Off the Beat and Path: Bob Dylan’s “Freewheelin’’

By Rob O’Donnell

This is a review I have been waiting to write for about two years. No stranger has had more profound an impact on my life than Bob Dylan, and no album has ever captured Dylan’s sound as honestly as “The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan.” As much as I love to pretend otherwise, this is not 1963, so this album is considered out of date by many of you. But this is the man who would later revolutionize the entire music industry, from pop to rock to blues to folk and others. With one song, “Like A Rolling Stone,” called the best song ever recorded by Rolling Stone Magazine, he completely changed the music scene until this very day. He is even considered the godfather of rap, with his song “Subterranean Homesick Blues.” These songs are from later albums, but you now understand that Dylan is not only relevant to modern music, he is essential. And it all started with his second album, “Freewheelin’.”

After Dylan’s first album, comprised mostly of traditional folk covers, failed in sales, many people dismissed him. But his next album changed the entire folk scene for years to come, and was a major part of the 1960s folk revival. The scene started becoming mainstream with people riding on his coattails until Dylan himself killed its momentum a few years later by going electric. But this album was before that “controversy,” and so it is not important (I believe he was right, by the way).

The first thing most listeners will say about Dylan is that he cannot sing. Whenever people tell me that, I ask them to listen to this album and then I walk away, never to speak to them again. Songs like “Girl From the North Country” and “Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right” completely disprove this claim. He has a very raw and untamed voice, but after you get over the shock of it, it’s hauntingly beautiful. 

The lyrics are obviously the album’s strongest feature. Songs like “Blowin’ in the Wind,” “Oxford Town,” and “Masters of War” are topical protest songs that had huge influences on the civil rights movement. He would later dismiss them as “finger-pointing songs,” but they are jaw-dropping. He has songs about broken hearts and nuclear war right next to each other, but they make sense together, since the lyrics can be applied to the human condition in general. Take “A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall,” for example. It is a song that many think is about the atomic bomb, but it is about the poverty of the world and the cold-heartedness of the general public. It encompasses pretty much every topic in a sweeping, seven-minute long song. I can’t think of a more fitting song for the end of the semester than “Bob Dylan’s Dream,” the most heartbreaking song about nostalgia and old friendships coming to an end.

So if you need an album for that long car ride home or to just procrastinate studying for finals, you need this album. If you have any interest in history, you need this album. If you have any interest in music, you need this album. If you have any interest in literature or poetry, you need this album. Basically, if you’re a person and you like things, you need this album. 

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