Posts Tagged ‘The times they are a-changin’

Ranking Bob Dylan Songs, #23: Blowin’ In The Wind

Grandma Simpson: How many roads must a man walk down before you can call him a man?
Homer: Seven!
Lisa: No, Dad, it’s a rhetorical question.
Homer: Rhetorical, eh?  Eight!

—“Mother Simpson,” 1995

Like so many great lines of literature before it (“To be or not to be?” “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times,” “Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,” etc.), the refrain of Bob Dylan’s most famous song has become a cliché. The line—“How many roads must a man walk down, before you call him a man?”—has become so commonplace and simple after nearly 50 years in the public consciousness that it is easy to laugh at the plainness of the sentiment.

Even at the time of its release, though, people were laughing at “Blowin’ in the Wind.” According to Bob Spitz, Dave Von Ronk, one of Dylan’s early mentors, had a pretty dismissive reaction to the song:  “Jesus, Bobby—what an incredibly dumb song! I mean, what the hell is ‘blowing in the wind’?…I figured Bobby could grind out a tune like that on the worst day he ever had in his life.” Even Dylan himself would occasionally sound modest about the song, saying in 1966, “I was never satisfied with ‘Blowin’ in the Wind.’ I wrote that in ten minutes. ‘Blowin’ in the Wind,’ was a lucky classic song…but it was one-dimensional.”

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Ranking Bob Dylan Songs, #62: The Times They Are A-Changin’

Welcome to a new series! You’ve read Josh’s attempts to rank the Bill of Rights. You’ve read Tim’s attempt to rank everything in history. Well, now John’s going to rank Bob Dylan songs. Keeping it manageable, he’s sticking with songs from the 1960s. No live versions and no bootlegs. We’re going with songs from studio albums, from “Bob Dylan” to “Nashville Skyline.” And what the heck? Since the Basement Tapes were recorded in ’67, we’ll throw that in the mix too. So including all nine studio albums, plus the Basement Tapes, but NOT including songs on the Basement Tapes that don’t include Dylan as a writer/performer, we’re looking at 121 songs. We won’t be ranking the first 111 in any particular order, but the top ten will be counted down once we get there (probably in like 2013).

62nd may seem too low for such an iconic song, but for a while I was debating whether or not to put this in the top 100. “The Times They Are a-Changin’” is certainly Bob Dylan’s most overrated song. If and when Dylan ultimately dies, “The Times” will most likely be one of the first three songs mentioned in any obituary (the other two being “Like a Rolling Stone” and “Blowing in the Wind”). And yet it is a very flawed song: It sounds a little too preachy and predictable—like the cookie-cutter protest song. It doesn’t attain the protean magic of “Blowing in the Wind” or innovative audacity of “Like a Rolling Stone.” Continue reading