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Fascinating animated doodad shows evolution of Bob Dylan lyrics

Bob Dylan: Master lyrical tinkerer.

Bob Dylan: Master lyrical tinkerer.

Have there been think pieces about how Bob Dylan is ostensibly the first-ever rapper? The dude spits verses with rapper-like swagger and wordplay; put a trap beat under "Subterranean Homesick Blues" and see what happens. In August, when NPR played Highway 61 Revisited for millennials, I was sure one of them would say as much, but they opted for Cold War Kids comparisons instead. Ugh. Anyway, Boomers are objectively the worst, so we'll let those kids skate. 

Where were we? Ah, yes: Genius, the crowd-annotated lyrics website founded in 2009 with an emphasis on hip-hop. Since then, the site has exploded in popularity and scope, and yesterday it revealed a neat Bob Dylan project, the Evolution of a Song, to coincide with the November 6 release of the sprawling Cutting Edge 1965-1966: The Bootleg Series Vol. 12 box set. 

Culling from the box set's various B-side and demo takes, the team at Genius, working in collaboration with Sony Legacy, cooked up animated slides that demonstrate the meticulous lyrical tinkering Dylan applied to each song. The project features just nine songs — "One Of Us Must Know (Sooner Or Later)," "Desolation Row," "She's Your Lover Now," "Leopard-Skin Pill-Box Hat," others — but more are expected in the future. 

"This is a dream project," Genius Music Editor Anna Oseran tells Rolling Stone. "'Subterranean Homesick Blues' was actually one of the first songs added to the site. Bob Dylan is arguably the best lyricist of all time, so it seemed like a no-brainer that we'd create something together."

Oseran cites the transformation of "Subterranean Homesick Blues" as one of her favorites. One passage, "Now he's spoon-feeding Casanova the boiled guts of a bird," inexplicably become, "They're spoon-feeding Casanova to get him to feel more assured." Says Oseran: "There are some lyrical changes that are total head-scratchers." Here are some more examples: 

Right now I can’t read too good

― Bob Dylan – Desolation Row

I didn’t mean to treat you so bad<br> You shouldn’t take it so personal

― Bob Dylan – One Of Us Must Know (Sooner Or Later)

Don’t the brakeman look good, mama<br> Flagging down the “Double E?”

― Bob Dylan – It Takes A Lot To Laugh, It Takes A Train To Cry

The Cutting Edge box set contains an especially vital and through collection of songs representing Dylan's first three electric albums — Bringing It All Back Home (1965), Highway 61 Revisited (1965), and Blonde on Blonde (1966). Preorders ($19.98-$599.99) are available here.