Saturday, May 25, 2013

97. The Freewheelin Bob Dylan (1963) Bob Dylan

  1. Blowin' in the Wind" – 2:48
  2. Girl from the North Country" – 3:22
  3. Masters of War" – 4:34
  4. Down the Highway" – 3:27
  5. Bob Dylan's Blues" – 2:23
  6. A Hard Rain's a-Gonna Fall" – 6:55
  7. Don't Think Twice, It's All Right" – 3:40
  8. Bob Dylan's Dream" – 5:03
  9. Oxford Town" – 1:50
  10. Talkin' World War III Blues" – 6:28
  11. Corrina, Corrina" (Traditional) – 2:44
  12. Honey, Just Allow Me One More Chance" (Dylan, Henry Thomas) – 2:01
  13. I Shall Be Free" – 4:49

The Freewheelin Bob Dylan begins with Blowin in the Wind and boasts Masters of War, Girl from the North Country, A Hard Rains Gonna Fall and Don't think Twice It's Alright in its tracklisting. With those five songs the rest of the album could be filled with the sound of Dylan rhythmically slapping his own forehead and it would still be great. Blowin in the Wind alone is enough to ensure it's place on the top 500 list somewhere,  lord knows there are other albums which are propped up by a lesser tent pole of a song. The good news is that there's more to Freewheelin than just the well known songs, the bad news is that it could have been even greater. 
When Dylan recorded his first album the year before, he churned out 17 songs in two days that were culled to make his debut release. When he came to record his second he recorded over two dozen songs in sessions spread out over an entire year which meant he eventually had two albums worth of material to try and cut down into one. Volumes have been written trying to work out what Dylan was thinking when he sat down and tried to cull 46 songs into a 13 song album. A lot of effort has spent working out whether he dropped Talkin John Birch Blues because of record label pressure or because of a self-imposed desire not to become too defined by "finger pointing songs". For audiences in 1963 the loss of a blatant  and barbed dig at communist paranoia deprived them of a statement that needed voicing, but for modern audiences it's no great loss. John Birch is not one of Dylan's finest songs and in an era in which communism seems more quaint than threatening, its lyrics have a lot less impact. It's hard to appreciate the genuine fear which Dylan is satirizing when he talks about Reds Under the Bed, which apparently was a really big issue at the time (couldn't they have just put down mousetraps?) 
Much easier to accept is the fear apparent in Let Me Die in my Footsteps in which Dylan declares he won't hide in a bomb shelter if war broke out but die on his feet instead.  I'm firmly of the opinion that if Bob had included Let Me Die in my Footsteps on Freewheelin instead of ditching it altogether it would be considered one of his masterpieces along with this album's big five tracks. Footsteps is a brilliant piece of songwriting with some truly arresting imagery and words that linger like nuclear fallout ("Instead of learning to live they are learning to die"). It's a magnificent song but was not only left off Freewheelin, it stayed unreleased until 1991 when it finally appeared on the first volume of his official bootleg collection. Not for the first or last time, the public was left wondering what the hell Bob Dylan was thinking. Footsteps is the first great Dylan song left off an album but it definitely wasn't the last (Blind Willie McTell, Series of Dreams etc). Let me Die in my Footsteps is one of the first songs he recorded for Freewheelin and by the time it came to choose the final tracklisting he'd played it so often on stage it was starting to bore him. It's a mark of an exceptional talent when you can actually be bored by greatness. 
It's a shame Bob didn't have a greater tolerance for his own work. Personally I've heard Footsteps a hundred times and I'm less bored with it than I am with Down the Highway, for example which is a massive drop in quality from the highs of the first three tracks. 
By the time he came to assemble the album, Bob was obviously equally bored with Sally Gal, Rambling Gambling Willie and The Death of Emmett Till which in some ways is a pity because Till's story is one that deserves to be heard. Till was probably rejected for the same reason The Walls of Red Wing was given the boot: both sound extremely familiar. Emmett Till sounds a lot like House of the Rising Sun and Red Wing sounds like every folk song you've ever heard. Dylan was never shy about stealing chord progressions from folk classics but he was probably keen to avoid the entirely obvious.
If you get your hands on a copy of The Bootleg Series 1-3 you can enjoy many of these outtakes for yourself and make your own mind up as to whether Dylan made the right decisions or not. The one thing we can all agree on is that Girl from the North Country is just beautiful, Don't think Twice it's allright is one of the most scathing break up songs ever written ("you just kind of wasted my precious time") and Masters of War is sadly still relevant today. We can also agree that A Hard Rains A-Gonna fall boasts some of the most amazing lyrics anyone has ever recorded: "I saw a room full of men with their hammers a-bleedin" who sings that in 1963? Bleeding hammers? Nobody else would dare bring up the image of murder by hammer in a popular song (...except the Beatles obviously. Does Maxwell's Silver Hammer make anyone else feel uncomfortable or is that just me?). A Hard Rains A-Gonna fall has words that you can pour over for months and still get new things out of. It's a song that has no one meaning but dozens of interpretations with new ones being concocted whenever Dylan revolutionizes it as a living piece of music in concert.  For me it's the standout track of the album and it's one that literally stops me if it randomizes its way into my life via an mp3 player. I can work to most music but Hard Rain demands my full attention.
The Freewheelin Bob Dylan has it's fair share of flat spots and songs that haven't dated well. They're made all the more annoying with the knowledge that other highlights were ejected to make way for them. In this era of playlists and compilations you can assemble your own version replacing your least favourite moments with the pick of the outtakes which would create an album that deserves to be even higher on this listing than a lowly 97. Either way it's classic Dylan and has some of his greatest compositions and most arresting performances.
And Blowin in the Wind. It's got Blowin in the Wind as well.

    Favourite Amazon Customer Review Quote: "Blowin in the wind may be the Folkies only good tune ever he is just terrible and for 1963 Losers that were beat up by the Football teams back in the day that were cool."

    -Guys who write comments like these need a good smack from an entire football team.

    1 comment:

    1. Life has been better for having Bob in your life. Just brilliant. He had bigger and better records ahead, but can you imagine the impact this made in 1963?