Changing of the Guards
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|"Changing of the Guards"|
|Single by Bob Dylan|
|from the album Street-Legal|
|B-side||"Señor (Tales of Yankee Power)"|
|Released||24 October 1978|
|Length||6:41 (1978 original); 7:04 (1999 remix)|
|Bob Dylan singles chronology|
"Changing of the Guards" is a song written by Bob Dylan, released in 1978 as a single and as the first track on his album Street-Legal. As an A-side single it failed to reach the Billboard Top 100. However, the song has been included on compilation albums: Bob Dylan's Greatest Hits Volume 3, released in 1994, and the Deluxe Edition of Dylan, released in 2007.
A slightly longer mix of "Changing of the Guards", including an extended fade, was included on editions of Street-Legal released in 1999 and 2003.
Musically, "Changing of the Guards," like much of Street-Legal, concocts a sound unknown to prior Dylan records. This is in part effected by a trio of female back-up singers, a prominent saxophone in between verses, and a hauntingly dynamic chord progression. This is evident in several of the instrumental compononents. The drums play a driving and consistent 4/4 rhythm devoid of the reverb more associated with Dylan's prior album Desire. The chord progression has a certain catch that is very noticeable: there is a repeating cadence, which, by landing on the dominant chord, "begs" for resolution. However, rather than resolving it with the tonic chord, it is resolved with the relative minor chord. This creates an almost tragic feel in the song: everything sounds as if there will be a normal, major and happy-sounding tonic chord; but instead, the song falls into the unusual and dark-sounding relative minor chord (although each verse does end with a final res to the Major). Interestingly, the song speeds up slightly over its course, a factor only noticeable to most by playing the beginning and the end of the song back to back and something usually avoided by studio musicians.
Lyrically, this song has provoked much critical debate, reflecting in general terms both the positive and negative. According to Oliver Trager author of Keys to the Rain: The Definitive Bob Dylan Encyclopedia, "Changing of the Guards" has been criticized as a "song in which Dylan unsuccessfully and cynically parodies his anthemic self in haunting fashion..."
Conversely, several commentators have found much depth and meaning in the song's lyrics. Noted Dylan expert Michael Gray, author of The Bob Dylan Encyclopedia, commented that "Changing of the Guards" is a thorough description of Dylan's journey, from the beginning of his musical career, about sixteen years prior (the opening line is "Sixteen years"), through his marriage and divorce with Sara Dylan, up to his soon-to-be-announced conversion to Christianity. Indeed, much religious and biblical imagery is readily apparent in this work, especially apocalyptic imagery—not new ground for Dylan. Dylan once commented: "It means something different every time I sing it. 'Changing of the Guards' is a thousand years old'". However, even the song's critical supporters admit that there is a good amount of opacity in this song's lyrics: "Like much in 'Changing of the Guards', the intended meaning of this passage is opaque..." The deliberate ambiguity of the lyrics, prompting such debate, marked Street Legal's effective abandonment of the narrative approach which dominated his previous album Desire.
Live performance history
"Changing of the Guards" was only played live during the tour following its 1978 release. It was often the closing song of the set  and was played significantly faster than the album version. This tour was documented on the double live album Bob Dylan at Budokan, though "Changing of the Guards" was not included.
"Changing of the Guards" has been covered by:
- Frank Black: All My Ghosts (1998)
- Juice Leskinen: "Vahdinvaihto" single (1999)
- Chris Whitley & Jeff Lang: Dislocation Blues (2006)
- Patti Smith: Twelve (2007)
- The Gaslight Anthem: Chimes of Freedom: The Songs of Bob Dylan (2011)