Masters of War

Masters of War
"Masters of War"
Song by Bob Dylan from the album The Freewheelin' Bob Dylan
Released May 27, 1963
Recorded April 24, 1963
Genre Folk
Length 4:34
Label Columbia Records
Writer Bob Dylan
Composer Traditional/Jean Ritchie
The Freewheelin' Bob Dylan track listing
  1. "Blowin' in the Wind"
  2. "Girl from the North Country"
  3. "Masters of War"
  4. "Down the Highway"
  5. "Bob Dylan's Blues"
  6. "A Hard Rain's a-Gonna Fall"
  7. "Don't Think Twice, It's All Right"
  8. "Bob Dylan's Dream"
  9. "Oxford Town"
  10. "Talkin' World War III Blues"
  11. "Corrina, Corrina"
  12. "Honey, Just Allow Me One More Chance"
  13. "I Shall Be Free"

"Masters of War" is a song by Bob Dylan, written over the winter of 1962-63 and released on the album The Freewheelin' Bob Dylan in the spring of 1963.[1] The song's melody was adapted from the traditional "Nottamun Town".[2] Dylan's lyrics are a protest against the Cold War arms build-up of the early 1960s.[3]


Basis of melody

With many of his early songs, Dylan adapted or "borrowed" melodies from traditional songs. In the case of "Nottamun Town", however, the arrangement was by veteran folksinger Jean Ritchie. Unknown to Dylan, the song had been in Ritchie's family for generations, and she wanted a writing credit for her arrangement. In a legal settlement, Dylan's lawyers paid Ritchie $5,000 against any further claims.[4]

Recordings and performances

Dylan first recorded "Masters of War" in January 1963 for Broadside magazine, which published the lyrics and music on the cover of its February issue.[5][6] The song was also taped in the basement of Gerde's Folk City in February and for Dylan's music publisher, M. Witmark & Sons, in March.[7] The Witmark version was included on The Bootleg Series Vol. 9 – The Witmark Demos: 1962–1964 in October 2010.[8] The Freewheelin' version, recorded April 24, 1963, by Columbia Records, also appeared on the greatest hits collection Masterpieces and on the Biograph compilation in 1985.[9][10] A live, electric version, recorded at London's Wembley Stadium in 1984, was included on his 1985 Real Live European tour album.[11][12]

During 1963, Dylan performed the song at his three major concerts, including New York's Town Hall on April 12, Brandeis University's Brandeis Folk Festival on May 10, and Carnegie Hall on October 26. He also played it at an afternoon workshop at his first Newport Folk Festival appearance on July 27.[13][14] The Carnegie Hall performance was released on The Bootleg Series Vol. 7: No Direction Home in August 2005 and the Brandeis version on Live in Concert at Brandeis University 10/05/1963 in October 2010.[10] After 1963's performances, Dylan did not play an acoustic version of "Masters of War" for 30 years, until his Hiroshima concert in Japan in 1994.[15]


In the album notes to The Freewheelin' Bob Dylan, Nat Hentoff wrote that Dylan startled himself with this songs, and quotes Dylan saying: "I've never written anything like that before. I don't sing songs which hope people will die, but I couldn't help it with this one. The song is a sort of striking out... a feeling of what can you do?"[16]

Critic Andy Gill described the song as "the bluntest condemnation in Dylan's songbook, a torrent of plain speaking pitched at a level that even the objects of its bile might understand it." Gill points out that when the song was published in Broadside magazine in February 1963, it was accompanied by drawings by Suze Rotolo, Dylan's girl-friend at the time, which depicted a man carving up the world with a knife and fork, while a hungry family forlornly looks on.[17]

According to Todd Harvey, in this song Dylan "allows the listener no opportunity to see the issue from the masters' eyes. 'I' and 'you' are clearly established and 'you' are clearly wrong. The repetitive text and accompaniment's droning single harmony work in tandem to drive home relentlessly the singer's perspective." Harvey notes that Dylan transforms "Nottamun Town", which has absurdly nonsensical words (a naked drummer accompanies a royal procession "with his heels in his bosom") into a confrontational political song; Dylan's writing entered a new phase—harsh, and fitting with the times.[18]

In February 1961, President Eisenhower gave his farewell address from the Oval Office. In this speech, he warned that "we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex."[19] In an interview, published in USA Today the day before the September 11 attacks in 2001, Dylan linked his song to Eisenhower's speech, saying:

"'Masters of War'... is supposed to be a pacifistic song against war. It's not an anti-war song. It's speaking against what Eisenhower was calling a military-industrial complex as he was making his exit from the presidency. That spirit was in the air, and I picked it up."[20]

Notable recordings by other artists

"Masters of War" has been recorded by many artists over the years. Following are some of the song's most notable recordings and the albums they appeared on. Singles are noted accordingly.

Other cultural references

  • American contemporary classical composer John Corigliano set the song's lyrics to music in his 2000 song cycle Mr. Tambourine Man. Like the other six Dylan songs in the cycle, Corigliano's version is musically unrelated to the original.[40]
  • The Sage Francis song "Hey Bobby" references "Masters of War" with the lyrics "Hey Bobby, the masters are back, and they're up to no good just like the old days. They played dead when you stood over their graves, Bobby, they played dead when you stood over their graves."[41]
  • The Staple Singers' 1964 version of "Masters of War" was used as the soundtrack in the promotional trailer for Sony's Resistance 3 video game in 2010.[42]


  1. ^ Sounes, Down the Highway: Life Of Bob Dylan, p. 131
  2. ^ Nottamun Town,
  3. ^ Hentoff, Freewheelin' liner notes
  4. ^ Sounes, Down the Highway: Life Of Bob Dylan, p. 132
  5. ^ Bjorner, "Still on the Road", 1963
  6. ^ Broadside, Issue 20, February 1963
  7. ^ Heylin, Bob Dylan: Behind the Shades, p. 739
  8. ^ The Bootleg Series Volume 9—The Witmark Demos: 1962-1964. 2010-10-17. Retrieved 2010-12-06. 
  9. ^ "Masters of War", Bob Dylan
  10. ^ a b Masters of War, Bob Dylan. Retrieved 2010-12-06. 
  11. ^ Bjorner, "Still on the Road", 1994
  12. ^ Shelton, No Direction Home, pp. 490 and 534
  13. ^ Heylin, Bob Dylan: Behind the Shades, p. 739
  14. ^ Bjorner, "Still on the Road", 1963
  15. ^ Bjorner, "Still on the Road", 1963-1994
  16. ^ Hentoff 1963
  17. ^ Gill 1999, p. 26
  18. ^ Harvey 2001, p. 71
  19. ^ "Dwight D. Eisenhower Farewell Address". USA Presidents. Retrieved February 16, 2011. 
  20. ^ Gundersen, Edna (2001-09-10). "Dylan is positively on top of his game". USAToday. Retrieved 2011-01-27. 
  21. ^ "iTunes Preview". Judy Collins 3. iTunes. Retrieved 2011-2-16. 
  22. ^ "Staple Singers: This Little Light". AllMusic. Retrieved 2011-02-16. 
  23. ^ "Odetta Sings Dylan". Retrieved 2011-2-16. 
  24. ^ "José Feliciano: Memphis Menu". Allmusic. Retrieved 2011-2-16. 
  25. ^ Ruhlmann, William. "Barry McGuire: The World's Last Private Citizen". Allmusic. Retrieved 2011-2-16. 
  26. ^ Viglione, Joe. "Cher: Backstage". AllMusic. Retrieved 2011-02-16. 
  27. ^ Erlewine, Stephen Thomas. "Leon Russell: Leon Russell". AllMusic. Retrieved 2011-02-16. 
  28. ^ Erlewine, Stephen Thomas. "Martin Simpson: Grinning in Your Face". AllMusic. Retrieved 2011-02-16. 
  29. ^ Orens, Geoff. "Rogert Taylor: Strange Frontier"". Allmusic. Retrieved 2011-2-16. 
  30. ^ "The Flying Pickets: Lost Boys". AllMusic. Retrieved 2011-02-16. 
  31. ^ Ginell, Richard S.. "Various Artists: The 30th Anniversary Concert Celebration". AllMusic. Retrieved 2011-02-16. 
  32. ^ Ashford, William. "Tim O'Brien: Red on Blonde". AllMusic. Retrieved 2011-02-16. 
  33. ^ "Broadside Electric: With Teeth". Broadside Electric website. Retrieved 2011-02-16. 
  34. ^ Raggett, Ned. "D.O.A.: Live Free or Die". AllMusic. Retrieved 2011-02-16. 
  35. ^ "Iskra: Iskra". LastFM. Retrieved 2011-02-16. 
  36. ^ Birchmeier, Jason. "Pearl Jam: Benaroya Hall: October 22nd 2003". AllMusic. Retrieved 2011-2-16. 
  37. ^ "Bill Frisell: Further East/Further West". AllMusic. Retrieved 2011-02-16. 
  38. ^ Campbell, Al. "Mountain: Masters of War". Allmusic. Retrieved 2011-2-16. 
  39. ^ Phares, Heather (2010). "Anika - Anika". Allmusic. Rovi Corporation. Retrieved 2011-03-05. 
  40. ^ Corigliano, John. "Mr. Tambourine Man: Seven Poems of Bob Dylan (Composer Note)". G. Schirmer Inc.. Retrieved 2011-02-16. 
  41. ^ "Sage Francis: 'Hey Bobby' Lyrics". LyricsBox. Retrieved 2011-02-16. 
  42. ^ Sony Computer Entertainment Inc. (2010). "Official Resistance 3 Teaser". YouTube. Retrieved 2011-02-16. 


External links

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