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The better songwriter: Bob Dylan or Paul Simon?


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Showing 101-125 of 423 posts in this discussion
Posted on May 31, 2012 6:39:09 AM PDT
Last edited by the author on May 31, 2012 7:47:12 AM PDT
D. Mok says:
> I am assuming you rather read poetry than listen to music?

Hell no. When I listen to music, I value melody, timbre, rhythm, structure and arrangement far more than lyrics. I come from the world of literature. Masses of words don't impress me. Anybody can write pages of lyrics. Some think it's deep; I think it's more often lack of discipline, being unable to say more with less, being unwilling to work the words so that they're more economical, more fluid, and more eloquent. Early Bruce Springsteen was absolutely crippled by this. It was young writing, writing that didn't know how to shape the words so that the lines aren't bogged down by inconsequential words.

Bob Dylan's approach to songwriting is precisely what I don't like. He says he only cares about the words, not the melody, which is why he doesn't like playing a song the same way twice. From my point of view, if he's going to do that, then why not just write poetry? The music is irrelevant anyway in his approach, and I find his sounds and instrumentation tired and repetitive. Why be in music if you don't want to explore the aspect that makes music unique, which is the sound? He's certainly never had an arrangement as interesting as "The Boxer", or a chordal progression as sophisticated as "Mrs. Robinson". I've been arguing for years, when Bob Dylan does get a more interesting sound on his records, it's usually the work of other people -- The Band, Daniel Lanois, Scarlet Rivera, Mark Knopfler. People who are sound-oriented, rather than content with this "rootsy" guitar-piano-harmonica stuff all the time, a sound that bores me to tears. Neil Young has certainly taken that basis and done far more interesting things with it. Bob Dylan's words make both good poetry and good lyrics. It's not that Bob Dylan doesn't know how to shape words, because his words flow very well. It's just that his base melodies wore out so many years ago that by this point, it's just putting different clothes (words) onto the same tired frame (melody/structure). Bob Dylan's music stopped expanding its emotional palette decades ago.

But to say Paul Simon writes better lyrics -- or better poetry -- than Bob Dylan? Lord.

Posted on May 31, 2012 6:58:52 AM PDT
eyeyieyie says:
Bob Dylan Vs Paul Simon Re/Song Writing They both write good songs. Simon is a better singer! At times Dylan can sing pretty good! I'd go with Dylan as the better song writer while Simon can sing better. Dylan is a more interesting character.

Posted on May 31, 2012 7:08:57 AM PDT
Robbie Robertson sat Dylan down once and played Percy Sledge's "When a Man Loves a Woman" for him. He said "He's not saying much but he's killing me, whereas you go on for stanza after stanza and you begin to lose me." (Robertson might've been thinking of "Desolation Row", but there are other candidates. At one point, Dylan said "I only care about the words".)

I don't think that's true. I think Dylan became more of a musician over time. But I think anyone who only cares about the words should be a poet, not a songwriter. There's nothing wrong with being a poet.

I have a confession to make. I know Woody Guthrie is a sainted figure. But I bought a CD containing a bunch of songs he'd written with a geographic slant. I don't remember the song titles---none of them were his most famous ones---but I couldn't listen to all of it. There were no melodies. Not every songwriter is going to go for Schubert-style tunes, but I think if you don't have a memorable melody you have to compensate in some other way---timbre, rhythm, something. ("Come Together" has no real melody, but it has musical merit otherwise.) But these songs were just drab. I wanted to like it, but it was just tedious.

Posted on May 31, 2012 7:23:01 AM PDT
Last edited by the author on May 31, 2012 7:26:02 AM PDT
D. Mok says:
> I don't remember the song titles---none of them were his most famous ones---but I couldn't listen to all of it. There were no melodies.

If you want older American folk with actual melodies, listen to Pete Seeger. Woody Guthrie was a far worse singer than Bob Dylan. Bob Dylan at least varies his deliveries. Even if Woody Guthrie wrote good melodies -- and in my view, he did not -- his voice probably couldn't have handled them. Heck, does he have a melody as memorable as Stephen Foster's "Hard Times"? Or "Dixie"? Or "Love Hurts"?

This is why I listen to much more British Isles folk than American folk. A lot of the American folk tradition is a lot of head and very little heart, with weak unremarkable melodies that sound like everything else. I blame it on the blues -- especially acoustic blues -- one of the most musically uninnovative, melodically unambitious forms.

Check out Billy Bragg and Wilco's reworking of some songless Guthrie lyrics on Mermaid Avenue. Much more musical than Guthrie's own works.

Posted on May 31, 2012 8:07:28 AM PDT
Well duh, yeah...Paul Simon is the better singer and more than likely a better musician,but their songwriting skills are pretty much even. It's like comparing Lennon and McCartney, Paul has a better hand on world music, but dylan has "Old Americana" down perfect. Both are two of the few that deserve to be called "genius" songwriters. It's a well deserved tie.

In reply to an earlier post on May 31, 2012 9:49:34 AM PDT
Linda
I completely agree with you. On a desert island I could listen Blowin' in the wind, lay lady lay, plus hundreds+ more of Dylan than anybody else(Beatles excluded). Thanks

In reply to an earlier post on May 31, 2012 10:11:19 AM PDT
Not true, I have music on in my life all the time. I seldom read poetry in it's pure form, rather I appreciate the poetry that is set to music. The question was who is the better songwriter, not who is the better singer. Example of poetry not yet set to music that touched me deeply was Donvan Leech's acceptance speech upon induction to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in April 2012.

At any rate, Simon is really quite an imposter of some former greats. His album Graceland was nothing but a redux of a Neil Diamond album Taproot Manuscript. I give Simon his due, but generally, if Simon is there, Dylan and others were there before him.

Posted on May 31, 2012 10:22:03 AM PDT
It's "Leitch". Though one can easily imagine Bob Dylan, along about 1966, feeling this minstrel Scot breathing down his neck, wearing his denims, wearing his shades, using the same harmonica rack, and using the term "Donovan Leech".

See "Don't Look Back".

Posted on May 31, 2012 11:31:58 AM PDT
Music-fan says:
>Oh ho. I think people with poetry education would disagree with you vigorously for that.<

Trust, those people won't persuade me any more than your penchant for Debbie Gibson songs would preclude me from seeing your point of view (here) as potentially valid. Creative types who >require< formal education rarely, if ever, break new ground anyway (remember all those poetry classes Dylan had? Exactly.). The innate gift reigns supreme. Besides, it's flawed to appropriate a 'how deep is the message' mentality as a standard of measure for the quality of a lyric. Anyone who needed a deep protest message for 'Punky's Dilemma' or 'I'll Never Fall In Love Again' (two clever and terrific lyrics that were well matched with the buoyancy of the music) is most likely bereft of anything musical to begin with. Dylan had better go lyrically 'deep' because he lacks the musical chops to bring anything else to the game; other musicians have options and can, therefore, afford to turn a witty phrase without referencing social injustice, which is valid, but certainly not requisite.

>Grace? Eloquence? It's a great tune, but the lyrics make my toes curl.<

Your quoting a couple of snippets of lighthearted fare from the Simon catalog is a pointless red herring; don't think I couldn't throw down some incredibly cheesy Dylan lyrics for perusal. A lyric need not be conceptually profound to be great. It is telling that you chose to paste 'Cecilia' instead of 'I Am A Rock', 'Richard Cory', or 'Patterns', for instance --- all of which eclipse Dylan ... not bad for a 24/25 yr. old who was "no poet". Are you for real?! Flatulating on about "diction" and all? The mind boggles.

>there's a reason why pure-folk Simon & Garfunkel weren't a hit<

Yes, there is, but perhaps a refresher in pop culture history is in order. This little thing called Beatlmania was in full swing when the first S&G LP. dropped (unlike for Dylan); anything deviating from the absolutely ubiquitous Anglo bent that ensued (i.e.: folk music) pretty much kissed the kibosh. Nobody and nothing were going to win a popularity contest with the Fabs; why Dylan, himself, wisely acquiesced.

Dylan was, at times, lyrically excellent in his way (rough-hewn and ruralist), but no match for the sophisticated Simon, who could punch you in the gut emotionally with the poetic finesse of a master. Nevermind that he was so much more sonically listenable.

Posted on May 31, 2012 12:08:06 PM PDT
D. Mok says:
> those people won't persuade me any more than your penchant for Debbie Gibson songs would preclude me from seeing your point of view

Anybody who writes that statement isn't worthy of any time spent convincing. Debbie Gibson? Where did that come from? Two can play that game: Your penchant for Vanilla Ice lyrics precludes you from intelligent discussion. There...manufacturing "evidence" is so easy, isn't it?

Try writing a song sometime. See how far "innate gift" goes without practice and study.

"I Am a Rock" eclipses Bob Dylan? Not even close. Does it sound great? Sure. Instantly memorable chorus, perfect for sing-alongs. Most of the verses are just direct expressions of feelings that aren't particularly unique except for one great couplet:

"I won't disturb the slumber, of feelings that have died
If I never loved, I never would have cried"

That's great poetry. But the rest of the lyric isn't up to that level.

Do you actually have the skill to name any specific examples and elements in these Paul Simon lyrics which, in your opinion, would "eclipse Bob Dylan"? Do you even know how to analyze text? Do you actually know how to explain yourself -- for example, why John Coltrane's A Love Supreme is, in your words, "a bore"?

In reply to an earlier post on May 31, 2012 1:47:51 PM PDT
Last edited by the author on May 31, 2012 1:57:02 PM PDT
Yes ...forgive my typo, Leitch is the proper spelling. Leech is the term I type in the games I play.
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In reply to an earlier post on May 31, 2012 1:51:05 PM PDT
Again the question was who writes better lyrics or poetry. The question excluded song styling, harmony, melody and all the other qualities that make a poem a song.

Posted on May 31, 2012 2:38:50 PM PDT
Music-fan says:
>Where did that come from?<

It came from your reviews of Debbie Gibson on Amazon, and I was making a valid point about how it's important for everyone to remain open minded. Though, it is a fascinating case study to see that you appreciate the epic Debbie Gibson turn of phrase and then malign all that dodgy Paul Simon word play. I've never listened to a Vanilla Ice lyric, though perhaps you saw the generic 'music fan' moniker while scouring the Vanilla Ice reviews.

>Try writing a song sometime. See how far "innate gift" goes without practice and study.<

I'll personalize this for you; you try writing a song sometime and see how far practice and study goes without innate gift.

>That's great poetry. But the rest of the lyric isn't up to that level.<

Why? Do you actually have the skill to name any specific examples and elements in these Paul Simon lyrics which, in your opinion, would not "eclipse Bob Dylan"? Do you even know how to analyze text? Do you actually know how to explain yourself -- for example, why John Coltrane's A Love Supreme is not "a bore"?

The offshoot is this; everybody gets an opinion here. You gave yours, I gave mine. Then, you specifically addressed mine using quotes. That's fine. You can do that. But you >don't< get to give me my opinion because you really don't qualify. Got it? I realize posting here is a big part of your life, so she's all yours from here on out; I've got studio stuff happening. And you've probably got an open mic night at the karaoke bar. Go get 'em killer.

In reply to an earlier post on May 31, 2012 6:13:35 PM PDT
ronct says:
D. Mok,

My post was in reply to Linda's who praised Dylan's lyrics but made no mention of his musical ability.

I am in total agreement with you and many more persons possess the ability to write great prose, literature, lyrics...whatever, but there are far fewer individuals who can write great music. IMO, Paul Simon is one of those individuals who can also write great lyrics too. Dylan for me is in a totally different league when it come to musical composition and is nowhere as capable as Simon.

Music is always what I hear and remember and give little credence to lyrics in a song. I could care less what someone is saying I am interested in sound. I hate when an artists writes lyrics like Dylan which ends up weighting a song down and sucking all the musicality out of it. Elivs Costello is the worst IMO as his songs have the most awkward flow.

In reply to an earlier post on May 31, 2012 6:19:09 PM PDT
ronct says:
Fair enough I just assumed because your post focused on Dylan's ability to write lyrics. I don't find Dylan all that interesting from a musical aspect since he is so limited in several ways. If the sound isn't a pleasing one I can't really listen to what an artist is saying.

Posted on May 31, 2012 7:35:06 PM PDT
D. Mok says:
> It came from your reviews of Debbie Gibson on Amazon

Not once did I praise Debbie Gibson's lyrics, which are quite juvenile. You take one semi-positive review and somehow make a leap to say that I use Debbie Gibson as a songwriting/lyrical paradigm. Do you understand the concept of "logic"?

> I'll personalize this for you; you try writing a song sometime and see how far practice and study goes without innate gift.

I've been writing songs since 1997. You? No? Then shut up.

> Do you actually have the skill to name any specific examples and elements in these Paul Simon lyrics which, in your opinion, would not "eclipse Bob Dylan"?

I already gave a bunch. You have yet to name a single one.

> But you >don't< get to give me my opinion because you really don't qualify.

I didn't "give you your opinion". I gave counter arguments to what you posted, retaining a civil tone all the way (and qualifying most of my remarks with "I think") and apparently you can't handle it. And the best you can do in your latest post is parrot every single thing I write, like a six-year-old trying to annoy an adult. You want to argue for Paul Simon's poetry, GREAT. But leaving it at "He's better" doesn't do jack squat.

> Do you actually know how to explain yourself -- for example, why John Coltrane's A Love Supreme is not "a bore"?

No, because I'm not the one who wrote a review on A Love Supreme. You wrote one that didn't even qualify as a review. All you said was that it was "boring". You didn't mention a single specific track, so no one will be swayed by your review, or even tempted to re-listen to the album just to discover something new, or to see if you might have been right. All you knew how to do was shout an opinion real loud.

Posted on May 31, 2012 7:42:43 PM PDT
The question says "songwriter" and for "Blonde on Blonde" alone, the answer is Bob Dylan.

Posted on May 31, 2012 10:40:01 PM PDT
Dr. Mikey says:
I think I'll go back to the Beatles forum where people aren't quite so pissy.

In reply to an earlier post on May 31, 2012 10:58:05 PM PDT
Dr.
I agree with you totally. The only addition is - how can they pair anybody up with Dylan? He's it period. Let's go back to the Beatles.

Posted on Jun 1, 2012 4:57:58 AM PDT
Geezerguy says:
I love both of these guys. Dylan's Greatest Hits Volume One was one of the first albums I ever owned. Whatever happened to that cool poster? Was that Peter Max? Simon's songs resonate with both my brain and viscera. I've never been to New York City geographically, but I've been there via The Boxer, The Only Living Boy in New York, Me and Julio Down By the Schoolyard, etc. It's interesting that there are others who love both of these guys, but some folks seem to love one and revile the other. Go figure. I know my life would be poorer without the songwriting of both these fellows. I've never seen Simon live, but I have seen Dylan. He had a great band with Charlie Sexton on guitar. He seemed bored with his own songs. He came alive on two covers of Warren Zevon songs. Warren had died that day. Bob's performance on Accidentally Like a Martyr made the night worthwhile. Anyway, while I'm sadly convinced that the best is past for both these guys, they've made the world a better place with their art.

Posted on Jun 1, 2012 5:51:25 AM PDT
Last edited by the author on Jun 1, 2012 5:52:02 AM PDT
The Dylan poster was not Peter Max, but Milton Glaser, who also designed the I (Heart) N.Y. logo.

As to whether the "best is past" for Paul Simon, his "So Beautiful or So What" album, released last year, got some of the best reviews of his career. I wouldn't rate it alongside "Graceland" or "Rhymin' Simon", but it's good, and in any event demonstrated that Simon was still writing good songs and producing good records at age 69.

I've seen Simon live three times. He seemed totally committed, had a great band. Part of the secret might be: don't tour as often as Dylan does.

Posted on Jun 1, 2012 6:01:01 AM PDT
D. Mok says:
> Part of the secret might be: don't tour as often as Dylan does.

Good point. Overexposure. But the flip side might be, if you're a musician, isn't it good to stay active?

Posted on Jun 1, 2012 6:07:01 AM PDT
D. Mok:

Yes, but if being active means playing "Lay, Lady, Lay" 180 nights a year, it isn't much of a surprise if some zip drains out of your interpretations.

I think it would have been fun to be Joe Pass. He toured solo, electric guitar, he had an immense body of songs to pick from, he could do any one at any moment if the inspiration hit him. No band, so he could just let fly. He wasn't a singles artist, so he didn't have a batch of songs he had to do every night. Dylan breaks it up more than he needs to, but he still has to do a bunch of songs pretty regularly.

In reply to an earlier post on Jun 1, 2012 6:21:32 AM PDT
Dee Zee says:
Right, So Beautiful So What was a great album released in 2011.

Posted on Jun 1, 2012 6:26:02 AM PDT
They released it in 2011, then later the same year they released a 2-CD set of Paul Simon's Greatest Hits, including two or three of the best songs from it. Well, that didn't help sales of the first album any. Why did they do that?
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