Bob Dylan is widely regarded as one of America’s greatest popular songwriters and musicians. For more than four decades, Dylan has written and performed a variety of folk songs, many of which are commonly used by protestors of many sorts. Blowin in the Wind and The Times they are a-Changin’ are two of Dylan’s more famous “protest” songs. While both of these pieces are similar, as are many of Dylan’s songs, there are some noticeable discrepancies.
Considered to be the epitome of protest songs by many, “Blowin in the Wind” is one of Dylan’s most famous pieces. Written in 1962, this song does not appear to target any one event, despite the timing with the Vietnam War, but can be used to protest any war, violent act or denial of equality. This is because Dylan cleverly placed several philosophical questions concerning peace, war and liberty. For example, the song asks “how many seas must a white dove sail before she sleeps in the sand?” which seems to be a reference to the lack of peace, the white dove, in most of the world. The song continues by blatantly asking how long it will take for cannonballs to become banned. Dylan also addresses how the general public constantly denies these problems. “How many ears must one man have before he can hear people cry?” In Dylan’s opinion, all of these problems are blowing in the wind, very obvious.
Musically, this is a rather simple folk song. Like most of his work, it features Dylan singing, playing an acoustic guitar and occasionally playing a harmonica. The song starts out with Dylan playing a simple melody quietly for a few seconds before beginning to sing. This soft melody is played throughout the entire song. Dylan’s voice has a rather small range of notes in this song. In fact, he only raises the pitch during the last verse. He appears to use the actual lyrics instead of his voice to get his message across. However, he does use call and response every time he finishes the chorus as he blows the melody of the words “the answer my friend, is blowing in the wind, the answer is blowing in the wind” through a harmonica.
By 1963, Dylan was a prominent member of the civil rights movement. Instead of challenging the war, he started to focus more on racial equality and other exchanges of power between other groups. In 1964, Dylan wrote “The Times They Are a-Changin” to discuss how life is constantly changing. The song calls for lawmakers to “heed the call,” which seems to mean to grant every American citizen equal and protected rights, a fight which was taking place at the time. He also sings about how human beings cannot predict change when he says “For the wheel’s still in spin, and there’s no tellin’ who that it’s namin’.” Eddie Vedder, lead singer and guitarist for Pearl Jam, later covered this song in 2000, with the permission of Dylan, to promote voting in the Presidential Election.
This song is also fairly simple musically, with Dylan using an acoustic guitar and harmonica in addition to his voice. It starts out with a simple and quiet guitar rhythm, which is played throughout the entire song. He begins to sing shortly after the song begins. However, there are five verses with no chorus in this song. Instead, Dylan plays a short melody on the harmonica in-between each verse. His voice also has a noticeably larger range throughout the entire song. For example, his pitch tends to increase whenever he sings, “they are a-changin.”
Both of these songs share many similarities. From a content perspective, both are protest songs to some extent. They are even more alike musically. Dylan sings and plays the same instruments at similar tempos in both. Each piece also has a simple and soft acoustic guitar rhythm that is played throughout the entire piece. On the other hand, there are a few key differences musically. The difference in song structure, three verses with a chorus in one and five verses and no chorus in the other, is the most important dissimilarity. Dylan also plays the harmonica after each verse in “The Times They Are a-Changin,” while he only plays it after the end of the chorus in the other song. Content-wise, “Blowin in the Wind” appears to be more about combating war and other violent acts while the other song has very little to do with war.
Robert Allen Zimmerman was born to Jewish parents on May 24, 1941 in Duluth, Minnesota. After listening to blues, country and early rock and roll on the radio as a child, he formed The Golden Chords, his own high school band. Zimmerman continued his work as a musician after entering a Minneapolis college in 1959, using the pseudonym of Bob Dylan. He began his professional music career after leaving college in 1961 and releasing his first album with Columbia Records, 1962’s, the next year. Dylan continued writing and performing folk music, much of which was associated with protesting, until July 29, 1966, when the brakes of his motorcycle failed and he was thrown to the ground. Since the accident, he has recorded more than two-dozen new albums, several Greatest Hits albums and a few singles for movies and television shows. Dylan was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1988.
In conclusion, both pieces appear to share more musical components than content. The only major difference musically is the layout of the verses and use of chorus. On the other hand, “Blowin in the Wind” has many more references to war, violence and peace while “The Times they are a-Changin” deals more with progress and the questions associated with the changes. Despite the dissimilarities, both are well known and respected pieces often used by recent protestors.