For a song reportedly written in just 10 minutes, it has had remarkable longevity. Bob Dylan penned ‘Blowin’ in the Wind’ in double-quick time in a Greenwich Village café in 1962. In the decades since, it has come to be regarded as an out-and-out classic — and been covered by dozens of artists, from Stevie Wonder and Sam Cooke to Dolly Parton.
In the 1990s, the song was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame.
Dylan himself recorded it on 9 July 1962, for his second album, The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan. Almost exactly 60 years later, a special re-recorded version of the song is being offered in The Exceptional Sale at Christie’s in London on 7 July, as part of Classic Week.
In 2021, Dylan took to the studio for a special session with his friend and long-time collaborator T Bone Burnett, the multiple Grammy award-winning producer. The result was the first new studio recording of ‘Blowin’ in the Wind’ since 1962.
That wasn’t all, however: Burnett produced it using groundbreaking technology that he has newly patented. Known as Ionic Original, it is a high-fidelity analogue format in which a one-off aluminium disc is painted with lacquer and etched with the sound recording.
The Ionic Original disc of ‘Blowin’ in the Wind’ by Burnett’s company NeoFidelity, Inc. — presented in a custom-made walnut and white oak cabinet — is unique. It is the only copy of the new recording.
According to Burnett, the new technology surpasses the sonic excellence and depth for which analogue sound is renowned, while at the same time boasting the durability of a digital recording.
The Ionic Original format marks ‘the pinnacle of recorded sound’, he says. ‘It is future-proof. It is one of one.’
Dylan fans, audiophiles, musicologists and others have recently had the chance to experience the technology and hear the Ionic Original version of ‘Blowin’ in the Wind’ at exclusive listening sessions in Los Angeles and New York. The same experience will be offered at Christie’s in London, from 2 July, in the run-up to the auction.
Bob Dylan was still an aspiring folk singer, aged just 20, when he wrote ‘Blowin’ in the Wind’. He debuted it at Gerde’s Folk City, a music venue in Greenwich Village, that same evening.
Its melody was adapted from a 19th-century African-American spiritual called ‘No More Auction Block for Me’. Its lyrics consist of a series of questions — ‘How many roads must a man walk down, before you call him a man?’ and ‘How many times must the cannonballs fly, before they’re forever banned?’ — followed by the repeated response that the answer is blowing in the wind.
The song soon became an anthem for the US Civil Rights movement in the 1960s and has been sung by myriad members of other social movements since. The serial questions in Dylan’s lyrics have widely been understood as anti-establishment in nature.
However, part of the song’s success may be down to the multiple interpretations it leaves open.
Where Dylan’s previous work had often dealt with specific narratives or people, this track ‘was different’, according to the music critic Andy Gill: ‘For the first time, he discovered the effectiveness of moving from the particular to the general… ‘Blowin’ in the Wind’ could be applied to just about any freedom issue. It remains the song with which Dylan’s name is most inextricably linked.’
Burnett made his breakthrough in the music industry as a guitarist on Dylan’s Rolling Thunder Revue tour in 1975-76. He went on to enjoy an illustrious production career, working with the likes of Elton John and B.B. King, as well as on a number of film soundtracks (including that of O Brother, Where Art Thou?, which won five Grammy Awards).
Ionic Original discs look similar to vinyl LPs and are playable on existing vinyl playback equipment. They owe their sonic quality to recent advances in nanotechnology and material sciences — Burnett describes Ionic Original as a ‘re-addressing of analogue sound technology’, which had largely ceased to be explored after the 1980s, when digital recording took off.
He says his team also drew on ‘methods used to protect parts of the International Space Station exposed to the direct heat of the sun, and to make the damage-resistant glass on mobile phones’. Employing a technique known as ‘ion-assisted deposition’, they ‘were able to create an acetate [disc] that maintains pristine sound for over 1,000 plays’.
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The 2021 recording was made in Los Angeles and Nashville, with Dylan joined by Greg Leisz on mandolin, Stuart Duncan on violin, Dennis Crouch on bass, Don Was on bass, and Burnett himself on electric guitar. It was recorded by Michael Piersante and Rachael Moore and mixed by Michael Piersante.
Six decades after Dylan wrote it, ‘Blowin’ in the Wind’ is making musical history once again.
The opportunity to listen to the Ionic Original recording of ‘Blowin’ in the Wind’ will take place during the pre-sale exhibition at Christie’s in London, 2-7 July. (McIntosh audio system provided by KJ West One)