Blowin' in the Wind

"Blowin' in the Wind" is a song written by Bob Dylan and released on his 1963 album The Freewheelin' Bob Dylan. Although it has been described as a protest song, it poses a series of philosophical questions about peace, war, and freedom without supplying concrete answers. The refrain "The answer, my friend, is blowin' in the wind" has been described as "impenetrably ambiguous: either the answer is so obvious it is right in your face, or the answer is as intangible as the wind". The song makes no reference to a specific event.

In 1999, the song was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame. In 2004, it was ranked #14 on Rolling Stone magazine's list of the "500 Greatest Songs of All Time".


Dylan originally wrote and performed a two-verse version of the song; its first public performance, at Gerde's Folk City on April 16, 1962, was recorded and circulates among Dylan collectors. Shortly after this performance, he added the middle verse to the song. Some published versions of the lyrics reverse the order of the second and third verses, apparently because Dylan simply appended the middle verse to his original manuscript, rather than writing out a new copy with the verses in proper order. The song was published for the first time in May 1962, in the sixth issue of Broadside, the magazine founded by Pete Seeger and devoted to topical songs.

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" has been described as the anthem of the 1960s civil rights movement. 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 included on Cooke's 1964 album Live At the Copacabana. He later wrote the response "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 represented by Dylan's manager, 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 pop chart, with sales exceeding one million copies. Peter Yarrow recalled that, when he told Dylan he would make more than $5,000 from the publishing rights, Dylan was speechless. Peter, Paul & Mary's version of the song also spent five weeks atop the easy listening chart.

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 completely 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.

Dylan performed the song for the first time on television in the UK in January 1963, when he appeared in the BBC television play Madhouse On Castle Street.

False allegation of plagiarism

A false allegation still circulates that the song was written by a high-school student named Lorre Wyatt and subsequently purchased or plagiarised by Dylan before he gained fame.

This allegation was published in a Newsweek article in November 1963; while the story left the claims unconfirmed, it prompted much speculation. Several members of Wyatt's school and community reported having heard his singing the song and claiming authorship a year before it was released by Dylan, or made famous by Peter, Paul and Mary. Wyatt even told his teacher that he'd sold the song for $1,000 and donated the money to charity, when asked why he had suddenly stopped performing it.

The plagiarism claim was eventually shown to be completely untrue. Wyatt had performed the song around Millburn, New Jersey, months before it was made famous, but not before it had been published and credited to Dylan in Broadside magazine and Sing Out!. Wyatt finally explained his deception to New Times magazine in 1974. He credited his initial lie to panic that he wasn't pulling his weight as a songwriter in a local band.

Political afterlife

  • The song became one of the most popular anti-war songs during the 1960s and the Vietnam War. During the Iraq War protests, commentators noted that protesters were resurrecting songs such as "Blowin' in the Wind" rather than creating new ones.
  • The song has been embraced by many liberal churches, and in the 1960s and 1970s it was sung both in Catholic church "folk masses" and as a hymn in Protestant ones. In 1997, Bob Dylan performed three other songs at a Catholic church congress. Pope John Paul II, who was in attendance, told the crowd of some 300,000 young Italian Catholics that the answer was indeed "in the wind" – not in the wind that blew things away, but rather "in the wind of the spirit" that would lead them to Christ. In 2007, Pope Benedict XVI (who had also been in attendance) wrote that he was uncomfortable with music stars such as Dylan performing in a church environment.
  • In 1975, the song was included as poetry in a new high school English textbook in Sri Lanka. The textbook caused controversy because it replaced Shakespeare's work with Dylan's.

Cover versions

It has been covered by hundreds of artists. The most commercially successful cover version is by folk music trio Peter, Paul and Mary who released their version — which lacks the harmonica solos after each verse — in July 1963, three months after Dylan's release on The Freewheelin' Bob Dylan.

References in pop culture

  • The first line of the song ("How many roads must a man walk down?") is proposed as the "Ultimate Question", in the science fiction novel The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams.
  • There is a reference of this song in the Macross universe. Presented on the disc TV drama called "The Super Dimension Fortress Macross Vol. III Miss DJ" contains a short version of "Blowin' in the wind" which it is interpreted in English to duet by Mari Iijima and Akihiro Hase (voice of Minmay and Hikaru Ichijyo respectively).
  • In the 1988 film Hairspray, the character Edna Turnblad quotes both this song and The Times They Are a-Changin' in the context of racial integration.
  • One of the "morals" on the "Wheel of Morality" in the cartoon Animaniacs was "the answer, my friend, is blowing in the wind". Wakko Warner adds "except in New Jersey, where what's blowing in the wind smells funny".
  • In the movie Forrest Gump, Jenny sings this song for a show in a strip club, and is introduced as "Bobby Dylan".
  • In an episode of The Simpsons, Homer's mother sings the line "How many roads must a man walk down..." Homer interrupts "seven!" The episode entitled "D'oh-in in the Wind" is a play on the song title and Homer's famous "D'oh!" expression.
  • On the television show Sesame Street, the title character of the "Number Guy" segments asks musical questions to the tune of this song; his answer is always the featured number (of animals).
  • In the 1998 film Dr. Dolittle, a guinea pig sings this song while riding on top of the title character's car.
  • In 1999, National Public Radio included this song in the "NPR 100," in which NPR's music editors sought to compile the one hundred most important American musical works of the 20th century.
  • In the last chapter of the Japanese Manga Battle Royale, the lyrics of music are displayed as a poetry in Japanese style as a tribute for all the dead students in "Battle Royale - Survival Program".
  • In an episode of Ed, Edd, n' Eddy, when Jonny asks Eddy what the future would be like, Eddy responds "The answer, my friend, is blowin' in the wind."
  • An episode of Futurama is titled "Bendin' in the Wind". In this episode, Bender becomes a folk singer and tours with Beck.
  • The character Rat from the comic strip Pearls Before Swine made up a version of "Blowin' in the Wind" for the "rich and uptrodden," called "My Capital Gains are Blowin' Away in the Wind."
  • UK R&B singer Lemar resings a portion of the song in his 2004 hit "If There's Any Justice".
  • During the Global Grover segment about Puerto Rico, Grover tries several ways to play a watermelon as a musical instrument (all of which fail). His remark after one attempt: "The answer is not blowing in the wind instrument..."
  • Alanis Morissette performed this song, as well as "Subterranean Homesick Blues," for a Bob Dylan tribute at the UK Hall of Fame in 2005.



  • Dylan, Bob (2004). Bob Dylan: Lyrics, 1962—2001. Simon & Schuster. ISBN 074323944X.
  • Gill, Andy (1999). Classic Bob Dylan: My Back Pages. Carlton. ISBN 1-85868-599-0.
  • Gray, Michael (2006). The Bob Dylan Encyclopedia. Continuum International. ISBN 0-8264-6933-7.
  • Heylin, Clinton (1996). Bob Dylan: A Life In Stolen Moments: Day by Day 1941-1995. ISBN 0-7119-5669-3.
  • Harvey, Todd (2001). The Formative Dylan: Transmission & Stylistic Influences, 1961–1963. The Scarecrow Press. ISBN 0-8108-4115-0.
  • Heylin, Clinton (2003). Bob Dylan: Behind the Shades Revisited. Perennial Currents. ISBN 0-06-052569-X.
  • Sounes, Howard (2001). Down The Highway: The Life Of Bob Dylan. Grove Press. ISBN 0-8021-1686-8.
  • Williams, Richard (1992). Dylan: a man called alias. Bloomsbury. ISBN 0-7475-1084-9.

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