Release Date: May 27, 1963
Backstory: At the age of just 22, a baby-faced Bob Dylan (whose birth given name was, of course, Robert Zimmerman and whose –little known fact– first chosen stage name was Elston Gunnn) released his second full-length album, The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan.
Unlike his debut, 1962’s Bob Dylan, which featured only two original compositions, 11 of the 13 songs on his sophomore effort came straight from Dylan’s pen. The record would catapult him into the national spotlight and mark the start of his ascension to “the voice of a generation” (not so little-known fact: ‘twas an epithet he did not much care for).
Before this record’s release, few paid attention to this college dropout from Duluth, Minnesota; his debut sold only 5,000 copies in its first year, and before ‘63, he was a small fish in New York City’s over-saturated pond of eager folk singers. But when Freewheelin’ introduced the world to his myriad songwriting skills with lyrics tackling topical political commentary, surreal humor, and relatable takes on the universal woes that love inevitably brings, he caught the ears of a restless, disenchanted generation hungry for a spokesperson. Even John Lennon once recalled, “In Paris in 1964 was the first time I ever heard Dylan at all. Paul got the [The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan] from a French DJ. For three weeks in Paris we couldn’t stop playing it.”
The LP is widely heralded as one of the best folk albums of all time; it peaked at No. 22 in the U.S. and at No. 1 in the UK and was one of the first 50 recordings chosen by the Library of Congress to be added to the National Recording Registry in 2002.
Enter Peter, Paul and Mary … and Joan Baez: Just three weeks after The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan was released, Peter, Paul and Mary — who shared a manager with Dylan — recorded their version of what was soon to become an anthem of the trying times, Blowin’ in the Wind (they did so in just one take). The cover became an international hit for the trio and peaked at No. 2 on the Billboard charts the same weekend that Dylan appeared with Joan Baez, whose rising star had already been cemented within the popular culture, at the Newport Folk Festival. The buzz flooding in on both fronts piqued interest surrounding Dylan and changed the course of the enigmatic folk singer’s life.
Lord she took it away to Italy: The album’s cover features a photograph of Dylan with then-girlfriend Suze Rotolo, taken by photographer Don Hunstein on a frigid afternoon in the West Village. Rotolo inspired the musician creatively as the two shared an apartment while he wrote the record, and her influence penetrated him beyond their courtship and cohabitation. She left him to travel to Italy and study art, prompting the creation of Down the Highway (“Lord, I really miss my baby/She’s in some far-off land”). Don’t Think Twice, It’s Alright similarly dealt with the acceptance of love lost and the realization that nearly every living, breathing person has experienced heartache before, and they’ll likely go through it again, and spending too much time dwelling on it — well, “there ain’t no use.”
Credits: Bob Dylan (guitar, harmonica, keyboard, vocals), Howie Collins (guitar), Leonard Gaskin (bass guitar), Brunce Langhorne (guitar), Herb Lovelle (drums), Dick Wellstood (piano), John H. Hammond (production), Tom Wilson (production)
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