adrian is rad


if you don’t know: The Times They Are a Changin’ is good

Filed under: — adrian @ 12:23 am

It took me a long time to like Bob Dylan. A lot of his famous stuff just isn’t that good—or rather, it’s good, I just don’t like them much. The first of his stuff that I really liked was off of the excellent first disc of the Bootleg Series, Vol 1-3. Here he was singing sparse acoustic songs that have ties to folk music (and when I say folk music, I mean the traditional type: songs have unknown authors and multiple versions) or actual traditional songs (like ‘House Carpenter’ and other ballads of the Child type). Here’s music I could get behind.

Over the next few years, in digging around for studio versions of music off of that Bootleg disc, I found myself going to a few of his early albums, particularly The Times, They Are a Changin’ and The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan. Earlier this year, I made The Times my first Bob Dylan album.

The instrumentation is constant throughout: Dylan, his guitar and harmonica (usually recapitulating the melody). The guitar parts are low in the mix, so these songs are sustained by their lyrics and melodies.

The quality of the songs ranges from good to amazing. Among my favorites are: “the Times they Are a Changin'”, “With God on our Side”, “Boots of Spanish Leather”, “When the Ships Come in” and “The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll.”

“The Times” is overused and misused (including a Kaiser Permanente commercial—that I actually like a lot—about an overweight guy getting in shape), but it’s still an amazing song if you step back and listen to it. Imagine hearing this song for the first time, how bowled over you would have been.

I first hear “With God on our Side” on Bootleg Series, Vol. 6 in a duet with Joan Baez (who I don’t like alone, but I love when harmonizing with Dylan). It’s a song with some immense gravity to it and a timelessness to it, despite the anachronism of the lyrics at this time.

“Boots of Spanish Leather” is a ballad, in the Child sense. It’s a pretty and fairly simple story about a lover leaving and possibly not returning. I love the melody, which is really similar to another Dylan favorite of mine, “Girl from North Country” (which is possibly even better in its this-is-a-really-old-song-that-I-wrote-ness) and apparently both draw melodic inspiration to Martin Carthy’s version of Scarborough Fair (which is Child #2 for those that are counting). It also has such longing in it.

“When the Ships Come in” is possibly my favorite Dylan song. I think it’s something about the combination of melodic and lyrical strength in the song. It’s another in the “The Times They are a Changin'” camp of the-world-is-changing songs; however I like this one better. I’m totally blown away that Dylan apparently wrote this one one quick angry stint in a hotel room after the clerk didn’t recognize him and treated him poorly for his unkempt appearance.

“The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carrol” is a modern narrative ballad about a society man accidentally killing a servant in a Baltimore hotel and the aftermath. I find in narrative songwriting, the true gift comes in which details to include and how all the details return back together at the end of the song to bring it to a conclusion. In this sense, Dylan triumphs on both accounts: the details are enought to develop the story and the characters without bogging it down and the conclusion hangs largely on the sentence from the judge.

So yeah, if you don’t know: The Times They Are a Changin’ is good.

Leave a Reply

Spam protection by WP Captcha-Free

Powered by WordPress