1963: Bob Dylan's breakout year


Share with others:


Print Email Read Later

Dylan reached the astonishing 50th year in the music industry in 2011, so every year now is the half-century anniversary of some milestone in his career.

1963 was pivotal:

First great album: Having shown his talents mostly as a Woody Guthrie wannabe on the self-titled "Bob Dylan" (with two original songs), he brought his writing to the fore and changed the music world, if not the culture, forever with "The Freewheelin' Bob Dylan." It was a staggering achievement that established him as a powerful political voice with such soon-to-be classics as "Blowin' in the Wind" (a song he wrote at age 20!), "Masters of War" and "A Hard Rain's a-Gonna Fall."

Equally head-turning were rambling, absurdist pieces like "Bob Dylan's Blues" and scruffy but beautiful love songs "Don't Think Twice, It's All Right" and "Girl From the North Country," most likely written about then-girlfriend Suze Rotolo, seen on the cover photo with him walking down the street in Greenwich Village.

The album built steam four months after its release -- peaking at No. 22 in the U.S. and No. 1 in the U.K. -- thanks to the endorsement of future flame Joan Baez and Peter, Paul and Mary's cover of "Blowin' in the Wind." In 2003, it was ranked No. 97 on Rolling Stone magazine's "500 Greatest Albums of All Time."

Sullivan snafu: Dylan could have beaten the Beatles to Ed Sullivan, but it wasn't meant to be. On May 12, Dylan was booked for "The Ed Sullivan Show," but after performing "Talkin' John Birch Paranoid Blues" in the rehearsal, he was told by CBS that the song might be libelous -- to the John Birch Society. When Sullivan asked him to play another song, Dylan angrily declared: "If I can't sing that song, I won't sing any song" and walked. He would never play "The Ed Sullivan Show," and the song did not appear on the album, which was released two weeks later.

The concerts: A preview of the album came at New York's Town Hall, which was somewhat inaccurately billed as his "first solo concert," as he had played the Carnegie Recital Hall in late 1961, in addition to the many club gigs. He performed a 24-song set to a crowd of approximately 600, and as Robert Shelton writes in "No Direction Home" it "may have been the last Dylan concert that reminded listeners of his influences. From then on, he could only be compared to himself." In July of '63, his status was sealed at the historic Newport Folk Festival, where he became "the crown prince" of folk and a champion of civil rights before a crowd of more than 13,000.

The March: On Aug. 28, Dylan and Baez appeared together at the March on Washington, where Martin Luther King Jr. delivered his historic "I Have a Dream" speech. Dylan sang "Only a Pawn in Their Game," his protest song about the assassination of civil rights activist Medgar Evers, and "When the Ship Comes In," songs that would appear on his even more politicized third album, "The Times They Are A-Changin'," which was recorded between August and October of that year and released in January 1964.

• The Speech: Dylan proved to be a more lucid political songwriter than speaker when he accepted the Tom Paine Award from the National Emergency Civil Liberties Committee on Dec. 12 in New York. The brash young Dylan, who'd had a bit to drink, offended his hosts by telling them "it is not an old people's world" and "you people should be at the beach," before moving on to a confounding point about Lee Harvey Oswald ("I saw some of myself in him") three weeks after he assassinated John F. Kennedy. Dylan later sent a fascinating rambling apology letter that included these lines, typed out like this:

I should've remembered

"I am BOB DYLAN an I dont have t speak

I dont have t say nothin if I dont wanna"

but

I didn't remember

Since then, he's remembered more times than not to let the song do the talkin'.

music


Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement

You have 2 remaining free articles this month

Try unlimited digital access

If you are an existing subscriber,
link your account for free access. Start here

You’ve reached the limit of free articles this month.

To continue unlimited reading

If you are an existing subscriber,
link your account for free access. Start here