Dylan & His Sources

by elmergantry

Further to yesterday’s post, I would like to illustrate some of the changes in Dylan’s writing methods by taking one example from Dylan’s early career (‘Hard Rain’) and a more recent example (‘Rollin & Tumblin’).

To do so, we will first look at the source material from which Dylan derived the song. In the case of ‘Hard Rain’, it is well known that Dylan based its structure on the old English ballad Lord Randal (or “Lord Randall’, as it is sometimes known). There are also a large number of variants of this song – its history is discussed here:


Here is the great Irish sean-nos (old style) singer, Joe Heaney’s version of the song:

For comparison’s sake, here is Martin Carthy’s version (which is probably the version from which Dylan derived ‘Hard Rain’):

This is the version which can be found on YouTube, but I must admit I much prefer his unaccompanied version, which can be found on his album, ‘Because it’s there’. There is also the unfortunate use of the word ‘mummy’ here…

Here, finally, is “Hard Rain” itself. in the version from the Concert for Bangla Desh:

What is striking here is that while Dylan has adopted the basic skeleton of ‘Lord Randall’, the two songs atre strikingly different. Indeed, through his own particular genius, Dylan has written a song which is  at least equal to one of the greatest and most enduring  ballads ever written.

Tomorrow, we will look at ‘Rollin & Tumblin’ and the steep decline that it shows in Dylan’s songwriting…