1. Lived fast, died young
Dylan Thomas died too soon for rock 'n' roll. He passed away in New York City on 9 November 1953, just three months after Elvis Presley’s first Sun Studio recording session.
But he left a legacy which was much admired by generations of musicians. His hell-raising lifestyle foreshadowed the many excesses of the rock ‘n’ roll era, while his words inspired songwriters and performers including John Lennon, Patti Smith and Bob Dylan.
While several poets of the 18th and 19th centuries – Byron, Coleridge, Rimbaud – combined artistic greatness with decadence and excess, Dylan Thomas was a modern day pioneer: the drinking, smoking and womanising, the early death, not to mention the remarkable literary talent which made his name immortal.
2. Once upon a time in America
Before the Beat Generation arrived in the 1950s, and rock musicians performed there in the '60s, Dylan Thomas was a regular in the bars of Greenwich Village in Manhattan.
3. Straight, no chaser
Excess and indulgence have long been hallmarks of modern music. In Dylan Thomas's day jazz and soul greats such as John Coltrane, Billie Holiday, Ray Charles and Miles Davis all struggled with drug addiction, and later on rock 'n' roll brought a new wave of musicians eager to sample the darker side of life.
Unlike Jim Morrison, Jimi Hendrix, Brian Jones, Kurt Cobain and many others, Dylan Thomas lived long enough to avoid the infamous '27 Club' of rockers who met their demise at that age. But his itinerant lifestyle and wild behaviour undoubtedly led to an early death.
With his wife and children back in Britain, Thomas lived the high life in America. He was treated like a celebrity, partied with Richard Burton and read his works to crowds of adoring listeners. He also had an affair with Liz Reitell, the assistant to his tour agent John Brinnin.
Thomas's death in New York at the age of 39 followed months of ill health, which included breathing difficulties, gout, gastritis, blackouts and a fractured arm from falling down stairs when drunk. He was constantly short of money, and relied on charm, goodwill and the patronage of sympathetic friends.
Despite his ill health and excessive behaviour, his image as a hell-raiser was carefully cultivated. To the end he channelled his gifts into producing works of graceful and evocative poetry and prose which stood in contrast to his chaotic personal life. As his obituary in the Times put it: "None has ever worn more brilliantly the mask of anarchy to conceal the true face of tradition."
5. Dylan and The Beatles
From 1964 The Beatles began exploring new ways of writing and recording music. John Lennon was particularly influenced by Bob Dylan, who encouraged the group to experiment with wordplay.
"I'm sure that the main influence on both Dylan and John was Dylan Thomas," said Paul McCartney.
"We all used to like Dylan Thomas. I read him a lot. I think that John started writing because of him, and the fact that Bob Dylan wrote poetry added to his appeal."
In 2014 McCartney was asked which British authors were his favourites. "I've always been a big fan of British writers, but two of my favourites are Charles Dickens and Dylan Thomas," he said.
Jann Haworth and Peter Blake worked together on the artwork for The Beatles' 1967 album Sgt Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band. Now acclaimed as a pop art masterpiece, it featured a collage of famous faces chosen by the group and the artists.
The two Dylans, naturally, were included. Dylan Thomas was reportedly one of John Lennon's choices.
The Beatles' producer, George Martin, spoke of the lineage which linked them. "Dylan Thomas, the Welsh author, was a great influence on Bob Dylan, and I think that the kind of words that Dylan Thomas would construct came down through Bob Dylan into John Lennon."
In 1988 Martin paid his own tribute to Dylan Thomas by producing a musical version of Under Milk Wood. Its predominantly Welsh cast included Anthony Hopkins, Tom Jones, Mary Hopkin and Bonnie Tyler.
6. Sweet and fumbled music
The musicians who have set Dylan Thomas's words to melody were perhaps drawn to his richly lyrical and rhythmic writing. Thomas was obsessed with the sounds and cadences of words, thrived on wordplay and verbal rhythms, and often worked within formal, orderly structures.
Under Milk Wood, Thomas's masterpiece play, is awash with sounds, from the singing of Captain Cat, Polly Garter and Mr Waldo to Mrs Organ Morgan, who exclaims: "Oh, I'm a martyr to music." Thomas's broadcast Memories Of Christmas also mentions carol singing, party songs and "the untuned piano in the parlour".
A recording pioneer
In the 1950s Thomas helped kickstart the United States audiobook industry. In 1952 two New Yorkers, Barbara Holdridge and Marianne Mantell, heard the poet reciting his works on stage and asked him to record for their new record label, Caedmon.
"We had no idea of the power and beauty of this voice," said Holdridge. "We just expected a poet with a poet's voice, but this was a full orchestral voice."
Thomas was short of material, which was potentially disastrous for the label. When asked if he had anything else to record, Thomas said: "Well, I did this story that was published in Harper's Bazaar that was a kind of Christmas story."
That story was A Child's Christmas In Wales. According to Holdridge: "That was dusting off something that undoubtedly would have remained buried and that became one of the most loved and popular stories recorded in the 20th Century and certainly gave us the start that we needed to become a viable company."
A second recording session followed in 1953, and by 1962 400,000 Dylan Thomas LPs had been sold. The Caedmon collection helped to cement his place in American history, and in 2008 his first recordings were selected for the United States National Recording Registry.
7. Who was the first rock 'n' roll poet?
Although he directly inspired many modern musicians, Dylan Thomas wasn't the first poet leading a wild lifestyle. Which of these mavericks would get your vote?