The album notably contains the very first official recording of Bob Dylan, who plays harmonica on the title track. , He was paid 50 dollars for his work. Harry Belafonte came out of the army and stayed with Hank Pearson, my neighbor upstairs, and Bobby said that one day he would like to be as big as Belafonte -- that was his dream, his goal. You know, though, I never heard how he got the job to play with Harry Belafonte on that record, but, boy, did he complain about it later, about how he had to rehearse and rehearse and rehearse, doing it the same over and over. "Eve McKenzie Remembers," The Telegraph 56 (final issue, Winter 1997), pp. 37-38. Harry Belafonte and his producer, Hugo Montenegro, were trying to come up with a slightly different sound for the popular singer... They decided on a hard-driving harmonica, and Dylan was asked to back up Belafonte... He was ecstatic about the session... But he returned dejected, annoyed, angry. Belafonte is a total professional, a musical perfectionist. He will work on a song, do it again and again... until he has it exactly the way he thinks his record should sound. To Dylan... the perfection Belafonte sought was too much. He stamped back to the Smiths' [McKenzie's] place afterward and announced that he had quit after only one song. Anthony Scaduto, Bob Dylan, London, 1973 (Abacus edition), pp. 86-87.
Bob Dylan was among the 2008 Pulitzer Prize recipients announced this week, making him the first pop musician to win the prize. The Pulitzer Board has previously been criticized for only giving awards to musicians “in good standing of classical music's old-boy network.” Frequently, the pieces that won went unheard by the general public and “vanished without a trace.” The board has been making efforts in recent years to better represent popular tastes by awarding the Pulitzer to jazz musicians, but rock music was previously “dismissed as barbaric, even subversive.” However the response to Dylan’s award has been enthusiastic, especially from other recipients. David Lang, who won for his classical piece “The Little Match Girl Passion,” said, “I am not fit to touch the hem of his shoes.” TOM PETTY, who collaborated with DYLAN in THE TRAVELING WILBURYS, welcomed the award, saying, "To even begin to name the songs in BOB DYLAN's amazing catalogue would take too long and would be like reading from the encyclopedia."
"Talkin' John Birch Paranoid Blues" was at the center of a controversy that brought national attention to Dylan and played a significant part in shaping his second album, Freewheelin' Bob Dylan. On May 12, 1963, with the album about to be released, Dylan was scheduled to appear on The Ed Sullivan Show on CBS. The Sunday evening variety program, among the most popular shows on American television, had earlier introduced Elvis Presley to national audiences and in 1964 would do the same for The Beatles Dylan had auditioned for the show in early 1962, before the release of his first album. He played a few songs from the recording, but the network executives who sat in on the set weren't exactly sure what to make of him. Unhappy with the experience, Dylan thought he wouldn't hear from the network again. More than a year passed when the call came inviting him to make a guest appearance on the show For his one selection, Dylan chose "Talkin' John Birch Society Blues" (as it was then titled). Sullivan and his producer heard him play it at the Saturday rehearsal on May 11 and were delighted with the song. However, when Dylan showed up for the dress rehearsal the next afternoon, the day of the show, a CBS program practices executive told him the song would have to be replaced because of possible libel against John Birch Society members. Refusing to do a different song, Dylan walked off the set The incident drew national attention with reports running in the New York Times, Billboard and Village Voice.Sullivan, meanwhile, backed Dylan, arguing that if network programs could poke fun at President John F. Kennedy, the John Birch Society should not be immune from similar treatment.[ Concerned about possible reprisals from the John Birch group, the network held to its decision. Worse, the controversy spilled over into Columbia, CBS's records division. When the company's lawyers learned that "Talkin' John Birch" was slated for the album, they ordered the song removed. Dylan was in a delicate situation. His first album had sold poorly, and he didn't have the power at this point to fight his record company. Though upset by the order, he relented. The initial shipments of "Freewheelin", which had already been sent out, were recalled, and the album was re-issued without "Talkin' John Birch Society Blues".Dylan ultimately profited from the affair. Besides the favorable publicity from the Ed Sullivan Show walk-out, it gave him a chance to re-consider his selections for "Freewheelin", which he felt had too many "old fashioned" selections, songs closer in style to his earlier material. In addition to "Talkin' John Birch Society", he dropped three of his other older songs, including "Let Me Die in My Footsteps", "Ramblin' Gamblin' Willie" and "Rocks and Gravel". In their place, he substituted four tunes recorded during the last of the Freewheelin' sessions: "Masters of War", "Girl from the North Country", "Bob Dylan's Dream" and "Talkin' World War III Blues".
Dylan has never publicly spoken of writing any other major composition in this way. In an interview with CBC radio in Montreal, Dylan called the creation of the song a "breakthrough", explaining that it changed his perception of where he was going in his career. He said that he found himself writing "this long piece of vomit, 20 pages long, and out of it I took 'Like a Rolling Stone' and made it as a single. And I'd never written anything like that before and it suddenly came to me that was what I should do ... After writing that I wasn't interested in writing a novel, or a play. I just had too much, I want to write songs. “I wrote that after I had quit. I’d literally quit singing and playing, and I found myself writing this song, this story, this long piece of vomit about twenty pages long and out of it I took ‘Like a Rolling Stone’ and made it as a single. And I never written anything like that before and it suddenly came to me that this is what I should do.” This twenty page creative outpouring suggests getting closer to the new style he had alluded to in early 1965, “songs which are… a long continuation of verses.” It also suggests the deep and acknowledged impact of the Beats on the author - the influence of Kerouac’s uninterrupted scroll of prose for On the Road and Ginsberg’s Howl. (You can buy copies of Kerouac’s novel from Dylan’s website today, alongside Rimbaud’s poetry). Of course the twenty pages wasn’t yet a song. Dylan has talked about “boiling it down” while trying it out on the piano. He also remarked that he “always heard it with a band” (and not a folk acoustic group either, he too was listening to the Stones and Beatles and had played in garage bands as a kid). In an interview from 1966, and after the guesses had begun about to just who all this ire with a fairytale opening (“once upon a time”) was directed, he recalled its composition and subject: “…It wasn’t called anything, just a rhythm thing on paper all about my steady hatred directed at some point that was honest. In the end it wasn’t hatred, it was telling someone something they didn’t know, telling them they were lucky…. I never thought of it as a song until one day I was at the piano, and on the paper it was singing, ‘How does it feel?’ in a slow motion pace… It was like… in your eyesight you see your victim swimming in lava… in the pain they were bound to meet up with. I wrote it. I didn’t fail. It was straight.”