Changing of The Guards (1978) – Bob Dylan

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 years
Sixteen banners united over the field
Where the good shepherd grieves
Desperate men, desperate women divided
Spreading their wings ‘neath the falling leaves

Fortune calls
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.

“The more I live, the more I learn. The more I learn, the more I realize, the less I know.”- Michel Legrand

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9 comments on “Changing of The Guards (1978) – Bob Dylan
  1. Angelik says:

    Me ha encantado que me compartieras tu blog, me llegó en un momento de esta pandemia en que estoy inquieta y en las mañanas cada articulo me abre la puerta de algo nuevo. Escribes de una forma que me anima a querer saber más y se me convierte un poco en el tema del día. Por esta razón escucho música de Bob Dylan y aprendo a ver las canciones desde otra perspectiva. Me falta tiempo para poder indagar más

  2. badfinger20 (Max) says:

    This is a good song. He probably was just getting into more Christianity around this time…because like you said it was about to happen full force. Matt it’s been a while since I heard this one. It was a change…he had a big production with the singers and the music.

    • I think it’s one of the best songs I’ve ever heard in terms of challenging the mind and the words are as Shakespearen as you’ll see from a songwriter. Also, it’s an acquired taste, for sure! That’s what I like about Street Legal, it’s not a hit album, it takes time to understand and gel. I like everything on it. Thanks for commenting here amigo and I hope this message finds you well.

      • badfinger20 (Max) says:

        I already have the Dylan taste. Most of his albums….even the hit ones are not party albums…you don’t play them at parties…you listen to them and interpret if you can. Great post and I was happy to hear it again.

      • I agree. You have to listen to them and fully immerse yourself. The only album I could think of which may be befitting to a party would be the second half of ‘Live 1966’ bootleg. Man, that rocks!

      • badfinger20 (Max) says:

        Yea that one does have some punch! If you don’t listen more than once with the others…you are missing out.

  3. Again, an example of music moving people. This is a good one to me also.

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