When the times were a’ changing

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Bob Dylan
Released: March 1967
Label:   Columbia
Cover Photography: Rowland Scherman

Told by Kevin Jones

I was at an all boys Catholic Grammar School in Birkenhead, England. I was an innocent youth of 15 years and it was 1970. The first single I bought was “Last Train to Clarksville” by the Monkees. Albums cost a lot more and I only had one – “Ain’t That News” by Tom Paxton. I had bought it from a friend for a few pence because the first track had a scratch on it and the only way you could hear it was by putting a coin on the very end of the tone-arm to keep the stylus in the groove.

I really liked folk music. I was even in a three piece folk group. We played at church socials and open-mic nights. We were called Moles in Syrup and we were not very good. I was lead singer. The only musical instrument I could play was the tambourine, but I was very versatile with it. Could bang it on my other hand, my leg or even my head if I got very excited.

Gerrard Ashton was the biology teacher’s son. I had chosen to do Sciences for my A-levels because I wanted to be a doctor. Gerrard had chosen the Arts subjects. He was a bit of a loner but definitely the coolest lad in the class. He had passed through puberty a lot earlier than me and understood about life, girls, deodorant and music. He wore a long black coat and was carrying an LP. I asked what it was and he told me it was by Bob Dylan. I had never heard of him but I did love “Blowin’ in the Wind” by Peter, Paul and Mary and Gerrard said that Dylan had written it and nobody sang Dylan like Dylan.

I took it home. We had a huge polished piece of mahogany furniture in our house called a radiogram. It was a gramophone record player and a radio all in one. In America, I guess you would call it a console. It was a fantastic piece of kit and even had a stacking arm for playing records in sequence. I listened to Dylan sing “Blowin’ in the Wind.” It was truly awful. How could anyone call that singing ? It was a tuneless nasal whine and he didn’t even fit the words properly to the notes. But Gerrard had said the man was a genius so I had to get to like it. I played the song relentlessly all night, over and ove . My poor parents must have felt a little like Manuel Noriega did when the U.S. troops tortured him with rock music during the invasion of Panama.

Eventually, I loved Dylan’s rendition. Peter, Paul and Mary were finished. Their version was sickly sweet and soulless. I then started getting into the other tracks. The U.S. album contained every top- 40 single he had released. Dylan was off the road at the time following his motorcycle accident and Columbia was desperate to continue to capitalize on his commercial success. The U.K. release was slightly different – no “Positively 4th Street” but three others instead.

The album was life-changing for me. I knew the Byrds version of “Mr. Tambourine Man” but Dylan’s was sublime. The fourth verse was some of the best poetry I had ever heard – “take me disappearing through the smoke rings of my mind” and ”let me dance beneath the diamond sky with one hand waving free” They will definitely have to play it at my funeral.

I mean, every track just blew me away. The raucous “Rainy Day Women,” teasing you with the chorus “Everbody must get stoned.” Singing along to “Like a Rolling Stone” and screaming out the words “How does it feel?” Desperate to learn every word to “Subterranean Homesick Blues” so you could spew it out to your friends and be the hippest boy at school. “You don’t need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows.” Trying to impersonate Dylan’s voice while singing “It Ain’t Me Babe”

Ever since that album I have become a sad Dylan freak. I have bought every bit of music he has officially released or appeared on. I have bought large amounts of bootleg recordings and I have a huge collection of cover versions of his songs. I bore people to death at dinner parties, playing Dylan songs by other artists and asking them to guess who it is. They always have trouble with Mae West singing “If You Gotta Go, Go Now” or Marlene Dietrich’s version of “Blowin in the Wind.”

I never gave the album back to Gerrard Ashton either. I feel a little guilty about that.

Dr. Kevin Jones, a senior consultant physician who lives and works in Bolton, Lancashire, England, is a nationally recognized (and very funny) after-dinner speaker.

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