Bob's Big Box

Bob's Big Box
As a music lover who just turned 40, I thought it was about time I explored the back catalogue of Bob Dylan, an artist I'd largely ignored previously. Right then...

Monday, 16 February 2015

2. The Freewheelin' Bob Dylan (1963)

Wow, what a confident record! On his second album Bob has begun stretching out, both lyrically and in song length, and the differences between Freewheelin' and his debut just a year or so before are startling. All but one of the songs here are written by Dylan himself with their melodies based on existing traditional songs. Romantic travails still crop up (Girl From The North Country, Down The Highway) but mostly subject matter has moved from the personal to the political.

It opens with Blowin' In The Wind, an extremely familiar song even to Dylan virgins like me. This time I was immediately struck by just how short it actually is - it's been covered countless times by other artists and has had a huge impact down the years, which is pretty amazing for a track that comes in at under three minutes long. On first play my immediate favourite was the fantastically powerful A Hard Rain's A Gonna Fall, which uses abstract imagery to create a sense of sad inevitability and hints at some kind of dark end for the human race. On an album jam-packed with classics it soon had some competition, however.

Masters Of War is a marvellously bitter diatribe against the industry of conflict, which doesn't pull any punches and in no uncertain terms wishes for a quick end to the warmongers. More plain speaking, this time addressing civil liberties, is present in Oxford Town, about the story of student James Meredith at the University of Mississippi. This pithy number is followed by the lengthy, not-so-plain-speaking Talking World War III Blues, a brilliant, absurdist look at America's fears, some of it briefly reprised in closer I Shall Be Free.

Away from social and political commentary, Bob Dylan's Dream is a nostalgic look back that yearns for the simple, uncomplicated friendships of his teenage years. This and much of the witty, playful Bob Dylan's Blues, e.g. 

"Well lookit here buddy,
 You want to be like me,
 Pull out your six-shooter,
 And rob every bank you can see.
 Tell the judge I said it was alright.

make me wonder whether it was possible that the pressures of success, or indeed impending success, as his poor-selling debut didn't exactly launch him into the stratosphere, (such confidence!) were already getting to him. (You just wait, Bob!)

Another standout for me is the resigned Don't Think Twice, It's All Right, another track I was already familiar with, and of which dear old Dolly made a decent fist last year on her Blue Smoke album:

When it comes to the final two songs Honey, Just Allow Me One More Chance and I Shall Be Free, I have a bit of a mental block in that I have trouble recalling them, probably because the preceding material is so strong and occupies my mind so fully on each listen. Frankly it wouldn't hurt the album for me if it came to a close after Corrina, Corrina.  Except for this song, where Dylan is joined by a backing band, I think that Freewheelin' is a great lo-fi example of how powerful and influential one talented man armed with just his guitar and harmonica can be.

What do you think of this album? What's best/worst about it for you? Do let me know in the comments.

After hearing this great record and the one that preceded it, I'm really looking forward to getting to know the next in line, The Times They Are A-Changin'.  I hope you can pop back in a week or so when I've had a good listen.

1 comment:

  1. This one's in my top five of Bob albums and A Hard Rain... is one of the best things he ever recorded: the sheer gutsiness in rolling out so many verses of such unforgettable apocalyptic imagery over such an unadorned three chord backing is staggering. Other than that, these days I tend to favour the more mellow tracks like Girl Of The North Country and Bob Dylan's Dream over the funny ones and the protest songs. I found the possibilities this album presents very inspiring as a teenager and apart from the somewhat over-exposed Blowin In The Wind it still sounds implausibly fresh.