The copy we are selling is similar to the one pictured above.
Side One: Mint Minus Minus*
Side Two: Mint Minus Minus*
- This vintage Columbia Mono pressing offers outstanding sound from first note to last, with both sides earning solid Double Plus (A++) grades
- The keys to this stark recording - just Bob, his acoustic guitar, and harmonica - are correct tonality, as well as vocal presence with breathy intimacy, and here you get a good helping of all three
- If you've auditioned the MoFi or Sundazed LP, or the CD, or something else that's been remastered more recently, the Tubey Magical Realism of having a twenty two year old Bob Dylan singing and playing right in your listening room might just blow your mind
- "These are beautifully crafted, tightly focused mini-masterpieces. And they have a radical edge, a political toughness, that one rarely finds in the folk music of the period. ...the songs are uncompromising in their anger and unsparing in their analysis."
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*NOTES: On side one, marks make 10 moderate pops on Track 2, The Ballad of Hollis Brown, and 3 light ticks on Track 4, One Too Many Mornings. On side two, a mark makes 20 light ticks in the left channel on Track 4, When the Ship Comes In.
Just about everything you could want in the sound is here: wonderful clarity, mindblowing transparency, clearly audible transients on the guitar, breathy texture to the vocals, full-bodied acoustic guitars, and more. If you've played other copies of the album -- on MoFi, Sundazed or Columbia LP, on the CD, on whatever -- the immediacy of the vocals and the Tubey Magic of the midrange are going to blow your mind.
Having done this for so long, we understand and appreciate that rich, full, solid, Tubey Magical sound is key to the presentation of this primarily vocal music. We rate these qualities higher than others we might be listening for (e.g., bass definition, soundstage, depth, etc.).
Hot Stamper sound is rarely about the details of a given recording. In the case of this album, more than anything else a Hot Stamper must succeed at recreating a solid, palpable, real Bob Dylan singing live in your listening room. The better copies have an uncanny way of doing just that.
If you exclusively play modern repressings of vintage recordings, I can say without fear of contradiction that you have never heard this kind of sound on vinyl. Old records have it -- not often, and certainly not always -- but less than one out of 100 new records do, if our experience with the hundreds we've played can serve as a guide.
What the best sides of this Dylan Folk Classic have to offer is not hard to hear:
- The biggest, most immediate staging in the largest acoustic space
- The most Tubey Magic, without which you have almost nothing. CDs give you clean and clear. Only the best vintage vinyl pressings offer the kind of Tubey Magic that was on the tapes in 1964
- Tight, note-like, rich, full-bodied bass, with the correct amount of weight down low
- Natural tonality in the midrange -- with all the instruments having the correct timbre
- Transparency and resolution, critical to hearing into the three-dimensional studio space
No doubt there's more but we hope that should do for now. Playing the record is the only way to hear all of the qualities we discuss above, and playing the best pressings against a pile of other copies under rigorously controlled conditions is the only way to find a pressing that sounds as good as this one does.
Mono Vs. Stereo
The noisy (aren't they all?) mono copy we keep around as a reference presents Dylan and his guitar in a starkly immediate, clear and unprocessed way. The stereo version of the album is simply that sound with some light stereo reverb added.
More than anything else the mono pressing on some tracks sounds like a demo. It's as if the engineers threw up a mic or two, set the EQ for flat and proceeded to roll tape. This is a good sound for what it is, but it has a tendency toward dryness, perhaps not on all of the tracks but clearly on some. Certainly the first track on side one can have that drier sound.
What the stereo reverb does is fill out the sound of Dylan's voice respectfully. The engineers of the late '50 and '60s had a tendency to drown their singers in heavy reverb, as anyone who's ever played an old Tony Bennett or Dean Martin album knows all too well.
But a little reverb actually benefits the vocals of our young Mr. Dylan on The Times They Are A-Changin', and there is an easy way to test that proposition. When you hit the mono button on your preamp or phono stage, the reverb disappears, leaving the vocal more clear and more present, but also more dry and thin. You may like it better that way. Obviously, to some degree this is a matter of taste.
The nice thing about this stereo copy, assuming you have a mono switch in your system (which you should; they're very handy), is that you have the option of hearing it both ways and deciding for yourself which approach you find more involving and enjoyable -- if not necessarily truthful.
We suspect your preference will be both listener- and system-dependent. Isn't it better to have the option and be able to make that determination for yourself?
The sad fact of the matter is that most Columbia pressings don't come close to this magical piece of wax. It's tough enough to find a clean copy with no scratches or groove damage, let alone one with excellent sound. Not many make it to the site, but we're very glad this one did. It's the kind of record that really makes the case for our Hot Stamper pressings.
What We're Listening For on The Times They Are A-Changin'
- Energy for starters. What could be more important than the life of the music?
- Then: presence and immediacy. The vocals aren't "back there" somewhere, lost in the mix. They're front and center where any recording engineer worth his salt would put them.
- The Big Sound comes next -- wall to wall, lots of depth, huge space, three-dimensionality, all that sort of thing.
- Then transient information -- fast, clear, sharp attacks, not the smear and thickness so common to these LPs.
- Tight punchy bass -- which ties in with good transient information, also the issue of frequency extension further down.
- Next: transparency -- the quality that allows you to hear deep into the soundfield, showing you the space and air around all the instruments.
- Extend the top and bottom and voila, you have The Real Thing -- an honest to goodness Hot Stamper.
Mint Minus Minus is about as quiet as any vintage pressing will play, and since only the right vintage pressings have any hope of sounding good on this album, that will most often be the playing condition of the copies we sell. (The copies that are even a bit noisier get listed on the site are seriously reduced prices or traded back in to the local record stores we shop at.)
Those of you looking for quiet vinyl will have to settle for the sound of other pressings and Heavy Vinyl reissues, purchased elsewhere of course as we have no interest in selling records that don't have the vintage analog magic of these wonderful recordings.
If you want to make the trade-off between bad sound and quiet surfaces with whatever Heavy Vinyl pressing might be available, well, that's certainly your prerogative, but we can't imagine losing what's good about this music -- the size, the energy, the presence, the clarity, the weight -- just to hear it with less background noise.
- The Times They Are A-Changin'
- The Ballad of Hollis Brown
- With God on Our Side
- One Too Many Mornings
- North Country Blues
- Only a Pawn in Their Game
- Boots of Spanish Leather
- When the Ship Comes In
- The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll
- Restless Farewell
Fifty years of Bob Dylan's stark challenge to liberal complacency
Its title song now has an elegiac patina – but the radicalism of the Times They Are a-Changin' album still burns.
by Mike Marqusee
Fifty years ago this month the 22-year-old Bob Dylan released his third album, The Times They Are a-Changin' – the acme and as it turned out the end of his "protest" period. Dylan renounced this genre so quickly, and took his fans on such a giddy journey afterwards, that there's a tendency to downplay the extraordinary achievement and impact of his work in this brief initial phase of a long career.
As a collection, the album is one of the high watermarks of political songwriting in any musical genre. These are beautifully crafted, tightly focused mini-masterpieces. And they have a radical edge, a political toughness, that one rarely finds in the folk music of the period. Abstract paeans to peace and brotherhood were not for Dylan; the songs are uncompromising in their anger and unsparing in their analysis.
The album includes the two songs Dylan had sung at the March on Washington, six months earlier. But while Martin Luther King appealed to an inclusive future, Dylan struck a very different note: When the Ship Comes In was a revenge fantasy whose joyously vindictive climax is a vision of the total destruction of the oppressors; the other song, Only a Pawn in Their Game, was written in response to the assassination of the civil rights leader Medgar Evers in Mississippi, in June 1963.
The subject of this song, however, is not the martyred activist, but the man who killed him. And rather than a villain or psychopath, Dylan portrayed him as the product of a system: a system that set poor white against poor black for the benefit of an elite. A South politician preaches to the poor white man / "You got more than the blacks, don't complain. / You're better than them, you been born with white skin," they explain.It was a class analysis of white supremacy, made at a time when this was a fringe idea even within the civil rights movement – though that would soon change.
In The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll Dylan again situates an act of racist violence within a larger system of social hierarchy. It's a story told with the deliberation of constrained outrage, leading to a devastating payoff in the final verse, which reveals the complicity of the state, and society at large, in the crime. "Now," Dylan scolds us, "is the time for your tears." Unusually for the time, Dylan does not allow his audience to wallow in moral superiority. At every turn, he challenges liberal complacency.
The album's treatment of the cruelties of class is stark. In Ballad of Hollis Brown, a farmer is driven to the destruction of his family and himself by the relentless pressure of poverty. North Country Blues chronicles the fate of an iron-mining town in Minnesota when the owners shift production to "the South American towns, where the miners work almost for nothing". It's a story of de-industrialisation and globalisation, written long before those terms entered the lexicon.
With God on Our Side, a sweeping survey of American warfare from the genocide of the native population to the nuclear standoff of the cold war, is a radical revision of the authorised version of American history (decades before Howard Zinn). In this centennial year, the verse on the first world war stands out: The reason for fighting / I never got straight / But I learned to accept it / Accept it with pride / For you don't count the dead / When God's on your side.
Where did the politics come from? Woody Guthrie had been Dylan's first connection to the radicalism of the 30s, and in New York he met other veterans of the half-forgotten Popular Front era, including Pete Seeger. In the Greenwich Village folk scene he mingled with socialists, anarchists and pacifists. You wouldn't know it from the film Inside Llewyn Davis, but this was a milieu buzzing with political argument and radical ideas. But the spark was surely the upsurge in youth activism, most notably in the sit-ins in the south, where young people had engaged in a direct challenge to power and succeeded in redefining the boundaries of the politically possible. Their boldness supplied Dylan and others with the self-confidence to "speak truth to power".
The album also includes three intimate, enigmatically personal songs. Boots of Spanish Leather and One Too Many Mornings are both evocatively equivocal. Restless Farewell, the album's finale, is mainly of interest in hinting at Dylan's imminent departure from what he'd come to see as the protest-song straight-jacket. "So I'll make my stand / And remain as I am / And bid farewell and not give a damn."
As for the anthemic title song, even in its day many found its naivety and generational self-righteousness irritating. And yet, in articulating in such broad rhetorical strokes the belief that epochal change was possible and imminent, Dylan left us with a precious distillation of a historical moment. Over the decades the song has acquired an elegiac patina as the millennial hopes that produced it recede into a distant past. But just as the injustices challenged by Dylan's songs are still very much with us, so too is the need for the all-embracing emancipatory aspiration of The Times They Are a-Changin'.
Mike Marqusee is the author of Wicked Messenger: Bob Dylan and the 1960s