Exactly 50 years ago today, Bob Dylan walked onstage at at Gerde’s Folk City in Greenwich Village and played a brand new song called “Blowin’ In The Wind.” The song was based off the old Negro spiritual “No More Auction Block” (a song in Dylan’s live repertoire at the time), and it initially had only two verses. He soon realized it needed another section and wrote the “how many years can a mountain exist” verse. The next month he published the song in Broadside magazine, though Dylan’s recorded version wouldn’t appear on shelves until August of 1963.
The long gap between the writing and the release of “Blowin’ In The Wind” caused some trouble. New Jersey high school student Lorre Wyatt performed the song for his school in November of 1962 and (like a scene straight out of The Squid & The Whale) claimed he wrote it. His school paper reported the song as a Wyatt original, and the claim was repeated in an infamous Newsweek story about Dylan in 1963. “There is even a rumor circulating that Dylan did not write ‘Blowin’ in the Wind,’ that it was written by a Millburn (N.J.) High student named Lorre Wyatt, who sold it to the singer,” Newsweek said in their November 1963 issue. “Dylan says he did write the song and Wyatt denies authorship, but several Millburn students claim they heard the song from Wyatt before Dylan ever sang it.”
The conspiracy theory never gained much traction, and by the summer of 1963 the song became huge when Peter, Paul and Mary released a cover version that hit number two on the Billboard Hot 100. It’s since been covered by hundreds of artists, including Stevie Wonder, Neil Young, Dolly Parton, Sam Cooke, Bobby Darin and many, many others. The success of the song was a huge boost to Dylan’s career, though for a short period Dylan’s music was much more famous than the man himself.
Dylan has sung the song well over 1,000 times in the last 50 years, but he grew weary of the tune in early 1964 and kept it out of his live show for nearly a decade. He made one exception in August 1971 when he agreed to play at the Concert For Bangladesh. According to legend, George Harrison asked Dylan if he planned on playing the song, casting Dylan to snap, “Are you going to play ‘I Wanna Hold Your Hand?'” But Dylan relented and agreed to play the song. Check out a video of the performance below.