Beyond Bob Dylan: authors, poets and musicians pick their favourite songwriter

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Dylans Nobel prize win triggered a debate about texts as literature. Here, Andrew Motion, Carol Ann Duffy, Johnny Marr, Naomi Alderman and others nominate songwriters whose ballad has the dominance 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 situations up a bit. But as a counterweight to those who think he shouldnt have got the loot under any circumstances, and those who imagine the texts to the lyrics depend on their theme and give, which disqualify them from such an bestow, there are plenty of supporters, and batch of the methods of disagree, that his paroles alone are certain good. The great protestations( Blowin in the Wind ), the great love-murmurs( Love Minus Zero) and love-twists( Entangled Up in Blue ), the largest surrealist masterpieces of the Blonde on Blonde epoch( Visions of Johanna ): all these contain a better quality we look for in style that matters. Concentration of usage, formal expertise of one kind or the other, and a clever balancing of articulacy and mystery. The same leads for his great ballads, which I cherish as much as any of these lyrics exactly referred, and none more than his Baltimorean tragedy, The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll. Here Dylan devotes his account of the murder be carried out by William Zanzinger, of the criminally light-headed sentence he received, and of high-pitched power relations in the politics of Maryland, in four headlong and primarily unpunctuated poems. Everything about them is alert to the literary habit in which they wield, but everything unfolds and provides that tradition, sauntering a fine wire between lyrical and narrative to catch the essence of both, and toppling through rampage into sorrow at its conclusion, without lessening either: Oh but you who philosophise dishonor and criticise all horrors/ Bury the rag deep in your look/ For nows the time for your tears.

Andrew Motions latest collect is Peace Talks ( Faber ).

Cole Porter by Carol Ann Duffy

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

The earliest song, 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 sheet. Kate Tempests run is at its electrifying good when she performs it. Other poets( Simon Armitage, Paul Muldoon) enjoy secreting the rock stars leather casing beneath the Oxbridge full-drag of the academic robe.( Of Armitage, the late Simon Powell, founder of Poetry Live, formerly affectionately remarked he is a poet who knows his RS from his Elbow .) One of the loveliest stuffs I know is Christie Moores specifying 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 words, 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 just as much for the words as for the music( teenage bedroom favourites committed fervently to recall: Leonard Cohens Suzanne; Joni Mitchells Both Sides, Now; David Bowies Oh! You Pretty Things; Simon and Garfunkels Kathys Song; Lou Reeds Perfect Day ). I conceive our most cherished carol lyricals come from our youth, when they seem to be written especially for us, and in this gumption style has the whip hand. Shortfall a endorsement circle, it necessarily has to do more with usage. It also has a less attached affair with meter. Cole Doorman anthems have satisfied me my whole life, so I will choose his sublime Evry Time We Say Goodbye 😛 TAGEND

Every time we say goodbye, I succumb 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 outpouring about it.
I can sounds a lark somewhere begin to sing about it.
Theres no charity carol finer but how strange the change
from major to minor,
every time we say goodbye.

But Im too resentful of and thrilled by merely one path 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 contradicts should leave the gig.

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

Connie Converse by Emmy the Great

Fiercely smart Connie Converse. Picture: PR

Connie Converse lived in Greenwich Village in the 1950 s, where she wrote self-reflective, poetic psalms that cracked free of the tribe institution far ahead of their season. In 2004 some of her recordings were played on a radio programme, and her music was rediscovered, poignantly sometime. Shed been a missing person for 30 years.

When I listen to Connie Converse, I hear the internal world of a fiercely intelligent dame. With a knack for rhyming that predicted Paul Simon, she used sparkling wordplay to throw light on roving women and misfits, and find attractivenes in the ordinary. On my favourite hymn, Playboy of the Western World, she sings, When he moved through a chamber, it appeared as handsome as Napoleons tomb/ and the Ford he journeyed could have been Mercedes-Benz a la mode

Her story, observed by doomed ambition and the whodunit of her departure, forms a satisfyingly terrible illusion of an outsider artist, but her preserves, who the hell is made by a friend at his kitchen table, are warm and alive. As her articulation collapses playfully over her themes, interrupting for entertaining, self-deprecating statements, there is no area for the disturbances of the future, only the fragile allure 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 objective up listening.

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

Leonard Cohen by Polly Samson

His melodics cut to the core of human universe Leonard Cohen. Picture: Edmond/ Sipa/ Rex/ Shutterstock

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

That said, most enormous texts wield because they are wedded to the right piece of music and the union of their constituents is more potent as a ballad. Leonard Cohen rewards reading on the page and this is why to my imagination, it is Cohen who lives alone above them all, Dylan included, on the uppermost flooring of the Tower of Song.

Maybe this is because Cohen started out as a poet and words have always been his primary kind of expression. He had produced various collects, two romances, and garnered kudo as well as at least one literary pillage before he ever given his texts to music. His melodics prevail like poems or short floors that cut to the core of human macrocosm, and many of them have the same blow and fascinate when speak divorced from their music. He can be brilliantly entertaining extremely: On ageing: I throb in locations where I used to play. On sex resentment: And then I confess that I tortured the dress that you wore for “the worlds” to look through. On the race: And all the crappy little poets coming round trying to definitely sounds like Charlie Manson.

There isnt another singer-songwriter whose texts Id spoke before listening.

The Kindness by Polly Samsonis published by Bloomsbury.

Nicki Minaj by Naomi Alderman

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

I learnt a class on the lyricals of Nicki Minaj during a few weeks of “ve been thinking about” experimental literature at the Arvon creative publish 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 words repay the work.

Its easy to think that saloon a few noticeable objections such as Eimear McBrides magnificent writing the dense, allusive stream-of-consciousness mode of Woolf and Joyce is these days exactly an experimental backwater of mainstream literature, affection by a few aficionados, ignored by the majority. But difficult create, filled with cultural cites and tricksy wordplay hasnt faded at all: its taken up mansion in rap lyrics.

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

Minaj namechecks familiar firebrands and reputations: Willy Wonka, Tonka trucks, Bride of Chucky. Theyre childrens playthings, or childlike but diabolical. Minaj is equating herself to them: she might look like a toy, but shes as sinister as Wonka, as deadly as a cruel doll, as powerful as a demon truck. And theres a beautiful segment 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 jeopardy. Im a motherfucking monster.

The Power byNaomi Alderman is published by Viking.

Lou Reed by Johnny Marr

Documenting the more subversive back of human nature Lou Reed Photograph: Adam Ritchie/ Redferns
Ill Be Your Reflect by Velvet Underground is just one example of Lou Reeds genius 😛 TAGEND

When you think the nighttime has construed your mind
That inside youre twisted and unkind
Let me countenance to show that you are blind
Please drop off your hands
cause I see you.

His reputation for documenting the more subversive slope of human nature also known, but it doesnt tell the whole story of a writer who had real revelation into human frailty and vulnerability brutality too; Caroline says, as she gets up off the floor, Why is it that you beat me ?, it isnt any merriment. He switched slang into verse, very deliberately applying modern speech to tell his legends of the city, and he made street talk into literature. His titles alone draw him as good as anybody; Satellite of Love, Venus in Furs, White Light/ White Heat almost define the boulder era, and that the young man who firstly became known for writing a ballad called Im Waiting for the Man at persons under the age of 23 could alter his ability to write Perfect Day, a sung which would surely be a competitor for song most universally cherished, 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 striking and perceptibly uncommon psalms hed written when he was in the band. McCartney sang Yesterday, Hey Jude, and other Beatles numbers in his concerts, putting his seal of owned 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 ego like a scalp while bridging a border.

Yet Lennons musical and conceptual ability, and his approach to the papa chronicle, would be essential to the Beatles evolution: there is no defy presented, post-Beatles, by the recordings of its other members. Exclusively Lennon continued to shock, gratify, move and astonish. 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 conception by which we appraise our sting/ Ill say it again/ I dont believes in occult/ I dont believes in I-Ching/ I dont believe in Bible/ I dont believes in Gita/ I dont believes in Elvis/ I dont believe in Zimmerman/ I dont believes in Beatles/ I simply believe in me, Yoko and me, and thats world. In this album, Lennon grew the flu-afflicted shriek hed unleashed long ago in Twist and Shout into a damage, spiritual thunder, a pain he also expressed in the most tender songs, in Love and Hold On, and in the tranquil, scathing separation of Making Class Hero. Lennons greatest achievement in the artistic region was his ability to say no; this, rather than dogma, was what obliged him political, as well as philosophically unique. This unforgiving but liberating tone of repudiation is there in the second book, Imagine , and though the claim psalm became a bestseller, its word, if you dismiss the comforting hooking, sweetly preaches the same radical loneliness that God had earlier: Imagine theres no heaven/ Its easy if “were trying”/ No hell below us/ Above us merely sky. Exceedingly differently constituted Zimmerman.

Odysseus Abroad by Amit Chaudhuri is published by Oneworld.

Joni Mitchell by Kathryn Williams

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

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

The first Joni Mitchell evidence I bought was her first book, on vinyl. I grew into her way of speaking in chant, started to learn her phrasing and began to collect more of her albums. It was like collecting glass marbles. The spherical condition was the same, but with a different emblazoned kindle inside, distorted in another spiral.

Joni can be conversational, poetic, philosophical, barbed and make all that happen in one string: Simply before our passion got lost “youve said”/ I am as constant as a northern virtuoso/ and I said, Constantly in the darkness, wheres that at?/ If you want me, Ill be in the bar The chassis of the words and how they move alongside one another are perfectly worded, perfect to sing. The Last-place Time I Saw Richard is the prophetic lyric for all of us nostalgics to horror. It uncovers like a Raymond Carver poem. Depicting not telling, and totally heartbreaking.

As a songwriter, a female one at that, parties comment on my singing tone far more than my melodics. Its as though they think we are not responsible for the words, simply our expres. And I think that Joni Mitchell is often overlooked as the amazing lyricist she is. But she is a painter and her melodics are a full sensory incident. Drawings organize in my manager, I appear her suffering, and I am taken to the places she sings about. I interpret her as a patron saint. She makes writing texts 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 heartbreaking as well as happy Paul McCartney. Photograph: David Redfern/ Redferns

Not numerous songwriters appear in style collections. 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 the right reasons( without singer, music, orchestration and grouping, few melodics work on the sheet) and for bad( literary arrogance on the one side, and the exorbitant cost of dispensation fees on the other ). Karl Miller was staying his cervix out where reference is 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 lyrical resonance from the surreal image of Eleanor Rigby wearing the face that she keeps in the flask by the door to the detail of Father McKenzie mopping the soil from his hands as he treads from the mausoleum, its a plangent evocation of modern era loneliness.

McCartney is sometimes dismissed as sentimental( the corny foil to the bad-boy hot of Lennon) but Eleanor Rigby is as dreary 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 had been able to: in this case sad( all the lonely beings) but abroad lampoon( Back in the USSR ), humor( Delightful Rita ), parody( Paperback Writer ), nostalgia( Penny Lane) and raucous boogie-woogie( Lady Madonna ). He can do sad as well as happy, morose speech as well as sing-along. And at best the words escape whatever it was that set him off, leaving area for us to inhabit them: Ive been listening to Tying a Hole since its secrete and Im still works out what it means.

Shingle Street by Blake Morrison issued by Chatto& Windus.

Mary Margaret OHara by Lavinia Greenlaw

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

When I was 19 and freshly in the grip of writing, I assembled a clique. Requested to produce words, I intensified my lyrics. Perhaps I thought that they could be freeze-dried and then rehydrated with a theme. The makes 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 better known for Miss America ( 1988 ), and has secreted precisely one book since.

She body-builds sungs out of spare mottoes that ignited one another 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 have the impression of distillation and deep thought in the making of sungs that refuse their own load: You merely want to push mortal/ And a figure wont let you. Just want to move mortal/ And a person wont let you. OHara fights stabilisation, something I understood when I determined her perform live. She has a deciding but off-kilter space of moving a move, a flick of the mitt, a hoof extinguish that are impossible to relate to what youre hearing. Its as if she has a sense of detail so latent that nobody is can detect it. Her lyricals are published in brief strands full of quiet swervings: So sorry if I cant stop feigning/ 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 elevate you up. They can be heartbreaking in their generosity.

A Double Sorrow: Troilus and Criseyde by 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 frenzied messages I hear Nick Cave sing. Theyre from the opening track of a 1983 four-track EP by the Birthday Party, a act of Grand Guignol extravagance culminating in a four-minute horror cinema( Deep in the Woods ). From the start, Cave was an artist who submerge the listener in revelatory imagery and sneaking fate. The Old Testament, delta blues, and Sergio Leone westerns imbued his song write. He could be pressing and kinetic, or mellowed and intelligent. The Ship Song could have been penned by Leonard Cohen, but its difficult to see anyone other than Cave composing darkly enforcing narrations such as Red Right Hand and Jubilee Street, while his album Murder Ballads has a body count that they are able to pity 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 appreciation of duty to the songwriters craft, and the deed way( which closes the album) is full-of-the-moon of quiet yearning, together with adoption and resolving. The album as a whole reminded us a little of Dylans masterpiece Blood on the Tracks. Cave himself may not be get the Nobel any time soon, but right now he is one of our very best lyricists and storytellers. It will be fascinating to examine what he does next.

Rather Be the Devil by Ian Rankin issued by Orion.

Jake Thackray by Roger McGough

A craftsman of structure, usage and music Jake Thackray. Picture: David Redfern/ Redferns

I have always had a soft spot for the artists who came out of the north music hall, folk team 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, “hes been” falling under the influence of Georges Brassens and Jacques Brel. He left as a surly Yorkshire lad and came back a smooth, silver-tongued chansonnier.

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

A craftsman of way, speech and tune, he wrote of jilted love turning to boozing, of grotesque relatives, lusty blacksmiths and gabby madams, but with more tendernes than venom. His was a gentle humane irony. At the jumble sale, Where ladies of the village engage like visigoths for pillaging “hes found” love and assonance amongst the bric-a-brac: Romance perchance predominates at humdrum jumble sales. Sadly, and puzzlingly to his many followers, he vanished from public deem, and died in Monmouth aged 63. Had he been born in France where the poet/ singer tradition is long-established and where here i am little distinction between severe and popular music, Thackray would surely be recognised as the major artist many speculate him to be.

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

Tamara Lindeman by Richard Williams

A quiet accept of emotional simplicities Tamara Lindeman.

Bob Dylan aside, the singer-songwriter Ive listened to most during the past time, 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, for the purposes of the reputation the Weather Station, plays sungs notable for a communicative eloquence, a diarists powers of observation and a quiet defiance of psychological simplicities. I meet everything from multiple positions, she has said. Thats sort of been a weakness in life but likewise a forte. Im actually interested to write a anthem where I can encompass all the various facts about a situation or all the different ways in which I see something, because it feels like thats the direction stuffs actually are. The Weather station third book, Loyalty , significantly expanded her gathering last year through chants that captured moments in life with a subtle acuity, set to flowing themes. One of them embarks: You searched so small in your coating, one side up on the window, so long now youd been lost in thought. Another: I dont expect your love to be like quarry. I trust you to know your own recollection. As I know quarry. Reading her poems, with their finely wrought understatement, interrupted like prose but weighted like poem, its hard to envisage them being turned into songs; listening them sing, its impossible to see them being anything else. Similarities 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

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