Review Summary: Despite containing a number of classic Dylan songs, its excess of filler prevents The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan from living up to the classic status that is often assigned to it, but don’t think twice, it’s (more than) alright.
There’s a thin line that separates a great lyricist from a poet. Both use their words as a form of expression, a way to convey their thoughts and feelings and to try and make some sort of statement, be it of a personal nature or one much more far-reaching. Few artists blur the line between the two as much as Bob Dylan, a musician who is considered by many as arguably the greatest songwriter of all time, having rightly gained more acclaim for his lyricism than his musical talents. Given this, when looking back on Dylan’s discography, it’s surprising that his debut album was made up mostly of cover songs, featuring only two original compositions. As a result of this, Dylan’s second album, The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan
is in many ways the first true Bob Dylan album, the album where Dylan became a singer-songwriter with the emphasis on the latter.
Released in 1963, The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan
was made up almost entirely of Dylan-penned songs, with the traditional, Corrina, Corrina and a reworked and adapted cover version of the Henry Thomas song Honey, Just Allow Me One More Chance being the only two exceptions on the thirteen track album. The album’s sound is predominantly folk-based with several acoustic blues songs added to the mix. For the most part Dylan’s voice is accompanied only by his own acoustic guitar and occasional harmonica playing, giving the album a stripped back sound that suits Dylan’s song writing perfectly
The album opens with perhaps its most famous song, the classic Blowin’ in the Wind, a song that demonstrates Dylan’s sudden growth as an artist, with its now iconic lyrics coupled with Dylan’s laid-back guitar strumming, it demonstrates a style that Dylan would become known for with his folk-based material. While its lyrical themes are clearly based around war and peace, there is still a certain level of ambiguity surrounding the message behind the song, particularly with regards to its chorus line. In contrast, there is nothing ambiguous about Masters of War, a lyrically ferocious, hate-fuelled protest song, inspired by the Cold War arms build-up. One thing that is particularly impressive about Masters of War is the fact that Dylan addresses the ever-present question surrounding a song such as this, one that is often ignored and as a result can sometimes invalidate such a pointed protest song:
How much do I know
To talk out of turn?
You might say that I’m young
You might say I’m unlearned
But there’s one thing I know
Though I’m younger than you
Even Jesus would never
Forgive what you do
Being only 21 and writing such a political song, especially one so scathing, will inevitably lead to accusations of naivety among some. Thus the fact that Dylan is able to address this question gives the song extra sincerity. It’s the song’s final verse however that stands out as one of the most memorable and powerful moments on the album, with Dylan’s severely hateful lyrics delivered with matching emotional intensity.
While many of the album’s songs demonstrate Dylan’s unquestionable prowess as a songwriter, not every song is as well written as the album’s standouts. In fact Freewheelin’
suffers from having a number of filler tracks such as the throwaway acoustic blues of Down the Highway and the equally forgettable Bob Dylan’s Blues. In fact the majority of the album’s bluesy tracks could be labelled filler, even Talkin’ World War III Blues, which despite its relatively interesting lyrics feels overlong and ultimately fails to hold your attention for more than a couple of minutes. At the other end of the spectrum the brilliant A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall more than justifies its near seven minute run time, featuring some of the album’s best lyrics. The song is written as a dialogue between a father and his son with the young boy describing the horrors of the world that he’s witnessing in reply to his father’s loving query as to what he’s observed. Dylan’s lyrics during this song are a times frighteningly evocative and are made even more powerful by Dylan’s surprisingly effective vocal delivery, which sees him make the most of his limited vocal talent. In fact Dylan’s singing is consistently good throughout the album, making Freewheelin’
one of his strongest vocal efforts. Other highlights include the beautiful Girl From The North Country, a song that was later re-recorded with Johnny Cash appearing as the opening track on the album Nashville Skyline. This album’s version comes across as more emotional than its future re-working and remains the definitive version of the song, perfectly conveying the sense of yearning that dominates its lyrics.
contains a number of classic Dylan songs, some of which are up there with the best he’s ever recorded, the album is let down by its notable inconsistency. The abundance of filler makes this a rather uneven album that despite some real highs isn’t quite the classic that many proclaim it to be. Having said that, the importance of this album, not just in Dylan’s career but also in the music scene at the time it was released, is undeniable. It’s only really when looking back at the album within the context of Dylan’s vast discography that its weaknesses come to the fore. In comparison to many of the classic Dylan albums that followed, such as Bringing It All Back Home, Blonde on Blonde and Blood on the Tracks, The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan
doesn’t quite live up to the classic status that is so often assigned to it. Nevertheless, any album that contains songs like Blowin’ in the Wind, A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall and Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right, among other highlights, deserves a place in any music fan’s collection. At its best Freewheelin’
is a testament to the talents of a very young Bob Dylan and it signalled a coming of age for the singer-songwriter, setting him on his way to become one of the greatest and most important musical artists of all time.