Thursday, August 9, 2007

No. 97: The Freewheelin' Bob Dylan

Band: Bob Dylan
Album: The Freewheelin' Bob Dylan
Why Rolling Stone gets it right: At his protesting best, Dylan takes out the establishment on multiple tracks. In addition to the so-very-famous "Blowin' In The Wind," "Masters Of War," "Talking World War III Blues," "A Hard Rain's a-Gonna Fall" and "I Shall Be Free" all hit the powers that be.
Why Rolling Stone gets it wrong: A lot of melodies are lifted from traditional folk songs. The lyrics are great, but like all Dylan records, a lot of the songs could use a reworking.
Best song: "Masters Of War" is really quite excellent.
Worst song: I'm not a fan of "Bob Dylan's Dream."
Is it awesome?: It's pretty great.

Protest songs are difficult to pull off, so leave it to one of America's greatest songwriters to do it. "The Freewheelin' Bob Dylan" has little of Dylan doing any free wheeling, in fact, he appears pretty serious. That's good.

The record starts out with the classic civil rights anthem "Blowin' In The Wind" and doesn't really let up. "Masters of War" -- a direct hit at the military industrial complex that Dwight Eisenhower warned against in his exit 1961 speech -- brims with not-so-subtle fury. "A Hard Rain's a-Gonna Fall" sounds pretty prescient considering it was released right around the time of the Cuban Missile Crisis.

The non-protest songs are decent. "Girl from the North Country" is a nice little song and "Honey, Just Allow Me One More Chance" isn't terrible. Mostly, though, they're just filler to get to Dylan hitting "the man" again.

Still, it's Dylan. His voice is awful and his guitar playing -- melodies, again, lifted and interpreted from old folk songs most of the time -- isn't very good, either. Listening to Dylan's original against the Roots' cover of "Masters of War," for example provides an interesting contrast. The Roots clearly beat the hell out of the song while Dylan -- recorded 45 years ago, but still -- seems to sound bored, almost.


While I'm not as tired of Dylan as I was during the first three weeks of this exercise when Dylan popped up four times, I still have had about enough of him. "The Freewheelin' Bob Dylan" has some of his best protest music; It's the record where Dylan became "Bob Dylan: Songwriter." For that, it deserves its placement here, as much as I'm tired of Dylan.

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