Top 10 Bob Dylan Protest Songs
Saying that Bob Dylan is the father of folk music is probably overstepping a bit. However, saying that the vocalist is one of the most prominent writers of anti-war and protest songs in the 20th century is spot on, thus making him worthy of a Top 10 Bob Dylan Protest Songs list. The singer did change his range from anti-establishment to country to pop and back to folk again, and he remains a seminal force for those who rage against “The Man.” It's time to discuss hurricanes, wind and rain (and social injustice, naturally!), while we talk about our list of Bob Dylan's Top 10 Protest Songs!
‘Blowin’ in the Wind’
This Bob Dylan protest song became an anthem for the civil rights era and was a direct influence on Sam Cooke's 'A Change Is Gonna Come.' While some of the questions are more open-ended like, “How many roads must a man walk down / Before you call him a man?,” other lyrics leave no room for interpretation like, “How many times can a cannonball fly / before they're forever banned?“
‘Masters of War’
Our next Bob Dylan protest song is not nearly as subtle as some of his others. In 'Masters Of War,' Dylan uses lyrics like, “Come you masters of war / that build all the guns … I just want you to know / I can see through your masks.” to protest the the mass weapons build-up surrounding the Cold War. Lyrics like, “You fasten the triggers / For others to set fire / Then you sit back and watch / when the death count gets higher,” leave no room for doubt as to Dylan's feelings about the Cold War.
'Oxford Town' is one of Bob Dylan's Top 10 protest songs, as it speaks very plainly about the riots in Oxford, Miss., after James Meredith became the first black student admitted to the University of Mississippi. Lyrics like, “He went to Oxford Town / Guns and clubs followed him down / All because his face was brown,” speak honestly to the racial tension of the '60s.
‘A Hard Rain’s a-Gonna Fall’
While Dylan's protest song, 'A Hard Rain's a-Gonna Fall,' has been attributed to his response to the Cuban Missile Crisis, the song, in fact, had been written before the crisis broke. Instead, the track, with such lyrics as, “I saw guns and sharp swords in the hands of young children / And it’s a hard, and it’s a hard / It’s a hard, it’s a hard / And it’s a hard rain’s a-gonna fall,” was written in a question-and-response pattern of a traditional British ballad. Still, 'A Hard Rain's a-Gonna Fall,' remains one of the most famous iconic protest songs.
‘The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll’
'The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll' is one of Bob Dylan's Top 10 protest songs, speaking about civil rights as it recounts the death of a 51-year-old black barmaid named Hattie Carroll. She was murdered by a rich, young tobacco farmer in Maryland, who only received six-months in jail for his heinous crimes. Lyrics like “William Zanzinger killed poor Hattie Carroll / With a cane that he twirled around his diamond ring finger” factually record the events of her death and comment upon the rampant racism of the '60s.
‘With God on Our Side’
Bob Dylan's 'With God on Our Side,' is a song that addresses the notion that a higher power sides with each person and likewise opposes those who disagree with them, which is enough justification for the wars and other horrifying things that people do to one another. Lyrics like,” In the nineteen-sixties came the Vietnam War / Can somebody tell me what we're fightin' for? / So many young men died / So many mothers cried / Now I ask the question / Was God on our side?,” along with other historical references, make room for little speculation as to what Dylan is protesting in this song.
In Bob Dylan's famous protest song, 'Hurricane,' he narrates the story of the false imprisonment of black boxer Rubin “Hurricane” Carter, bringing up the acts of racism and profiling in what Dylan claims as a false trial and conviction of a murder Dylan maintains Carter did not commit. Lyrics like, “All of Rubin's cards were marked in advance / The trial was a pig-circus he never had a chance / The judge made Rubin's witnesses drunkards from the slums,” protested racial profiling and the conduct of the justice system.
‘Chimes of Freedom’
'Chimes of Freedom,' easily one of the Top 10 Bob Dylan protest songs, uses imagery from natural disasters, like wind, lightning and hurricanes, to tell a bigger story. In 'Chimes of Freedom,' Dylan uses lyrics like, “Tolling for the rebel / Tolling for the rake / Tolling for the luckless / The abandoned an' forsaked / Tolling for the outcast / Burnin' constantly at stake,” to draw parallels between those who are treated unjustly or are downtrodden, the thunder booming in sympathy for these people, who Dylan identifies with.
Often considered one of the most influential of the folk protest singers, Bob Dylan uses 'Maggie's Farm' to declare his independence from the protest folk movement. 'Maggie's Farm' ridicules some of the people involved in the protest movement of the '60s, and reinforces the notion that Dylan wants to be who he is – an individual – and not a pawn. Lyrics like, “Well, I try my best / To be just like I am / But everybody wants you / To be just like them / They say sing while you slave,” express his growing displeasure with the folk movement.
‘The Times They Are a-Changin’
In our No. 1 Bob Dylan protest song, 'The Times They Are a-Changin,' Dylan went all out and combined the folk protest movement of the 1960's with the civil rights movement. The shorter verses piled upon one another in a powerful way, and lyrics like, “There’s a battle outside and it is ragin’ / It’ll soon shake your windows and rattle your walls / For the times they are a-changin',” are iconic Dylan statements that manage to transcend the times.