Meaning of The Times They Are a-Changin’ – Bob Dylan

“The Times They Are a-Changin'” by legendary singer-songwriter Bob Dylan is one of the world’s most famous protest songs. In the 1960s and 1970s, it became the anthem of a generation that longed for real change but was only disappointed in its expectations. The history of composition is full of interesting events, which we will discuss later in the article.

The History and Meaning of The Times They Are a-Changin’

Tony Glover, a friend of Bob’s, recalled seeing a stack of handwritten sheets in Dylan’s apartment in September 1963 with sketches of future songs. On one of them was the phrase “come senators, congressmen, please heed the call”, which surprised him very much. To the question: “What is this shit?”, – the musician replied: “You know, it seems that this is what people want to hear.”

Dylan himself said that while working on the song, he deliberately tried to create an anthem for change. In an interview with Cameron Crowe, the performer explained the main idea behind “The Times They Are a-Changin’”:

It was a song with a purpose. She was born under the influence of Irish and Scottish ballads … “Come All Ye Bold Highway Men”, “Come All Ye Tender Hearted Maindens”. I wanted to write a big song with short, concise verses that would pile on top of each other, producing a hypnotic effect. At some point, the civil rights movement and folk music were very close and quite closely related.

Synopsis for the album “Biograph”, 1985

The archaic “a-” prefix used in the title of “The Times They Are a-Changin'” is also meant to remind listeners of old ballads.

The opening lines of the third verse may allude to an event that happened on June 11, 1963 at the entrance to the University of Alabama. Governor George Wallace stood at the door to prevent black students from entering the school.

alabama university incident

There are references to the Bible in the lyrics of the song. Separate lines are clearly reminiscent of Mark 10:31, which says: “But many who are first will be last, and the last will be first.”

Many critics believe that in “The Times They Are a-Changin'” Dylan also had in mind the generation gap, but the musician does not agree with this interpretation:

Those were the only words I could find to separate the living from the dead. They have nothing to do with age.


In fact, I can’t say that adults don’t understand young people any more than, say, big fish don’t understand small fish. I didn’t conceive “The Times They Are a-Changin’” as a statement… It’s a feeling.


Recording and release

In the fall of 1963, Dylan demoed the song, which was subsequently published on The Bootleg Series Volumes 1-3 (Rare & Unreleased) 1961-1991. At the end of October, the official version was recorded at the Columbia studio in New York, which became the title track of the singer’s next album. It was released as a single which peaked at number nine in the UK.

A few weeks after the track was recorded, President John F. Kennedy was assassinated. The next day, Bob Dylan opened the show with “The Times They Are a-Changin'”. The performer later explained the choice of composition:

I thought, “Wow, how do I start with this song? I will be stoned.” But I had to sing it, because that’s how the whole performance was built. I didn’t understand anything then. Something in the country went awry, and they applauded the song. And I couldn’t understand why they were clapping and why I wrote this song. I didn’t understand anything at all. It seemed insane to me.

Interview with Anthony Scaduto, biographer of Dylan

The song was included in the list of five hundred greatest songs of all time according to the readers of Rolling Stone.

Subsequently, covers of “The Times They Are a-Changin’” were sung by The Byrds, Nina Simone, Simon & Garfunkel, The Beach Boys and many other popular artists.

Interesting Facts

  • In 1984, Steve Jobs recited the song’s second verse at an Apple shareholder meeting during which he presented the Macintosh computer.
  • In 2010, the handwritten lyrics of “The Times They Are a-Changin’” sold at Sotheby’s for $442,500. It was bought by telephone collector Adam Sender.
  • The song was included in the official soundtrack of the science fiction film “Watchmen”.

The Times They Are a-Changin’
Translation of the song
The Times They Are a-Changin’
Come gather ’round people
Wherever you roam
And admit that the waters
Around you have grown
And accept it soon
You’ll be drenched to the bone
If your time to you is worth saving
Then you better start swimmin’
Or you’ll sink like a stone
For the times they are a-changin’
Wherever you are
And admit that the waters
Climbed around you
Agree that soon
You will get wet to the skin
If you value your life
It’s time for you to learn how to swim
Or will you sink like a stone
‘Cause times, they change Come writers and critics
Who prophesize with your pen
And keep your eyes wide
The chance won’t come again
And don’t speak too soon
For the wheel’s still in spin
And there’s no tellin’ who that’s namin’
For the loser now will be later to win
For the times they are a-changin’
Who prophesies with a pen
And look into everyone’s eyes
There won’t be another chance
But don’t jump to conclusions
Because the drum is still spinning
And it’s hard to say
Who will it call
For today’s loser may later win
‘Cause the times, they change Come senators, congressmen
Please heed the call
Don’t stand in the doorway
Don’t block up the hall
For he that gets hurt
Will be he who has stalled
There’s a battle outside and it’s ragin’
It’ll soon shake your windows and rattle your walls
For the times they are a-changin’
Kindly pay attention to the call
Don’t stand at the door
Do not block the entrance to the hall,
Because it will hurt
Who prevented to pass
Outside there is a furious fight
It will shake your walls and windows,
‘Cause the times they change Come mothers and fathers
throughout the land
And don’t criticize
What can’t you understand
Your sons and your daughters
Are beyond your command
Your old road is rapidly agin’
Please get out of the new one
If you can’t lend your hand
For the times they are a-changin’
From all over the country
And don’t criticize
What you can’t understand
Your sons and daughters
You no longer obey
Your old way is quickly becoming obsolete
Please get off the new road
If you can’t lend a helping hand
Cause the times they change the line it is drawn
The curse it is cast
The slow one now
Will later be fast
As the present now
Will later be past
The order is rapidly fading
And the first one now will later be last
For the times they are a-changin’ The line is drawn
Curse cast
And the quietest
Later will become fast
For today’s present
Later will be the past
The old order is crumbling fast
And the first will later be the last
Cause the times they change

Add a comment