A Hard Rain's a-Gonna Fall

"A Hard Rain's a-Gonna Fall"
Song by Bob Dylan from the album The Freewheelin' Bob Dylan
Released May 27, 1963
Recorded December 6, 1962
Genre Folk
Length 6:55
Label Columbia Records
Writer(s) Bob Dylan
Producer(s) John Hammond
The Freewheelin' Bob Dylan track listing

"A Hard Rain's a-Gonna Fall" is a song written by Bob Dylan in the summer of 1962. It was first recorded in Columbia Records' Studio A on December 6, 1962 for his second album The Freewheelin' Bob Dylan. The lyrical structure is based on the question and answer form of traditional ballads such as Lord Randall. Dylan has stated that all of the lyrics were taken from the initial lines of songs that "he thought he would never have time to write."[1]


On September 22, 1962, Dylan appeared for the first time at Carnegie Hall as part of an all-star hootenanny.[2][3] His three song set marked the first public performance of "A Hard Rain's a-Gonna Fall,"[4] a complex and powerful song built upon the question-and-answer refrain pattern of the traditional British ballad "Lord Randall", published by Francis Child.

One month later, on October 22, U.S. President John F. Kennedy appeared on national television to announce the discovery of Soviet missiles on the island of Cuba, initiating the Cuban Missile Crisis. In the sleeve notes on the Freewheelin' album, Nat Hentoff would quote Dylan as saying that he wrote "A Hard Rain" in response to the Cuban Missile Crisis:[5] "Every line in it is actually the start of a whole new song. But when I wrote it, I thought I wouldn't have enough time alive to write all those songs so I put all I could into this one."

In actuality, Dylan had written the song more than a month before the crisis broke. Nevertheless, the song remained relevant through the years because of its broader message: the imagery suggests injustice, suffering, pollution and warfare. Folk singer Pete Seeger interpreted the line "When the home in the valley meets the dark dirty prison" as referring to when a young person suddenly wants to leave his home, but then qualified that by saying, "People are wrong when they say 'I know what he means.'"[6]

While some have suggested[7] that the refrain of the song refers to nuclear fallout, Dylan disputes that this was a specific reference. In a radio interview with Studs Terkel in 1963, Dylan said:

"No, it's not atomic rain, it's just a hard rain. It isn't the fallout rain. I mean some sort of end that's just gotta happen ... In the last verse, when I say, 'the pellets of poison are flooding the waters,' that means all the lies that people get told on their radios and in their newspapers."[8]

In No Direction Home, Martin Scorsese's documentary on Dylan, the Beat poet Allen Ginsberg talks about the first time he heard Dylan's music:

"When I got back from India, and got to the West Coast, there's a poet, Charlie Plymell - at a party in Bolinas — played me a record of this new young folk singer. And I heard "Hard Rain," I think. And wept. 'Cause it seemed that the torch had been passed to another generation. From earlier bohemian, or Beat illumination. And self-empowerment."[9]

Author Ian MacDonald described "A Hard Rain" as one of the most idiosyncratic protest songs ever written.[10]

Live performance

Although Dylan may have first played the song to friends, "A Hard Rain's a-Gonna Fall" was formally premiered at Carnegie Hall on September 22, 1962, as part of a hootenanny organized by Pete Seeger. Seeger recalled: "I had to announce to all the singers, 'Folks, you're gonna be limited to three songs. No more. 'Cause we each have ten minutes apiece.' And Bob raised his hand and said, 'What am I supposed to do? One of my songs is ten minutes long.'"[11]

Dylan featured the song regularly in concerts in the years since he premiered it, and there have been several dramatic performances. An October 1963 performance at Carnegie Hall was released on The Bootleg Series Vol. 7: No Direction Home, while another New York City performance, recorded one year later, appeared on The Bootleg Series Vol. 6: Bob Dylan Live 1964, Concert at Philharmonic Hall. Dylan performed the song in August 1971 at The Concert for Bangladesh, organized by George Harrison and Ravi Shankar. The concert was organized for East Pakistan refugee relief (now independent Bangladesh) after the 1970 Bhola cyclone and during the 1971 Bangladesh Liberation War. On December 4, 1975, at the Forum de Montreal, Canada,[12] Dylan recorded an upbeat version of the song, which appears on The Bootleg Series Vol. 5: Bob Dylan Live 1975, The Rolling Thunder Revue album. On May 23, 1994, Dylan performed the song at "The Great Music Experience" festival in Japan, backed by a 90-piece symphony orchestra conducted by Michael Kamen.[13] At the end of 2007, Dylan recorded a new version of "A Hard Rain's a-Gonna Fall" exclusively for Expo Zaragoza 2008 world fair, scheduled to open on June 8, 2008, to highlight the Expo theme of "water and sustainable development". As well as choosing local-band Amaral to record a version of the song in Spanish, Dylan's new version ended with a few spoken words about his "being proud to be a part of the mission to make water safe and clean for every human being living in this world."[14][15]


Other media

Photographer Mark Edwards took a series of photographs illustrating the lyrics of the song which were exhibited in many locations such as the United Nations headquarters. These were published in a book in 2006.[17][18]

See also


  1. Overbye, Dennis (July 1, 2013). "A Quantum of Solace Timeless Questions About the Universe". The New York Times. Retrieved July 24, 2013.
  2. Marqusee, Mike (2005). Wicked Messenger: Bob Dylan and the 1960s. Seven Stories Press. pp. 64f. ISBN 1-58322-686-9.
  3. Shelton, Robert (2003). No Direction Home: The Life and Music of Bob Dylan. Da Capo Press. p. 152. ISBN 0-306-81287-8.
  4. It was the final song performed in the set. It followed a rendition of "As Long as the Grass Shall Grow", which consisted of music written by Dylan and lyrics by the noted Native American poet/singer/songwriter Peter LaFarge, recounting the US government's violation of its longstanding treaty with the Seneca nation in upstate New York.
  5. Friedman, Jonathan C. (ed.) (2013). The Routledge History of Social Protest in Popular Music. London: Routledge. p. 151. ISBN 9780415509527.
  6. Gilliland 1969, show 31, track 4, 9:20.
  7. "'A Hard Rain's A-Gonna Fall...'". This Day in Quotes. May 27, 2014. Retrieved 6 June 2016.
  8. Reprinted in Cott (ed.), Dylan on Dylan: The Essential Interviews, pp. 7–9.
  9. Ginsberg, Allen (2005). No Direction Home (DVD). Paramount Pictures.
  10. Phillips, Jerry; Anesko, general editor; Michael; adviser; authors, contributor; Karen Meyers, Erik V. R. Rangno, principal (2010). Contemporary American Literature (1945–present) (2nd ed.). New York: Chelsea House. p. 34. ISBN 1604134895.
  11. Heylin 2003, p. 102.
  12. Set Lists:Forum de Montreal Archived April 10, 2013, at the Wayback Machine. Bobdylan.com
  13. Vigoda, Arlene (May 24, 1994). "Born To Be Wilde". USA Today. Retrieved July 24, 2013.
  14. Llewellyn, Howell (November 23, 2007). "Dylan reworks "Hard Rain's" for Spanish expo". Reuters. Retrieved November 24, 2007.
  15. "Expo Zaragoza 2008". Expo web site. Archived from the original on 3 December 2007. Retrieved December 2, 2007.
  16. Robert Plant & The Band of Joy 4/8/11 Louisville Palace on YouTube
  17. Mark Edwards; Lloyd Timberlake; Bob Dylan. "Hard rain: our headlong collision with nature".
  18. "Hard Rain proves tough to weather", Rocky Mountain News, January 16, 1998


External links

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