The Times They Are A-changin'

Bob Dylan

Columbia Records, 1964

REVIEW BY: Christopher Thelen


By the time that Bob Dylan recorded The Times They Are A-Changin' in 1964, the young folksinger was quickly becoming the spokesperson for protest songs -- whether he planned this or not. Songs like "Blowin' In The Wind," thanks in no small part to a cover version by Peter, Paul & Mary, helped throw Dylan into the spotlight like never before. In a way, it seems like Dylan's third album was an answer to the demand for more songs in the proest vein, as it is Dylan's most outspoken album to that point.

Unfortunately, when compared to his two previous albums, it is a step down as well - albeit a minor one. The musicianship on The Times They Are A-Changin' is superb, showing a remarkable amount of growth in Dylan's playing over two years. But it also doesn't always feel like a natural progression for Dylan in terms of songwriting.my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

To be sure, the title track is a masterpiece that still is rightfully held up as one of Dylan's best songs. More cohesive than the original version of "Blowin' In The Wind," Dylan comes full circle as a performer on this one, his vocals ringing out like a lighthouse bell over the seas. Likewise, "The Lonesome Death Of Hattie Carroll" dares to examine the way the scales of justice don't always tip evenly - especially when you know someone who can pull the strings. It's not always the easiest story to follow, but it is a powerful one that should leave you feeling angry at the end.

One thing which struck me on The Times They Are A-Changin' was the inclusion of "With God On Our Side," a song which seems to wear out its welcome by about two verses. While many people made a big deal about Dylan's "born-again" period from 1979 to 1981, Dylan seems to have a fascination with religion even back in 1964, and it's interesting to hear how he ties beliefs in God with how He supposedly sides with certain causes and makes it all just.

But there are times where it sounds like Dylan is straining to meet the (unspoken?) demands of being a protest singer. "Ballad Of Hollis Brown" and "North Country Blues" are decent enough songs, but it doesn't always sound like Dylan is totally comfortable with the style and direction he was then following. "Only A Pawn In Their Game" is in the same boat, though it also reminds me too much of "A Hard Rain's A-Gonna Fall" at times.

You can hear the direction that Dylan was soon to take in his songwriting in the album's closer, "Restless Farewell". If you first heard this in 1964, you probably never would have guessed that this song would be the key that would unlock such treasures as "Mr. Tambourine Man," "My Back Pages" and "It's All Over Now, Baby Blue." Nowadays, it's easy to sit back and point out the clues.

None of this is meant to say that The Times They Are A-Changin' is a bad album; in fact, the more I listen to this one, the more I like it. But after listening to his first two albums, it just seems like Dylan threw the gears in a way he wasn't totally prepared to follow - and he would soon fire up the engine to travel in a different direction. But that's another story for another review.

Rating: B+

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© 1999 Christopher Thelen and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of Columbia Records, and is used for informational purposes only.