

Ask Bob Dylan himself. Gordon Lightfoot is one of his favourite songwriters.

In reply to an earlier post on Jun 12, 2012, 8:18:08 AM PDT
D Mok,
"Ask Bob Dylan himself. Gordon Lightfoot is one of his favourite songwriters."
I'm sure that's true. I suspect Gordon would say the same about Dylan. As would thousands of musicans, and millions of music fans.
Peace, John.

In reply to an earlier post on Jun 12, 2012, 10:02:33 AM PDT
Dugan Nash says:
"While Dylan's melodies, and voice, are not 'pretty', they suit his style perfectly."

---

Well put, John, and I tend to agree, which is what prompted my "what makes a "good" melody?" question. Imo, what makes a "good" melody is if it suits the song and if you, the listener, LIKE it. Dylan's music or melodies certainly don't appeal to everyone, but for me they certainly work within the context of what he's doing. Even with something as recent as say, "Po' Boy" from 2001's "Love and Theft", I think that's a great and very melodic guitar line and same for the vocal line. Other recent songs like "Things Have Changed" aren't as melodic, but that's still a great freekin' song to me! Or put another way, I never listen to it and think: "That's a poor melody," or that it's lacking in melody.

I don't think that there is a right or wrong way to write songs or a right or wrong amount of emphasis to be put on melody. Just depends on what the songwriter feels like writing and what we as listeners feel like hearing.

Posted on Jun 12, 2012, 10:37:26 AM PDT
Too close to call. Let's have them both tied for 2nd place behind John Prine.

In reply to an earlier post on Jun 13, 2012, 6:27:22 PM PDT
JNagarya says:
Dylan didn't "pilfer"; that was a false allegation made by those who were jealous of his talents.

It is the nature of folk music to borrow; to rewrite whole songs, and any number of times. How many versions are there of "Delia" (also known as "Deliah")?

Note the folkie's comment, in "No Direction Home," about his performance of "Maggie's Farm" at Newport: while many were apparently offended (it wasn't because he played electric; it was becasue he was leaving "finger pointin' songs" behind, which infuriated those who thought they owned him), he was excited that Dylan had taken the old traditional folk-blues "Parchman Farm" in a whole other direction.

In reply to an earlier post on Jun 13, 2012, 6:33:38 PM PDT
JNagarya says:
I like "Mississippi" --

"I've been in trouble ever since I set my suitcase down."

And it's beautifully sung.

Posted on Jun 13, 2012, 6:49:55 PM PDT
[Deleted by Amazon on Jun 13, 2012, 8:07:37 PM PDT]

In reply to an earlier post on Jun 13, 2012, 6:54:31 PM PDT
ronct says:
IMO, Dylan melodies just got old real fast not so much that they were worst from when he started out. Dylan is just one of those writers who has limited skills at writing music/melodies.

In reply to an earlier post on Jun 13, 2012, 7:00:45 PM PDT
Dee Zee says:
If Dylan's melodies were weak, how come hundreds of artists have covered his songs?

Posted on Jun 13, 2012, 7:50:42 PM PDT
Fischman says:
"Dylan has a handle on the human condition."

What exactly is "the human condition?" Dylan has a handle on nothing of relevance in my life and I'm most definitely human.
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