The Times They Are A Changin’: An Analysis

I did this as an essay for school, but I thought it would be nice to put this in here.  Not really expecting anyone to read it, but maybe some of you might agree or disagree.  I just think this song is a good topic of discussion so feel free to weigh in on it.  Thanks 🙂

If you haven’t listened to this song, here is a link.


Bob Dylan’s “The Times They Are A Changin’” is a classic, timeless work of art that plays as an anthem for change.  Inspired by Irish and Scottish ballads, the universal, message-filled lyrics are coupled with great folk music in the background.  The song makes me think about how those who choose stay in the past must keep up because times are changing.

The song opens with a harmonica and guitar playing the melody.  Though this might not be what Dylan intended, I interpreted it as a patriotic tone on top the of the classic folk sounds. The first stanza perfectly sums up what the song is all about.  As Dylan asks the people of the world to “admit that the waters around [them] have grown,” he means that change has arrived.  He says that if people don’t accept and embrace change, they’ll drown in the past.  It’s interesting to note that this was written in 1964 considering the tension between the past and the present.  At the time, the Civil Rights Movement was at its peak and anti-war sentiments in the midst of Cold War tensions were going strong.  I think Bob Dylan is trying to show that with all this call for change, those who wish to maintain the culture of the past will eventually fall because the new movements are growing at a fast rate.

The folk atmosphere provides a simple rhythm that Dylan repeats in the second stanza, but he shifts his attention from everyday people to writers and journalists.  He calls for those who prophesize with their pens to take careful note of change for when the times are changing, you never know what can happen.  Since the “wheel’s still in spin,” meaning that a lot change is still happening, Dylan explains that “the loser now will be later to win” so this is the time for journalists and writers to watch the world with sharper eyes.  This is a universal idea that applies to journalism, and we see it every day.  Surprising events happen all the time and modern journalists should try their best to foresee them since once they happen, time cannot be reversed.

The third stanza focuses on politicians, who are tasked with answering to the will of the people.  As Dylan points out, unfortunately, many senators and congressmen only work in their own best interests.  When the people demand change, Dylan points out that the congressmen cannot “stand in the doorway” or “block up the hall.”  Though I think the opening stanza is the best one, this one comes in a close second because of how truth-revealing it is.  Bob Dylan shows that the stalling politicians will ultimately be the ones who lose in the end because the demand for change (the raging battle outside as Dylan puts it) near the doors of Capitol building will eventually overpower even the strongest of politicians.

The last group of people that Dylan addresses consists of parents.  In the fourth stanza, he reminds parents that the children are the future.  Since times are changing, parents don’t really have a say in criticizing what they don’t understand.  He says that parents should not attempt to send their children on the path of the dusty, aging old road for their lives are unpaved.  It’s the sons and daughters who must forge the new road, and if parents don’t want to help, Dylan argues that they should “get out.”  This is Dylan’s stance on cultural change.  It’s controversial due to the argument that parents want what’s best for their children and sometimes their “best” is different from that of the children.  Though it’s difficult to see where the line is drawn, I would interpret Dylan’s lyrics as applicable to only the parents who don’t want their children to make their own lives.  For that reason, I wholeheartedly agree with him.  Parents who hinder the decision making processes of their children really stand in the way of the future.  Every child has dreams and aspirations, and every time that a parent stands directly in the way of a dream, the future grows less bright.  I know it’s not a popular opinion among parents since many dreams are farfetched and risky, but true greatness often comes from taking risks.

The last stanza shows the universal and perpetual nature of change.  Dylan notes that the change of the present will soon be the past.  All the things he said earlier will soon apply to what we know as the present.  It’s weird to think about life as this fast, linear movement of time, but it is.  Though I’m young now, I’ll be old soon and the thing that will keep me going is change.  If I don’t embrace change at all stages of life, I too will “sink like a stone.”  Dylan poses this existential question of accepting change to everyone.

In my opinion, “The Times They Are A Changin’” is the best Bob Dylan song, and it’s one of my favorite songs ever because of the messages that it conveys (which is funny since I’m not a fan of folk music).  From its memorable melody to its universal lyrics, the song perfectly sums up why Bob Dylan wrote music.  Like many artists, he too had something to say about the world, and this song is his response to the ubiquitous change around him.


Twitter: @MohitPuvvala

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Categories: Entertainment, Music

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