On this day in 1963, Bob Dylan releases his second album, The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan, which goes on to transform him from a popular local act to a global phenomenon.
“Of all the precipitously emergent singers of folk songs in the continuing renascence of that self-assertive tradition,” wrote journalist and critic Nat Hentoff, “none has equaled Bob Dylan in singularity of impact.”
Dylan’s impact on the folk scene stemmed at first from his mastery and idiosyncratic performances of a vast repertoire of traditional folk songs. His devotion to the music of the great Woody Guthrie is what brought Bob Dylan to New York in the first place, and his “Song To Woody” was one of only two original numbers on his widely ignored debut album, Bob Dylan (1962).
The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan, on the other hand, included only two non-original numbers, and the speed with which Dylan’s own songs from that album were added to the repertoires of other musicians is what really turned him into a household name.
In the summer of 1963, Peter, Paul and Mary turned the opening track of The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan into an international pop hit. “Blowin’ In The Wind” gave most future Bob Dylan fans their first exposure to his songwriting talents, and soon his work had found its way into nearly every genre of popular music via cover versions by artists like Sam Cooke, Johnny Cash and the Byrds. But the impact of the best-known songs on The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan—”Blowin’ In The Wind,” “Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right,” “A Hard Rain’s a-Gonna Fall”—was not nearly as great as the impact of Dylan’s fundamental approach to music.
By writing nearly all of his own material, and writing it from a distinctly personal point of view, Dylan created a template that would alter the course of many careers other than his. As John Lennon once said in discussing The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan, which reached the Beatles in their Paris hotel fully a year after its release, “I think it was the first time I ever heard Dylan at all… And for the rest of our three weeks in Paris, we didn’t stop playing it.”