The Times They Are a-Changin’ is a song written by Bob Dylan….which was released as the title track of his 1964 album of the same name. Ever since its release, the song has been influential to people’s views on society….with critics noting the general yet universal lyrics which contributed to the song’s lasting message of change…..for example, critic Michael Gray called it “the archetypal protest song”….and he further commented…..”Dylan’s aim was to ride upon the unvoiced sentiment of a mass public—to give that inchoate sentiment an anthem and give its clamour an outlet. He succeeded, but the language of the song is nevertheless imprecisely and very generally directed.”….as Gray suggested that the song had been outdated by the very changes that it gleefully predicted and hence it was politically out of date almost as soon as it was written. Nevertheless, it continues to inspire frustrated youth generations and to give voice to social change movements all around the world”.
Dylan himself recalled writing the song as a deliberate attempt to create an anthem of change for the moment. In 1985, he told Cameron Crowe, who wrote the liner notes for his Biograph album…..while saying, “This was definitely a song with a purpose. It was influenced of course by the Irish and Scottish ballads …”Come All Ye Bold Highway Men, Come All Ye Tender Hearted Maidens”….as I wanted to write a big song, with short concise verses that piled up on each other in a hypnotic way. The civil rights movement and the folk music movement were pretty close for a while and allied together at that time.” Indeed, the 12/8 time signature and the archaic intensifying prefix “a-” in the song title recall 18th and 19th century ballads. Furthermore, the opening is firmly based on the folk tradition of telling the villagers to “gather around” and listen to the stories of the wonderful things that are happening….as Dylan did also in North Country Blues.
Even if the song is widely acknowledged as a protest song….known as the “archetypal one” as Gray said…. some argued that is not a proper protest song….for during an interview with Ray Coleman for Melody Maker magazine, Dylan said….”I was on 42nd street. People were moving. There was a bitterness about at that time. People were getting the wrong idea. It was nothing to do with age or parents. This is what it was [about], maybe – a bitterness towards authority – the type of person who sticks his nose down and doesn’t take you seriously, but expects YOU to take HIM seriously. I wanted to say…that if you have something that you don’t want to lose, and people threaten you, you are not really free. I don’t know if the song is true, but the feeling’s true. It’s nothing to do with a politics or religion.”
So, for some, it’s more a song about frustration of the youth in all eras. “The type of person who sticks his nose down and doesn’t take you seriously, but expects YOU to take HIM seriously“….from the point of view of the young, incorporates everyone from parents to teachers, from those who program TV channels to politicians. In some way, it’s also a song about the ineluctability of change….for it isn’t protesting about anything, rather saying, “time to wake up, the world has moved on”. You don’t have to rise up and overthrow the evil empire….but rather just admit that the world has changed irrevocably. So be careful… as it might just pass you by…..and you might just be left wondering where the old world went.
Dylan’s above-mentioned statement was partially contradicted by a close friend, Tony Glover. While he was at Dylan’s house, he saw the typed lyrics lying on his table. Picking up the paper, he read one of the more quotable lines: “come senators, congressmen, please heed the call.” Turning to Dylan he said, “What’s this shit, man?”. Dylan simply shrugged his shoulders and said, “Well, you know, it seems to be what the people like to hear“.
Protest song or not, this song bears a strong message which stands the test of time. Nonetheless, Dylan himself has had a controversial relation with this song, for example when he played it at a concert the day after John F. Kennedy’s assassination. In his biography, by Anthony Scaduto, he recalled….”The day after Kennedy was shot, I had a concert upstate, in Ithaca or Buffalo. There was a really down feeling in the air. I had to go on the stage, I couldn’t cancel. I went to the hall and to my amazement the hall was filled. The song I was opening with was “The Times They Are A-Changin’….as that song was just too much for the day after the assassination…..but I had to sing it, my whole concert takes off from there. I had no understanding of anything. Something had just gone haywire in the country and they were applauding that song. And I couldn’t understand why they were clapping or why I wrote that song, even.”
As Gray noted, lyrics are quite “imprecise” and “generally directed”…..therefore, people might agree that times change…..but they do not necessarily agree upon the nature of general change or desirability of changes…..in other words….change is neutral….as change happens for good or for ill….and can produce justice as well as injustice, depending on any number of factors, not least of which is the perception of those expecting the change.
Notably, the song was licensed for use in American TV advertisements for the auditing and accountancy firm Coopers & Lybrand….and in 1994 a young Steve Jobs recited the second verse of the song in his opening of the 1984 Apple shareholders meeting….where he famously unveiled the Macintosh computer for the first time. So, you can see why we here at ImaSportsphile consider this particular video to be an absolutely “pure diamond” in our treasure chest of vintage memories.