Half a century ago, Bob Dylan shocked the music world by plugging in an electric guitar and alienating folk purists. For decades he continued to confound expectations, selling millions of records with dense, enigmatic songwriting.

Now, Mr. Dylan, the poet laureate of the rock era, has been rewarded with the Nobel Prize in Literature, an honor that elevates him into the company of T. S. Eliot, Gabriel García Márquez, Toni Morrison and Samuel Beckett.

Mr. Dylan, 75, is the first musician to win the award, and his selection on Thursday is perhaps the most radical choice in a history stretching back to 1901. In choosing a popular musician for the literary world’s highest honor, the Swedish Academy, which awards the prize, dramatically redefined the boundaries of literature, setting off a debate about whether song lyrics have the same artistic value as poetry or novels.

Bob Dylan

Some prominent writers celebrated Mr. Dylan’s literary achievements, including Stephen King, Joyce Carol Oates and Salman Rushdie, who called Mr. Dylan “the brilliant inheritor of the bardic tradition,” adding, “Great choice.”

But others called the academy’s decision misguided and questioned whether songwriting, however brilliant, rises to the level of literature.

“Bob Dylan winning a Nobel in Literature is like Mrs Fields being awarded 3 Michelin stars,” the novelist Rabih Alameddine wrote on Twitter. “This is almost as silly as Winston Churchill.”

Jodi Picoult, a best-selling novelist, snarkily asked, “I’m happy for Bob Dylan, #ButDoesThisMeanICanWinAGrammy?”

Bob Dylan

Many musicians praised the choice with a kind of awe. On Twitter, Rosanne Cash, the songwriter and daughter of Johnny Cash, wrote simply: “Holy mother of god. Bob Dylan wins the Nobel Prize.”

But some commentators bristled. Two youth-oriented websites, Pitchfork and Vice, both ran columns questioning whether Mr. Dylan was an appropriate choice for the Nobel.

Here are Bob Dylan top 10 songs:

1) The Times They Are a-Changin’This song was released in Dylan’s 1964 album of the same name which became the anthem of change. It has been famous for its universal lyrics like ‘If your time to you is worth savin’, then you better start swimmin’ or you’ll sink like a stone for the times they are a-changin’ which holds true for any time and age. In the year of its release, the song ranked nine in the British Top ten.2) Blowing in the windThis was one of Dylan’s career-defining songs which he wrote at the age 21! The song asks rhetorical questions about a range of issues like peace, war, freedom, oppression and established Dylan as the pioneer of the protest song.3) Like a rolling stoneThis six-minute piece made it to number two on the Billboard Hot 100 and was on top of the list of Rolling Stone magazine’s ‘500 Greatest Songs Of All Time’. Released in 1965, it was far different from the singles topping charts that year. This song tells the tale of a young rich girl who falls from grace and has to fend her herself “with no direction home, like a complete unknown, like a rolling stone.4) Mr. Tambourine ManWith lyrics like “Take me on a trip upon your magic swirlin’ ship, my senses have been stripped, my hands can’t feel to grip” many interpreted this song to revolve around Dylan’s experience with drugs, though Dylan claimed to deny so. The Byrds released their version of this song, the same year as Dylan and both versions received the Grammy Hall of Fame Awards.5) Tangled up in blueThis was Dylan’s attempt to write a ‘multi-dimensional’ song as he admitted to it having “no sense of time”. This was the opening track of ‘Blood on the tracks’, an album in which many songs captured the singer’s feelings about his separation from his wife .6) HurricaneHurricane is another protest song which released in 1975 and is based on a true story of the imprisonment of boxer, Rubin ‘Hurricane’ Carter, convicted for murder. The track is a compilation of alleged acts of racism and helped spark public outrage over Carter’s imprisonment.7) Forever YoungDylan wrote this as a lullaby for his eldest son Jesse when he was 7. Lyrics like “May you grow up to be righteous, may you grow up to be true, may you always know the truth and see the lights surrounding you” expresses a father’s hopes and wishes for his child to remain strong, righteous and ambitious.8) Subterranean Homesick BluesSubterranean Homesick Blues is one of Dylan’s first electric songs and made to the top ten singles chart in United Kingdom. This was one of the few songs from the 60s with a synonymous lyric video. In the video, Dylan is holding cue cards of phrases from each line and changing each card in sync with the song.9) Lay Lady LayThis soft and soothing single was sung in a low croon. Post its release, it quickly peaked at number seven on the Billboard Hot 100 and number five of the UK Singles Chart. The track has warm and romantic lyrics like “whatever colours you have in mind, I’ll show them to you and you’ll see them shine.”10) A Hard Rains a-Gonna FallThis seven minute track is another protest song that warns against a coming apocalypse of war and has a lyrical structure based on a question-answer form. Dylan had stated that every line in this song is the start of a whole song that he didn’t have time to write.


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