Producer: John Hammond
Released: May ’63, Columbia
Did not chart
In April 1962, at Gerde’s Folk City in New York’s Greenwich Village, 20-year-old Bob Dylan gave a quick speech before playing one of his new songs: “This here ain’t no protest song or anything like that, ‘cause I don’t write no protest songs,” he said. Then he sang the first and third verses of the still-unfinished “Blowin’ in the Wind.” Published in full a month later in the folk journal Broadside and recorded on July 9th, 1962, for his second album, The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan, “Blowin’ in the Wind” was Dylan’s first important composition. It is also the most famous protest song ever written.
The Chad Mitchell Trio were the first to release a recording of it, and Peter, Paul and Mary turned it into an enormous hit in the summer of 1963. Still, everyone knew the song belonged to the burning-eyed young man who ruled New York’s folk scene, and whose recording of it — just his brambly voice and fleet-fingered acoustic-guitar playing — was definitive. It probably remains Dylan’s most covered song, an all-purpose progressive anthem suggesting that things must and will change. The song’s melody borrows from the slavery-era folk song “No More Auction Block for Me,” and its language is rooted as much in Woody Guthrie’s earthy vernacular as in biblical rhetoric. But in a decisive break with the current-events conventions of topical folk songs, Dylan framed the crises around him in a series of fierce, poetic questions that addressed what he believed was man’s greatest inhumanity to man: indifference. “Some of the biggest criminals are those that turn their heads away when they see wrong,” he declared in the Freewheelin’ liner notes.
Later, Dylan revealed more about the mechanics of writing the song: “I wrote ‘Blowin’ in the Wind’ in 10 minutes, just put words to an old spiritual, probably something I learned from Carter Family records. That’s the folk tradition. You use what’s been handed down.”