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Feature: Songwriting, Sunglasses, and Style: The Enduring Iconography of Bob Dylan

4 min read

Who will have the last word on Bob Dylan? Various competing perspectives, from Michael Gray to Clinton Heylin, have staked their claims. Heylin, for instance, just offered a substantial contribution with his two-volume work entitled The Double Life of Bob Dylan in 2021. This book delves into the artist’s journey from his youth to the transformative 1966 motorcycle crash, with the second volume unravelling the intricacies of Dylan’s career.

The desire to become the ultimate authority on the legendary musician is expected. From the wild Rolling Thunder tour to his critiques of contemporary music, Dylan has created a puzzling yet undeniable legacy. While biographers battle over who gets to be the definitive authority on Dylan, below we touch upon four of numerous key elements in music and fashion that make the musician a true pop culture icon.

Impressing with distinct songwriting

At the heart of Dylan’s iconic status lies his unparalleled skill as a songwriter. See how tracks like Mr. Tambourine Man and The Times They Are a-Changin’ combine poignant lyrics with compelling melodies, resonating across generations by encouraging personal introspection.

Simultaneously, Dylan’s songwriting captures the spirit of social change. Like a Rolling Stone stood as a rebellious piece that challenged conventional norms while Blowin’ in the Wind became an anthem for the civil rights movement. The latter even influenced another legendary musician, John Lennon, to encourage social relevance within The Beatles’ dynamic. These exemplify Dylan’s ability to craft songs that remain relevant in different eras. 

Shifting music style and influence

In the mid-1960s, Dylan’s move to go electric from folk sparked controversy but ultimately transformed the landscape of popular music. Later, in 2006, Dylan’s thirty-second studio album entitled Modern Times would showcase a rich tapestry of influences that traverse rockabilly, folk rock, and blues. This versatility helps Dylan’s songwriting prowess shine, with his poetry abilities and phenomenal lyrics emulated in the melody of When the Deal Goes Down

This ability to challenge conventions has been a hallmark of Dylan’s career. His impact can be seen in the work of countless artists who followed in his footsteps, with Neil Young experimenting from acoustic folk to electric rock and The Rolling Stones transitioning from blues-inspired rock to more introspective and socially conscious songwriting, as seen in albums like Aftermath.

Channelling mystery behind the shades

Throughout his career, Dylan’s eyewear has become synonymous with his cool and mysterious persona. In the 1960s, or the folk-inspired phase of his career, for instance, Dylan often sported Ray-Ban’s Wayfarers. These frames, initially designed in the 1950s, became a distinctive part of his image during the transformative period when he shifted from acoustic to electric, showcasing a rebellious spirit that mirrored the changing times. This also contributed to the eyewear’s status as a symbol of counterculture cool.

The Aviator style also found its way onto Dylan’s face during various moments of his career. This added a touch of classic coolness to his persona, particularly during the Rolling Thunder tour in the mid-1970s. More than five decades later, Ray-Ban Aviators prescription sunglasses are bestsellers found in stores alongside other frames and non-prescription lenses. The longevity of these frames is a testament to their enduring appeal, mirroring the enduring legacy of the man who wore them. Fans can embrace these accessories to emulate Dylan’s timeless style and contemporary flair. 

Styling fashion as a statement

Bob Dylan’s sartorial choices are as distinctive as his voice and choice of eyewear. In the 1960s, he embraced a folk-inspired, bohemian look, complete with dishevelled hair and harmonica necklaces. As the times changed, so did Dylan’s style, with the artist eventually transitioning to tailored suits and a more polished appearance.

Today, fans continue to find inspiration in Dylan’s fashion choices. In fact, the hashtag #BobDylanCore trended in TikTok in 2023. Here, any jacket that isn’t warm enough is considered a Bob Dylan-type jacket — a hilarious anecdote pertaining to more than sixty years ago when Dylan and Suze Rotolo wore thin jackets in the biting February cold. This emphasises the niche community forming around a shared appreciation for Dylan’s musical and sartorial heritage.

As music lovers continue to discover and rediscover the profound beauty of his compositions, it becomes evident that Bob Dylan is a living testament to the enduring power of creativity in the world of music. For more music news and reviews, check out the rest of our articles on Renowned For Sound.