on 11 September 2012
One of the single most important albums of the 1960s canon of music, THE FREEWHEELIN' BOB DYLAN, along PLEASE PLEASE ME, introduced that era 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. It also has a lesson produces nowadays could learn from: you don't need tons of insturments to produce an effective sound or 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. Compositions like "Blowin' in the Wind," "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 this genre. AMG ranks this as the single most important song collection released in the 1960s. While he did go radically reinvent himself, 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. We also get the really mean Dylan with "Don't Think Twice," though he tells the lover off in such a way as to guise how mean it really is. This album produced many of his most important compositions and signature songs.
The central problem with protest albums is they have a tendency to become dated and awkward, 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. For the just utterly blah, monotonous routine protest albums can be we go to the next album, THE TIMES THEY ARE A'CHANGIN', and 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. 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. Dylan does not make that mistake here. While certainly a protest album, it somehow transcends that and becomes a rather timeless piece of music. When compared to The Beatles' debut album, the other (much smaller, though to be fair The Beatles were very prolific for only being around seven years) body of work that all mainstream (and other) music is judged by, Dylan had them beat by a long way.
For those who are looking for a place to start, this album stands as an excellent introduction to Dylan. It makes more sense to start at the beginning and travel through his albums one by one to trace his artistic evolution. As for myself, I made a CD-R with a lot of the cuts that should have been on the album but weren't because of time restraints. For the new listener, they should also pick up THE BOOTLEG SERIES VOL. 1-3, and should be one of their top five Dylan purchases. It provides a shadow history of Dylan, and many of his best cuts, including outstanding compositions from this album (most notably "Rambling Gambling Willie," "Let Me Die In My Footsteps," and "Talking Bear Mountain,") were, sadly and inexplicitly, left off...
Bottom line: Essential 1960s music. For those young ones out there, the generation previous has some excellent music being wrought in their era... From the looks of the current music scene, we'll never get another poet like Dylan. Right now, it looks like we won't even get passable music. What happened?????