Dylan's debut album, Bob Dylan, had featured just two original songs. Freewheelin' contained just two covers, the traditional tune "Corrina, Corrina", and "Honey, Just Allow Me One More Chance" — which Dylan re-wrote extensively. All the other songs were Dylan originals and the Freewheelin' album showcased for the first time Dylan's song-writing talent. The album kicked off with "Blowin' in the Wind", which would become one of Dylan's most celebrated songs. In July 1963, the song became an international hit for folk trio Peter, Paul & Mary
The Freewheelin' Bob Dylan reached number 22 in the US (eventually going platinum), and later became a number 1 hit in the UK in 1965. It was one of 50 recordings chosen in 2002 by the Library of Congress to be added to the National Recording Registry.
Dylan returned to Studio A the following day, recording the master take for "Let Me Die in My Footsteps", which was also set aside for the final album. Dylan then recorded several more originals ("Rocks and Gravel", "Talking Hava Negiliah Blues", "Talking Bear Mountain Picnic Massacre Blues", and two more takes of "Sally Gal"), as well as several covers, including the traditional "Wichita (Going to Louisiana)", Big Joe Williams's "Baby Please Don't Go", and Robert Johnson's "Milk Cow's Calf's Blues". Because Dylan's song-writing talent developed so rapidly, nothing from the April sessions appeared on Freewheelin'. In 1991, "Let Me Die in My Footsteps," "Talking Hava Negiliah Blues," and "Talking Bear Mountain Picnic Massacre Blues" were eventually released on The Bootleg Series Volumes 1-3 (Rare & Unreleased) 1961-1991.
The recording sessions at Studio A would not resume until July 9, when Dylan recorded several new compositions. The most notable was "Blowin' in the Wind", a song he had already performed live but had yet to record in the studio. Dylan also recorded "Bob Dylan's Blues", "Down the Highway", and "Honey, Just Allow Me One More Chance" and master takes for these four songs were selected for the album.
Dylan also recorded "Baby, I'm In The Mood For You", an original composition, which did not make the final cut for the album; it would eventually be released in 1985 on the boxed-set retrospective Biograph. Two more outtakes, an original blues number called "Quit Your Low Down Ways" and Texan singer Hally Wood's composition, "Worried Blues", were released in 1991 on The Bootleg Series Volumes 1-3 (Rare & Unreleased) 1961-1991.
By this time, a manager, Albert Grossman, was taking an interest in Dylan's business affairs; Grossman was involved in music publishing and he persuaded Dylan to take publishing rights of his songs away from Duchess Music, whom he had signed a contract with, and assign the publishing to Witmark Music, a division of Warner's music publishing operation. Dylan signed a contract with Witmark on July 13 1962.
After settling his publishing contract, Dylan returned to Minnesota at the beginning of August. He stayed in Minneapolis where he met old friends, including Tony Glover, who recorded another informal 'session' with Dylan. On this home recording, Dylan talked about Suze Rotolo, and Dylan's expectation that she would return from Italy, where she was studying art, in September. He then performed an embryonic version of his new song, "Tomorrow is a Long Time". Shortly before September 1st, Dylan heard from Suze Rotolo; she told him that she had postponed her return from Italy indefinitely, which put a strain on their relationship.
Dylan returned to New York in the fall and performed a number of live shows where he debuted some new compositions. On September 22, Dylan appeared for the first time at Carnegie Hall, part of an all-star hootenanny. This show was his first public performance of "A Hard Rain's A-Gonna Fall, a complex and powerful song built upon the question and answer refrain pattern of the traditional British ballad "Lord Randall", published by Francis Child. One month later, on October 22, President John F. Kennedy appeared on national television to announce the discovery of Soviet missiles on the island of Cuba, initiating the Cuban Missile Crisis. In the sleeve notes on the Freewheelin' album, Nat Hentoff would quote Dylan as saying that he wrote "A Hard Rain" in response to the Cuban Missile Crisis: "Every line in it is actually the start of a whole new song. But when I wrote it, I thought I wouldn't have enough time alive to write all those songs so I put all I could into this one." In fact, Dylan had written the song more than a month before the crisis broke.
Albert Grossman became Dylan's manager in August 1962, and he quickly clashed with John Hammond. Since Dylan was under twenty-one when he signed his contract with CBS, Grossman argued that the contract was invalid and had to be re-negotiated. Instead, Hammond invited Dylan to his office and persuaded him to sign a 'reaffirment' - agreeing to abide by the original contract. Tension between Grossman and Hammond eventually led to Hammond's being replaced as Bob Dylan's producer.
Dylan resumed work on his second album at Columbia's Studio A on October 26th, where he recorded three songs. Several takes of Dylan's "Mixed-Up Confusion" and Arthur Crudup's "That's All Right Mama" were deemed unusable, but a master take of "Corrina, Corrina" was selected for the final album. An 'alternate take' of "Corrina, Corrina" from the same session would also be selected for a single issued later in the year.
On November 1st, Dylan held another session at Studio A where he performed three songs. Once again, "Mixed-Up Confusion" and "That's All Right Mama" were recorded, and once again, the results were deemed unusable. However, the third song, "Rocks And Gravel", was deemed satisfactory, and a master take was selected for the final album.
On November 14th, Dylan held another session at Studio A, spending most of the session recording "Mixed-Up Confusion". Dylan performed the song with several studio musicians hired by producer John Hammond; George Barnes (guitar), Bruce Langhorne (guitar), Dick Wellstood (piano), Gene Ramey (bass), and Herb Lovelle (drums). Although this track never appeared on on a Dylan album, it was released as a single on December 14 1962, and then swiftly withdrawn. What is striking is the rockabilly sound of the backing band. Cameron Crowe described it as "a fascinating look at a folk artist with his mind wandering towards Elvis Presley and Sun Records".
After completion of "Mixed-Up Confusion", most of the musicians were dismissed, but guitarist Langhorne stayed behind, accompanying Dylan on three more originals ("Ballad of Hollis Brown", "Kingsport Town", and "Whatcha Gonna Do"), but these performances were ultimately rejected; "Kingsport Town" was later released on The Bootleg Series Volumes 1-3 (Rare & Unreleased) 1961-1991.
Dylan held another session at Studio A three weeks later on December 6th. Five songs, all original compositions, were recorded, three of which were eventually included on The Freewheelin' Bob Dylan: "A Hard Rain's A-Gonna Fall", "Oxford Town", and "I Shall Be Free". All three master takes were recorded on the first take, with "A Hard Rain's A-Gonna Fall" and "Oxford Town" recorded in a single take. Dylan also made another attempt at "Whatcha Gonna Do" and recorded a new song, "Hero Blues", but both songs were ultimately rejected and left unreleased.
Carthy introduced Dylan to two English songs that would prove very important for the Freewheelin' album. Carthy taught Dylan his arrangement of "Scarborough Fair" which Dylan would use as the basis of his own "Girl from the North Country". And a 19th century ballad commemorating the death of Sir John Franklin in 1847,"Lord Franklin" gave Dylan the melody for his composition "Bob Dylan's Dream".
From England, Dylan traveled to Italy where he joined Albert Grossman who was on tour with his client Odetta. Dylan also hoped to make contact with his girlfriend, Suze Rotolo, unaware that she had already returned to America. While in Italy, Dylan finished "Girl from the North Country" as well as an early draft of another song, "Boots of Spanish Leather". Dylan then returned to England where Carthy was given a surprise: "When he came back from Italy, he'd written "Girl From the North Country"; he came down to the Troubadour and said, 'Hey, here's "Scarborough Fair"' and he started playing this thing.
Returning from Europe with a batch of new songs, Dylan was determined to record his new material and re-evaluate the tracks he had already recorded for his second album. The recording of the new material paralleled a dramatic move outside the studio: Albert Grossman's determination to have John Hammond replaced as Dylan's producer at CBS. According to Dylan's biographer, Howard Sounes, "The two men could not have been more different. Hammond was a WASP, so relaxed during recording sessions that he sat with feet up, reading The New Yorker. Grossman was a Jewish businessman with a shady past, hustling to become a millionaire. The two men had already clashed badly over Hammond's persuading Dylan to 'reaffirm' his CBS contract. Grossman was determined to control every element of Dylan's career, but he also had a profound belief in Dylan. Film maker D. A. Pennebaker commented, "I think Albert was one of the few people that saw Dylan's worth very early on, and played it absolutely without equivocation or any kind of compromise.
As a result, Columbia paired Dylan with a new producer, a young, African-American named Tom Wilson. At the time, Wilson was more experienced with jazz recording, and he was initially reluctant to work with Dylan.
Wilson recalled: "I didn't even particularly like folk music. I'd been recording Sun Ra and Coltrane...I thought folk music was for the dumb guys. [Dylan] played like the dumb guys, but then these words came out. I was flabbergasted.
At the April 24th session, Dylan cut five of his newest compositions: "Girl from the North Country", "Masters of War", "Talkin' World War III Blues", "Bob Dylan's Dream", and "Walls of Red Wing". "Walls of Red Wing" was ultimately rejected (it was later released on The Bootleg Series Volumes 1-3 (Rare & Unreleased) 1961-1991), but the other four were included in the revised album sequence.
The final drama of recording Freewheelin' occurred when Dylan appeared on the The Ed Sullivan Show on May 12 1963. Dylan had chosen to perform "Talkin' John Birch Society Blues" but was informed by the 'head of program practices' at CBS Television that this song was potentially libellous to the John Birch Society. Rather than comply with TV censorship, Dylan refused to appear. According to biographer Clinton Heylin. "There remains a common belief that [Dylan] was forced by Columbia to pull "Talkin' John Birch Society Blues" from the album after he walked out on The Ed Sullivan Show" However, the 'revised' version of The Freewheelin' Bob Dylan was released on May 27 1963; this would have given Columbia Records only two weeks to recut the album, reprint the record sleeves, and press and package enough copies of the new version to fill orders. Heylin argues that CBS had probably forced Dylan to withdraw "John Birch" from the album some weeks earlier. Dylan responded to this by recording new material on April 24th, and replacing four songs ("John Birch", "Let Me Die in My Footsteps", "Ramblin' Gamblin' Willie", "Rocks and Gravel") with his more recent compositions.
"Blowin' In The Wind" is one of Dylan's most famous compositions. In his sleeve notes for The Bootleg Series Volumes 1-3 (Rare & Unreleased) 1961-1991, John Bauldie writes that it was Pete Seeger who first identified the melody of "Blowin' In The Wind" as Dylan's adaptation of the old Negro spiritual "No More Auction Block". According to Alan Lomax's "The Folk Songs of North America", the song originated in Canada and was sung by former slaves who fled there after Britain abolished slavery in 1833. In 1978, Dylan acknowledged the source when he told journalist Marc Rowland: '"Blowin' In The Wind" has always been a spiritual. I took it off a song called "No More Auction Block" — that's a spiritual and "Blowin' In The Wind" follows the same feeling.' Dylan's performance of "No More Auction Block" was recorded at the Gaslight Cafe in October 1962, and appeared on The Bootleg Series Volumes 1-3 (Rare & Unreleased) 1961-1991
"Blowin' in the Wind" made a huge impact on the civil rights movement of the 1960s, and the song has been described as its 'anthem'. In Martin Scorsese's documentary on Dylan, No Direction Home, Mavis Staples expressed her astonishment on first hearing the song, and said she could not understand how a young white man could write something which captured the frustration and aspirations of black people so powerfully.
Sam Cooke was also deeply impressed by the song and began to perform it in his live act. A version was captured on Cooke's 1964 album Live At the Copacabana. His more profound response was to write the thoughtful and dignified "A Change Is Gonna Come" which he recorded on January 24 1964.
"Blowin' In The Wind" became world famous when it was recorded by Peter, Paul and Mary who were also managed by Albert Grossman. The single sold a phenomenal three hundred thousand copies in the first week of release. On July 13 1963, it reached number two on the Billboard chart with sales exceeding one million copies. Peter Yarrow says that when he told Dylan he would make more than $5,000 from the publishing rights, Dylan was speechless.
Critic Andy Gill wrote: '"Blowin' In The Wind" marked a huge jump in Dylan's songwriting. Prior to this, efforts like "The Ballad of Donald White" and "The Death of Emmett Till" had been fairly simplistic bouts of reportage songwriting. "Blowin' In The Wind" was different: for the first time, Dylan discovered the effectiveness of moving from the particular to the general. Whereas "The Ballad of Donald White" would become competely redundant as soon as the eponymous criminal was executed, a song as vague as "Blowin' In The Wind" could be applied to just about any freedom issue. It remains the song with which Dylan's name is most inextricably linked, and safeguarded his reputation as a civil libertarian through any number of changes in style and attitude.
NPR's Tim Riley describes "Girl from the North Country" as "an absence-makes-the-heart-grow-confused song, but it's suffused with a rueful itch, as though Dylan is singing about someone he may never see again." Six years later, Dylan would return to this song on Nashville Skyline, recording it in a duet with country music legend Johnny Cash.
A scathing, anti-war song, "Masters of War" is based on Jean Ritchie's arrangement of "Nottamun Town", an English riddle song. Written in late 1962 while Dylan was in England, a number of eyewitnesses (including Martin Carthy and Anthea Joseph) recall Dylan's performing the song in folk clubs at the time. Ritchie would later assert her claim on the song's arrangement; according to one Dylan biography, the suit was settled when Ritchie received $5,000 from Dylan's lawyers.
Dylan was only 21 years old when he wrote one of his most complex songs, "A Hard Rain's A-Gonna Fall", often referred to as "Hard Rain". Dylan is said to have premiered "Hard Rain" at the Gaslight Cafe, where Village performer Peter Blankfield was in attendance. "He put out these pieces of loose-leaf paper ripped out of a spiral notebook. And he starts singing ['Hard Rain']...He finished singing it, and no one could say anything. The length of it, the episodic sense of it. Every line kept building and bursting".
Dylan performed "Hard Rain" days later at Carnegie Hall on September 22 1962, as part of a concert organized by Pete Seeger. Seeger was so impressed by "Hard Rain", he covered it himself in his own set.
Many critics interpreted the lyric 'hard rain' as a reference to nuclear fallout, but Dylan resisted the specificity of this interpretation. In a radio interview with Studs Terkel in 1963, Dylan said,
"No, it's not atomic rain, it's just a hard rain. It isn't the fallout rain. I mean some sort of end that's just gotta happen... In the last verse, when I say, 'the pellets of poison are flooding the waters', that means all the lies that people get told on their radios and in their newspapers.
Dylan once introduced "Don't Think Twice, It's All Right" as "a statement that maybe you can say to make yourself feel better...as if you were talking to yourself." Written around the same time Suze Rotolo postponed her stay in Italy, "Don't Think Twice, It's All Right" is actually based on a melody taught to Dylan by folksinger Paul Clayton. Riley described the song as "the last word in a long, embittered argument, a paper-thin consolation sung with spite."
"Bob Dylan's Dream" was based on the melody of the traditional "Lady Franklin's Lament", in which the title character dreams of finding her husband, Arctic explorer Sir John Franklin, alive and well. (Sir John Franklin had vanished on an Arctic expedition in 1845; a stone cairn on King William Island detailing his demise was found in another expedition in 1859.)
"Oxford Town" is Dylan's sardonic account of events at the University of Mississippi in September 1962. U.S. Air Force veteran James Meredith was the first black student to enroll at the University of Mississippi, located a mile from Oxford, Mississippi and south of Memphis, Tennessee. When Meredith first tried to attend classes at the school, a number of Mississippians pledged to keep the university segregated, including Mississippi's own governor Ross Barnett. Ultimately, the University of Mississippi had to be integrated with the help of U.S. federal troops. Dylan responded rapidly: his song was published in the November 1962 issue of Broadside.
"Talkin' World War III Blues" was a spontaneous composition created in the studio during Dylan's final session for The Freewheelin' Bob Dylan.
"Corrina, Corrina" was recorded by The Mississippi Sheiks, and by their leader Bo Carter in 1928. The song was covered by artists as diverse as Bob Willis, Big Joe Turner, and Doc Watson. Dylan's version is notable for the fact that it's the only track on Freewheelin' recorded with accompanying musicians. And also, as Todd Harvey points out, Dylan borrows phrases from several Robert Johnson songs: "Stones In My Passway", "32-20 Blues", and "Hellhound On My Trail".
"Honey Just Allow Me One More Chance" is based on "Honey, Won't You Allow Me One More Chance?", a song dating back to the 1890s that was popularized by Henry Thomas in his 1928 recording. "However, Thomas's original provided no more than a song title and a notion", writes Heylin, "which Dylan turned into a personal plea to an absent lover to allow him 'one more chance to get along with you.' It is a vocal tour de force and...showed a Dylan prepared to make light of his own blues by using the form itself.
"I Shall Be Free" is a rewrite of Leadbelly's "We Shall Be Free", which was performed by Leadbelly, Sonny Terry, Cisco Houston, and Woody Guthrie. According to musicologist Todd Harvey, Dylan's version draws its melody from the Guthrie recording but omits its signature chorus ("We'll soon be free/When the Lord will call us home"). Most of Dylan's version describes the singer's uneasy relationship with women, and also some striking references to contemporary culture: a phone call from JFK, a satire on TV advertising, and some prodigious drinking. Placed at the end of the Freewheelin' LP, the song provides some welcome levity.
"The best of Dylan's early protest songs," according to Clinton Heylin, "'Let Me Die in My Footsteps' placed a topical preoccupation - the threat of nuclear war - inside a universal theme - 'learning to live, 'stead of learning to die.'"
"I was going through some town...and they were making this bomb shelter right outside of town, one of these sort of Coliseum-type things and there were construction workers and everything," Dylan recalled to Nat Hentoff in 1963. "I was there for about an hour, just looking at them build, and I just wrote the song in my head back then, but I carried it with me for two years until I finally wrote it down. As I watched them building, it struck me sort of funny that they would concentrate so much on digging a hole underground when there were so many other things they should do in life. If nothing else, they could look at the sky, and walk around and live a little bit, instead of doing this immoral thing." "Let Me Die in My Footsteps" was also selected for the original sequence of The Freewheelin' Bob Dylan, but was eventually replaced with "A Hard Rain's A-Gonna Fall".
It's unclear whether "Mixed Up Confusion" was ever a serious contender for The Freewheelin' Bob Dylan, but it was issued by Columbia as a single-only release during the Christmas shopping season. Dylan had been an avid fan of rock & roll ever since his childhood, and "Mixed Up Confusion" was his first record to recall the early rockabilly recordings of his youth. It was also his first Columbia release to group him with a studio band.
Though it wasn't recorded for the album, "Tomorrow Is a Long Time" was written and demo'd in between album sessions. If it wasn't inspired by personal events unfolding at the time, it's arguably a reflection of them as it's sung from the point-of-view of a narrator who refuses to lie down in his bed 'once again' until his 'own true love' is back and waiting. Widely considered one of Dylan's finest love songs, Dylan eventually released "Tomorrow Is a Long Time" in 1971 on Bob Dylan's Greatest Hits Vol. II, which included a live performance taken from his Town Hall concert on April 12 1963. (Heylin describes the Town Hall performance as "an achingly lovely rendition of his most tender song."
Earlier in 1971, Rod Stewart would release his own cover of "Tomorrow Is a Long Time" on Every Picture Tells a Story, one Stewart's more popular albums. Ironically, Dylan recorded the song in 1970 during the New Morning sessions, with a backing band and singers, and an unlikely uptempo blues arrangement. This version has turned up in bootlegs.
Due to Dylan recording material over several months in preparation for his next album, there was a very large surplus of songs that simply didn’t make the cut. Several original songs and cover tunes were recorded. Some he would revisit later, and some of the others would be released officially on The Bootleg Series. A majority of the tracks remain officially unreleased, though they are circulating. A live version of "Talkin' John Birch Society Blues" retitled, "Talkin' John Birch 'Paranoid' Blues" was released on The Bootleg Series, but the studio version has not been released.
These are the known outtakes to the album:
A few copies of the original pressing of the LP — with the subsequently deleted tracks, "Let Me Die In My Footsteps", "Ramblin' Gamblin' Willie", "Rock and Gravel" and "Talkin' John Birch Society Blues" — have turned up over the years, despite Columbia's supposed destruction of all copies during the pre-release phase. CBS did manufacture records with these four songs, but not the corresponding covers. All known copies that have been found are contained in the standard cover. In April, 1992, the first known stereo copy (with the label listing the four songs) was found at a Greenwich Village thrift store in New York City. The record was used and it was auctioned via Goldmine magazine and fetched $12,345.67. It would probably have fetched more if it had been in mint condition. The story was told in an article in Goldmine's "Price Guide to Collectible Record Albums", 4th edition by Neal Umphred.
Dylan promoted his upcoming album with a number of radio appearances and concert performances. Dylan performed with Joan Baez at the Monterey Folk Festival, where she joined him in a rendition of Dylan's "With God on Our Side" (which would not be recorded until his next album). The performance was seen as a ringing endorsement from Baez, but was also the beginning of a romantic relationship.
Later, in July, Dylan appeared at the second Newport Folk Festival. By then, Peter, Paul and Mary had a hit with their own rendition of "Blowin' in the Wind", and that weekend, it had reached #2 on Billboard's pop charts. Baez was also at Newport, and she performed with Dylan twice, once on his set, once on hers.
The Freewheelin' Bob Dylan had been available since late May, but despite the controversy surrounding Dylan's cancelled Sullivan appearance, the album itself did not attract many reviews from the mainstream press. It sold modestly upon its release, but with Dylan's appearance at Newport, Baez's endorsement, and popular covers of his own songs from both Baez, Odetta and Peter, Paul and Mary, sales began to rise as word of mouth spread. Dylan's friend Bob Fass recalls that after Newport, Dylan told him that "suddenly I just can't walk around without a disguise. I used to walk around and go wherever I wanted. But now it's gotten very weird. People follow me into the men's room just so they can say that they saw me pee.
By September, the album finally entered Billboard's album charts. The highest position it reached was number 22. The Freewheelin' Bob Dylan would be remembered as the album that first brought Dylan's talent to a wide audience.
In March 2000, Van Morrison told the Irish rock magazine Hot Press about the impact that Freewheelin' made on him: "I think I heard it in a record shop in Smith Street. And I just thought it was incredible that this guy's not singing about 'moon in June' and he's getting away with it. That's what I thought at the time. The subject matter wasn't pop songs, ya know, and I thought this kind of opens the whole thing up...Dylan put it into the mainstream that this could be done."