Paul Simon and Bob Dylan are contemporaries who have often been compared. Simon didn’t like Dylan’s personality, but he admired his music, at least in the 1960s. By the early 1970s, though, just over a decade into Dylan’s lengthy career, Simon said he thought Dylan had stopped being great. He shared his opinion on the other artist’s music.
Paul Simon liked Bob Dylan’s early music
Like many people, Simon took note of The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan, the album that lifted Dylan to prominence.
“I thought that second Dylan album, Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan, was fantastic,” he told Rolling Stone in 1972. “It was very moving. Very exciting.”
Simon said that even some of his own early songs didn’t hold up for him. Dylan’s did, though.
“Well, you can go back and pick out five or six very important Dylan songs,” he said. “I’m aware of that, because he became popular a year or so before we did. Many of his still make it for me, whereas only a few of mine make it for me. I like his earlier stuff. His early songs were very rich, simple but very rich, with strong melodies. ‘Blowin’ in the Wind’ has a really strong melody. He so enlarged himself through the folk background that he incorporated it for a while. He defined the genre for a while. That’s quite an accomplishment.”
He wasn’t as fond of the other artist’s work in the 1970s
Simon explained that he paid most attention to artists who fell into the rock genre.
“Rock is the main part of the meal for me,” he said. “It’s the music that I not only grew up in, but I participated in, so I like rock and I like rock and roll. I like a lot of different kinds of music. I think that there have been very talented people come up in the last decade, people who have done really good work, and there have been great performers.”
In tracking Dylan’s career, Simon discovered that he didn’t like the other artist much as a person. He felt similarly about his music after his early albums.
“Dylan was great, I gotta say he was great,” Simon said. “I don’t feel that at the moment, but I feel that he was great. Although now we’re into another category, because I wanted to save that, I think he’ll come in more as a writer, those other people are performers.”
Simon said this in 1972. Since then, Dylan went on to win a number of awards, including multiple Grammys for his performances. He did win a Nobel Prize for Literature, though, so Simon was correct in predicting that people would pay attention to Dylan’s writing.
Paul Simon ranked Bob Dylan as one of his top songwriters
Though he thought Dylan had stopped being “great,” Simon still ranked Dylan among his favorite songwriters of all time.
“I’d put Gershwin, Berlin, and Hank Williams [on top]. I’d probably put Paul McCartney in there too,” he said, per Gothamist. “Then I’d have Richard Rodgers and Lorenz Hart.”
Behind this prestigious group, Simon placed Dylan and, more tentatively, himself.
“Then, in the second tier, Lennon is there, Dylan is there, Bob Marley and Stephen Sondheim are there, and maybe I’m there, too,” he said. “It’s about whose songs last.”