“This here ain’t no protest song or anything like that, ’cause I don’t write no protest songs.”
— Bob Dylan 1962
That was how Bob Dylan introduced one of the most eloquent protest songs ever written when he first performed it publicly. It was the spring of his first full year in New York City, and he was onstage at Gerde’s Folk City in Greenwich Village, talking about a song he claims to have written in just 10 minutes: “Blowin’ In The Wind.” A few weeks later, on July 9, 1962, Dylan walked into a studio and recorded the song that would make him a star.
Dylan’s recording of “Blowin’ In The Wind” would first be released nearly a full year later, on his breakthrough album, The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan.
This was not the version of the song that most people would first hear. A cover version by Peter, Paul and Mary would not only become a smash hit but it transformed the song into the unofficial anthem of the civil rights movement. As much as I like Bob Dylan, I think because of their harmony, Peter, Paul and Mary’s did it better. And I have to add that I would so wear Mary’s dress from this video today. It is beautiful.
“Blowin’ In The Wind” was not like the typical protest songs of its time and that is probably why it was so effective as a protest song. Do you want to sing about racial injustice: “How many roads must a man walk down, before you call him a man?” Are you seeking peace: “How many seas must a white dove sail, before she sleeps in the sand?” Dylan’s statement at the beginning of my post is comical as this song is the quintessential protest song of the 1960s.
It also represented a significant breakthrough for Bob Dylan as a songwriter. From “Blowin’ In The Wind” onward, Dylan’s songs would reflect a far more personal and poetic approach to self-expression—an approach that would lead him away from songs like “The Times They Are a-Changin'” and toward songs like “Like A Rolling Stone.” And Dylan’s development as a songwriter would, in turn, have a similar effect on The Beatles, whose own move from “I Wanna Hold Your Hand” to “A Day In The Life” can be traced directly to their exposure to The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan in the spring of 1964.
Blowin’ In The Wind
How many roads must a man walk down
Before you call him a man?
How many years can a mountain exist
Before it’s washed to the sea?
Yes, ’n’ how many years can some people exist
Before they’re allowed to be free?
Yes, ’n’ how many times can a man turn his head
Pretending he just doesn’t see?
How many times must a man look up
Before he can see the sky?