Changing of the Guards is one of Dylan’s many masterpieces as is the album it opens – Street Legal. Both are underrated outputs of Dylan’s astounding discography. If I had to choose just one album from Dylan’s catalogue to have with me on a Desert Island, it would Street Legal and Changing of the Guards is my favourite song from it and one of my top 10 Dylan songs. It showcases Dylan’s intricacy, creative talent and lyrical genius with a new refreshing distinct sound including choir and saxophone. The rhythm and melody are original and powerful and I never grow tired of hearing it. It unpacks such illusory images and shifts between eras of time that make it such a remarkable listen:
Sixteen banners united over the field
Where the good shepherd grieves
Desperate men, desperate women divided
Spreading their wings ‘neath the falling leaves
I stepped forth from the shadows to the marketplace
Merchants and thieves, hungry for power, my last deal gone down
She’s smelling sweet like the meadows where she was born
On midsummer’s eve, near the tower
Bob sounds so effervescent and free in Changing, like he is blessed by a new spirit unshackling the negative energy which held him down before. 16 years in the opening line are the sixteen years since he started in the music business and now he is really done with everyone – I don’t need your organization, I’ve shined your shoes and is free while looking into a hopeful future Peace will come. Dylan acknowledged the lyrical ambiguity in a 1978 interview, commenting: “It means something different every time I sing it. ‘Changing of the Guards’ is a thousand years old”. Although Dylan had not professed his conversion to Christianity as of yet there seems to be many references to Christian imagery and one could argue Changing is the New Covenant.
Wikipedia: Changing failed to reach the Billboard Top 100 but the song has been included on compilation albums: Bob Dylan’s Greatest Hits Volume 3, released in 1994, and the Deluxe Edition of Dylan, released in 2007.
Dylan expert Michael Gray, author of The Bob Dylan Encyclopedia, commented that “Changing of the Guards” is a thorough description of Dylan’s personal journey, from the beginning of his musical career, about sixteen years prior (the opening line is “Sixteen years”), through his marriage to and divorce from Sara Dylan, up to his conversion to Christianity, which was announced soon after the song’s release.…Dylan performed “Changing of the Guards” 68 times in concert. All performances were in 1978.