Skip navigation

Tag Archives: Bob Dylan

Singer says Murder Most Foul, recorded a while back, is a gift to fans for their support and loyalty over the years

Bob Dylan has released his first original music in eight years, a 17-minute long song about the JFK assassination.

A ballad set to piano, strings and light drums, Murder Most Foul retells the 1963 killing in stark terms, imagining Kennedy being led to the slaughter like a sacrificial lamb they blew off his head while he was still in the car / shot down like a dog in broad daylight. He paints an epic portrait of an America in decline ever since, but offered salvation of a sort in pop music: the Beatles, Woodstock festival, Charlie Parker, the Eagles and Stevie Nicks are all referenced in its lyrics.

Dylan made subtle reference to the coronavirus crisis as he launched the song on Twitter. Greetings to my fans and followers with gratitude for all your support and loyalty across the years, he said. This is an unreleased song we recorded a while back that you might find interesting. Stay safe, stay observant and may God be with you.

Dylans recent albums have featured cover versions of American pop standards. The most recent was triple album Triplicate in 2017. His last album of original songs was Tempest in 2012.

Murder Most Foul is also the first original song he has released since he became the first songwriter to be awarded the Nobel prize for literature, in 2016.

Read more:

Guitarist Robbie Robertson helped to change music history with Bob Dylans backing group the Band. He remembers how the brotherhood ended in heroin addiction and self-destruction

In 1965 Robbie Robertson was living in the room next to Bob Dylans at New Yorks Chelsea hotel. This was when Dylan was writing Blonde on Blonde. The television was on. There was music playing. The phone was ringing. There were people coming and going and he was writing away on his typewriter. I thought, I dont even understand how somebody can close off the outside world like that and concentrate. This guy is from another planet, Robertson says. But for a while he shared that planet, or came as close to sharing it as any musician did at the time.

Robertson was the lead guitarist of the Band (then known as The Hawks), the five-piece group that backed Dylan when he first went electric: essentially, they supplied the noise that the acoustic-loving crowds booed on tour. But while the collaboration changed the course of music history, it had another, quieter and more personal effect on the Band, shifting the dynamics of what Robertson calls their brotherhood, the way the five of them related.

This brotherhood is clearly on Robertsons mind, because after a lifetime of writing steadfastly unautobiographical songs, the most powerful track on his new solo album, Sinematic, mourns the demise of his band family three of whom are dead. His new documentary, Once Were Brothers, which shares its title with that song, sees Robertson pottering around his music room, looking back on what made the Band tick as a collective, and what he lost in losing them. It is fair to say he is in a memoiristic phase.

The Band at Woodstock, 1968 (from left): Richard Manuel, Robbie Robertson, Levon Helm, Garth Hudson and Rick Danko. Photograph: Elliott Landy/LandyVision, Inc

For a long time I thought I wanted to be private, Robertson says, on the phone from Los Angeles, where he lives. But at this stage he is 76 it all comes flowing out and I cant stop it. I would put our story up against any musical group in the history of the world.

Eric Clapton, Bruce Springsteen, Van Morrison, Martin Scorsese (the films executive producer) and George Harrison as well as Dylan are among the greats happy to say how great the Band, and Robertson in particular, were. Clapton even disbanded Cream whose sound had become increasingly strident after he heard their debut album, Music From Big Pink, in 1968, with its quiet, homespun roots air. But while Robertsons music with the Band has touched the work of so many important musicians, he is still mostly regarded as interesting for whom he influenced rather than in his own right, like a person who has many claims to fame, but somehow isnt a celebrity himself.

I wonder if he minds being of interest primarily for music that he made so long ago, for his relationship to, and impact on, other, more famous, musicians. Its a big part of the journey and a big part of the story, and I completely understand that, he says. But its not what I do. Its what I did.

Robertson was born in Toronto. His mother, who was Mohawk, had grown up on the Six Nations of the Grand River Reserve, and as a child he used to visit family there. It seemed to me that everybody played a musical instrument or sang or danced. I thought, Ive got to get in on this club! I said, I think a guitar looks pretty cool. So his mother bought him one with a cowboy painted on it. I thought it was very ironic that Indians would teach me to play guitar with a picture of a cowboy on.

By 15 he was proficient enough to be hanging around rockabilly Ronnie Hawkins when he played in Toronto, captivated by Levon Helm on drums, sticks flying, white hair blazing and only three years Robertsons senior. He seemed to glow in the dark, Robertson says. Robertson was an only child; Helm became a kind of sibling. With Levon I was the younger brother, learning and growing.

Bob Dylan and Robbie Robertson go electric at the Academy of Music, Philadelphia in 1966. Photograph: Charlie Steiner/Getty Images

Fellow Canadians Rick Danko, Richard Manuel and Garth Hudson joined the band to complete the brotherhood, and after they split from Hawkins, they continued to play as Levon and the Hawks. Helm was the nominal leader, Hudson was classically trained and reclusive, Danko good-looking and soulful, and Manuel from the start was cherished as sensitive and vulnerable: From a very young age, we understood that Richard had a difficulty with alcohol and addiction, Robertson says. (Manuel killed himself when he was 42.) And what of Robertson? What part did he play in the brotherhood?

Everybody did something that raised the level of what we were doing to a stronger place, he says. His something was the main part of the creative direction of where this group would go. He became less of a brother and more of an adult in the room. He negotiated with the bands manager Albert Grossman, whom they shared with Dylan took a growing charge of the songwriting and, as Danko, Helm and Manuel became increasingly interested in heroin, he tried to keep them focused on music.

It must have been tough to play both parent and brother. Didnt it create a sense of difference between him and his bandmates? After all, Helm was critical of Robertson in his 1993 autobiography, This Wheels on Fire, for the way he distributed songwriting credits (Robertson got most of them). I didnt feel any separate feeling, he says. What everybody gravitated to was what they could bring to the table. So they leaned on me, in the best sense of the expression, to really take care of business.

In his 2016 memoir, Testimony, Robertson writes about his parents alcoholism, and that of his wife Dominique (now ex-wife, but they remain close and both live in LA, as do their children). He also logs the uses and abuses of his bandmates, especially Danko, Manuel and Helms use of heroin. Did he try it? Yeah, it wasnt for me, he says. But if you smoke grass or take a psychedelic or if you did coke or anything, you were in no position to be scolding anybody.

Early starter Robbie Robertson.

And I didnt know anybody that didnt do drugs. It was such a normal. But what I did discover was that when it got in the way of what I wanted to do, when [I felt] Holy ! Im going to die if I keep living this way, I went in the other direction. My addiction was work. He pauses. And still is, he adds. He has a habit of bringing his recollections back to the present, and for someone who celebrates a love of storytelling, his enjoyment seems rather ambivalent. I cant help feeling there is only so far he wants to go.

Robertson also regards Dylan as still part of the brotherhood. He was 22 when they met. They became so close that Robertson was the only witness to Dylans wedding to Sara Lownds in 1965. And then, of course, there were the electric tours, all those angry audiences. It was like we went through the war together, Robertson says. Were going to be in it for ever, just because of what we went through.

When people boo you night after night, it can affect your confidence. Anybody else would have said, Well, the audience isnt liking this, lets change what were doing. We didnt budge. We went out there and just played this music and the more they booed, the louder we got. Inside of us we felt, This is a revolution. And were part of this revolution, and were going to go through with it. Later, of course, came The Basement Tapes weeks of laidback, lumberjack-shirted recordings with Dylan from the Bands Woodstock home.

In this light, Dylans contribution to Robertsons documentary the Band were gallant knights for standing behind him seems slight. But Robertson says it is extraordinary that he contributed at all. Bob doesnt do anything like this, ever.

The two are no longer close. Robertson was the only member of the Band not to feature in Dylans 30th anniversary celebration in Madison Square Gardens in 1993. He was in somewhere else, he says, as if that were a place.

And although a few years ago he and Dylan ran into each other at an event and caught up a bit, they have less in common now. Hes always on the road, and Im never on the road. Hes out there, and I think that keeps the blood flowing for him, and I admire that very much. But thats not what Im interested in I havent talked to him in a long time.

After Dylan watched Once Were Brothers, so he could sign the release, he called me and said, My God, I started watching this, and I got completely hooked. I love this film! He especially liked the part where Robertson talks about his mother, whom Dylan also knew (the two musicians lunched with each others mothers: I know! Robertson says. It doesnt seem like we would be the type!) Now he and Dylan have got an idea that we might pursue together, so well see what happens.

I said, guys, Im not going back on tour with you. I had this fear inside … Robbie Robertson. Photograph: David Jordan Williams

Robertson has just finished the music for Scorseses new film, The Irishman. Sinematic was released this month, he is writing the second volume of his autobiography and assembling the 50th anniversary collection of the Band, out in November. Im not lazy! he exclaims, a realisation he describes as a wake-up call but he sounds happy to be busy, and Im not convinced its news to him.

I am so into what I am doing now, he says. I do revisit special things in my heart about this brotherhood. But Im very much, like, 90% of it is what Im doing today and what I need to do tomorrow. Im always wanting to move forward.

It was Robertson who organised the Bands farewell concert, The Last Waltz, in 1976, partly, he says, because of my deep concerns for Richard [Manuel]s wellbeing. It was shattering to me when Richard died. I was afraid of this for many years. The idea was to be protective. Because although we were all riding in the caravan, some people were much more vulnerable to the disease of addiction than others.

Dylan, Joni Mitchell, Neil Young, Van Morrison and others contributed to the show, which Scorsese also filmed the start of a long working relationship. Robertson hoped that afterwards the Band would regroup in the studio. But he was the only one to turn up. He has always depicted the end of the Band as a surprise but this seems at odds with the concept of a supremely elaborate farewell concert.

Our plan was we were going to put the road aside, to take a break. And then, as I said in the film, when I realised everybody forgot to come back, I had to read the writing on the wall, he says.

That word forgot feels like a bit of a narrative liberty. After all, the other members of the Band reunited in 1983. Even after Manuel died in 1986, Hudson, Helm and Danko carried on without Robertson. So didnt he leave them? They got in touch and said, We want to go out and do some playing, and is it OK that we use the name the Band? Because they didnt have a creative outlet like me. By then Robertson was writing music for film.

I said, Guys, go ahead. If you want to go in and make a beautiful record, Im first in line. But Im not going back on the road with you. I knew what was going on with Richard, Rick and Levon, still. And I had this fear inside. It could be dark. And it could be dangerous. And as it turned out, it was.

I cant help wondering whether memoir is a way to self-soothe, to sort through the difficult circumstances that led to the Bands demise, the pain of the distance from Helm in particular towards the end of his life. But Robertson sounds perplexed by the question. He says he is only celebrating their amazing journey.

The other living member of the brotherhood is Hudson, who is 82 and lives in Woodstock. Archive audio of his voice features in this documentary, but no new interview. Garth is a recluse and he doesnt talk, Robertson says. He has a health issue. I dont think it would be respectful to Garth to show that he is not feeling that well, and to not be able to show him in a shining light.

So it falls to Robertson to tell the Bands story and, by telling it, to own it. Does this inequality with his brothers trouble him, especially since at its heart the Band was a celebration of the collective?

Inequality to the other guys? he asks, sounding puzzled. Like I said, early on they just kind of pushed me out there and said, Tell them what were trying to say. And because I was the creative writer in this group, and I also have the ability to whatever you call it … lead the charge, everybody enjoyed that I would take that responsibility. That I would do the dirty work in that way. So it fell on me. It fell on me and I respect it and I try to tell the most honest version of the story I can.

Its a fair point, yet for a memoirist, he seems pretty averse to reflection. Im not going to get moopy or soppy or mushy, he says. Its just not the cloth Im cut from.

Robbie Robertsons album Sinematic and documentary Once Were Brothers are out now.

Read more:

Trouble No More combines concert footage with specially commissioned sermons

The acute and sometimes obtuse angles of Bob Dylans career have teased and infuriated his public for more than half a century. But nothing not the bizarre Christmas album, his no-show at the Nobel ceremony or allowing his music to be used in a Victorias Secret lingerie ad has provoked the degree of derision that greeted his conversion to Christianity at the end of the 1970s, which is the subject of a film to be shown on the BBC later this month.

Vainly anticipating the oneiric visions of Mr Tambourine Man and the dazzling surrealism of Desolation Row, his audiences felt betrayed when the seemingly conventional opening line of a new composition Are you ready? was followed by a fusillade of more uncomfortably precise demands expressing his newfound faith: Are you ready for the judgement? Are you ready for the terrible swift sword? Are you ready for Armageddon? Are you ready for the day of the Lord?

Many were not. Dylans Christianity was of the earnest, unyielding variety, and listeners who had responded to the sceptical injunctions of his early work Dont follow leaders, he had told them in Subterranean Homesick Blues were repelled by his new allegiance to the Christian deity, even when some of the resulting songs, such as Slow Train Coming and Every Grain of Sand, turned out to be pretty good.

His friend Allen Ginsberg had a more positive view: He seemed to be trying to transcend himself into something else, which I thought was healthy, the poet said after attending one of the concerts. But, as so often in Dylans career, it turned out to be a passing phase, lasting from 1979 to 1981. Jesus himself only preached for three years, he told a reporter from the Los Angeles Times, possibly with his tongue in his cheek.

The recorded legacy of that brief period was largely overlooked until the release late last year of Trouble No More, a compilation of concert recordings from the born-again period, the 13th volume of his long-running Bootleg Series of previously unreleased material. Accompanying the 150, eight-CD deluxe edition of the recordings was a ninth disc containing a new hourlong film that casts a more benign light on Dylans adventures in evangelism.

Luc Sante, who wrote the sermons for Trouble No More: My instructions from Bob included one to go easy on the fire and brimstone. Photograph: Tim Knox/Guardian

Working with newly unearthed film of concerts in the spring of 1980, the director Jennifer Lebeau exploits the close-up footage to reveal not just the high quality of Dylans performances (I think he was probably singing better than hed sung in many years, his guitarist Fred Tackett said) but the degree of his commitment to the message he was trying to put over. This had escaped the attention of stadium audiences in an era before the introduction of giant screens.

Lebeau was also asked by the Dylan camp to break up the concert footage with half a dozen two-minute sermons. Not the ones with which the singer had regaled his audiences almost 40 years ago but diatribes on designated themes hypocrisy, virtue, temperance, gluttony, justice and prudence commissioned from the writer and critic Luc Sante.

My instructions from Bob included one to go easy on the fire and brimstone, Sante who, at 63, is 13 years younger than Dylan said this week from his home in upstate New York.

Instead the writer, who was brought up as a Catholic but had not attended church in 50 years, found inspiration in the recordings of African American preachers of the 1920s. Men like the Rev JM Gates, the Rev AW Nix and the Rev DC Rice were huge sellers in their day. They were southern preachers and their words brought comfort to a great many people who had moved north in the Great Migration and were perhaps feeling lonely and isolated.

The sermons are delivered against the stained glass windows of an Episcopalian church on New Yorks Upper East Side by the actor Michael Shannon, recently seen as a villainous US army colonel in The Shape of Water, the winner of the 2018 Oscar for best picture. In a variety of sharp three-piece suits, Shannon stays just this side of a caricature of the typical 1970s televangelist while biting down hard on Santes words: Justice is not always served on this earth! Sometimes the wicked are rewarded and the virtuous are made to suffer. That may happen in this life, but it will not happen in the next

Read more:

The collection, entitled Triplicate, will feature 30 reinterpretations of songs made famous by Frank Sinatra, Billie Holiday and others

How many cover versions by Bob Dylan can you handle? Because this year looks set to throw quite a few at you. The singer has announced that he will release not just an album, not just a double album, but a triple album featuring new recordings of classics from the great American songbook.

The album, called Triplicate, will see the Nobel prize winner reinterpret 30 songs made famous by the likes of Frank Sinatra and Billie Holiday, including September of My Years and Day In, Day Out. Dylan has long been fascinated by the history and traditions of American popular song, and has previously released Shadows in the Night (2015) and Fallen Angels (2016), which featured new versions of songs recorded by Sinatra.

Hear some previous versions of the songs on Bob Dylans Triplicate

Triplicate will be available on 31 March. The full track listing runs as follows.

Disc 1 Til the Sun Goes Down

Side 1
1. I Guess Ill Have to Change My Plans
2. September of My Years
3. I Could Have Told You
4. Once Upon a Time
5. Stormy Weather

Side 2
1. This Nearly Was Mine
2. That Old Feeling
3. It Gets Lonely Early
4. My One and Only Love
5. Trade Winds

Disc 2 Devil Dolls

Side 1
1. Braggin
2. As Time Goes By
3. Imagination
4. How Deep Is the Ocean
5. PS I Love You

Side 2
1. The Best Is Yet to Come
2. But Beautiful
3. Heres That Rainy Day
4. Where Is the One
5. Theres a Flaw in My Flue

Disc 3 Comin Home Late

Side 1
1. Day In, Day Out
2. I Couldnt Sleep a Wink Last Night
3. Sentimental Journey
4. Somewhere Along the Way
5. When the World Was Young

Side 2
1. These Foolish Things
2. You Go to My Head
3. Stardust
4. Its Funny to Everyone But Me
5. Why Was I Born?

Read more:

Guitar-playing horror legend speaks out against literary authors such as Gary Shteyngart and Irvine Welsh who have scorned the singers award

Stephen King has come to the defence of Bob Dylans Nobel prize for literature, accusing those who oppose the award of sour grapes.

According to King, no other musician has had such an impact on popular culture or remained so influential for so long as Dylan. In an interview with Rolling Stone, the horror writer defended the songwriter against his detractors, particularly the authors who had rubbished Dylans win: People complaining about his Nobel either dont understand or its just a plain old case of sour grapes.

Levelling his gaze directly at novelist Gary Shteyngart, he added: Ive seen several literary writers who have turned their noses up at the Dylan thing, like Gary Shteyngart. Well, Ive got news for you, Gary There are a lot of deserving writers who have never gotten the Nobel prize. And Gary Shteyngart will probably be one of them.

When the news of the award broke, Shteyngart tweeted: I totally get the Nobel committee. Reading books is hard. He was not alone in the literary world; a legion of authors were disappointed with the decision, including Hari Kunzru and Irvine Welsh, the latter writing that Dylans win was ill-conceived nostalgia award bestowed by senile, gibbering hippies. Chocolat author Joanne Harris tweeted: Is this the first time that a back catalogue of song lyrics has been judged eligible for a literary prize?

Axe man Stephen King playing alongside Amy Tan in the Rock Bottom Remainders in 1998. Photograph: Michael C York/AP

King said the musician, whose laureateship was announced in October, had opened the door for a lot of people. I would argue that without Dylan, Paul Simon maybe ends up in the Brill Building, writing songs like Hey Schoolgirl like he did in the beginning, he told the magazine.

Though King who has himself been a singer and guitarist in the writers band Rock Bottom Remainders admitted he had never met the Blowin in the Wind writer, he said his friend John Mellencamp had told him Dylan wouldnt even turn up at the dentist when he had a toothache. He said that Bob was at his house once and he was complaining about a toothache. I guess he doesnt go to the doctor or anything. He said, Man, John, I got this terrible toothache. Its killing me. John said, Well, Ive got some Advil. And Bob gave him this long look and said, You trying to get me hooked?

Dylan has seemed as embarrassed by the accolade as some of his detractors. After the announcement, the Nobel committee was unable to contact him to invite him to the award ceremony in Sweden on 10 December. He finally emerged to say thank you at the end of October after Per Wstberg, a member of the Swedish Academy, told Swedish TV that Dylans attitude had been impolite and arrogant.

He broke his silence with a call to the academys permanent secretary, Sara Danius, to say: I appreciate the honour so much. The news about the Nobel prize left me speechless. But though grateful, he said he was unable to make the ceremony and sent a speech to be read out by a member of the academy, after singer Patti Smith performs a specially arranged version of the singers 1963 track A Hard Rains a-Gonna Fall.

King said that Dylans writing had influenced him from the moment he heard it at the age of 14, while in the back of a car on the way home from a movie. There was a guy on WBZ radio out of Boston he played Subterranean Homesick Blues. Hearing it was like being electrified. It was like this pressurised dump of lyrics and images.

His love of the singer has filtered down three generations of the King family, he added: My kids listen to Dylan, and so do my grandkids. Thats three generations. Thats real longevity and quality. Most people in pop music are like moths around a bug light; they circle for a while and then theres a bright flash and theyre gone. Not Dylan.

Read more:

Singer to perform A Hard Rains a-Gonna Fall in Stockholm, while speech will be read out on literature laureates behalf

Patti Smith will perform one of Bob Dylans best-known tracks at the Nobel prize banquet in his absence, and a speech written by the Nobel literature laureate will be read out on his behalf.

Dylan was named the winner of this years Nobel prize for literature but, after a long period of silence about his thoughts on the accolade, last month confirmed he would not attend the ceremony.

Instead, the Swedish Academy has said Smith will be attending in his place to perform a version of his 1963 track A Hard Rains a-Gonna Fall, specially arranged for the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra by Swedish conductor Hans Ek.

Read more:

Swedish Academy that awarded him 2016 Nobel literature prize says other commitments prevent singer from collecting it in person

Bob Dylan has told the Nobel prize committee he will not be attending the ceremony in Sweden to pick up his accolade.

Dylan was named winner of this years Nobel prize for literature in October for his vast body of lyrics and poetry but has since been reluctant to publicly acknowledge the honour.

The 75-year-olds silence led him to be labelled arrogant by one member of the Nobel academy, and a brief message on his website that he was the the winner of the Nobel prize for literature 2016 was taken down the next day.

It took two weeks for the singer and songwriter, who has a notoriously troubled relationship to his own fame, to accept a call from the permanent secretary of the academy, Sara Danius. He told them he had been left speechless by the honour and later said in an interview he would absolutely attend an award ceremony if its at all possible.

However, in a personal letter to the academy, Dylantold them he wishes he could receive the prize personally, but other commitments make it unfortunately impossible.

He underlined that he feels incredibly honoured by the Nobel prize, they added.

The Swedish Academy said it respects Bob Dylans decision but stressed it is unusual for a Nobel laureate not to come to Stockholm to accept the award in person.

Dylan is not alone in not attending the ceremony. Novelist Doris Lessing was too old, playwright Harold Pinter was in hospital and writer Elfriede Jelinek had crippling social phobia. Nonetheless, the academy noted: The prize still belongs to them, just as it belongs to Bob Dylan.

As this years Nobel laureate, Dylan is required to give a lecture on a subject connected with the work for which the prize has been awarded. The lecture should be given before, or no later than six months after, the Nobel Prize award ceremony in Stockholm in December.

Making the award announcement in October, Danius the academy hoped the news would be received with joy, but you never know.

She compared Dylans work to that of ancient Greek writers Homer and Sappho. Asked about the comparison, Dylan said: I suppose so, in some way. Some [of my own] songs Blind Willie, The Ballad of Hollis Brown, Joey, A Hard Rain, Hurricane and some others definitely are Homeric in value.

The decision to award Dylan the Nobel prize was not without controversy. The French Moroccan writer Pierre Assouline described the decision as contemptuous of writers while Irvine Welsh, the author of Trainspotting, said that although he was a Dylan fan, this is an ill-conceived nostalgia award wrenched from the rancid prostates of senile, gibbering hippies.

Will Self also called on Dylan to follow the example of the French philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre and turn down the prize.

However, before he died, Dylans songwriting peer and friend Leonard Cohen said that no prizes were necessary to recognise the indelible mark records like Highway 61 Revisited had made on popular music. To me, he said, [the Nobel] is like pinning a medal on Mount Everest for being the highest mountain.

Read more:

Dylans Nobel prize win sparked a debate about lyrics as literature. Here, Andrew Motion, Carol Ann Duffy, Johnny Marr, Naomi Alderman and others nominate songwriters whose verse has the power of poetry

Bob Dylan by Andrew Motion

Dylans Nobel laureateship has proved controversial which was presumably a part of the reason for awarding it to him in the first place. To shake things up a bit. But as a counterweight to those who think he shouldnt have got the prize under any circumstances, and those who think the lyrics to the songs depend on their melody and delivery, which disqualify them from such an award, there are plenty of admirers, and plenty of ways to argue, that his words alone are certain good. The great protestations (Blowin in the Wind), the great love-murmurs (Love Minus Zero) and love-twists (Tangled Up in Blue), the great surrealist masterpieces of the Blonde on Blonde era (Visions of Johanna): all these contain the qualities we look for in poetry that matters. Concentration of language, formal expertise of one kind or another, and a clever balancing of articulacy and mystery. The same goes for his great ballads, which I love as much as any of these songs just named, and none more than his Baltimorean tragedy, The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll. Here Dylan gives his account of the murder committed by William Zanzinger, of the criminally light sentence he received, and of high office relations in the politics of Maryland, in four headlong and largely unpunctuated verses. Everything about them is alert to the literary tradition in which they work, but everything stretches and extends that tradition, walking a fine line between lyric and narrative to catch the essence of both, and tumbling through rage into sorrow at its conclusion, without diminishing either: Oh but you who philosophise disgrace and criticise all fears / Bury the rag deep in your face / For nows the time for your tears.

Andrew Motions latest collection is Peace Talks (Faber).

Cole Porter by Carol Ann Duffy

Sublime Cole Porter. Photograph: Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

The earliest poems, as the Swedish Academy is trying to remind Bob, were sung, and this lyric DNA from Sappho, Robert Burns and Christina Rossetti to Linton Kwesi Johnson persists, both off and on the page. Kate Tempests work is at its electrifying best when she performs it. Other poets (Simon Armitage, Paul Muldoon) enjoy concealing the rock stars leather jacket beneath the Oxbridge full-drag of the academic gown. (Of Armitage, the late Simon Powell, founder of Poetry Live, once affectionately remarked he is a poet who knows his RS from his Elbow.) One of the loveliest things I know is Christie Moores setting of Yeats The Song of Wandering Aengus.

I remember first hearing (in November 1967, aged nearly 12) the Beatles I Am The Walrus; how John Lennons lyrics, splicing Alice in Wonderland with a sexy surrealism, seemed to lead me, Pied Piper like, out of childhood. Thereafter, the albums I first bought as an adolescent were as much for the lyrics as for the music (teenage bedroom favourites committed fervently to memory: Leonard Cohens Suzanne; Joni Mitchells Both Sides, Now; David Bowies Oh! You Pretty Things; Simon and Garfunkels Kathys Song; Lou Reeds Perfect Day). I think our most cherished song lyrics come from our youth, when they seem to be written especially for us, and in this sense poetry has the upper hand. Lacking a backing band, it necessarily has to do more with language. It also has a less fixed relationship with time. Cole Porters songs have delighted me my whole life, so I will choose his sublime Evry Time We Say Goodbye:

Every time we say goodbye, I die a little.
Every time we say goodbye, I wonder why a little.
Why the gods above me, who must be in the know,
think so little of me they allow you to go.
And when youre near, theres such an air of spring about it.
I can hear a lark somewhere begin to sing about it.
Theres no love song finer but how strange the change
from major to minor,
every time we say goodbye.

But Im also envious of and thrilled by just one line from Little Richard in 1955 A wop bop a loo bop a lop bam boom as, I am sure, Shakespeare would have been. Anyone who disagrees should leave the gig.

Carol Ann Duffy is poet laureate. Her latest books is The Map and the Clock(Faber).

Connie Converse by Emmy the Great

Fiercely intelligent Connie Converse. Photograph: PR

Connie Converse lived in Greenwich Village in the 1950s, where she wrote self-reflective, poetic songs that broke free of the folk tradition far ahead of their time. In 2004 some of her recordings were played on a radio programme, and her music was rediscovered, poignantly late. Shed been a missing person for 30 years.

When I listen to Connie Converse, I hear the internal world of a fiercely intelligent woman. With a knack for rhyming that foreshadowed Paul Simon, she used sparkling wordplay to throw light on roving women and misfits, and find beauty in the ordinary. On my favourite song, Playboy of the Western World, she sings, When he walked through a room, it looked as handsome as Napoleons tomb / and the Ford he rode could have been Mercedes-Benz a la mode

Her story, marked by doomed ambition and the mystery of her disappearance, creates a satisfyingly tragic myth of an outsider artist, but her recordings, which were made by a friend at his kitchen table, are warm and alive. As her voice tumbles playfully over her melodies, pausing for funny, self-deprecating remarks, there is no room for the troubles of the future, only the fragile charm of Connie and her compositions.

To me, shes a patron saint of singer-songwriters, a reminder to leave something of yourself in that moment, no matter who ends up listening.

Emmy the Great is touring the UK in November and December. Her album Second Loveis out now.

Leonard Cohen by Polly Samson

His lyrics cut to the core of human existence Leonard Cohen. Photograph: Edmond/Sipa/Rex/Shutterstock

I dont feel militant about Bob Dylans Nobel prize. I can argue it from either side: on behalf of pop music, which is an art form that doesnt need to be validated with a prize for something it isnt, or conversely as someone who writes lyrics and knows it sometimes doesnt feel very different from writing words that are not intended to be sung.

That said, most great lyrics work because they are wedded to the right piece of music and the union of their parts is more potent as a song. Leonard Cohen rewards reading on the page and this is why to my mind, it is Cohen who lives alone above them all, Dylan included, on the uppermost floor of the Tower of Song.

Maybe this is because Cohen started out as a poet and words have always been his primary form of expression. He had published several collections, two novels, and garnered praise as well as at least one literary prize before he ever set his words to music. His lyrics exist like poems or short stories that cut to the core of human existence, and many of them have the same impact and interest when read divorced from their music. He can be brilliantly funny too: On ageing: I ache in the places where I used to play. On sexual jealousy: And then I confess that I tortured the dress that you wore for the world to look through. On the competition: And all the lousy little poets coming round trying to sound like Charlie Manson.

There isnt another singer-songwriter whose lyrics Id read before listening.

The Kindness by Polly Samsonis published by Bloomsbury.

Nicki Minaj by Naomi Alderman

Cultural references and tricksy wordplay Nicki Minaj. Photograph: Chris McKay/WireImage

I taught a class on the lyrics of Nicki Minaj during a week of thinking about experimental literature at the Arvon creative writing centre in Devon. Were going to have to work on this, I told them, like youd work on a page of Chaucer, going over it again and again until we understand it. And the lyrics repay the work.

Its easy to think that bar a few notable exceptions such as Eimear McBrides wonderful writing the dense, allusive stream-of-consciousness style of Woolf and Joyce is these days just an experimental backwater of mainstream literature, loved by a few aficionados, ignored by the majority. But difficult writing, filled with cultural references and tricksy wordplay hasnt vanished at all: its taken up residence in rap lyrics.

When I taught Nicki Minaj, we spent a long time looking at the lyrics of her verse in Kanye Wests song Monster. As the title suggests, its a piece about monstrosity, about knowing oneself to be an ego-monster but also realising that monstrosity is demanded by ones audience. It features not only West but also Bon Iver, Rick Ross and Jay-Z. But Minajs verse blows them all out of the water.

Minaj namechecks familiar brands and characters: Willy Wonka, Tonka trucks, Bride of Chucky. Theyre childrens toys, or childlike but monstrous. Minaj is comparing herself to them: she might look like a toy, but shes as sinister as Wonka, as deadly as a murderous doll, as powerful as a monster truck. And theres a beautiful piece of wordplay in the line: You could be the King but watch the Queen conquer. Just swap the words King and Queen and say it out loud. I may be a woman, says Nicki Minaj in this verse, I may dress in pink, but underestimate me at your peril. Im a motherfucking monster.

The Power byNaomi Alderman is published by Viking.

Lou Reed by Johnny Marr

Documenting the more subversive side of human nature Lou Reed Photograph: Adam Ritchie/Redferns

Ill Be Your Mirror by Velvet Underground is just one example of Lou Reeds genius:

When you think the night has seen your mind
That inside youre twisted and unkind
Let me stand to show that you are blind
Please put down your hands
cause I see you.

His reputation for documenting the more subversive side of human nature is well known, but it doesnt tell the whole story of a writer who had real insight into human frailty and vulnerability cruelty too; Caroline says, as she gets up off the floor, Why is it that you beat me?, it isnt any fun. He turned slang into poetry, very deliberately using modern language to tell his stories of the city, and he made street talk into literature. His titles alone make him as good as anybody; Satellite of Love, Venus in Furs, White Light / White Heat almost define the rock era, and that the young man who first became known for writing a song called Im Waiting for the Man at the age of 23 could turn his talent to write Perfect Day, a song which would surely be a contender for song most universally loved, says it all.

Set the Boy Free by Johnny Marr is published on 3 November by Century.

John Lennon by Amit Chaudhuri

Musical and conceptual intelligence John Lennon with Yoko Ono in 1968. Photograph: Jane Bown

Unlike Paul McCartney, after the breakup of the Beatles, Lennon never returned to the remarkable and noticeably unusual songs hed written when he was in the band. McCartney sang Yesterday, Hey Jude, and other Beatles numbers in his concerts, putting his seal of ownership on them; Lennon only occasionally emerged from semi-retirement, and its no longer clear what he thought of Norwegian Wood, Being for the Benefit of Mr Kite, In My Life, Revolution No 9, or Across the Universe. Like Rimbaud, it was as if hed sloughed off his former self like a skin while crossing a border.

Yet Lennons musical and conceptual intelligence, and his approach to the pop record, were fundamental to the Beatles evolution: there is no challenge presented, post-Beatles, by the recordings of its other members. Only Lennon continued to shock, delight, move and surprise. Theres the first album, John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band, which was made as if it were meant to have no listener but Lennon, counsellor to his own pain, assessor of his own worldview: God is a concept by which we measure our pain / Ill say it again / I dont believe in magic / I dont believe in I-Ching / I dont believe in Bible / I dont believe in Gita / I dont believe in Elvis / I dont believe in Zimmerman / I dont believe in Beatles / I just believe in me, Yoko and me, and thats reality. In this album, Lennon turned the flu-afflicted scream hed unleashed long ago in Twist and Shout into a hurt, spiritual roar, a hurt he also expressed in the most tender melodies, in Love and Hold On, and in the tranquil, scathing detachment of Working Class Hero. Lennons greatest achievement in the artistic domain was his ability to say no; this, rather than ideology, was what made him political, as well as philosophically unique. This unforgiving but liberating quality of refusal is there in the second album, Imagine, and though the title song became a bestseller, its message, if you ignore the comforting hook, sweetly advocates the same radical loneliness that God had earlier: Imagine theres no heaven / Its easy if you try / No hell below us / Above us only sky. Very different from Zimmerman.

Odysseus Abroadby Amit Chaudhuri is published by Oneworld.

Joni Mitchell by Kathryn Williams

Conversational, poetic, philosophical, barbed Joni Mitchell. Photograph: Jack Robinson/Getty Images

What do Joni Mitchells songs mean to me? Well, she says it best on the title track of Blue they are permanently under my skin: Songs are like tattoos, you know Ive been to sea before crown and anchor me, or let me sail away.

The first Joni Mitchell record I bought was her first album, on vinyl. I grew into her way of speaking in song, started to learn her phrasing and began to collect more of her albums. It was like collecting glass marbles. The spherical shape was the same, but with a different coloured flame inside, twisted in a different spiral.

Joni can be conversational, poetic, philosophical, barbed and make all that happen in one line: Just before our love got lost you said / I am as constant as a northern star / and I said, Constantly in the darkness, wheres that at? / If you want me, Ill be in the bar The shapes of the words and how they move alongside each other are perfectly formed, perfect to sing. The Last Time I Saw Richard is the prophetic song for all of us romantics to fear. It unfolds like a Raymond Carver poem. Showing not telling, and utterly heartbreaking.

As a songwriter, a female one at that, people comment on my singing voice far more than my lyrics. Its as though they think we are not responsible for the words, just our voice. And I think that Joni Mitchell is often overlooked as the amazing lyricist she is. But she is a painter and her lyrics are a full sensory event. Pictures form in my head, I feel her pain, and I am taken to the places she sings about. I see her as a patron saint. She makes writing lyrics seem effortless but there is only one Joni Mitchell.

Resonator by Kathryn Williams is released on 11 November.

Paul McCartney by Blake Morrison

He can do sad as well as happy Paul McCartney. Photograph: David Redfern/Redferns

Not many songwriters appear in poetry anthologies. Cole Porter, Bob Dylan and Leonard Cohen are among those who have, or who deserve to, but the odds are always against it, both for good reasons (without voice, melody, orchestration and arrangement, few lyrics work on the page) and for bad (literary snobbery on the one hand, and the exorbitant cost of permission fees on the other). Karl Miller was sticking his neck out when he included Eleanor Rigby (and Pink Floyds Arnold Layne) in his Penguin anthology Writing in England Today (1968), along with Philip Larkin, Seamus Heaney and Thom Gunn. But he was right to recognise its poetic resonance from the surreal image of Eleanor Rigby wearing the face that she keeps in the jar by the door to the detail of Father McKenzie wiping the dirt from his hands as he walks from the grave, its a plangent evocation of modern day loneliness.

McCartney is sometimes dismissed as sentimental (the schmaltzy foil to the bad-boy cool of Lennon) but Eleanor Rigby is as bleak as anything by Samuel Beckett: no one listens to Father McKenzies sermon, no one comes to Eleanor Rigbys funeral, no one was saved. Its a reminder of the range of tones McCartney is or was capable of: in this case melancholy (all the lonely people) but elsewhere parody (Back in the USSR), comedy (Lovely Rita), satire (Paperback Writer), nostalgia (Penny Lane) and raucous boogie-woogie (Lady Madonna). He can do sad as well as happy, moody monologue as well as sing-along. And at best the words escape whatever it was that set him off, leaving room for us to inhabit them: Ive been listening to Fixing a Hole since its release and Im still working out what it means.

Shingle Street by Blake Morrison is published by Chatto & Windus.

Mary Margaret OHara by Lavinia Greenlaw

An impression of distillation and deep thought Mary Margaret OHara Photograph: Antonio Olmos for the Observer

When I was 19 and newly in the grip of writing, I joined a band. Asked to produce lyrics, I intensified my poems. Perhaps I thought that they could be freeze-dried and then rehydrated with a tune. The results were ungainly. Good singer-songwriters must have an extra layer of judgment that enables them to see what most of us need to be shown. Mary Margaret OHara is best known for Miss America (1988), and has released just one album since.

She builds songs out of spare phrases that light each other as the parts of a poem should. She sings this way too, as if making a series of gestures which have taken their time to become clear. You get the impression of distillation and deep thought in the making of songs that resist their own weight: You just want to push somebody / And a body wont let you. Just want to move somebody / And a body wont let you. OHara resists stabilisation, something I understood when I saw her perform live. She has a decisive but off-kilter way of moving a lurch, a flick of the hand, a foot stamp that are impossible to relate to what youre hearing. Its as if she has a sense of detail so latent that no one else can detect it. Her lyrics are published in brief lines full of quiet swerves: So sorry if I cant stop pretending / So sorry if I dont let you go / Like this but not like this is ending / I think you know. / I think you know. / Help me lift you up. They can be heartbreaking in their generosity.

A Double Sorrow: Troilus and Criseydeby Lavinia Greenlaw is published by Faber.

Nick Cave by Ian Rankin

Darkly compelling Nick Cave. Photograph: Kerry Brown

Hands up who wants to die?!! Those were the first frantic words I heard Nick Cave sing. Theyre from the opening track of a 1983 four-track EP by the Birthday Party, a thing of Grand Guignol excess culminating in a four-minute horror film (Deep in the Woods). From the beginning, Cave was an artist who immersed the listener in revelatory imagery and creeping doom. The Old Testament, delta blues, and Sergio Leone westerns infused his song writing. He could be urgent and kinetic, or mellow and thoughtful. The Ship Song could have been penned by Leonard Cohen, but its hard to imagine anyone other than Cave creating darkly compelling narratives such as Red Right Hand and Jubilee Street, while his album Murder Ballads has a body count that would shame Tarantino. Caves new album, Skeleton Tree, is a starkly intense listen, foregrounded by personal tragedy. That he makes art from his loss is testament to his sense of duty to the songwriters craft, and the title track (which closes the album) is full of quiet yearning, along with acceptance and resolution. The album as a whole reminds me a little of Dylans masterpiece Blood on the Tracks. Cave himself may not be getting the Nobel any time soon, but right now he is one of our very best lyricists and storytellers. It will be fascinating to see what he does next.

Rather Be the Devilby Ian Rankin is published by Orion.

Jake Thackray by Roger McGough

A craftsman of form, language and melody Jake Thackray. Photograph: David Redfern/Redferns

I have always had a soft spot for the artists who came out of the northern music hall, folk club tradition, singer-songwriters like Stan Kelly, Mike Harding and Victoria Wood, and above all, Jake Thackray. Born in the West Riding in 1938 and educated by Jesuits in Leeds, he graduated from Durham University before leaving the country to teach in France for a number of years. And so, while we were dancing down at the Cavern, he was falling under the influence of Georges Brassens and Jacques Brel. He left as a gruff Yorkshire lad and came back a smooth, silver-tongued chansonnier.

His deep, rich baritone voice, intricate jazz-flavoured guitar playing and saucy yet timeless and sentimental lyrics made him enormously popular on the folk club circuit, and although he found nationwide fame following regular appearances on TV programmes such as The David Frost Show and Esther Rantzens Thats Life, he found little pleasure in performing in large theatres. Staunchly Catholic and leftwing, he could never understand why people would spend their hard-earned wages listening to him.

A craftsman of form, language and melody, he wrote of jilted lovers turning to drink, of grotesque relatives, lusty blacksmiths and gabby ladies, but with more compassion than venom. His was a gentle humane satire. At the jumble sale, Where ladies of the village fight like visigoths for pillage he found love and assonance among the bric-a-brac: Romance perchance prevails at humdrum jumble sales. Sadly, and puzzlingly to his many fans, he disappeared from public view, and died in Monmouth aged 63. Had he been born in France where the poet/singer tradition is long-established and where there is little distinction between serious and popular music, Thackray would surely be recognised as the major artist many believe him to be.

The Likes of Us, featuring Roger McGough and LiTTLe MACHiNe, is out now.

Tamara Lindeman by Richard Williams

A quiet refusal of emotional simplicities Tamara Lindeman.

Bob Dylan aside, the singer-songwriter Ive listened to most over the past year, and to whom I expect to be paying attention for many more to come, is Tamara Lindeman, a 31-year-old former actor from Toronto who, under the name the Weather Station, performs songs notable for a conversational fluency, a diarists powers of observation and a quiet refusal of emotional simplicities. I see everything from multiple perspectives, she has said. Thats sort of been a weakness in life but also a strength. Im really interested to write a song where I can encompass all the different truths about a situation or all the different ways in which I see something, because it feels like thats the way things really are. The Weather Stations third album, Loyalty, significantly expanded her audience last year through songs that captured moments in life with a subtle acuity, set to flowing melodies. One of them begins: You looked so small in your coat, one hand up on the window, so long now youd been lost in thought. Another: I dont expect your love to be like mine. I trust you to know your own mind. As I know mine. Reading her verses, with their finely wrought understatement, punctuated like prose but weighted like poetry, its hard to imagine them being turned into songs; hearing them sung, its impossible to imagine them being anything else. Comparisons with any other folk-rooted Canadian singer-songwriters, female or male, are facile and misleading: this one, too, has her own voice.

The Blue Moment: Miles Daviss Kind of Blue and the Remaking of Modern Music by Richard Williams is published by Faber.

Steve Kilbey by Michel Faber

Who cares about the Nobel prize? Dylan made it cool to be Jewish, hot to be American and transformed literature. His masterpiece is himself

B efore Bob Dylan came along, there were famous poets people bought collections of Sylvia Plath and Anne Sexton; they looked to their confessional stanzas of slit-wrist recollections to feel the pain and balm. Yes, Robert Lowell was a celebrity. Bob Dylan put poetry out of business. He invented the singer-songwriter. He created the more efficient delivery system.

When I started writing, I knew I had to compete with what Bob Dylan did with language, because he preempted emotion on the page. I had to tell the truth. I had to be utter. I had to go to extremes. I am up against the sonic museum of Bob Dylan.

The Nobel? So what? Bob Dylan transformed literature. Because of him, writing is harder.

I learned from Bob Dylan that, if you are good with words, you can invent whatever life you want. That is the power of writing. Great authors create worlds, with cityscapes and neighbourhoods and characters that they choose. Ill be damned if you cant become the person you render. Bob Dylans masterpiece is himself, all his work and all the people it has affected.

He made it cool to be Jewish. He made it hot to be American. Theres Bob Dylan in Wayfarers with a cigarette, picking a fight with somebody who cares who it is? Bob Dylan knows how to smoke. He delivered a different kind of electronic mail with a Stratocaster guitar in Newport in 1965, and someone in the audience called him Judas, somehow not knowing that Bob Dylan would be flattered. He knew how to not try before effortless became a thing.

He was born Robert Zimmerman in Minnesota in 1941. The nom de plume that is Bob Dylan is the greatest work of literature ever.

I learned about beauty by listening to Bob Dylan: You angel you / Youre as fine as can be / The way you walk and the way you talk / Is the way it ought to be.

I learned how to be Jewish by listening to him: I cant help it if Im lucky.

Bob Dylan in 1965. Photograph: Sony Music

I learned how to get through cancer by listening to him: My pathway led by confusion boats / Mutiny from stern to bow / Ah, but I was so much older then / Im younger than that now.

I learned how to be a teenager by listening to him: She wears an Egyptian ring / That sparkles before she speaks / Shes a hypnotist collector / You are a walking antique.

I learned how to get through heartbreak by listening to him: Im going out of my mind / With a pain that stops and starts / Like a corkscrew to my heart / Ever since weve been apart.

I learned how to argue by listening to him: You got a lotta nerve to say you are my friend / When I was down you just stood there grinning / You got a lotta nerve to say you got a helping hand to lend / You just want to be on the side thats winning.

I learned how to be single by listening to him: I aint saying you treated me unkind / You could have done better but I dont mind / You just kinda wasted my precious time / But dont think twice, its all right.

I learned how to be married by listening to him: You have slayed me, you have made me / I got to laugh halfway off my heels / I got to know, babe, will I be touching you / SoI can tell if I am really real.

I learned how to be impossible by listening to him: Look out kid / Its something you did / God knows when / But youre doin it again.

I learned how to lose by listening to him: I started out out on burgundy / But soon hit the harder stuff / Everybody said theyd stand behind me / When the game got rough / But the joke was on me / There was nobody there even to call my bluff / Im going back to New York City / I do believe Ive had enough.

I learned what matters by listening to Bob Dylan: May your hands always be busy / May your feet always be swift / May you have a strong foundation / When the winds of changes shift.

I learned how to write by listening to Bob Dylan. I wanted to do with words what he did with his voice, which David Bowie said sounded like sand and glue. Yes, he is a shofar blowing for atonement, but he is also a melodic alto; he sings novels.

All over the world people learn to speak English by listening to Bob Dylan. Everybody loves Bob Dylan. Everybody knows the answer is blowing in the wind. Everybody knows you dont need a weather man to know which way the wind blows.

Bob Dylan is meteorologist to us all. Did he anticipate it or invent it? He is the author of the world we live in.

Read more:

Days after being awarded the literature prize, Bob Dylan has yet to get in touch with the Swedish Academy, or indicate whether he will attend the celebrations

The Swedish Academy says it has given up trying to reach Bob Dylan, days after it awarded him the Nobel prize in literature.

Right now we are doing nothing. I have called and sent emails to his closest collaborator and received very friendly replies. For now, that is certainly enough, the academys permanent secretary, Sara Danius, told state radio SR on Monday.

So far the American troubadour has responded with silence since he won the prize on Thursday.

He gave a concert in Las Vegas that very night, but made no mention of the accolade.

In what may have been a veiled allusion to his long-term reputation for what some have called perversity, and others an admirably dogged persistence in forging his own path, Dylans set ended with a cover of Frank Sinatras Why Try to Change Me Now.

So as a famous Dylan song may have put it to the Nobel committee how does it feel?

I am not at all worried, said Danius. I think he will show up.

Every 10 December, Nobel prize winners are invited to Stockholm to receive their awards from King Carl XVI Gustaf and to give a speech during a banquet.

If he doesnt want to come, he wont come. It will be a big party in any case and the honour belongs to him, said Danius.

Dylan, 75, whose lyrics have influenced generations of fans, is the first songwriter to win the literature prize. Other contenders included Salman Rushdie, Syrian poet Adonis and Kenyan writer Ngugi wa Thiongo.

Read more: