Dylan in 1961: the overview

by Tony Attwood

The four original songs that stand out from this year (the first in which we can recognise Dylan emerging as a singer/songwriter of note) consist of three humorous pieces and a commentary on the inhumanity of modern city life (Man on the street).   None of the songs use original melodies or chord sequences, but all of them use traditional material to make their point.

And really “the point” is what it is all about in 1961.  Dylan is giving a focus to elements of everyday life that in three cases social satirists would claim as their own territory, and in the other case focuses on the injustices and lack of humanity that is part of modern urban living.

Listening to the songs now there is a brightness and freshness about them, as well as an originality.  Of course maybe someone else was doing parodies of New York life in terms of the money making of Talking Bear Mountain Picnic Massacre Blues,  the adoption of a Jewish celebratory song and dance by other cultures in Talkin Hava Negeilah blues, the hidden horrors of urban life and our continuing carelessness of life Man on the street and then back to the first point again with Hard times in New York Town.

Maybe someone else was covering all this ground, but if so, I am not sure who.

Thus the melodies Dylan used were the same as had been heard before, but through this Dylan is saying, we can use existing styles of music to put across new lyrical messages.

Indeed it is interesting that Dylan started with the lyrics and indeed focused totally on them.  The music seemingly was less important – and as the blues and folk music songsmiths of the earlier decades had each borrowed from their predecessors, why shouldn’t he?

Of course Dylan could have stayed at this point and been forever a singer who used folk music as a way of protesting about life’s injustice or indeed laughing at the stupidity of others through song.  Had he done so he would have been recognised as a talent, but not as THE talent of his age.  It was because he could take this starting point and then move on that he has become so rapidly became so widely recognised and so highly acclaimed.

  1. Talking Bear Mountain Picnic Massacre Blues.
  2. Talkin Hava Negeilah blues
  3. Man on the street
  4. Hard times in New York Town

The Discussion Group

We now have a discussion group “Untold Dylan” on Facebook.  Just type the phrase in, on your Facebook page or go to https://www.facebook.com/groups/254617038225146/  It is also a simple way of staying in touch with the latest reviews on this site.

The Chronology Files

There are reviews of Dylan’s compositions from all parts of his life, up to the most recent writings, but of late I have been trying to put these into chronological order, and fill in the gaps as I work.

All the songs reviewed on this site are also listed on the home page in alphabetical order – just scroll down a bit once you get there

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