Bob Dylan, giant of postwar Americana that he is, is still an easy target for parody. He has a funny singing voice that you can emulate by plugging your nose; a lot of his most famous tracks are filled with abstract lyrics sung in rambling verses; sometimes he wears a harmonica on a neck holder—any jackass can work with these things.
It’s the true artist, though, who goofs on Dylan by recording entirely original songs skewering his style. This, thankfully, has a lot of precedent, as YouTube channel Polyphonic demonstrates in a video that traces the rich history of other musicians clowning on The Artist Formerly Known As Zimmerman.
First up is the bad boy of folk himself, Paul Simon, who wrote “A Simple Desultory Philippic (Or How I Was Robert McNamara’d Into Submission)“ for Simon & Garfunkel’s Parsley, Sage, Rosemary, and Thyme. The foundation for all Dylan satire to come, the song reproduces the instrumentation of Dylan’s supposedly heretical new electric era, hilariously cynical verses filled with references to contemporary cultural figures and punctuated with lazy blasts of harmonica. Simon, as Polyphonic points out, didn’t hate Dylan’s music. He was just playing around with an attempt to copy the style.
The floodgates having opened, more songs arrived. In the years that followed “A Simple Desultory Philippic,” critics would read Stealers Wheel’s “Stuck In The Middle With You” as a crack at Dylan. John Lennon would also record the very, very funny “News Of The Day,” which sees the ex-Beatle simply reading a newspaper article through his nose while strumming on an acoustic guitar. (Weird Al Yankovic, of course, has dipped his toes into these same waters with “BOB.”)
Polyphonic ends with a reminder that there are more of these parodies out there than discussed in his video and this is no doubt true. In fact, it’s probably safe to say that the Dylan satire is healthy enough to make up a genre in and of itself. Next time you pick up a guitar, alternate three chords over and over, and mumble a nasal “ueghhh ... Lyndon BEE Jawwnson,” just remember that you’re no free-thinking comedic maverick: you’re just continuing a long-standing cultural tradition.
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