Pure poetry. That’s what Bob Dylan offered with his monumental release at the beginning of his career in 1963 with The Freewheelin Bob Dylan. About half of it was not only significantly important social commentary for all time (“Blowin’ in the Wind,” “Masters of War,” “Oxford Town”). Another solid portion was made up of heartbroken love letters, which, for me (and Patti Smith, apparently), has always been Bob Dylan’s strong suit, even over his penchant for activism. The rest of the album is a number of Folky nonsense that probably took Bob all of a few minutes to write and record. And yet, even these seemingly throwaway tracks like the self-referencing “Bob Dylan’s Blues” and Bob Dylan’s Dream” are remarkable; they’re like the greatest comedian in the world telling a joke that you don’t get, but based on his delivery alone you still end up doubled over laughing hysterically. And really, that’s the best secret for anyone who can be considered the best; it isn’t always about content because sometimes the delivery is just as, if not more important, than the message.
For the most part, the tracks here are actually quite empty; everything was recorded by Bob and Bob alone which means no instrumentation outside of a strumming guitar and harmonica. This is probably a turn off for many, and it’s also likely why Dylan’s later work like Blonde on Blonde, Bringing it All Back Home and Highway 61 Revisited are more critically lauded and commercially approved (or at least as commercially approved as Bob Dylan can be). But for me, and I suppose The Nobel Peace Prize folks, there’s always something special about listening to this, the record that launched the most prolific, and important, career in the history of American music, which is strange because I’m usually the last to place something older above something better just on the merit of its age alone. But there are exceptions to every rule. And even if Dylan’s messages and production got more honed, profound, and pronounced in the years ahead, one thing is for sure: he never played that mouth organ any better. Seriously, “Talkin’ World War III Blues,” is like “The Carnival of Venice” for harmonicas. Give it a listen. But watch the volume.