on 2 October 2007
One of the single most important albums of the rock canon, THE FREEWHEELIN' BOB DYLAN, along PLEASE PLEASE ME, introduced the 1960s with a bang. Sure, the decade had been underway since 1960, but with this release we finally get the Dylan that will change the face of popular music. Although the album before this one can be entertaining in spots, no one could guess the genius of this sophomore effort by listening to the first Bob Dylan disc. And what genius it is.
Dylan, in the course of 13 songs, covers much of the human emotional genome, from joy to sadness to longing to righteous anger to broken hearts to comedy. The album is as accomplished and stunning as any of his later works, and stands as one of the best albums ever recorded. The sound is sparse, but very effective for the material covered. It also has a lesson producers nowadays could learn from: you don't need tons of instruments to produce effective music. This is just Dylan, a guitar, and a harmonica with the exception of "Corrina, Corrina," and he makes it work. Boy does he ever.
This album produced many of his most important compositions and signature songs, including the song that broke him into the mainstream, "Blowin' in the Wind". Compositions like the aforementioned song, "Don't Think Twice, It's Alright," "A Hard Rain's Gonna Fall," "Masters of War," and "Girl of the North Country," quickly established Dylan as the premier songwriter for the social conscious of the early 1960s, a role Dylan would quickly move away from (just listen to the mid 1960s trilogy of BRINGING IT ALL BACK HOME, HIGHWAY 61 REVISITED, and BLONDE ON BLONDE to see how far he left this stuff behind). However, Dylan would never cease to be the premier songwriter of rock and roll, and he is still regarded as the poet laureate of rock and roll.
What makes this album's durability all the more remarkable is that it was recorded in the height of the folk-protest revival, which had numerous songs that do not have long shelf lives. The central problem with protest albums is they have a tendency to become dated and awkward as years go by, but not here. These songs sound just as glorious as when they were first released. Where THE FREEWHEELIN' BOB DYLAN does sound dated, this effect actually enhances the album, especially on the last cut of the album where he is talking to President Kennedy who was alive at the time. That alone gives the cut an endearing quality.
Dylan wisely stayed away from dated political concerns, and instead addressed the problems America was having in the 1960s from a much more universal perspective. Instead of singing about nuclear rain (which "A Hard Rain's Gonna Fall was never about to begin with), Dylan invokes an oncoming apocalypse. With "Blowin' in the Wind," he confesses he simply doesn't know the answers to the problems, a very strange thing for an early 1960s folk song to do. Other folkies would have said the answer was social reform, or peace and love, or something along those lines. "Masters of War" stays relevant even today, because Dylan addresses universal concerns, not topical ones.
It is useful to contrast this album with its followup, THE TIMES THEY ARE A'CHANGIN'. THE TIMES is a much more defined album, with Dylan clearly in the "protest mode". While most of the cuts off that record are certainly worthy additions to the Dylan catalogue (considering the stuff that was being recorded at the time by Dylan, did we really need "With God On Our Side,") when taken as an entire album THE TIMES wears its listeners out emotionally. TIMES can get rather monotous as times as well. TIMES has dated much more badly than FREEWHEELIN', though to be fair to that record, it still stands up much better than the other folk records coming out of the Greenwich Village scene by today's standards, especially with the title track.
That is one album that desperately needed some light-hearted moments like "Eternal Circle" or something to break up the monotony. Sadly, two of the best compositions ("Percy's Song" and "Lay Down Your Weary Tune," both available on BIOGRAPH) were left off.
TIMES is a dark, brooding, traditional "protest album", and though evidenced by Dylan's numerous outtakes from that period that he was writing songs far beyond simple protest music, it is obvious Dylan constricted himself to very narrow subject matter and themes. TIMES comes off as a very humourless, serious affair. Dylan does not make that mistake here.
While I digressed to discuss this album's followup, contrasting TIMES with FREEWHEELIN' is useful in that it helps show what makes FREEWHEELIN' so successful. TIMES is a straight laced, no nonsense protest album, though with better track selection (like most of Dylan's work), it could have been a much different, and in TIMES' case, better, album. Listening to TIMES is emotionally draining, and while certainly has some great songs, overall the album does not stand up as well, though there are individual songs that match anything on FREEWHEELIN'. TIMES is much more limited in its emotional range, whereas FREEWHEELIN' is a much broader record, and a better one at that.
While THE FREEWHEELIN' BOB DYLAN certainly qualifies as a protest album, due to Dylan's deft skill he crafted the album to be much more universal than strictly topical, and he has been rewarded with creating a rather timeless piece of music. While he did go radically reinvent himself several times over, Dylan never sounded better here, and while he may have come up with music as good as the songs on this album he never made one that surpassed it.
on 23 September 2009
You've thrown the worst fear
That can ever be hurled
Fear to bring children
Into the world
For threatening my baby
Unborn and unnamed
You ain't worth the blood
That runs in your veins
And I hope that you die
And your death'll come soon
I will follow your casket
In the pale afternoon
And I'll watch while you're lowered
Down to your deathbed
And I'll stand o'er your grave
Till I'm sure that you're dead
Just two of the eight angry verses of 'Masters of War', perhaps Dylan's most bitter attack on the American establishment and its culture of sending young men to die in a war that no man among them would fight. It is arguably the most incisive and eloquent anti-war song ever written, it is certainly the standard by which all others are compared. The year was 1963 and Bob was a fresh faced kid trying to make the scene; unprepared and patently incapable of any known form of compromise.
It may be argued that folk music gave Dylan licence to condemn political leaders so fervently. But folk music had not spared Pete Seeger from the Un-American Activities Committee [not to be confused with the McCarthy trials] a few years earlier and though America had moved on it remained obsessed with the threat of communism and was still deeply suspicious of any anti American retoric. In any event Bob did not save his denouncements for the words of his music and was quite happy to criticise the same order in interviews and press conferences whenever he felt so inclined. For his own amusement he once ridiculed the 'old bald guys' that ran the country. When the holocaust obsessed media asked him if 'A Hard Rains A-Gonna Fall' was about nuclear fallout, like a father to a child, the 22 year old Dylan had to explain in the simplest possible terms that the song was about less specific consequences of bad decisions.
The Beatles, whose rise can be charted at more or less the same time as Dylan's, were still charming the establishment with dandy wit and songs like 'She Loves You' when Freewheelin' came out, and it would take the best part of a generation before Lennon was in a position to bite the hand that fed him. His first song that contained any real social comment was 'Revolution' but that was tentatively hidden on a the B side of 'Hey Jude' in 1968. Bob would become a legend and influence generations to come, but it would be on his own terms and he would not so much as throw the establishment a bone in the process. In fairness to John Lennon, he too would have great moments in the same theme with songs like 'Working Class Hero' and 'Give Me Some Truth', but that was long after Dylan had stirred up the revolution and moved on.
This was Dylan's second album but it may as well have been his first. In retrospect the self named debut, though very good in its own right, contained a vocal style that is unrecognisable to the familiar style that would emerge on this record. The first track, 'Blowin' In The Wind' would become a folk standard and turn Bob into a superstar, and if 'Like A Rolling Stone' from 'Highway 61 Revisited' would become the quintessential Dylan song, 'Blowin' In The Wind' probably remains his best known song.
Soon after this album's follow up 'The Times They Are A Changin'', Bob veered away from writing about social injustice and among other things, tended to write more specific protest songs. Some say he could never have been in the vanguard of anyone else's revolution, others have commented that he hated conforming to a stereotype. The fact is, to Bob Dylan, conforming to anything would be a fate worse than death.
Bob Dylan's second album is totally different to his debut. A somewhat more mature and polished effort it shows just how much he had learned and developed in the few short months between. The style moves away from the raw folk to something more recognisable as Dylan - political protest, streams of consciousness, a mixture of direct, to the point lyrics with some that are almost surreal, tender love songs. All this and also probably his best known song `Blowing In The Wind', beloved by a generation of guitar strumming hippies around campfires.
I find it a lot more accessible than his debut, and very listenable. The songs flow nicely, opening with the social conscience of `Blowing in the Wind', through the country stylings of `Girl From The North Country', back to political statement with `Masters of War', and so on with a great deal of variety. Dylan was an artist with a lot to say, and it is here that he started to earn his sobriquet as the voice of the generation with tracks such as the angry `Hard Rain's Gonna Fall'. His bitter ode to love gone wrong `Don't Think Twice, It's All Right' still resonates today, and I have to say is probably my personal favourite Dylan track of all time. Despite being full of anger and bitterness there are moments of tenderness (the aforementioned `Girl From The North Country', and an interesting reading of `Corrina Corrina') and the album ends on a note of hopefulness with the elegant `I Shall Be Free'.
One of Dylan's most consistent and accessible albums, and probably the best from his early acoustic years. 5 stars easily.
on 11 September 2006
"You fasten the triggers for the others to fire. Then you set back and watch when the death count gets higher. You hide in your mansion,as young people's blood flows out of their bodies
and is buried in the mud.
How much do I know to talk out of turn. You might say that I'm young, you might say I'm unlearned. But there's one thing I know
though I'm younger than you. Even Jesus would never forgive what you do"
This has to be my favourite album of all time. Dylan captures what it is like to be young and carefree, but at the same time burdened by the guilt of knowledge and responsibility; he sings this all out beautifully, eloquently, simply. There isn't any of the complex vaguries of the new 'subversives' e.g. Radiohead, or . There is a sincerity and empathy and confidence- that there is a difference between right and wrong that is not relative, but universal. Just because you're not black doesn't mean you shouldn't be outraged at racism, just because you're not a victim doesn't mean you should accept the slaughter of war. And he sang all this when it wasn't the conventional wisdom, he was expressing something new, which is something that the commercialised commodified righteousness of Coldplay or U2 can never do.
This isn't a manifesto for change, it doesn't try to be. It is a mere observation on the transcience of love, the inhumanity of war and racism. It is knowingly naive, and perfectly imperfect and that's why I love it.
on 22 February 2007
Excellent acoustic guitar tracks, if you play guitar then these songs are ace to learn
loads of thought provoking imagary and poetic vocals that hand in hand with the melodies and not to mention the spot on, flowing harp (harmonica)the you'll here thoughout the breaks in most tracks
theres tracks like 'don't think twice' with some legend fingerpicking, vocals and harp
this album was recoded in 62 and still doesnt sound old, it sounds more on the ball than some stuff thats about these days - - - i personnally prefer the early dylan and the later dylan (60's-early70's90's00') out of the acoustic stuff this is one of my personnel best(they're all pretty good)my other favourite albums are:
bringing it all back home, blonde on blonde,another side of bob dylan,the times they are a'changin'
some proper classic tunes on here