"Blowin' in the Wind" is a song written by Bob Dylan in 1962 and released on his album The Freewheelin' Bob Dylan in 1963. Although it has been described as a protest song, it poses a series of rhetorical questions about peace, war and freedom. The refrain "The answer, my friend, is blowin' in the wind" has been described as "impenetrably ambiguous: either the answer is so obvious it is right in your face, or the answer is as intangible as the wind".[2]

In 1994, the song was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame. In 2004, it was ranked #14 on Rolling Stone magazine's list of the "500 Greatest Songs of All Time".

Contents[edit | edit source]

 [hide*1 Origins and initial response

Origins and initial response[edit][edit | edit source]

Dylan originally wrote and performed a two-verse version of the song; its first public performance, at Gerde's Folk City on April 16, 1962, was recorded and circulates among Dylan collectors. Shortly after this performance, he added the middle verse to the song. Some published versions of the lyrics reverse the order of the second and third verses, apparently because Dylan simply appended the middle verse to his original manuscript, rather than writing out a new copy with the verses in proper order.[3]The song was published for the first time in May 1962, in the sixth issue of Broadside, the magazine founded by Pete Seeger and devoted to topical songs.[4] The theme may have been taken from a passage in Bound for Glory, where Woody Guthrie compares his political sensibility to newspapers blowing in the winds of New York City streets and alleys. Dylan was certainly familiar with Guthrie's work and reading this book had been a major turning point in his intellectual and political development.[5]

In June 1962, the song was published in Sing Out!, accompanied by Dylan's comments:

There ain’t too much I can say about this song except that the answer is blowing in the wind. It ain’t in no book or movie or TV show or discussion group. Man, it’s in the wind – and it’s blowing in the wind. Too many of these hip people are telling me where the answer is but oh I won’t believe that. I still say it’s in the wind and just like a restless piece of paper it’s got to come down some  ...But the only trouble is that no one picks up the answer when it comes down so not too many people get to see and know . . . and then it flies away. I still say that some of the biggest criminals are those that turn their heads away when they see wrong and know it’s wrong. I’m only 21 years old and I know that there’s been too many   . . . You people over 21, you’re older and smarter.[6]

In his sleeve notes for The Bootleg Series Volumes 1–3 (Rare & Unreleased) 1961–1991, John Bauldie writes that it was Pete Seeger who first identified the melody of "Blowin' in the Wind" as Dylan's adaptation of the old Negro spiritual "No More Auction Block". According to Alan Lomax's The Folk Songs of North America, the song originated in Canada and was sung by former slaves who fled there after Britain abolished slavery in 1833. In 1978, Dylan acknowledged the source when he told journalist Marc Rowland: "'Blowin' in the Wind' has always been a spiritual. I took it off a song called 'No More Auction Block' – that's a spiritual and 'Blowin' in the Wind' follows the same feeling."[7] Dylan's performance of "No More Auction Block" was recorded at the Gaslight Cafe in October 1962, and appeared on The Bootleg Series Volumes 1–3 (Rare & Unreleased) 1961–1991.

Dylan critic Michael Gray has suggested that the lyric is an example of Dylan's incorporation of Biblical rhetoric into his own style. A particular rhetorical form deployed time and again in the New Testament and based on a text from the Old Testament book of Ezekiel (12:1–2) is: "The word of the Lord came to me: 'Oh mortal, you dwell among the rebellious breed. They have eyes to see but see not; ears to hear, but hear not." In "Blowin' in the Wind", Dylan transforms this into "Yes'n' how many ears must one man have ...?" and "Yes' n' how many times must a man turn his head / Pretending he just doesn't see?"[8]

"Blowin' in the Wind" has been described as an anthem of the 1960s civil rights movement.[9] In Martin Scorsese's documentary on Dylan, No Direction HomeMavis Staples expressed her astonishment on first hearing the song, and said she could not understand how a young white man could write something which captured the frustration and aspirations of black people so powerfully.

Sam Cooke was also deeply impressed by the song and began to perform it in his live act. A version was included on Cooke's 1964 album Live At the Copacabana. He later wrote the response "A Change Is Gonna Come", which he recorded on January 24, 1964.[10]

"Blowin' in the Wind" was first recorded by the Chad Mitchell Trio, but their record company delayed release of the album containing it because the song included the word "death," so the trio lost out to Peter, Paul and Mary, who were represented by Dylan's manager, Albert Grossman. The single sold a phenomenal three hundred thousand copies in the first week of release and made the song world famous. On August 17, 1963, it reached number two on the Billboard pop chart, with sales exceeding one million copies. Peter Yarrow recalled that, when he told Dylan he would make more than $5,000 (equivalent to $39,000 in 2014[11]) from the publishing rights, Dylan was speechless.[12] Peter, Paul & Mary's version of the song also spent five weeks atop the easy listening chart.

Critic Andy Gill wrote: "'Blowin' in the Wind' marked a huge jump in Dylan's songwriting. Prior to this, efforts like 'The Ballad of Donald White' and 'The Death of Emmett Till' had been fairly simplistic bouts of reportage songwriting. 'Blowin' in the Wind' was different: for the first time, Dylan discovered the effectiveness of moving from the particular to the general. Whereas 'The Ballad of Donald White' would become completely redundant as soon as the eponymous criminal was executed, a song as vague as 'Blowin' in the Wind' could be applied to just about any freedom issue. It remains the song with which Dylan's name is most inextricably linked, and safeguarded his reputation as a civil libertarian through any number of changes in style and attitude."[13]

Dylan performed the song for the first time on television in the UK in January 1963, when he appeared in the BBC television play Madhouse On Castle Street.[14]

False allegation of plagiarism[edit][edit | edit source]

A false allegation circulated that the song was written by a high-school student named Lorre Wyatt and subsequently purchased or plagiarised by Dylan before he gained fame.

This allegation was published in a Newsweek article in November 1963; while the story left the claims unconfirmed, it prompted much speculation. Several members of Wyatt's school (Millburn High) and community (Short Hills and MillburnNew Jersey) reported having heard his singing the song and claiming authorship a year before it was released by Dylan, or made famous by Peter, Paul and Mary. Wyatt even told his teacher that he'd sold the song for $1,000 and donated the money to charity, when asked why he had suddenly stopped performing it.

The plagiarism claim was eventually shown to be untrue. Wyatt had performed the song at school and elsewhere months before it was made famous, but not before it had been published and credited to Dylan inBroadside magazine. Wyatt finally explained his deception to New Times magazine in 1974. He credited his initial lie to panic that he wasn't pulling his weight as a songwriter in the school's male folk group, The Millburnaires.[15]

Ironically, an early release of the song appears on The Millburnaires' self-published LP album, "A Time To Sing", released in April 1963. On the disk label, the song is credited to Wyatt, not Dylan. The album later was picked up for national release and renamed "Teenage Hootenanny," by The Millburnaires '63. (Label: BATTLE; ASIN: B008RB97JO). On "Hootenanny," unlike the self-published album, the song is no longer credited to Wyatt. The Millburnaires' version of the song has a slightly different, somewhat less strident, melody from the versions subsequently released by Dylan and by Peter, Paul & Mary, possibly because Wyatt, who had heard Dylan perform it in a New York club, did not remember it precisely when Wyatt introduced it to his schoolmates.[16]

Legacy[edit][edit | edit source]

The first line of the song ("How many roads must a man walk down?") is proposed as the "Ultimate Question", in the science fiction novel The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams.

In the 1994 film Forrest Gump, Jenny sings this song for a show in a strip club, and is introduced as "Bobbi Dylan". The film's soundtrack album features Joan Baez's 1976 live recording of the song, from her From Every Stage album.

In 1975, the song was included as poetry in a new high school English textbook in Sri Lanka. The textbook caused controversy because it replaced Shakespeare's work with Dylan's.[17][18]

During the Iraq War protests, commentators noted that protesters were resurrecting songs such as "Blowin' in the Wind" rather than creating new ones.[19]

The song has been embraced by many liberal churches, and in the 1960s and 1970s it was sung both in Catholic church "folk masses" and as a hymn in Protestant ones. In 1997, Bob Dylan performed three other songs at a Catholic church congress. Pope John Paul II, who was in attendance, told the crowd of some 300,000 young Italian Catholics that the answer was indeed "in the wind" – not in the wind that blew things away, but rather "in the wind of the spirit" that would lead them to Christ. In 2007, Pope Benedict XVI (who had also been in attendance) wrote that he was uncomfortable with music stars such as Dylan performing in a church environment.[20]

In 2009, Dylan licensed the song to be used in an advertisement for the British consumer-owned Co-Operative Group. The Co-Op claimed that Dylan's decision was influenced by "the Co-Op's high ethical guidelines regarding fair trade and the environment." The Co-Op, which is owned by about 3 million consumers, also includes Britain's largest funeral parlour and farming business.[21][22]

Cover versions[edit][edit | edit source]

"Blowin' in the Wind"
Single by Peter, Paul and Mary
from the album In the Wind
B-side "Flora"
Released 1963
Format 7" single
Genre Folk
Length 2:53
Label Warner Bros.
Writer(s) Bob Dylan
Producer(s) Albert Grossman
Peter, Paul and Mary singles chronology
"Settle Down (Goin' Down That Highway)""


"Blowin' in the Wind"


"Don't Think Twice, It's All Right"


"Blowin' in the Wind" has been covered by hundreds of artists. The most commercially successful version is by folk music trio Peter, Paul and Mary, who released the song in June 1963, three weeks after The Freewheelin' Bob Dylan was issued. Albert Grossman, then managing both Dylan and Peter, Paul and Mary, brought the trio the song which they promptly recorded (on a single take) and released.[23] The trio's version, which was used as the title track of their third album, peaked at #2 on the Billboardcharts.[24] The group's version also went to number one on the Middle-Road charts for five weeks.[25]

In addition, "Blowin' in the Wind" is one of seven Dylan songs whose lyrics were reset for soprano and piano (or orchestra) by John Corigliano for his song cycle Mr. Tambourine Man: Seven Poems of Bob Dylan.

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