Dylan, Bob

For almost 50 years, Bob Dylan has remained, along with James Brown, the most influential American musician rock & roll has ever produced. Inscrutable and unpredictable, Dylan has been both deified and denounced for his shifts of interest, while whole schools of musicians took up his ideas. His lyrics — the first in rock to be seriously regarded as literature — became so well known that politicians from Jimmy Carter to Vaclav Havel have cited them as an influence.

By personalizing folk songs, Dylan reinvented the singer-songwriter genre; by performing his allusive, poetic songs in his nasal, spontaneous vocal style with an electric band, he enlarged pop's range and vocabulary while creating a widely imitated sound. By recording with Nashville veterans, he helped give rise to Seventies country-rock. In the 1980s and 1990s, although he often seemed to flounder, he still had the ability to challenge, influence, and surprise listener — something he did more reliably in the late 1990s and 2000s, when he recorded some of the greatest music of his career.