Bob Dylan’s second album arrived about a year after his self-titled debut, which was essentially an album of traditional blues and folk tunes adapted to fit his unique style. It contained only two original songs. While in retrospect it was a superb album and would begin to establish Dylan as a star, it sold poorly.
The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan would change the face of folk music and establish Bob Dylan as one of the most creative and inspired talents in the history of American music. The sophistication, the depth, and the inventiveness of the lyrics surpassed just about anything that was being written at the time. It would earn Dylan a gold record for sales and begin to establish him as a viable commercial force.
Unlike his first album, he would write eleven of the thirteen songs. There would be love songs and some brilliant protest songs which would remain eternally relevant.
“Blowin’ In The Wind” leads off the original album and this song alone would have been enough to cement his legacy. Bob Dylan owes a debt of gratitude to Peter, Paul & Mary who would take this gentle song of protest and move it in a pop direction. It would become a huge hit for the trio and receive massive radio airplay. The people who listened too and bought this version would turn toward Dylan and his original. “Blowin’ In The Wind” is one of those rare songs that has entered the American consciousness.
“Masters Of War” is the direct opposite; it is a direct and biting anti-war song. It must be remembered that the Vietnam War had not erupted yet and so the song finds an angry Dylan criticizing war in general and the hierarchy that controls and produces it.
“A Hard Rain’s Gonna Fall” is almost a forgotten song on this release. It would change over the years with the definitive version appearing on The Concert For Bangladesh. This close to a protest song has a structure that would fit the electric Dylan well and so points toward his future. It would be a prophetic song as President Kennedy’s death would follow its release along with the other traumatic events of the 1960s.
Bob Dylan shows his soft side and is at his most sophisticated lyrically with the love songs, “Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right” and “Girl From The North Country.” Many artists have covered and most have butchered “Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right” over the years. His simple, original, and sparse version remains the superior interpretation. “Girl From The North Country” is a poignant love song with a folk structure. The song would be reissued on the Nashville Skyline album as a country song complete with a duet by Johnny Cash.
There are some other songs of note that grace The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan. “Talking World War III Blues” is another humorous outing similar to “Talking New York” from his first album. “Corina Corina” is an old folk song that Dylan gets just right. It is the only song on the album that contains a drummer and a second guitarist. “Bob Dylan’s Dream” finds him looking to the past. Every time I hear this song I wonder what an updated version would contain.
His catalogue of releases is legendary. Within that catalogue, The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan remains essential. I consider it one of the top four Dylan albums along with Blonde On Blonde, John Wesley Harding, and Blood On The Tracks. It was an important musical statement in 1963 and remains so today.