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The Philosophy of Modern Song by Bob Dylan

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Nobel laureate Bob Dylan is known for his eclectic tastes as well as his deep, encyclopedic knowledge of popular music. He puts that expertise to the test in this widely entertaining romp through popular-music history. Even if readers aren't familiar with a song under discussion, they will still enjoy and appreciate his take on it. Starting with Bobby Bare’s “Detroit City” and ending with Dion & the Belmonts' “Where or When,” Dylan runs through 66 songs, explaining why, in his opinion, these particular compositions work. Throughout, he shares his views on songwriting. “Knowing a singer’s life story doesn’t particularly help your understanding of a song,” he offers. "It’s what a song makes you feel about your own life that’s important.” The book is also a plaint against conformity as he praises songs that stand out for their originality, individuality, and inventiveness. Dylan’s prose is often as vivid as his own lyrics, such as when he discusses Johnny Paycheck’s “Old Violin.” Referring to the country singer’s short stature, he notes that, “Like a lot of small men, he was wrapped tighter than the inside of a golf ball and hit just about as often.” Many of the songs here, as with perhaps most songs, were written with the ear in mind. An important distinction, Dylan believes. What’s more, he compares what happens between the marriage of words and music to alchemy, “chemistry’s wilder, less disciplined precursor." Illustrated with a rich collection of images ranging from vintage photos and movie stills to album and pulp-fiction covers, this quirky book is not only full of surprises but also a wonderful consideration of contemporary songs by the modern era’s master songwriter.- Booklist