Bob Dylan- The Times They Are A-Changin' (1964)
Updated: May 9
Bob Dylan-The Times They Are A-Changin'
Released January 13, 1964
Recorded August 6-October 1963
Bob Dylan is a mediocre guitarist, not a good singer (in a traditional sense), and at times his harmonica playing is outright annoying. Yet, he was arguably the most impactful recording artist of the early and mid-1960s. How can that be? The answer is that he is a lyrical genius and one of the all-time greatest American poets and songwriters. His technical limitations as a musician also offer a certain humanistic honesty that resonates. Through his thought-provoking lyrics and commentary on American injustices and current events, he became the voice for an entire generation.
About Bob Dylan
Bob Dylan is Robert Allen Zimmerman, a Jewish kid from Duluth, Minnesota, born May 24, 1941. Often a victim of antisemitism, Zimmerman felt isolated as a kid and turned to music. He first became inspired by artists like Hank Williams, Muddy Waters, Howling Wolf, Little Richard, Elvis Presley, and Buddy Holly. Soon after that, Zimmerman discovered folk music and grew fascinated with the music of Woody Guthrie, who is generally regarded as the most significant folk artist, until Dylan.
Zimmerman adopted Guthrie's songwriting and vocal style and began writing politically fueled folk tunes. After performing around Minnesota University, Zimmerman moved to New York, where he often visited Guthrie, who was suffering from brain-altering Hutchinson's disease in a New Jersey hospital. Not long after that, Zimmerman changed his name to Bob Dylan (a tribute to poet Dylan Thomas) and began performing at coffeehouses and cafes in Greenwich Village, the center for folk music at the time.
After playing harmonica on albums by Harry Belafonte and Corlyn Hester (which is a surprise because he's not great at it), Dylan met producer/promoter John Hammond who signed him to Columbia Records. His first album, Bob Dylan, was released in 1962, was not a commercial success, and sold only 5,000 copies. His follow-up effort, The Freewheelin' Bob Dylan, was released in May of 1963 and featured the song "Blowing In The Wind," which became a political anthem for American youths. The album offered an alternative musical option to many college-aged students looking for more meaning in their lyrics than Elvis and others provided. Through his antiwar and anti-establishment rhetoric, Dylan became their guy. Bob Dylan's music challenged bands like the Beatles and the Rolling Stones to rethink the importance of song lyrics and step up their game, which they did.
Awards won by Bob Dylan: Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award, Pulitzer Prize, Presidential Medal of Freedom, Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, Songwriters Hall Of Fame.
About The Album
The Times They Are A-Changin' was Dylan's much-anticipated follow-up to The Freewheelin' (1963, Columbia), and it did not disappoint. The album was the first to feature all original Dylan compositions. On the record, Dylan proves that he's more intelligent and more profound than us, and he educates, pontificates, and inspires many young Americans to be free re-thinkers. The album is one of several of Dylan's early masterworks; however, commercially, it reached only #20 on the Billboard Charts. In the UK, it peaked at #4. In total, the album went Gold (500,000 copies).
Track By Track Analysis
(+ means "recommended track" and * means released as a single)
Track 1- "The Times They Are A-Changin'" is not just a song; it's an anthem for an entire generation that served as the follow-up to "Blowing In The Wind," Dylan's other song, to have a major social and commercial impact. Less than a month after Dylan wrote the song, President Kennedy was killed, and his provocation came true.-"The times were a-changin'." As with many Dylan tunes, the music is simple and honest. The song has been covered numerous times, and many of the remakes are of interest. Surprisingly "The Times They Are A-Changin'" was never released as a single. (+)
Track 2- "The Ballad of Hollis Brown" is a song with 11 verses that tells the story of Hollis Brown, an impoverished farmer who kills his wife, children, and himself. The lyrics are a far cry from the innocence of such songs as the Beatles' "I Want To Hold Your Hand" and "Love Me Do.". Dylan picks some good guitar on this tune. By changing his tuning (tuning the E strings to D notes), he creates a darker texture that works perfectly with the theme and Bob Dylan's overall sunny disposition (I am being sarcastic, of course, he can be perceived as a grump). "The Ballad Of Hillis Brown" represents Dylan at his finest (+)
Track 3- "With God on Our Side" is Dylan's long but meaningful ramble. The lyrics offer a history of the American War. Through cynicism, Dylan points out the ridiculous belief system that war is nearly always justified by religion and that we accept the horrors of war because we are brainwashed to believe "God is on Our Side." In his final lyric, Dylan flips the script in saying "that if God's on our side, he'll stop the next war." There have been accusations that Dylan ripped off the melody from the traditional Irish folk song "The Merry Month of May." It is quite likely. That's what folk guys do; they add new lyrics to old melodies. (+)
Track 4- "One Too Many Mornings" is a short, melancholy ballad sung against a fingerpicked guitar. Musically it sounds much like "Times They Are Changing." As with many Dylan tunes, the ballad has an overall sense of sadness and loneliness.
Track 5- "North Country Blues" Is a tale about the struggles of a family working and living in a mining town from a female perspective. The narrator retells her life story, how her mother died when she was young, and her brother raised her. One day her brother failed to come home. Most likely because they died in the mine, she left school to marry a miner and had three kids. The mining business suffered, and he was cut to a half day of work, and then the mine closed because it was now cheaper to import coal from South America. With nothing to do, her husband becomes a drunk, begins talking to himself, and abandons the family. So life sucks, the town is empty, and she knows that her kids will soon leave her. Dylan's idol Woody Guthrie would often write songs with similar themes (+)
Track 1- "Only a Pawn in Their Game" reflects on the assassination of civil rights activist Medgar Evans. Evans was murdered in his Mississippi home on June 12, 1963, by a racist fertilizer salesman named Byron De La Beckwith. Due to a deadlocked all-white jury, Beckwith did no time for his crime until a retrial in 1994, over thirty years after the murder. Dylan continuously supported the Civil Rights Movement through recordings like this and performances at rallies. Dylan's strumming and timing are rhythmically loose throughout the song. This was common among early country blues artists from the Mississippi Delta, like Charley Patton and Son House. (+)
Track 2 -"Boots Of Spanish Leather" is a beautiful fingerpicked ballad with lyrics offered from the perspective of written correspondence between two lovers separated by the vast ocean. Throughout the lyrics, the female character who has left asks her man if she could send him "to remember me by." The only gift he wants is her return. After being pressed, he finally asks for a gift of "Spanish Boots of Spanish Leather." The boots are possibly a symbol that he knows they will be walking away from the relationship. It is interesting to note that the song may have been written about Dylan's ex-girlfriend Suze Rotolo, Dylan's girlfriend from 1961-1964. She's the girl on the cover of the album Freewhelin Bob Dylan. In 1962 Rotolo went to study in ar in Italy, and Dylan missed her tremendously. That separation most likely inspired the song. (+)
Track 3- "When The Ship Come In" is a faster-strummed number inspired by an incident where a hotel clerk refused to give Dylan a room because he looked rough. Many of us would curse and walk off, but Dylan creates a fantastic song based on the incident. It's a solid tune, but I must admit that, at times, I wish someone would throw away his harmonica.
Track 4- "The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll" With lyrics set to the folk melody is "Mary Hamilton." The song discusses the February 3, 1963, murder of a 51-year-old African American barmaid in Baltimore. Carroll, a mother of 9 (10, according to the Dylan song), was killed by 24-year-old William Devereux "Billy" Zantzinger, who hit her with a toy cane while yelling racial slurs at Carroll while drinking at a hotel restaurant. He was angry at Carroll because she failed to bring him his drink promptly. Zantzinger, who came from a wealthy tobacco-farming family, was convicted of manslaughter and served only six months in prison. Obviously, the song is heavy.
Track 5 - "Restless Farewell" borrows its melody from the Scottish Folk Song "The Parting Glass." The song is a sorrowful reflection of a life lived. Some Dylan tunes can be long-winded; for me, this one falls into that category. The song was said to be inspired by a 1963 Newsweek article claiming that Dylan fabricated his personal history.
If the Beatles were the most influential musicians to emerge in 1964, then Bob Dylan was a close second. With this record, Dylan made a significant impact by popularizing folk music and offering wisdom, reflections, and philosophies that would shape the beliefs of many youths worldwide. The Times They Are A Changin' is one of the essential albums of the 1960s.
Awards and Positions (#20 on Billboard Pop Charts, Gold Record)