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Chapter 5
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Song Name -    "Positively 4th Street"
Artist -    Bob Dylan


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Bob Dylan's Greatest Hits

Bob Dylan's influence on rock and roll songwriting is so pervasive that it is hard to conceive of how the genre would sound without it. Through the medium of folk rock, a style largely of his own making, he introduced stream-of-consciousness writing, and elevated poetry, social consciousness, and American roots music to the possibilities of what rock music could be, and what it could be about.

Dylan did not start out as a folk musician. Growing up in Hibbard, Minnesota, he learned to play harmonica and guitar and formed several rock and roll bands; he knew about Woody Guthrie and Hank Williams but didn't try to perform their music until he got to the University of Minnesota. He discovered the blues during his freshman year and decided that he had to learn more about it. He spent part of 1960 in Denver, where he met Jesse Fuller, the "Lone Cat," a one-man blues band who played guitar, harmonica, cymbals, drums, and a homemade bass called a fotdella. Dylan absorbed a great deal of knowledge about the blues and he learned of the harp-rack, a device that held the harmonica in proper playing position to keep the performer's hands free. By January 1961 Dylan was in New York, having bypassed further collegiate study in favor of meeting, and hopefully learning from, Woody Guthrie. Guthrie was by that point hospitalized, dying of Huntington's chorea, but he welcomed Dylan's visit and encouraged him to return and to play for him. Dylan also began playing in the Greenwich Village coffeehouses that were devoted to folk music and was soon discovered by John Hammond, the legendary artists and repertoire man for Columbia Records who had started the careers of Count Basie, Duke Ellington, and Billie Holiday.

Dylan's first album was composed mostly of folk and blues standards; his next, The Freewheelin' Bob Dylan, was entirely original songs, including the protest masterpieces "Blowin' in the Wind," "Masters of War," and "Hard Rain's a-Gonna Fall." "Positively 4th Street," a putdown of false friends and "plastic people," first appeared on his 1967 Greatest Hits album, but is thought to have been written in 1965, shortly after Dylan began experimenting with folk rock.


Woody Guthrie, Leadbelly, Jesse Fuller, Mance Lipscomb, Pete Seeger, Ramblin' Jack Elliot


Must Haves:

    "Hard Rain's a-Gonna Fall"
    "The Times They Are a-Changin'"
    "Subterranean Homesick Blues"
    "Like a Rolling Stone"


Every rock songwriter since 1961, but especially Bruce Springsteen, Lou Reed, Steely Dan, John Prine, Robbie Robertson



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