Bob Dylan’s self-titled first album, released by Columbia Records in 1962, went largely unnoticed. Only about 5,000 copies were sold at the time. But talent scout and music producer John Hammond, who signed Dylan to Columbia, had faith in the young folk singer. He ignored the jibes of other music executives who dubbed Dylan “Hammond’s Folly” and, in eight sessions strung out over a period of 12 months, he recorded a second album with Dylan for Columbia.
That second Dylan album, The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan, was released on May 27, 1963.
It’s now considered one of the greatest and most influential albums in American music history.
Freewheelin’ includes what remain some of Dylan’s most famous songs, including “Blowin’ In The Wind,” “Girl From The North Country,” “Masters Of War,” “Don't Think Twice, It’s All Right” and “A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall.”
Essentially, the topic of “A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall.” is about the potential for nuclear war and the constant fear during the Cold War years. The lyrics are an early example of the elliptical, dreamlike lyrics Dylan became better known for later. But the title phrase seemed to be a pretty clear metaphor for falling atomic bombs and nuclear fallout.
The liner notes of The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan, written by journalist, historian and music critic Nat Hentoff, sheds some interesting light on this. Hentoff said said Dylan told him the song “was written during the Cuban missile crisis of October 1962 when those who allowed themselves to think of the impossible results of the Kennedy-Khrushchev confrontation were chilled by the imminence of oblivion.”
Hentoff quotes Dylan as saying: “Every line in it is actually the start of a whole song. But when I wrote it, I thought I wouldn’t have enough time alive to write all those songs so I put all I could into this one.”
Fortunately, Bob and the world survived.