After modelling his early material on the folk tradition, as handed down by Woody Guthrie, Bob Dylan branched out to pioneer his distinctive form of folk rock, first exhibited in his 1965 album Bringing It All Back Home. Beyond his unrivalled talent for wordsmithery, Dylan’s popularity can be attributed to his unconventional sound. He was never the greatest singer on paper, but Dylan’s idiosyncratic vocals struck a chord with a generation, perfectly framing the emotional profundity of his material.
“It’s a funny voice,” Mick Jagger of The Rolling Stones once said in defence of Dylan’s unique vocals during an appearance on a Dutch television programme. “It’s like a voice that’s never been one of the great tenors of our time, but it’s got a timbre, a projection, and it’s got a feeling to it.”
For some, Dylan’s style clicked with immediacy, while for others, it would take a few years to permeate. In a conversation with The Guardian last year, veteran singer-songwriter Tom Jones remembered how he wasn’t instantly moved by Dylan’s voice. “I was on tour in the States in the summer of ’65 with a British act, Peter and Gordon,” Jones remembered. It turned out Gordon Waller was one of Dylan’s biggest fans and would play his records in the hotel stop-overs during the tour.
The Welsh singer, who was 25 at the time, continued: “I wasn’t struck by Dylan’s voice at first.” However, after hearing one of the folk singer’s early politically charged classics, his perspective seemed to change almost instantaneously. “But then I heard ‘Blowin’ in the Wind’, and I’ve been a fan ever since. The lyrics are fantastic. He’s basically asking, ‘How many times do we have to go through all this shit before we realise that we’re fucking up the world?’”
Observing Dylan’s talent for vivid imagery and absorbing themes, Jones said: “He paints pictures with his songs so you can see things happening. What good am I if I just stand by and let things happen that I know I should be changing? He was the first singer-songwriter to make me think.”
As it transpired, Jones’ eventual opinion of Dylan was mutual. In May 1965, while Dylan toured the UK for the first time, he was invited to participate in Melody Maker’s ‘Blind Date’ feature, where artists review the week’s singles.
As Jones’ single ‘That’s What We’ll All Do’ began to play, Dylan said: “That’s Tom Jones. I like this record; I like him. Will it be a hit? Do you mean, ‘Will it sell a lot of records?’ Oh yeah! I don’t know where it will sell a lot of records, but it will do. I’d buy it… if I bought records.”
Listen to Tom Jones’ 1965 single ‘That’s What We’ll All Do’ below.