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The Times They Are a-Changin' (song)

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"The Times They Are a-Changin'"
Outer sleeve of the 1965 Swedish release.
Single by Bob Dylan
from the album The Times They Are a-Changin'
Released January 13, 1964 (1964-01-13) (album)
March 8, 1965 (1965-03-08) (single)
Format 7"
Recorded October 24, 1963, Columbia Studios, New York City
Genre Folk
Length 3:15
Label Columbia
Writer(s) Bob Dylan
Producer(s) Tom Wilson
Bob Dylan singles chronology

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"The Times They Are a-Changin'" is a song written by Bob Dylan and released as the title track of his 1964 album of the same name. Dylan wrote the song as a deliberate attempt to create an anthem of change for the time, influenced by Irish and Scottish ballads. Released as a 45 r.p.m. single in Britain in 1964, it reached number 9 in the British top ten[1] and was Britain's hundredth best selling single of 1965.[2]

Ever since its release the song has been very influential to people's views on society, with critics noting the general yet universal lyrics as contributing to the song's everlasting message of change. The song ever since has been an occasional staple in Dylan's concerts. The song has been covered by many different artists, including The Byrds, Peter, Paul, and Mary, Simon & Garfunkel, The Beach Boys, Joan Baez, Phil Collins and Bruce Springsteen. The song was ranked #59 on Rolling Stone's 2004 list of The 500 Greatest Songs of All Time.[3]

Inspiration and composition

Dylan appears to have written the song in September and October 1963. He recorded it as a Witmark publishing demo at that time, a version that was finally released on The Bootleg Series Volumes 1–3 (Rare & Unreleased) 1961–1991. The song was then recorded at the Columbia studios in New York on October 23 and 24,[4] and the latter session yielded the version that became the title song of Dylan's third album.[5] The a- in the song title is an archaic intensifying prefix as seen in the British songs, "A-Hunting We Will Go" and '"Here We Come A-wassailing", from the 18th and 19th century.

Dylan recalled writing the song as a deliberate attempt to create an anthem of change for the moment. In 1985, he told Cameron Crowe: "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'. 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."[6]

Dylan biographer Clinton Heylin recounts how Tony Glover stopped by Dylan's apartment in September 1963, picked up a page of the song Dylan was working on and read a line from it: "'Come senators, congressmen, please heed the call.' Turning to Dylan, Glover said, 'What is this shit, man?' Dylan shrugged his shoulders and replied, 'Well, you know, it seems to be what the people want to hear.'"[7]

Dylan critic Michael Gray called it "the archetypal protest song." Gray 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."[5] Gray suggests that the song has been outdated by the very changes that it gleefully predicted, and hence the song was politically out of date almost as soon as it was written. The lyrics used reflected his views on social injustices and the government’s unhelpful attitude towards change.

Literary critic Christopher Ricks suggests that the song transcends the political preoccupations of the time in which it was written. Ricks argues that Dylan is still performing the song, and when he sings "Your sons and your daughter/Are beyond your command", he sings inescapably with the accents not of a son, no longer perhaps primarily a parent, but with the attitude of a grandfather. Ricks concludes: "Once upon a time it may have been a matter of urging square people to accept the fact that their children were, you know, hippies. But the capacious urging could then come to mean that ex-hippie parents had better accept that their children look like becoming yuppies. And then Republicans..."[8]

Critic Andy Gill points out that the song's lyrics echo lines from the Book of Ecclesiastes which Pete Seeger adapted to create his anthem "Turn, Turn, Turn!". The climactic line about the first later being last, likewise, is a direct scriptural reference to Mark 10:31: "But many that are first shall be last, and the last first."[9]

Less than a month after Dylan recorded the song, President Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas, Texas, on November 22, 1963. The next night, Dylan opened a concert with "The Times They Are a-Changin'"; he told biographer Anthony Scaduto: "I thought, 'Wow, how can I open with that song? I'll get rocks thrown at me.' But I had to sing it, my whole concert takes off from there. I know I had no understanding of anything. Something had just gone haywire in the country and they were applauding the song. And I couldn't understand why they were clapping, or why I wrote the song. I couldn't understand anything. For me, it was just insane."[10]

The Byrds' version

"The Times They Are a-Changin'"
File:Byrds The Times They Are a-Changin' EP.jpg
2011 re-release picture sleeve 45 rpm vinyl
album track by The Byrds from the album Turn! Turn! Turn!
Released December 6, 1965
Recorded September 1, 1965, Columbia Studios, Hollywood, CA
Genre Folk rock
Length 2:18 (album version)
1:54 (original version)
Label Columbia
Writer Bob Dylan
Producer Terry Melcher

"The Times They Are a-Changin'" was one of two Dylan covers that The Byrds included on their second album Turn! Turn! Turn!, with "Lay Down Your Weary Tune" being the other.[11] Like other Dylan-penned compositions that the band had covered, such as "Mr. Tambourine Man" and "All I Really Want to Do", the song was intended to be the A-side of a single. The song is sung by band leader Jim McGuinn and prominently features The Byrds' signature twelve-string Rickenbacker guitar. The song was heavily played at live concerts, surrounding the song's release.[12]

I remember the Beatles were in the studio for one of them (version of 'The Times They Are A-Changin'). That kinda put a lot of pressure on us.

— Roger McGuinn [13]

The recording sessions have been noted for the surprise appearances made by George Harrison and Paul McCartney in the control booth, which according to Byrd members prevented them from completing the session and the track effectively.[13][14] Columbia Records originally pressed thousands of cover sleeves for the alleged single, but Byrds manager Jim Dickson asked for the release to be dropped due to the group's dissatisfaction, most vocally David Crosby; Dickson originally thought the song would have made a strong single. In a 2004 interview, Chris Hillman stated his dislike towards the song, suggesting that "we shouldn't have bothered with that song".[13][15] Another version of the song, recorded in June, appears as a bonus track on the 1996 reissue. "Turn! Turn! Turn!" ended up becoming the band's third single, reaching #1 on the U.S. Billboard Hot 100 charts and #26 on the UK Singles Chart.[16][17]

The Byrds performed the song on the U.S. television program Hullabaloo, but failed to make a long-term impact.[18] CBS England issued "The Times They Are a-Changin'" as the lead track of an EP, alongside the Gene Clark-penned "Set You Free This Time", which gained moderate success.[19] In addition to its appearance on The Byrds' second album, "The Times They Are a-Changin'" appears on several Byrds' compilations, including The Very Best of The Byrds, The Byrds, The Essential Byrds, There Is a Season, The Byrds' Greatest Hits and The Byrds Play the Songs of Bob Dylan.[20] The song also makes its appearance on There Is a Season boxset, which comprises 99 tracks and includes material from every one of the band's twelve studio albums, presented in roughly chronological order.[21]

Other cover versions

Artist Album Year
Peter Paul & Mary In Concert 1964
Simon and Garfunkel Wednesday Morning, 3 AM 1964
The Beach Boys Beach Boys' Party! 1965
Odetta Odetta Sings Dylan 1965
The Seekers A World of Our Own 1965
Boudewijn de Groot Apocalyps 1966
Bob Lind The Elusive Bob Lind[22] 1966
Flatt & Scruggs Nashville Airplane 1968
Cher With love, Cher 1968
Burl Ives The Times They Are A-Changin' 1968
The Hollies Hollies Sing Dylan 1969
Nina Simone To Love Somebody 1969
Josephine Baker Recorded Live at Carnegie Hall 1973
James Taylor & Carly Simon No Nukes benefit concert 1978
Vice Squad No Cause for Concern 1981
Billy Joel KOHЦEPT 1987
Tracy Chapman The 30th Anniversary Concert Celebration 1992
Barbara Dickson & Gerry Rafferty Don't Think Twice It's All Right 1992
Richie Havens Cuts to the Chase 1994
Phil Collins Dance Into the Light 1996
Judy Collins Both Sides Now 1998
Manfred Mann's Earth Band Best of Manfred Mann's Earth Band 2 1972-2000 2000
Blackmore's Night Fires At Midnight 2001
Me First and the Gimme Gimmes Turn Japanese 2001
Joan Baez This Land Is Your Land: Songs of Freedom 2002
Will Hoge The America EP 2004
Keb' Mo Peace... back by popular demand 2004
Billy Joel My Lives 2005
Les Fradkin If Memory Serves You Well 2006
A Whisper in the Noise Lady In The Water 2006
Bryan Ferry Dylanesque 2007
Mason Jennings I'm Not There 2007
The Parlotones VideoControlledRobot 2008
Damien Leith Catch the Wind: Songs of a Generation 2008
Bruce Springsteen The Kennedy Center[23] 2008
Chuck Ragan Revival Road 2008
Keb' Mo' Peace... Back by Popular Demand 2008
Herbie Hancock with vocals by Lisa Hannigan The Imagine Project 2010
D.O.A. Talk-Action=0 2010
Flogging Molly Chimes of Freedom: Songs of Bob Dylan Honoring 50 Years of Amnesty International 2012
Frank Turner and Billy Bragg Live From Wembley Friday 13th April 2012 DVD 2012
Medeski Scofield Martin & Wood Juice 2014

Later history

Dylan performs "The Times they are a-Changin'" at a White House celebration of music from the Civil Rights era, February 9, 2010.

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In January 1984, a young Steve Jobs would recite the second verse of "The Times They Are a-Changin'" during his opening of the 1984 Annual Apple Shareholders Meeting, where he famously unveiled the Macintosh computer for the first time.[24]

In 1994, "The Times They Are a-Changin'" was licensed for use in American TV advertisements for the auditing and accountancy firm Coopers & Lybrand, as performed by Richie Havens; in 1996, the song was sung by a children's choir in an advertisement for Canada's Bank of Montreal.[25] In 2005, it was used in a television advertisement for insurance company Kaiser Permanente.[26] In 2009, the song was featured in the film adaptation of the superhero graphic novel Watchmen, where it was used in the opening montage that illustrated the changed 20th century history of its fictional timeline.

The "Dylan Covers Database"[27] listed 436 recordings, including bootlegs, of this song as of October 19, 2009, including 85 versions of it by "Bob Walkenhorst", recorded live between March 2004 and September 2009, at "Molly's Irish Pub" in Kansas City. According to the same database, the song has been recorded in at least 14 other languages (Catalán, Czech, Dutch, Finnish, French, German, Hungarian, Italian, Japanese, Norwegian, Polish, Serbian, Spanish & Swedish).

John Mellencamp made a home-video recording of the song on a web-cam on September 2, 2008 and posted it on his website the next day as a statement about the possible change the 2008 presidential election could bring to the U.S.

In 2008, episode eight (Roe) of the last season of Boston Legal featured blues musician Keb' Mo''s cover of the song.

In 2009, filmmaker Michael Moore sang the third verse of the song live on The Jay Leno Show after being told that he had to "earn" a clip from his film Capitalism: A Love Story to be shown.[28]

On December 10, 2010, Dylan's hand-written lyrics of the song were sold at auction at Sotheby's, New York, for $422,500. They were purchased by a hedge fund manager.[29]


  1. ^ "Bob Dylan | Artist". The Official Charts Company. Retrieved July 30, 2012. 
  2. ^ Best selling U.K. singles;
  3. ^ "The Rolling Stone 500 Greatest Songs of All Time". Rock List Music. Retrieved December 16, 2010. 
  4. ^ Bjorner, Olof (2004-10-08). "The Times They Are A-Changin' sessions". Retrieved 2009-01-10. 
  5. ^ a b Gray, 2006, The Bob Dylan Encyclopedia, p. 662.
  6. ^ Biograph, 1985, Liner notes & text by Cameron Crowe.
  7. ^ Heylin, Bob Dylan: Behind the Shades Revisited, p. 126.
  8. ^ Ricks, 2003, Dylan’s Visions Of Sin, pp. 260–271.
  9. ^ Gill, 1999, My Back Pages, pp. 42–43.
  10. ^ Scaduto 2001, p. 160
  11. ^ Fricke, David. (1996). Turn! Turn! Turn! (1996 CD liner notes). 
  12. ^ Rogan, Johnny. (1998). The Byrds: Timeless Flight Revisited (2nd ed.). Rogan House. p. 155. ISBN 0-9529540-1-X. 
  13. ^ a b c "Interview with Chris Hillman of the Byrds - 2004". Byrds Lyrics Page. Retrieved 2012-10-14. 
  14. ^ Rogan, Johnny. (1998). The Byrds: Timeless Flight Revisited (2nd ed.). Rogan House. pp. 178–179. ISBN 0-9529540-1-X. 
  15. ^ "Turn! Turn! Turn!". ByrdWatcher: A Field Guide to the Byrds of Los Angeles. Retrieved 2009-12-07. 
  16. ^ Whitburn, Joel. (2008). Top Pop Singles 1955-2006. Record Research Inc. p. 130. ISBN 0-89820-172-1. 
  17. ^ Brown, Tony. (2000). The Complete Book of the British Charts. Omnibus Press. p. 130. ISBN 0-7119-7670-8. 
  18. ^ Rogan, Johnny. (1998). The Byrds: Timeless Flight Revisited (2nd ed.). Rogan House. p. 201. ISBN 0-9529540-1-X. 
  19. ^ Rogan, Johnny. (1998). The Byrds: Timeless Flight Revisited (2nd ed.). Rogan House. p. 230/246. ISBN 0-9529540-1-X. 
  20. ^ "The Times They Are a-Changin' album appearances". Allmusic. Retrieved 2009-12-07. 
  21. ^ [[[:Template:Allmusic]] "There Is a Season review"]. Allmusic. Retrieved 2010-06-29. 
  22. ^ Bob Lind, The Elusive Bob Lind Retrieved May 11, 2015
  23. ^ Bob Dylan Honored at Kennedy Center,, accessed on 2008-06-24
  24. ^
  25. ^ Gray, The Bob Dylan Encyclopedia, p. 152.
  26. ^ Ad Pulp (2005-08-25). "Bob Dylan Shills for the Kaiser, and Opposition Mounts". Retrieved 2010-12-15. 
  27. ^ Dylan Covers Database
  28. ^ "Jay Leno Show Got worse". 2009-09-16. Retrieved 2010-12-15. 
  29. ^ Kazakina, Katya (2010-12-10). "Dylan’s ‘Times They Are A-Changin" Fetches $422,500". Retrieved 2010-12-15. 


  • Bjorner, Olof (2002). Olof's Files: A Bob Dylan Performance Guide (Bob Dylan all alone on a shelf). Hardinge Simpole. ISBN 1-84382-024-2. 
  • Gill, Andy (1999). Classic Bob Dylan: My Back Pages. Carlton. ISBN 1-85868-599-0. 
  • Gray, Michael (2006). The Bob Dylan Encyclopedia. Continuum International. ISBN 0-8264-6933-7. 
  • Heylin, Clinton (2003). Bob Dylan: Behind the Shades Revisited. Perennial Currents. ISBN 0-06-052569-X. 
  • Ricks, Christopher (2003). Dylan's Visions of Sin. Penguin/Viking. ISBN 0-670-80133-X. 
  • Scaduto, Anthony (2001). Bob Dylan. Helter Skelter, reprint of 1972 original. ISBN 1-900924-23-4. 

External links