50 Greatest Songs of Bob Dylan: #49. A Hard Rain’s a-Gonna Fall

The song, like Dylan, its author, traversed many a mile and slayed many a wannabe singer/songwriter before it would reach, what could be argued, its penultimate  high.  Nearly ten years before the  George Harrison organized benefit concert for the impoverished country of Bangladesh, the song, “A Hard Rain’s a-Gonna Fall,” was put to record by Dylan for his second album, Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan. The song would help bond together the album’s stirring political voice that  play a part in Dylan’s rise from obscurity. As a result, maybe in hindsight, critics would flock en masse  to sing it and its author’s praises. Rolling Stone had this to say about the song:

“The greatest protest song by the greatest protest songwriter of his time: a seven-minute epic that warns  against a coming apocalypse while cataloging its horrific visions — gun-toting children, a tree dripping blood — with the wide-eyed fervor of John the Revelator.”

Casting aside Rolling Stone’s  juvenile exuberance to drink whatever flavor Kool-Aid  Dylan was peddling at that moment, the poetry of “A Hard Rain” hides an inner darkness, with a frailty that attains to  lure more unfortunate sympathizers into its clutches. But Dylan really didn’t have to stretch all that far to find it or its subtext.

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According to The online fan site Bob Dylan.Org/UK

Here it was the lyrics, and we know from the reports in Heylin and elsewhere that Dylan described the song as a poem at first.  We also know that he kept on changing individual lines within the song over time.   (We also have reports that Bob was in the habit of knocking out a new song on the typewriter, fixing in some sort of melody and accompaniment and then rushing off to the Gaslight Club and playing it – just like that).

And here it started as a very unstructured poem, and then he put the melody and chords to the song, and there it was.

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However, the evidence to contrary is bountiful and, try as he might, author Tony Attwood doesn’t do enough  to help the case for Dylan. The first comes from a Scottish-Anglo ballad, though variations from other countries exist as well, Lord Randall, which dates back to the 17th century:

“Oh where ha’e ye been, Lord Randall my son?
O where ha’e ye been, my handsome young man?”
“I ha’e been to the wild wood: mother, make my bed soon,
For I’m weary wi’ hunting, and fain wald lie down.”

“Where gat ye your dinner, Lord Randall my son?
Where gat ye your dinner, my handsome young man?”
“I dined wi’ my true love; mother, make my bed soon,
For I’m weary wi’ hunting, and fain wald lie down.”

“What gat ye to your dinner, Lord Randall my son?
What gat ye to your dinner, my handsome young man?”
“I gat eels boiled in broo: mother, make my bed soon,
For I’m weary wi’ hunting, and fain wald lie down.”

“What became of your bloodhounds, Lord Randall my son?
What became of your bloodhounds, my handsome young man?”
“O they swelled and they died: mother, make my bed soon,
for I’m weary wi’ hunting, and fain wald lie down.”

“O I fear ye are poisoned, Lord Randall my son!
O I fear ye are poisoned, my handsome young man!”
“O yes, I am poisoned: mother, make my bed soon,
For I’m sick at the heart, and I fain wald lie down.”

The other, a more famous source, the Book of Revelations, according to Uncut magazine’s The Ultimate Music Guide: Dylan: (page 8-9):

“Some of its dazzling images fit a bestiary of a nuclear winter(..) but as much seems to mimic the fever delirium  of the Book of Revelations.

First, we start with Dylan’s lyrics for “A Hard Rain’s a-Gonna Fall “-

 “Oh, where have you been, my blue-eyed son?

Oh, where have you been, my darling young one?

I’ve stumbled on the side of twelve misty mountains
I’ve walked and I’ve crawled on six crooked highways
I’ve stepped in the middle of seven sad forests
I’ve been out in front of a dozen dead oceans
I’ve been ten thousand miles in the mouth of a graveyard
And it’s a hard, and it’s a hard, it’s a hard, and it’s a hard
And it’s a hard rain’s a-gonna fall
Oh, what did you see, my blue-eyed son?
Oh, what did you see, my darling young one?
I saw a newborn baby with wild wolves all around it
I saw a highway of diamonds with nobody on it
I saw a black branch with blood that kept drippin’
I saw a room full of men with their hammers a-bleedin’
I saw a white ladder all covered with water
I saw ten thousand talkers whose tongues were all broken
I saw guns and sharp swords in the hands of young children
And it’s a hard, and it’s a hard, it’s a hard, it’s a hard
And it’s a hard rain’s a-gonna fall
And what did you hear, my blue-eyed son?
And what did you hear, my darling young one?
I heard the sound of a thunder, it roared out a warnin’
Heard the roar of a wave that could drown the whole world
Heard one person starve, I heard many people laughin’
Heard the song of a poet who died in the gutter
Heard the sound of a clown who cried in the alley
And it’s a hard, and it’s a hard, it’s a hard, it’s a hard
And it’s a hard rain’s a-gonna fall
Oh, who did you meet, my blue-eyed son?
Who did you meet, my darling young one?
I met a young child beside a dead pony
I met a white man who walked a black dog
I met a young woman whose body was burning
I met a young girl, she gave me a rainbow
I met one man who was wounded in love
I met another man who was wounded with hatred
And it’s a hard, it’s a hard, it’s a hard, it’s a hard
It’s a hard rain’s a-gonna fall
Oh, what’ll you do now, my blue-eyed son?
Oh, what’ll you do now, my darling young one?
I’m a-goin’ back out ‘fore the rain starts a-fallin’
I’ll walk to the depths of the deepest black forest
Where the people are many and their hands are all empty
Where the pellets of poison are flooding their waters
Where the home in the valley meets the damp dirty prison
Where the executioner’s face is always well-hidden
Where hunger is ugly, where souls are forgotten
Where black is the color, where none is the number
And I’ll tell it and think it and speak it and breathe it
And reflect it from the mountain so all souls can see it
Then I’ll stand on the ocean until I start sinkin’
But I’ll know my song well before I start singin’
And it’s a hard, it’s a hard, it’s a hard, it’s a hard
It’s a hard rain’s a-gonna fall

And the Lord Randall poem:

“Oh where ha’e ye been, Lord Randall my son?
O where ha’e ye been, my handsome young man?”
“I ha’e been to the wild wood: mother, make my bed soon,
For I’m weary wi’ hunting, and fain wald lie down.”

“Where gat ye your dinner, Lord Randall my son?
Where gat ye your dinner, my handsome young man?”
“I dined wi’ my true love; mother, make my bed soon,
For I’m weary wi’ hunting, and fain wald lie down.”

“What gat ye to your dinner, Lord Randall my son?
What gat ye to your dinner, my handsome young man?”
“I gat eels boiled in broo: mother, make my bed soon,
For I’m weary wi’ hunting, and fain wald lie down.”

“What became of your bloodhounds, Lord Randall my son?
What became of your bloodhounds, my handsome young man?”
“O they swelled and they died: mother, make my bed soon,
for I’m weary wi’ hunting, and fain wald lie down.”

“O I fear ye are poisoned, Lord Randall my son!
O I fear ye are poisoned, my handsome young man!”
“O yes, I am poisoned: mother, make my bed soon,
For I’m sick at the heart, and I fain wald lie down.”

There have been many theories as to Dylan’s inspirations and several good articles on various web sites that  lay them out. If you’re interested in learning more click here.

The song is very much of its time frame. If you  are into the 1960s and its kitsch then “A Hard Rain’s a-Gonna Fall” is definitely worth checking it out. Once you have well established yourself as a Dylan fan, other songs of his songs will catch your interests far more.

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