The Bob Dylan Canon, Part One: Bob Dylan, The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan, The Times They Are A-Changin’

Last week I listened to Bob Dylan’s debut album for the first time in several years.  As soon as I finished it, I cued* up his second album, The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan, and then his third long player, The Times They Are A-Changin’. At this point I thought to myself, “You should listen to all of Dylan’s albums sequentially!”

Then I thought to myself, “Why the hell would you do that?”

Then I thought to myself, “You could write about it in Tilting Suds.”

Then I thought to myself, “Who the hell do you think you are, Greil Fucking Marcus? Sean God Damn Wilentz? Who the hell is going to read that crap?”

Then I thought to myself, “Hey, you never know, some of your readers may enjoy it, and if you include some downloads, you may get some new ones.  You know how obsessive Dylan fans are.”

Then I thought to myself, “That is really stupid, no one is going to care what you think.”


I showed him.  The fat guy has not come back since then.

Here are the ground rules:

1.  I am listening to the official releases only, no bootlegs.

2.  I am skipping greatest hits compilations and singles, so no “Positively 4th Street” or “When I Paint My Masterpiece” even though I love both of those songs.

3.  I am skipping the live albums and the Bootleg Series.

4.  If I time this right, I will do a post on Christmas in the Heart right before Christmas.

5.  Probability of me timing this right: Approximately 3.00078%

Bob Dylan:  Dylan’s self-titled debut is mostly cover songs, with a few unremarkable originals in the mix.  “See That My Grave Is Kept Clean” was originally recorded by Blind Lemon Jefferson, and has been covered by the Grateful Dead, B.B. King and Lightnin’ Hopkins, among others.  Dylan’s version features some nice guitar work and vocals, but is otherwise nothing special.

The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan:  After Dylan’s virtually unnoticed debut, his second album, The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan, was a revelation, the first of many great albums to come.  He wrote almost all of the songs on this album, and some are stone cold classics, like “Blowin’ in the Wind” and “Hard Rain.” The album features several ‘protest songs’ such as “Oxford Town” and “Masters of War.” The song I have chosen, “The Girl from the North

I love this album cover

Country”, is not a protest song, but rather a song about lost love.  The singer has moved on from his hometown, leaving behind a true love.  It is winter, and someone is going to visit his hometown, and the singer asks this person to look in on her, to “see if she’s wearing a coat so warm/To keep her from the howlin’ winds.” The singer wonders if his love even remembers him, and says that he prays for her “In the darkness of my night/In the brightness of my day.”  Dylan’s guitar work on this is all finger picking, creating a melancholy mood throughout the song.  He knows this lost love will never be his again, yet he still yearns for her and for what no longer is.

The Times They Are A-Changin’: Dylan’s third album, and his first of all original songs, cemented his reputation as a protest singer.  He sang the title song at the White House earlier this year for President Obama to celebrate the Civil Rights Movement.  As everyone knows the protest songs already, I have chosen to focus on a break-up song, “One Too Many Mornings.”  The song opens with the singer looking out the window of his apartment as the night falls, listening to the dogs barking, and fearing the coming silence of the night, as he will no longer have any distractions and his thoughts will have free reign over his mind.  The singer looks back into the room where he had been with his lover, and recognizes that their relationship is over.  The refrain of “One Too Many Mornings/And a Thousand Miles Behind” sums up the end of damn near every relationship I have had.  I always stay just a little too long, and by the end I am too far behind to ever catch up again.  Finally, the lines “When ev’rything I’m a-sayin’/You can say it just as good/You’re right from your side/I’m right from mine” are perfect. When a relationship ends, both people are usually right about whatever issues have driven them apart but it just no longer matters.  It is over.  You cannot reconcile what is irreconcilable.

Download the three songs here.

*Now that we live in the Ipod Age, do we still ‘cue up’ music?

4 Responses to The Bob Dylan Canon, Part One: Bob Dylan, The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan, The Times They Are A-Changin’

  1. seanrude says:

    I don’t understand the question, but I guess I will review it.

  2. jimmy danger says:

    How do you square groundrules 1 & 3? Pure contankerous obstinacy? Or just trying to get to a canonical reference version of any song?

    • seanrude says:

      Pure cantankerous obstinacy, with a smidgen of curmudgeonly mulishness.

      Plus I don’t have all the live albums, and I am not going to start buying them.

      I may do the Bootleg Series as they come up, we’ll see

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