After Freewheelin’, this was in many ways a step backwards. Freewheelin’ had a wider scope than most double albums; it created its own world. Times is mostly regarded as a political album. Seven of the albums ten songs, and among them the album’s longest songs, are political in nature, with two of the others being breakup songs and the other one, “Restless Farewell,” being a rewrite of the Irish drinking song “Parting Glass” that seems like a 21+ version of Freewheelin's “Bob Dylan’s Dream,” a sad song about leaving friends behind. While its true that most of the major songs on Times – “With God On Our Side,” “Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll,” the title track – are political, Dylan’s political songs had become more nuanced and reflected a wider world view. In “Oxford Town” on Freewheelin’, Dylan basically said “look at racism. It sure is bad.” In “Hattie Carroll,” he accepts that racism is bad, he doesn’t need to state it. Instead, he focuses on society’s reaction to it, trusting the justice system to treat Carroll’s murder as a hate crime. It is the justice system that faces the spoken condemnation, not William Zantzinger, the man who murderer her, though the song manages to skewer both. In “Only A Pawn In Their Game” Dylan defends the unnamed Byron de la Beckwith, murderer of Medgar Evers, as being only a scapegoat for institutionalized racism that is perpetuated by the Southern aristocracy so they can keep the poor whites ignorant and thus keep sucking them dry. Dylan’s contention that Beckwith is a product of his times is much more layered than simply saying “shame on you for killing a civil rights leader,” which is what so many of Dylan’s peers were doing. That said, when you leave this album, Dylan expertly makes you feel disheartened and indignant, but only “When the Ship Comes In” imparts the spark of life that was all over Freewheelin’.
Best song: When the Ship Comes In – According to Joan Baez, Dylan rolled into town to be her opening act and, after initially being denied a hotel room due to his scruffy appearance, wrote this as payback in time to sing it at their concert. The song’s righteous anger may only be channeled at some hotel execs in actuality, but it sounds like an indictment of everything wrong with society, and specifically aimed at the old guard, willing to uphold inequality in the name of the almighty dollar, and Dylan calling in Moses to help him drown the swine on a day of joyous revolution.
Best live rendition: The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll – I heard Dylan perform this in Kansas City. It was the highlight of the show and it sounded like a hymn. Gorgeous. Christopher Ricks, professor at Oxford, feels this is the best poem in the English language.