If you have ever analyzed Sir Isaac Newton's law of inertia, you'd know that the law states 'For every action, there is an equal, but opposite reaction.' Figuratively speaking of course, the law of inertia can be directly related to politics, and other social topics of a country. I'm no political science major, but as long as government has made their laws, there have always been radicals and revolutionaries to protest those laws. The reaction cancels itself out, yet it never ends, going full circle. Perhaps musicians that have the wit to analyze political patterns seem to enjoy being political within the context music. Bob Dylan epitomizes this statement. It was no secret that Bob Dylan was Jewish. Yet no matter the criticism he endured for his religious affiliation, or his protesting folk music, Robert Zimmerman always did what he wanted to do with his music. In 1964, Bob Dylan released The Times They Are A-Changin'. It was Bob Dylan's very first record that included all originals. Since his previous album, The Freewheelin' Bob Dylan, Bob Dylan's irrationality as a recording artist had come a long way. Freewheelin' was known for its social outcry introductory song, Blowing in the Wind. On this record, his music and message are in vein of the aforementioned song. He bluntly wrote politically cynical lyrics, and kept a folksy background as his foundation. And the results were far from what meets the ears.
The Times They Are A-Changin' sounds like a down and dirty folk album, with a blues twist to it. It sounds innocuous as an overall record to inept ears. Yet deep beneath Dylan's gravelly, tender voice and quiet acoustic guitar strumming is a political clamor of progressivism. His views are candidly expressed through his controversial libretto. A racial, governmental, and down right abject Bob Dylan is expressed. While he manages to refrain from using vulgarity and nihilistic manifestation, his distress for social injustices are clearly expressed as he remains calm and collected. Bob Dylan is no stranger to controversy, and with this album, it is easy to see why. His forte lies in fiery songwriting. And The Times They Are A-Changin' seems to encompass exactly that.
There are several classic pieces of radical poetry on this album. Likewise, all of which seem to focus on different political aspects. A very bluesy harmonica and a peaceful guitar strum accompany a raucous tale of religion and war, Holocaust and persecution of minorities (With God On Our Side), where Dylan directly addresses the death of Jesus Christ. Other parts speak of the segregation of blacks and whites throughout the country lie in front of a wailing Dylan and soft guitar (Only a Pawn in Their Game) where Dylan often addresses blacks as a white southern man would. And the album title alone (as well as the song itself) directs the governmental change and hypocrisy that occurred in the sixties. The Times They Are A-Changin' is a much more politically cynical record than a musical gem. Dylan's dark, sarcastic sense of humor allegorize the United States into a republic of turmoil, rather than freedom. His use of satire and irony are enough to move anyone who listens to the album, regardless of whether you agree with his point of view, or not. Chances are, liberals hold this album to be holy, while conservatives are about as enraged as they were with To Kill A Mockingbird.
As I have already stated, The Times They Are A-Changin' is a very subtle album, musically. Dylan had not yet explored his electric work, and was still concentrated on acoustic folk, rather than experimenting with other styles. Bob Dylan does not stray from the faint acoustic guitar strumming and powerful harmonica melodies. He lets his voice provide a melody of its own, while his lyrics purvey his message. On a few songs, Lonesome Farewell, in particular, showcase his musical capabilities, yet the better songs are more vocally audacious. There are a number of songs that occupy the album that do not settle on par with the aforementioned songs on here, most of them being the non politically oriented (bar Boots of Spanish Leather). But no matter how Dylan's dark sense of humor is portrayed, his absurdity and cynicism does not go without notice.