Bob Dylan – The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan

What I Think of When I Think of This Artist

Well. We’ve reached Dylan. This is going to be difficult, because I have a healthy amount of Dylan. I’m not sure what I’m going to write about over the course of all these entries. What I need to say right off the bat is that Dylan makes me think of my best friend from college Justin, one of the most brilliant people I’ve ever met and a devoted Dylan acolyte.

What I Think of This Album

Dylan’s second album and the earliest one you need to own, this is what launched him, rightly, to stardom.

On the one hand, this is basically an album of folk and blues, and Dylan’s original compositions remain beholden to older songs:  “Girl From the North Country” is based on “Scarborough Fair;” “Blowin’ In the Wind” is adapted from an old spiritual called “No More Auction Block;” Dylan was sued over the arrangement of “Masters of War;” the traditional folk ballad “Lady Franklin’s Lament” gave rise to “Bob Dylan’s Dream,” and as much as it pains me to acknowledge it, even “Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right” borrows from “Who’s Gonna Buy You Ribbons When I’m Gone?” (which itself is a riff on “Who’s Gonna Buy Your Chickens When I’m Gone,” I swear to God that’s the title of the song).

On the other hand, Dylan’s unique and organic imagery is startlingly innovative and powerful, and he delivers the songs with a mix of anger, humor, loss, and wisdom that communicated  the acute concerns of the nation’s awakening youth yet remained firmly rooted in American musical tradition. Moreover, Dylan introduced (arguably) substantive songwriting into the pop landscape with this work, proving that this sort of music could indeed be art. Touching on a topic I will return to later, this album also rebuts the ignorant charge that Dylan can’t sing – he sings just fine here.

There are four stone cold classics on Freewheelin’, including what might be my favorite all time Dylan song. “Blowin’ In the Wind” is, like most tracks on here, just Dylan on guitar and harmonica. Against this spare and repetitive background, Dylan challenges listeners to take heed and demonstrate integrity, without ever invoking any specific context. “Girl From the North Country” is a poignant love song with nimble guitar work, and a truly lovely vocal.

The undisputed masterpiece of the album is “A Hard Rain’s a-Gonna Fall,” an epic, ominous travelogue replete with astonishing and apocalyptic imagery:  “I saw a newborn baby with wild wolves all around it;” “I saw a black branch with blood that kept dripping;” “I’ve been out in front of a dozen dead oceans;” “Heard the song of the poet who died in the gutter;” “Where the home in the valley meets the damp dirty prison.” JESUS FUCKING CHRIST. Honestly, the album should consist of just this song and maybe a voucher for a bottle of bourbon. Dylan once again plays an impressive guitar on the deceptively bitter “Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right,” which he downplays with an almost tender reading. This is a song I absolutely adore; Mike Ness (Social Distortion) released an appropriately venomous version.

The rest of the album can’t hope to compare with these four songs. “Talking World War III Blues” is inspired by Woody Guthrie; I appreciate the display of Dylan’s playful sense of humor. I guess some people find “Honey, Just Allow Me One More Chance” to be lightweight filler, but I think the song offers a rare jaunty respite from a pretty dark album. Those people also probably hate hate hate “I Shall Be Free” (a Lead Belly song), but again, I think it’s fun and funny. If nothing else, over the course of his career, Dylan has proven that he is more than just one thing – let the man play a silly song every now and then!

The cover of “Corrina, Corrina” – featuring a backing band – is a nice little tune, and actually reminds me of late period Dylan (like Time Out of Mind or Modern Times). “Oxford Town” is fine, but I find Dylan’s delivery to border on annoying. There are a couple of blues numbers that I can do without. Sorry, but I hate the blues. So I skip “Down the Highway,” and also “Bob Dylan’s Blues” which for all its absurdist pretensions, doesn’t really register. “Bob Dylan’s Dream” comes across as tedious – I don’t need this track. And while there are those that consider “Masters of War” to be one of the album’s high points, I think it’s remarkably unpleasant, and perhaps too much the product of its time.

The Best Thing About This Album

While “Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right” might be my favorite Dylan song, I concede that “A Hard Rain’s a-Gonna Fall” is the best thing on this album.

Release Date

May, 1963

The Cover Art

Really, a fantastic shot. Taken in February on Jones Street (by West 4th Street), the image of Dylan and Suze Rotolo (herself an artist and professor, who exposed Dylan to communism, Rimbaud, and Bertolt Brecht) is nothing short of iconic. Rotolo died in 2011. This must be the LP cover because my CD lacks the song listing at the bottom.

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