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|
|The Freewheelin' Bob Dylan track listing|
"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. The song's melody was adapted from the traditional "Nottamun Town". Dylan's lyrics are a protest against the Cold War arms build-up of the early 1960s.
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.
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. 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. The Witmark version was included on The Bootleg Series Vol. 9 – The Witmark Demos: 1962–1964 in October 2010. 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. A live, electric version, recorded at London's Wembley Stadium in 1984, was included on his 1985 Real Live European tour album.
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. 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. 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.
In the album notes to The Freewheelin' Bob Dylan, Nat Hentoff wrote that Dylan startled himself with this song, 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?"
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 girlfriend at the time, which depicted a man carving up the world with a knife and fork, while a hungry family forlornly looks on.
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.
On January 17, 1961, President Dwight D. 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." In an interview, published in USA Today on September 10th, 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."
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.
- 1963 Judy Collins, Judy Collins #3 
- 1964 The Staple Singers, This Little Light 
- 1965 Odetta, Odetta Sings Dylan 
- 1965 José Feliciano, Memphis Menu 
- 1967 Barry McGuire (single)
- 1968 Cher, Backstage 
- 1970 Leon Russell, Leon Russell 
- 1981 Valérie Lagrange Chez moi
- 1983 Martin Simpson, Grinning in Your Face 
- 1984 Roger Taylor (of Queen), Strange Frontier 
- 1984 The Flying Pickets, Lost Boys 
- 1990 Mark Arm "The Freewheelin'...7"" (single)
- 1992 Eddie Vedder & Mike McCready, The 30th Anniversary Concert Celebration 
- 1996 Tim O'Brien, Red On Blonde 
- 1999 Broadside Electric, With Teeth 
- 2004 D.O.A., Live Free or Die 
- 2004 Iskra, Iskra 
- 2004 Pearl Jam, Live at Benaroya Hall 
- 2005 Bill Frisell, Further East/Further West 
- 2007 Mountain with Ozzy Osbourne, Masters of War 
- 2008 RPWL, The RPWL Experience 
- 2010 Anika, Anika 
- 2011 Arsonists Get All the Girls, Songs For The Resistance (Homefront soundtrack)
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.
- 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."
- 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.
- Sounes, Down the Highway: Life Of Bob Dylan, p. 131
- Nottamun Town, bobdylanroots.com
- Hentoff, Freewheelin' liner notes
- Sounes, Down the Highway: Life Of Bob Dylan, p. 132
- Bjorner, "Still on the Road", 1963
- Broadside, Issue 20, February 1963
- Heylin, Bob Dylan: Behind the Shades, p. 739
- The Bootleg Series Volume 9—The Witmark Demos: 1962-1964. bobdylan.com. October 17, 2010. Retrieved December 6, 2010.
- "Masters of War", Bob Dylan
- Masters of War, Bob Dylan. allmusic.com. Retrieved December 6, 2010.
- Bjorner, "Still on the Road", 1994
- Shelton, No Direction Home, pp. 490 and 534
- Bjorner, "Still on the Road", 1963-1994
- Hentoff 1963
- Gill 1999, p. 26
- Harvey 2001, p. 71
- "Dwight D. Eisenhower Farewell Address". USA Presidents. Retrieved February 16, 2011.
- Gundersen, Edna (2001-09-10). "Dylan is positively on top of his game". USAToday. Retrieved 2011-01-27.
- "iTunes Preview". Judy Collins 3. iTunes. Retrieved February 16, 2011.
- "Staple Singers: This Little Light". AllMusic. Retrieved February 16, 2011.
- "Odetta Sings Dylan". allmusic.com. Retrieved February 16, 2011.
- "José Feliciano: Memphis Menu". Allmusic. Retrieved February 16, 2011.
- Ruhlmann, William. "Barry McGuire: The World's Last Private Citizen". Allmusic. Retrieved February 16, 2011.
- Viglione, Joe. "Cher: Backstage". AllMusic. Retrieved February 16, 2011.
- Erlewine, Stephen Thomas. "Leon Russell: Leon Russell". AllMusic. Retrieved February 16, 2011.
- Erlewine, Stephen Thomas. "Martin Simpson: Grinning in Your Face". AllMusic. Retrieved February 16, 2011.
- Orens, Geoff. "Rogert Taylor: Strange Frontier". Allmusic. Retrieved February 16, 2011.
- "The Flying Pickets: Lost Boys". AllMusic. Retrieved February 16, 2011.
- Ginell, Richard S. "Various Artists: The 30th Anniversary Concert Celebration". AllMusic. Retrieved February 16, 2011.
- Ashford, William. "Tim O'Brien: Red on Blonde". AllMusic. Retrieved February 16, 2011.
- "Broadside Electric: With Teeth". Broadside Electric website. Retrieved February 16, 2011.
- Raggett, Ned. "D.O.A.: Live Free or Die". AllMusic. Retrieved February 16, 2011.
- "Iskra: Iskra". LastFM. Retrieved February 16, 2011.
- Birchmeier, Jason. "Pearl Jam: Benaroya Hall: October 22nd 2003". AllMusic. Retrieved February 16, 2011.
- "Bill Frisell: Further East/Further West". AllMusic. Retrieved February 16, 2011.
- Campbell, Al. "Mountain: Masters of War". Allmusic. Retrieved February 16, 2011.
- Henderson, Alex. "RPWL: The RPWL Experience". Allmusic. Retrieved October 19, 2013.
- Phares, Heather (2010). "Anika - Anika". Allmusic. Rovi Corporation. Retrieved March 5, 2011.
- Corigliano, John. "Mr. Tambourine Man: Seven Poems of Bob Dylan (Composer Note)". G. Schirmer Inc. Retrieved February 16, 2011.
- "Sage Francis: 'Hey Bobby' Lyrics". LyricsBox. Retrieved February 16, 2011.
- Sony Computer Entertainment Inc. (2010). "Official Resistance 3 Teaser". YouTube. Retrieved February 16, 2011.
- Bjorner, Olof. "Still on the Road: Recording sessions & concerts".
- Gill, Andy (1999), Classic Bob Dylan: My Back Pages, Carlton, ISBN 1-85868-599-0
- Harvey, Todd (2001), The Formative Dylan: Transmission & Stylistic Influences, 1961–1963, The Scarecrow Press, ISBN 0-8108-4115-0
- Hentoff, Nat (1963). The Freewheelin' Bob Dylan (Media notes). New York: Columbia Records.
- Heylin, Clinton (2003). Bob Dylan: Behind the Shades Revisited. Harper Entertainment. ISBN 0-06-052569-X.
- Hentoff, Nat (1963). Freewheelin' Bob Dylan liner notes. Columbia Records.
- Shelton, Robert (2003, reprint of 1986 original). No Direction Home. Da Capo Press. ISBN 0-306-81287-8.
- Sounes, Howard (2001). Down The Highway: The Life Of Bob Dylan. Grove Press. ISBN 0-8021-1686-8.