Friday, June 14, 2013

Dylanology: The Freewheelin' Bob Dylan

Dylanology is an ongoing series of blog posts in which I'm chronologically going through Bob Dylan's studio discography. There may be some diversions along the way.

In perhaps the most clear example ever of avoiding a sophomore slump, The Freewheelin' Bob Dylan is leaps and bounds better than the debut it followed. With this release, Dylan went from being a gifted but immature folk artist and unproven songwriter to a nascent genius and 'generational spokesman.' It's clear from just the tracklisting and writing credits that he had come a long way in little under a year. Whereas Bob Dylan, despite its title, had few Dylan originals, The Freewheelin' Bob Dylan was almost entirely originals.

Some would argue that Dylan never topped Freewheelin' in terms of songwriting originality and maturity. While it is a hell of a sophomore effort, I'm not sure Freewheelin' would crack my top 5 Dylan albums. This says more about my taste and the wealth of excellent other choices from his catalogue than it does the album itself. Indeed, the mix of political and personal songs on Dylan's second album is perhaps unsurpassed in his 'back pages', so to speak, as far as balancing the serious with the whimsical. 'Masters Of War' is as polemic as he ever got, while 'Talkin' World War III Blues' is as close to a Shel Silverstein-esque parody of a “talkin' blues” archetypal folk/blues song as he could allow himself.

There are other lighthearted delights and impressive social commentary to be had. 'Corrina, Corrina', one of the few covers, has a lovely full band arrangement that wouldn't be out of place on future records like Blonde On Blonde or Love & Theft. Seeming to reference the album cover photo and drop a couple self-deprecating winks, 'Bob Dylan's Blues' may just be the most post-modern 60s folk song ever written. Meanwhile, the rich imagery and lamenting refrains of 'A Hard Rain's a-Gonna Fall' are the kind of direction he would increasingly go in.

From this point, Bob Dylan would only expand further outward with the social consciousness showcased on the following record, the dire and serious The Times They Are a-Changin'. He moves the opposite direction on the next record, returning to more personal lyrics and lighter fare with the appropriately titled Another Side Of Bob Dylan. But we'll get to those some other time. The point is, a good alternate title for The Freewheelin' Bob Dylan might be Both Sides Of Bob Dylan, because, here, that's pretty much what you're getting, at least thematically. Not to yet again foreshadow, but the eventual Bringing It All Back Home will give us both sides of Bob Dylan, at least musically. But I digress.

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