All Hopped Up Music and Maps: Chapter 9
This Mix accompanies “Lay Down Your Weary Tune,” Chapter 9 of All Hopped Up and Ready To Go: Music from the Streets of New York 1927-77. Specifically, it covers that period in the early 1960s when the “folk revivalists” of Greenwich Village, the singers who had made a career for themselves covering traditional material, mutated into “singer-songwriters,” performing their own compositions.
This is arguably one of the most important developments in the history of American popular music, and key to the transition was the move to New York City of one Robert Zimmerman, a.k.a. Bob Dylan. He arrived in Manhattan in January 1961, signed with John Hammond Jr. at Columbia Records in October, and released his first album in the spring of 1962, a rapid rise that was very much the exception, not the rule. Given that the notion of a folk singer performing his own material was considered an oxymoron in 1961, it’s not surprising that only two original songs made it onto Dylan’s eponymous debut album. The one included on this mix recounted his first few months in the City with the biting wit for which he would soon become famous: “Talkin’ New York.” (The other original was a loving homage to his major influence, “Song to Woody.”)
Among the cover versions Dylan included on that debut was “House of the Rising Sun,” which had been showing up on folk albums for decades, almost as a matter of rite. Nonetheless, Dave Van Ronk, who provided bed, board, financial and managerial assistance to Dylan during the transplant’s first few months in New York, was convinced that Dylan had copied the arrangement from his own recent recording. (A version is heard here; it’s not the same one.) The rift in the pair’s friendship was eased only when Van Ronk heard Dylan’s rendition and concluded that it was so bad it would be ignored.
Dylan’s ascent through the Village folk scene was paralleled by the national success of Peter, Paul and Mary – the Greenwich Village trio of Peter Yarrow, Noel Stookey and Mary Travers assembled, with unapologetic commercial zeal, by manager/entrepreneur Albert Grossman. After proving their musical merits and visual appeal with a residency at the Bitter End in the autumn of 1961, they signed not with any of the familiar New York labels, but with Warner Brothers – a new “major label” out of the west coast. Their own eponymous debut album was a runaway hit, the first true pop crossover from the Village folk scene, with “The Lemon Tree” making into the top 40. Surprisingly, they then had even bigger success with “If I Had A Hammer,” the song that the Weavers had written back in 1949 (see chapter 8) in support of American Communists, the “Foley Square Twelve.” Though most record-buyers would not have known of its inspiration, they nonetheless resonated to the notion of “love between my brothers and sisters, all over this land.” The times, to quote a future Dylan cliché, were certainly changing.
As Peter, Paul and Mary soared up the charts, other folk musicians joined Bob Dylan in writing their own songs. Key among them was Tom Paxton, whose enduring “Rambling Boy” was influenced by both Dylan and Van Ronk’s versions of “He Was A Friend of Mine,” and whose dexterity was proven by the vast lyrical difference between two of his other most famous songs: “Goin’ To The Zoo” and “The Willing Conscript.” Phil Ochs, who arrived from Ohio State, had a more singular agenda, penning a piece for Broadside magazine on “The Need For Topical Music” and putting his pen where his mouth was with such songs as “Talkin’ Cuban Blues” (included here from his eventual 1964 debut All The News That’s Fit To Sing, namechecking Gerdes Folk City in the process). He and Dylan, whose own material was also veering towards the issues of the Civil Rights movement, formed a temporarily tight friendship.
Dylan’s first (and arguably most) significant contribution to this particular canon was unveiled in April 1962 at the Gerdes Monday night hootenanny, when Gil Turner performed the newly composed “Blowin’ in the Wind.” The tune had been lifted wholesale from the traditional “No More Auction Block” (which can be heard here as performed by the Village stalwart, Odetta), but nobody seemed to care. “Blowin’ in the Wind” met with immediate acclaim. It was published on the cover of Broadside, quickly recorded by Dylan for his second album (which was then delayed for several months), and released in versions by both Gil Turner’s New World Singers and the Chad Mitchell Trio before Peter, Paul and Mary unleashed a hit version, ahead of their third album, in the summer of 1963.
It was a golden few months for the Village folk movement. The Rooftop Singers, led by Washington Square Park veteran Erik Darling, had a number one hit with the old “jug band” standard “Walk Right In.” The Weavers helped popularise Paxton’s “Rambling Boy.” And Pete Seeger recorded a live album at Carnegie Hall in June 1963, named for the southern-gospel-turned-labor-song that he had helped rewrite, and which had subsequently become the theme song for the Civil Rights movement, “We Shall Overcome.” Crucially, Seeger also included Villagers’ “topical” songs on that album: Paxton’s “What Did You Learn In School Today?” and Dylan’s “Who Killed Davey Moore?” and “A Hard Rain’s A Gonna Fall,” the latter number included in this mix.
Dylan’s songwriting reputation had become such that he was covered by all-comers, especially his Village peers. Peter, Paul and Mary had another hit with his “Don’t Think Twice, It’s Alright” (an earlier version by the New World Singers, featuring Happy Traum and Gil Turner, is included here); Ian and Sylvia, a married couple who had moved down from Toronto, featured “Tomorrow Is A Long Time” on their Vanguard Records LP Four Winds; and Joan Baez recorded Dylan’s classic “With God On Our Side,” as she did “We Shall Overcome,” on a hugely successful live LP of her own in 1963. On August 28 of that year, a 22-year old Dylan then joined Baez, Peter, Paul and Mary, Odetta, Harry Belafonte, Josh White – and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., who gave his “I Have A Dream” speech – at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington D.C., where the songs “If I Had a Hammer,” “We Shall Overcome” and “Blowin’ In The Wind” were performed in front of a quarter million people.
Dylan’s new manager, the now ubiquitous Albert Grossman, had held back release of his second album until his client had achieved success as a songwriter, and it proved a wise move: with its iconic cover image of Dylan and girlfriend Suze Rotolo walking down Jones Street in the Village, The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan effectively served as a farewell to the folk movement of old, announcing, instead, the Village musicians’ arrival in a distinctly different decade, the Sixties. A couple of months later, at Joan Baez’s new house in California, Bob Dylan wrote a song that went unreleased for the new twenty years until it was featured on the Biograph box set: “Lay Down Your Weary Tune.” I considered it a suitable title for a chapter that celebrates the arrival of a new generation of composers.
View 8) The Ballad of Washington Square Park in a larger map