Recorded: April 1962-April 1963
Released: May 27, 1963
Like I said, I can’t recreate what it was like to listen to Dylan’s progression in real time, but honestly, this is shocking. People talk endlessly about all his radical transformations — going electric! being born again! — but I think the artistic progression he made from his debut to this album may be his greatest transformation. His first album, honestly, was pretty forgettable. But “The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan” — written and recorded before he was 22 years old — is where he became BOB DYLAN.
The album contains at least five absolute classics: “Blowin’ In The Wind”, “Girl From The North Country”, “Masters of War”, “A Hard Rain’s a-Gonna Fall”, “Don’t Think Twice It’s Alright”. This right here is a career! How many artists have written five songs like this??? How many cover versions of these songs have there been? Certainly thousands… I really don’t think I have to say anything about these songs that hasn’t already been said.
And many of the lesser songs are pretty great, too. “Oxford Town” is, I think, Dylan’s first topical song. It’s short, to the point, and — for such a dark subject — a warm, appealing listen. “Talkin’ World War III Blues” is darkly funny, and I love his delivery on so many lines: “Good car to drive, after a war”. “I’ll let you be in my dreams, if I can be in yours. I said that”. And I’ve always had a soft spot for “I Shall Be Free” – pretty much pure silliness, despite references to “sitting in the back of the tub” and Martin Luther King.
A word about “topical” — I don’t consider “Blown’ in the Wind”, “Masters of War”, or “A Hard Rain” to be topical songs. Maybe they’re “protest” songs, but I think the better framing is to call them visionary or prophetic. The topical songs come in full force next album.