Bob Dylan (born Robert Allen Zimmerman; May 24, 1941) is an American singer-songwriter who has been a major figure in music for five decades. Much of his most celebrated work dates from the 1960s when he was an informal chronicler, and an apparently reluctant figurehead, of social unrest.
Dylan has both amplified and personalized musical genres, exploring numerous distinct traditions in American song—from folk, blues and country to gospel, rock and roll, and rockabilly, to English, Scottish, and Irish folk music, embracing even jazz and swing.
Dylan performs with guitar, keyboards, and harmonica. Backed by a changing line-up of musicians, he has toured steadily since the late 1980s on what has been dubbed the Never Ending Tour. His accomplishments as a recording artist and performer have been central to his career, but his greatest contribution is generally considered to be his songwriting.
His self-titled debut album was released on Columbia Records in 1962 and features only two original compositions; the other eleven tracks are folk standards and traditional songs. While eleven of the thirteen songs on his follow-up “The Freewheelin' Bob Dylan” released in May 1963 by Columbia Records, were original compositions which came to be regarded as amongst Dylan's best and classics of the 1960s folk scene: "Girl from the North Country", "Masters of War", "A Hard Rain's a-Gonna Fall" and "Don't Think Twice, It's All Right".
Released in March 1965 by Columbia Records, “Bringing It All Back Home” reached #6 on Billboard's Pop Albums chart, the first of Dylan's LPs to break into the US top 10. The lead-off track, "Subterranean Homesick Blues", became Dylan's first single to chart in the US, peaking at #39. Other notable songs include "Maggie's Farm," "Mr. Tambourine Man," and "It's All Over Now, Baby Blue."
“Highway 61 Revisited,” released in August 1965 by Columbia Records, peaked at #3 on the US charts and #4 in the UK, while its single, "Like a Rolling Stone", reached #2 in the US. The eleven-plus minute “Desolation Row,” "Tombstone Blues" and "Just Like Tom Thumb's Blues" were also featured on the album.
“Blonde on Blonde,” released June 1966 by Columbia Records, peaked at #9 on Billboard's Pop Albums chart in the US, eventually going double-platinum. "Rainy Day Women #12 and 35” and "I Want You" were both charting singles. His success continued with 1967’s “John Wesley Harding” reaching the number 2 slot on U.S. charts and featuring one of his most well known and most often covered songs “All Along the Watchtower.”
His trend towards country continued in 1969 with “Nashville Skyline” which reached number 3 in the US. The album featured "Lay Lady Lay" and an appearance by Johnny Cash on "Girl from the North Country.” His contribution to the soundtrack to the 1973 film “Pat Garrett & Billy the Kid” birthed one of Dylan's most beloved songs—and biggest hits—"Knockin' On Heaven's Door", which became a trans-Atlantic Top 20 hit.
He returned to platinum success and reached #1 on the Billboard U.S. pop charts with 1975’s “Blood on the Tracks.” The single "Tangled Up in Blue" peaked at #31 on the pop singles chart while other songs like "Simple Twist of Fate" and "Shelter from the Storm" became among his most well known. Dylan topped the charts again in 1976 with “Desire” staying atop the pop chart for 5 weeks upon release on the strength of songs like “Isis” and “Hurricane.”
Following the twin successes of “Blood on the Tracks” and “Desire,” “Street-Legal”(released in 1978) was another gold record for Dylan, but it peaked at only #11 on the US Billboard charts, making it his first studio album to miss the US Top 10 since 1964.
He once again achieved platinum sales in 1979 with “Slow Train Coming” with the single "Gotta Serve Somebody" becoming his first hit in three years, winning Dylan the Grammy for best rock vocal performance by a male in 1980. The album went platinum in the US, where it reached #3.
He continued releasing albums in the 1980s to lower sales and with less chart success. In 1997 he returned to the top 10 and platinum status with “Time Out of Mind” which went on to win three Grammy Awards, including Album of the Year in 1998.
He once again had chart success with 2001’s “Love and Theft” which peaked at #5 on the Billboard 200, and has been certified with a gold album by the RIAA. Released in 2006 “Modern Times” became the singer-songwriter's first #1 album in the U.S. since 1976's “Desire.” It was also his first album to debut at the summit of the Billboard 200, selling 191,933 copies in its first week. At age 65, Dylan became the oldest living person at the time to have an album enter the Billboard charts at number one.
As a songwriter and musician, Dylan has received numerous awards over the years including Grammy, Golden Globe, and Academy Awards. He has been inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame, and Songwriters Hall of Fame. In 2008, a Bob Dylan Pathway was opened in the singer's honor in his birthplace of Duluth, Minnesota. The Pulitzer Prize jury in 2008 awarded him a special citation for "his profound impact on popular music and American culture, marked by lyrical compositions of extraordinary poetic power."