Friday, May 28, 2010

47 Years Ago Today - The Release of a Monumental Folk Album

By Robert Herriman

It's hard to believe that the album "The Freewheelin' Bob Dylan" was released nearly five full decades ago on May 27, 1963. Ironically, the release of this platinum album was not in the interest of some at Columbia Records after the release of his self-titled debut album sold only 5000 copies in its first year.

This landmark folk music album, Dylan's second, is full of powerful lyrics about both social justice and longing and love lost. A young man, Dylan was only 22 at its release, was struggling with his relationship with Suze Rotolo (who happens to be on the cover photo with Dylan). Her influence over his writing affected both the political and the personal.

Rotolo, daughter of parents who were devout to the American Communist Party, certainly influenced any social justice and fairness issues Dylan would delve into. The very powerful love songs like "Don't think twice, it's alright" are emotionally tagged to Dylan's relationship to Rotolo. After briefly moving in with Dylan, she went to Italy to study art. The hurt, longing and loss can be heard in Dylan's love songs during this period.
The album featured a litany of songs covering every aspect of life. Some of the highlights include the classic "Blowin' in the Wind", later made famous by Peter, Paul and Mary, which became a staple in the freedom movement of that era.

The painful "Don't think twice, it's alright" was written when Dylan learned of Rotolo's intention to stay in Italy. It is as one author calls it, "an ambiguous mixture of bitterness and regret". Then there is "Oxford Town", a short tune about USAF veteran James Meredith, who was the first black student to enroll at the University of Mississippi near Oxford, Mississippi. Here federal troops were called in to integrate the school.

Then of course is the ever powerful, "A Hard Rain's A-Gonna Fall". I'll let the final verse speak for itself:

Oh, what'll you do now, my blue-eyed son?
Oh, what'll you do now, my darling young one?
I'm a-goin' back out 'fore the rain starts a-fallin'
I'll walk to the depths of the deepest black forest
Where the people are many and their hands are all empty
Where the pellets of poison are flooding their waters
Where the home in the valley meets the damp dirty prison
Where the executioner's face is always well hidden
Where hunger is ugly, where souls are forgotten
Where black is the color, where none is the number
And I'll tell it and think it and speak it and breathe it
And reflect it from the mountain so all souls can see it
Then I'll stand on the ocean until I start sinkin'
But I'll know my song well before I start singin'
And it's a hard, it's a hard, it's a hard, it's a hard
It's a hard rain's a-gonna fall

The whole album, in my opinion is a masterpiece of songwriting, and I'm not alone in feeling that. In 2002, the Library of Congress chose "The Freewheelin' Bob Dylan" as one of the 50 recordings to be added to the National Recording Registry. The album joined "Stars and Stripes Forever", Scott Joplin's "Ragtime" and FDR's fireside chats as inductees. "Freewheelin" epitomizes the early sixties but at the same time, "was ahead of it's time".

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  1. You have just pointed out to me that Ive been listening to this album for nearly 50 years.I was just a kid listening to pop,the crooners,and this appeared and everything changed for me and a few of my close friend who are now cast around the world and elsewhere.I love listening to this music,I never tire of it.Dylan,Cohen guys like that,Folk Blues and Beyond by Davy Graham,Bert Jansch,the Incredible String Band.This was the music to be listened to at every party.
    Best wishes from Scotland.

  2. Any minute of the day the bubble could burst; I'm gonna look at you till my eyes go blind.

    Diagnose THAT.