John Brown (Bob Dylan song)

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"John Brown"
Song by Bob Dylan
Recorded February 1963 at Broadside Records, New York City
(original studio version)
Genre Folk, Anti-war song
Length 4:21 (original studio version)
Writer(s) Bob Dylan

John Brown is an anti-war song written and composed by American singer-songwriter Bob Dylan. Written in October 1962, the song was never included on any of Dylan's official studio albums.[1]


A rough demo of the song performed for publishing company M. Witmark & Sons in August 1963 was eventually given an official release in 2010 on The Bootleg Series Vol. 9 – The Witmark Demos: 1962–1964.[2]

However, a studio version of the song had already been released under the pseudonym "Blind Boy Grunt" in 1963 on a compilation album entitled Broadside Ballads, Vol. 1 (one of five Dylan compositions on the release). This performance was later included in The Best Of Broadside 1962–1988 box set released in 2000. A pseudonym was employed due to contractual issues regarding Dylan performing on non-Columbia Records releases.[citation needed]

Two live versions are officially available: on the 1962 Gaslight Tape (officially released in 2005) and the 1994 live album MTV Unplugged.[3][4]

Song lyrics[edit]

"John Brown" consists of twelve verses written in a straightforward manner.[5] The song, composed in Dylan's protest song period, tells a story about a mother who sends her son John Brown to war on some foreign land, and he returns blinded and injured. Thematically, the song is very similar to the old Irish folk-song "Mrs. McGrath".

See also[edit]

List of Bob Dylan songs based on earlier tunes