The Times They Are a-Surprising

Mature readers will remember Bob Dylan’s classic anthem The Times They Are a-Changing. It’s usually regarded as quintessential Americana and very much of its time – the mid 1960s.

In fact, it was in fact heavily influenced by traditional songs from the UK side of the pond, particularly Irish and Scottish ballads. Dylan himself cited Come All Ye Bold Highwaymen and Come All Ye Tender Hearted Maidens as important influences. And the ‘A-Changing’ of the song’s title is definitely old-school England, harking back to 18th and 19th century songs like A Hunting We Will Go and Here We Come A-Wassailing.

Times is also widely regarded as younger-vs-older generation song, thanks to angry lyrics like “come mothers and fathers, please heed the call: don’t criticise what you don’t understand” and “your old road is rapidly fading”.

Dylan disputed this interpretation saying “it had nothing to do with age. Those were the only words I could find to separate aliveness from deadness.”

While the song was widely popular, reaching No. 9 in Britain’s Top Ten, not everyone was initially convinced.

A friend visiting Dylan’s apartment saw an early manuscript. After reading the words “come Senators, Congressmen, please heed the call”, the friend reportedly asked Dylan: “What is this s**t, man?” to which Dylan responded, “Well, you know, it seems to be what the people like to hear.”

Tim Benton.

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