Good Sunday morning! This week’s Song Lyric Sunday, hosted by our friend Jim Adams, is prompting us to find a song with Breeze, Cloud, Sky or Wind In the title or lyrics. I was torn between two great songs by favorite artists but in the end I went with the one with the best lyrics. ‘Blowin’ in the Wind’ by Bob Dylan. To me this song is timeless and it is as relevant today as it was in the 60s. I hope you enjoy it.
Dylan claims that he wrote this song in about 10 minutes one afternoon. He put words to the melody of an old slave song called “No More Auction Block,” which he might have learned from Carter family records. In the evening, Dylan took the song to the nightclub Gerde’s Folk City in Greenwich Village, where he was due to play a set. Before playing it, he announced, “This here ain’t no protest song or anything like that, ’cause I don’t write no protest songs.” During this first performance, Dylan couldn’t read some of his own handwriting and made up some of the lyrics as he went along.
The Dylan version of this song was never a hit – it was a cover by Peter, Paul & Mary that made #2 in the US in February 1963, introducing many people to the music of Bob Dylan, who was an obscure folk singer at the time.
Dylan gained National exposure when he performed this song with Peter, Paul & Mary at the 1963 Newport Folk Festival. Magazines like Time, Playboy, and The New Yorker ran stories on Dylan after the performance.
Dylan wrote this in 1962, but did not release it until his second album a year later. It was common for Dylan to play songs for a while before he recorded them, which gave him control over when they could be covered. Once a song is recorded, anyone can cover it if they pay the mechanical licensing fees.
A November 1963 Newsweek article fueled rumors that Dylan stole this song from a New Jersey high school student. The article stated:
There is even a rumor circulating that Dylan did not write ‘Blowin’ In The Wind,’ that it was written by a Millburn (NJ) High student named Lorre Wyatt, who sold it to the singer. Dylan says he did write the song and Wyatt denies authorship, but several Millburn students claim they heard the song from Wyatt before Dylan ever sang it.
In 1962, Dylan let a folk magazine called Sing Out! publish the lyrics. The student, Lorre Wyatt from Millburn, New Jersey, got the magazine and played it for the band he was in, claiming he wrote it. They performed it for their school a few months before Dylan released the song, which led everyone in the school to believe Dylan had stolen the song from Wyatt.
The rumor became a bigger kerfuffle thanks to some circumstantial evidence linking Dylan to the student:
1) Dylan visited an ailing Woody Guthrie, who was living at Greystone Hospital in New Jersey at the same time Wyatt was a volunteer there, known for singing songs to the patients. (Guthrie spent his Sundays as outpatient, where a couple from East Orange looked after him in their apartment. This is where he and Dylan got together.)
2) Dylan and Wyatt were both known to hang out in Greenwich Village around 1962.
3) Dylan didn’t publish the song until July 30, 1962, which was three weeks after he recorded it. This was unusual in that musicians like to publish their works first to keep them from getting stolen, and it set up a scenario where Dylan heard the song, recorded it, found out it wasn’t published and then published it himself. The truth was that Dylan didn’t always tend to the legal details at a time when he was cranking out song after song.
4) When Mike Royko of the Chicago Daily News contacted Wyatt in 1974 and asked if he wrote the song, Wyatt didn’t deny it and refused comment, which supported his claim that he had sold the song for $1,000 and was forbidden from talking about it as part of the terms.
Later that year, Wyatt came clean, but in the New Times, which had a much smaller circulation than the Chicago Daily News. Wyatt explained how things got out of control, as by trying to downplay his role in the song, it fueled the rumors and led his classmates and teachers to believe they had the inside scoop. Said Wyatt: “I’d begun to make Pinocchio look like he had a pug nose.” For a fictional portrayal of a similar story, check out the movie The Squid And The Whale, where a high school student passes off “Hey You” as his own.
This song was a major influence on Sam Cooke and prompted a change in his music. Cooke felt this could easily have been about racial injustice and thought it had special relevance to the black community. He performed a soulful version on the ABC show Shindig and released a live version on his album Sam Cooke At The Copa. In December 1964, just as Cooke began writing more political music, he was shot and killed by a motel manager who claimed she acted in self-defense. Released shortly after his death, Cooke’s song “A Change Is Gonna Come” may be the best example of Dylan’s influence on him.
Stevie Wonder became the first black artist to take a Dylan song into the US Top 10 when his version of “Blowin’ In The Wind” went to #9 in 1966.
Peter Yarrow of Peter, Paul and Mary said in the Radio Times, October 13-19, 2007: “His (Bob Dylan’s) writing put Peter, Paul and Mary on another level. We heard his demos and Albert (Grossman, both Dylan and the trio’s manager) thought the big song was ‘Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right,’ but we went crazy over ‘Blowin’ In The Wind.’ We instinctively knew the song carried the moment of its own time. He was rising so fast over anybody else, in the level of poetry and expression, to a shatteringly brilliant level.”
Speaking of Dylan in a Songfacts interview, Yarrow added, “He was just a fountain of brilliance of poetry. And he was as a person just a normal human being, like everybody else.”
This may be the most-covered of Bob Dylan’s songs. Some of the many artists who performed it include Dolly Parton, Nickel Creek and Neil Young. When The Staple Singers recorded it in 1963, they became the first black group to cover a Bob Dylan song.
A rendition by the saxophone player Stan Getz went to #110 in 1964, and the gospel group The Edwin Hawkins Singers took it to #109 in 1969, following their hit “Oh Happy Day.”
Bob Dylan performed this in the BBC play Madhouse On Castle Street, which aired January 13, 1963. Dylan performed songs throughout the play, closing with “Blowin’ In The Wind.” >>
Peter, Paul & Mary performed this song at the March on Washington, which took place August 28, 1963. This was a seminal event in American history, epitomized by Martin Luther King Jr.’s famous “I Have A Dream” speech. Mary Travers described having an epiphany during the performance. “Looking out at those 250,000 people, I truly believed at that moment it was possible for human beings to join together to make a positive social change,” she said.
Bob Dylan also performed at the event, appearing with Joan Baez before Peter, Paul & Mary went on.
Dylan performed this song sporadically from 1962-1965, and didn’t play it at all on his 1966 tour, which was cut short by a motorcycle accident. Over the next eight years, he made just a few select live appearances, and performed “Blowin’ In The Wind” at only one of them: George Harrison’s “Concert For Bangladesh” in 1971. This was the first charity concert on this scale, with proceeds helping Bangladeshi refugees in India. It was a good cause, so Dylan acquiesced and played some of his most popular songs during the set, including “Blowin’ In The Wind” and “Mr. Tambourine Man.” When Dylan hit the road in 1975, he included “Blowin’ In The Wind” in his setlist, and he played it at many of his subsequent shows throughout his career, making it one of his most-performed songs at his shows.
This was used in the UK by the British consumer-owned Cooperative Group in a series of adverts. It was the first time one of Dylan’s songs has been used in a UK advert, though his music has previously been used to advertise iTunes and Victoria’s Secret lingerie in America. Some of Dylan’s fans claimed the singer was selling out, but his record company argued that the co-op’s adherence to high ethical guidelines regarding fair trade and the environment influenced his decision.
This song is played in the movie Forrest Gump by the character Jenny (Robin Wright). She’s in a strip club, performing as “Bobbi Dylan.” She’s sitting on a stool naked playing guitar and singing, and when the drunk men start to get fresh, Forrest tries to save her. Joan Baez’s version is featured on the official soundtrack.
The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan made a huge impact on The Beatles. “We just played it, just wore it out,” said George Harrison. “The content of the song lyrics and just the attitude – it was incredibly original and wonderful.”
The song prompted a homily by Pope John Paul II. Playing for the Pontiff at the World Eucharistic Congress in Bologna in 1997, Dylan was greeted by him with the reflection: “You say the answer is blowing in the wind, my friend. So it is: but it is not the wind that blows things away. It is the wind that is the breath and life of the Holy Spirit, the voice that calls and says, ‘Come!'”
The Pope even answered a question Dylan posed in the song: “You’ve asked me: ‘How many roads must a man walk down before he becomes a man?’ I answer you: One. There is only one road for man and it is Christ, who said ‘I am the life.'”
Dylan took some heat for appropriating lines from old poems on some of his tracks from his 2006 Modern Times album, including they lyrics “Where wisdom grows up in strife” from his song “When the Deal Goes Down,” which borrows from a passage from a mid-1800’s poem by Henry Timrod, who wrote, “There is a wisdom that grows in strife.”
These accusations resurfaced in Dylan’s 2012 Rolling Stone interview, where he invoked “Blowin’ In The Wind” as evidence that he has dealt with these questions for quite a while. Said Dylan, “Newsweek magazine lit the fuse way back when. Newsweek printed that some kid from New Jersey wrote ‘Blowin’ In The Wind’ and it wasn’t me at all. And when that didn’t fly, people accused me of stealing the melody from a 16th century Protestant hymn. And when that didn’t work, they said they made a mistake and it was really an old Negro spiritual. So what’s so different? It’s gone on for so long I might not be able to live without it now. F–k em. I’ll see them all in their graves.”
This song was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame in 1999.
In 1997 a review in the biomedical journal Nature Medicine was published under the title “Nitric Oxide And Inflammation: The Answer Is Blowing In The Wind.” It turned out that this was part of a bet among Swedish scientists who were trying to embed Dylan lyrics into their articles.
Courtesy of Songfacts
LYRICS How many roads must a man walk down Before you call him a man? How many seas must a white dove sail Before she sleeps in the sand? Yes, 'n' how many times must the cannon balls fly Before they're forever banned? The answer, my friend, is blowin' in the wind The answer is blowin' in the wind Yes, 'n' 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 And pretend that he just doesn't see? The answer, my friend, is blowin' in the wind The answer is blowin' in the wind Yes, 'n' how many times must a man look up Before he can see the sky? Yes, 'n' how many ears must one man have Before he can hear people cry? Yes, 'n' how many deaths will it take till he knows That too many people have died? The answer, my friend, is blowin' in the wind The answer is blowin' in the wind Writer/s: Bob Dylan Publisher: Universal Music Publishing Group Lyrics licensed and provided by LyricFind