Bob Dylan – The Ballad of Hollis Brown – lyrics – How he dragged Rock Music into a more serious Adult phase.

Bob Dylan – The Ballad of Hollis Brown – lyrics – How he dragged Rock Music into a more serious Adult phase.

Rock music, up until 1965, was a teenage music, pure and simple. It avoided all serious subject matter, was focussed on young love, and aimed at an audience of teenagers – with few exceptions.

Bob Dylan, almost single handedly changed all that. Following in the Woody Guthrie tradition, who, in his early development, he based his whole act and persona on, he wrote songs about serious issues – war, civil rights, the rabid right wing John Birch Society, Ku Klux Klan, and racism. He was a Greenwich Village Folk Singer and part of a group who were doing similar serious songs – Buffy St Marie, Phil Ochs and Peter Lafarge. Folk music was a more serious, intellectual music aimed at an older more intelligent, if alternative, audience. The establishment derisively called them Protest Songs. They liked to label things and make them safe. It seemed that Folk and Rock had little in common – right up until Dylan broke through into the charts and became a phenomenon and the Byrds demonstrated that his poetic lyrics and adult themes could be translated into Rock. His impact was then enormous. He changed the way bands like the Beatles wrote songs and suddenly Rock music grew up and started tackling issues and experimenting with form. They were propelled out of the nifty two and a half minute single with verse chorus and middle eight.  Anything went.

In his early days he tried to sound like his hero Woody and scoured the newspapers for subjects to write songs about. Hollis Brown was about a black farmer who in despair shot his family and killed himself. In times of austerity everybody suffered. But with inherent racism it was the blacks who suffered more.

Later Bob was to taunt Phil Ochs, accusing him of being just a journalist. Well there was some truth in that. They were both writing songs that were journalism. This is one of them. But it did not take Dylan long to move out of ‘Protest’ into a more complex, poetic style, while Phil took a bit longer.

This song is early Dylan. It records the tragedy of the poor black farmer. There is a bit of Bob’s poetic imagery and a fairly straightforward repeating set of stanzas. Quite simple when compared to his later works. It sets out to tell the story.

In this moment where the ‘Black Lives Matter’ movement is growing, this song has renewed resonance.

“Ballad Of Hollis Brown”

Hollis Brown
He lived on the outside of town
Hollis Brown
He lived on the outside of town
With his wife and five children
And his cabin brokin’ down.You looked for work and money
And you walked a rugged mile
You looked for work and money
And you walked a rugged mile
Your children are so hungry
That they don’t know how to smile.Your baby’s eyes look crazy
They’re a-tuggin’ at your sleeve
Your baby’s eyes look crazy
They’re a-tuggin’ at your sleeve
You walk the floor and wonder why
With every breath you breathe.The rats have got your flour
Bad blood it got your mare
The rats have got your flour
Bad blood it got your mare
If there’s anyone that knows
Is there anyone that cares ?

You prayed to the Lord above
Oh please send you a friend
You prayed to the Lord above
Oh please send you a friend
Your empty pocket tell you
That you ain’t a-got no friend.

Your babies are crying louder now
It’s pounding on your brain
Your babies are crying louder now
It’s pounding on your brain
Your wife’s screams are stabbin’ you
Like the dirty drivin’ rain.

Your grass is turning black
There’s no water in your well
Your grass is turning black
There’s no water in your well
Your spent your last lone dollar
On seven shotgun shels.

Way out in the wilderness
A cold coyote calls
Way out in the wilderness
A cold coyote calls
Your eyes fix on the shortgun
That’s hangin’ on the wall.

Your brain is a-bleedin’
And your legs can’t seem to stand
Your brain is a-bleedin’
And your legs can’t seem to stand
Your eyes fix on the shortgun
That you’re holdin’ in your hand.

There’s seven breezes a-blowin’
All around the cabin door
There’s seven breezes a-blowin’
All around the cabin door
Seven shots ring out
Like the ocean’s pounding roar.

There’s seven people dead
On a south Dakota farm
There’s seven people dead
On a south Dakota farm
Somewhere in the distance
There’s seven new people born.

If you are at all interested in my writing on Blues and Rock Music you can check out my books here:

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Opher-Goodwin/e/B00MSHUX6Y/ref=sr_tc_2_0?qid=1474797981&sr=1-2-ent

I would recommend the Blues Muse or In Search of Captain Beefheart to get you started:

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Blues-Muse-Opher-Goodwin/dp/1518621147/ref=asap_bc?ie=UTF8

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Search-Captain-Beefheart-Opher-Goodwin-ebook/dp/B00TQ1E9ZG/ref=la_B00MSHUX6Y_1_4?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1474886379&sr=1-4

or

537 Essential Rock Albums Pt. 1

Opher’s tributes to Rock Geniuses

Happy Reading!!

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