50 Greatest Bob Dylan Songs: #48. Talkin’ John Birch Paranoid Blues

When we look  back at the golden age of Folk music, late 1950s to the mid 1960s , one name stands out, that being Bob Dylan His two biggest rivals for the king of folk, Richard Farina and Phil Ochs, would  both flame out before all too long, leaving  the Minnesota born singer alone with only his legend to do battle with. Hindsight being what it is, Dylan always was going to win any every fight he took part. Consider that a crunch of the numbers tells us that Dylan’s career has spanned only seven fewer years than Farina and  Ochs lived (59 Dylan 66 Ochs and Farina). Proof that those who worship at the alter of Dylan aren’t that wrong. Still very productive to this day, it is Dylan’s songwriting prowess that continues  to amaze. Consider our #48 – “Talkin’ John Birch Paranoid Blues.”


The year 1945 would provide a major shift in United States history. First, Franklin Roosevelt’s term of office came to an end after an unfathomable 4 election wins for president. For 12 years, one man held the office of president and was re-elected for a forth term. As a result of Roosevelt’s dominance, terms limits were passed by a Republican led congress, after FDR died of ill health and Harry Truman saw out the remaining years.

Scared of their minds, the Republican party, along with many Democrats whipped the nation into anti-Communist sentiments. The panic was so wide spread, rumors and innuendo flying around faster than even Donald Trump does it, the  government began to investigate itself for fear that the Russians were spreading the Communist manifesto in the US government. In this atmosphere, on December 9, 1958, the John Birch Society was born. The place was Indianapolis, Indiana, the heartland of America’s conservative common man.


In his book Upstream: The Ascendance of American Conservatism, author Alfred Regney wrote about JBS’s  rise on the political scene:

“Birch Society chapters were spread from coast to coast and tended to be in small communities.”

In this tense atmosphere, Dylan would launch his latest topical broadside. His most powerful weapon was his sarcastic sense of humor. Dylan’s ability to twist words and make you laugh, make you think as well as tell a story, remains unrivaled in popular music history. He crafted worlds and  chose such disparate characters to populate his worlds that would draw more of an admiring fan base proclaiming his genius rather than worshiping  him as a rock god.



“Talkin’ John Birch Paranoid Blues” owes a great deal to singing or, as it were talkin’, style that was popularized by Woody Guthrie. Dylan maintained his “Okie” voice for his first two albums and then it faded quickly, totally gone by the fourth album Another Side of Bob Dylan. However, it was in full bloom for “Talkin’.” He excoriates the ultra right wing group. (For those lovers of irony, at this time, the Democrats were  the ones who were accused of being in collusion with Russia) At that time, the catch word was panic. Along with Red alarmist, Joe McCarthy, the John Birch Society, named after Birch who was an “American Baptist missionary and military intelligence officer who was shot and killed by communist forces in China in August 1945, shortly after the conclusion of World War II,” worked the panic button with all of their might.

Dylan laid that hysteria quickly saying in succinct absurdity

“Them Communists they was comin’ around
They was in the air
They was on the ground
They wouldn’t gimme no peace.”
As absurd as the whole Red Scare of the 1950 s and 60s seems to us now, it ruined many people’s lives and robbed others of their livelihood. That was something men like Dylan could never capture in a song.
Though topical songs can be landmines, Dylan’s “Talkin’ John Birch Paranoid Blues” proves you can navigate those mines.
Go here for a live rendition of the song.