Talkin' John Birch Paranoid Blues

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"Talkin' John Birch Paranoid Blues"
Song by Bob Dylan
from the album The Bootleg Series Volumes 1–3 (Rare & Unreleased) 1961–1991
ReleasedMarch 26, 1991
RecordedOctober 26, 1963
GenreFolk, talking blues
Songwriter(s)Bob Dylan

"Talkin' John Birch Paranoid Blues", also known as "Talkin' John Birch Society Blues" and "Talkin' John Birch Blues," is a talking blues song written by singer-songwriter Bob Dylan in 1962.[1] It is a satirical song, in which a paranoid narrator is convinced that communists, or "Reds" as he calls them, are infiltrating the country. He joins the John Birch Society, an anti-communist group, and begins searching for Reds everywhere: under his bed, up his chimney, down his toilet and in his glove compartment. After exhausting the possibilities, he begins to investigate himself.[2][3]

The Ed Sullivan Show controversy[edit]

"Talkin' John Birch Paranoid Blues" was at the center of a controversy that brought national attention to Dylan and played a significant part in shaping his second album, Freewheelin' Bob Dylan.[4] On May 12, 1963, with the album about to be released, Dylan was scheduled to appear on The Ed Sullivan Show on CBS. The Sunday evening variety program, among the most popular shows on American television, had earlier introduced Elvis Presley to national audiences and in 1964 would do the same for The Beatles.[5][6]

Dylan had auditioned for the show in early 1962, before the release of his first album. He played a few songs from the recording, but the network executives who sat in on the set weren't exactly sure what to make of him. Unhappy with the experience, Dylan thought he wouldn't hear from the network again. More than a year passed when the call came inviting him to make a guest appearance on the show.[4][7]

For his one selection, Dylan chose "Talkin' John Birch Society Blues" (as it was then titled). Sullivan and his producer heard him play it at the Saturday rehearsal on May 11 and were delighted with the song. However, when Dylan showed up for the dress rehearsal the next afternoon, the day of the show, a CBS program practices executive told him the song would have to be replaced because of possible libel against John Birch Society members. Refusing to do a different song, Dylan walked off the set.[8][9] The incident drew national attention with reports running in the New York Times, Billboard and Village Voice.[10][11] Sullivan, meanwhile, backed Dylan, arguing that if network programs could poke fun at President John F. Kennedy, the John Birch Society should not be immune from similar treatment.[12] Concerned about possible reprisals from the John Birch group, the network held to its decision.[13][4] Then the controversy spilled over into Columbia, CBS's records division. When the company's lawyers learned that "Talkin' John Birch" was slated for the album, they ordered the song removed.[7]

Dylan was in a delicate situation. His first album had sold poorly, and he didn't have the power at this point to fight his record company. Though upset by the order, he relented. The initial shipments of "Freewheelin", which had already been sent out, were recalled, and the album was re-issued without "Talkin' John Birch Society Blues".[8] Dylan ultimately profited from the affair. Besides the favorable publicity from the Ed Sullivan Show walk-out, it gave him a chance to re-consider his selections for "Freewheelin", which he felt had too many "old fashioned" selections, songs closer in style to his earlier material.[14] In addition to "Talkin' John Birch Society", he dropped three of his other older songs, including "Let Me Die in My Footsteps", "Ramblin' Gamblin' Willie" and "Rocks and Gravel". In their place, he substituted four tunes recorded during the last of the Freewheelin' sessions: "Masters of War", "Girl from the North Country", "Bob Dylan's Dream" and "Talkin' World War III Blues".[8][15][16]

Recordings and performance[edit]

Dylan recorded "Talkin' John Birch Society Blues" during the first Freewheelin' Bob Dylan session at Columbia's Studio A on April 24, 1962.[17] He wrote the song in February 1962, and its lyrics and music appeared in the premiere issue of Broadside magazine later that month, becoming the first of Dylan's songs to be published.[3][18] In March 1963, nearly a year after recording the album version, he taped a demo for his music publisher, M. Witmark & Sons. This recording was released on The Bootleg Series Vol. 9 – The Witmark Demos: 1962–1964 in October 2010.[19][20]

Dylan's first concert performance of the song was on September 22, 1962 at folk musician Pete Seeger's annual hootenanny at Carnegie Hall in New York.[21][22] After the Ed Sullivan Show incident, he played the song at his solo appearances through the end of 1964, often making fun of CBS's decision in the introduction. A performance from his Carnegie Hall concert on October 26, 1963 was included on The Bootleg Series Volumes 1–3 (Rare & Unreleased) 1961–1991 The last of Dylan's live recordings of the song was during his 1964 Halloween concert at New York's Philharmonic Hall, which appeared on The Bootleg Series Vol. 6: Bob Dylan Live 1964, Concert at Philharmonic Hall in March 2004.[23][24]


  1. ^ Heylin 2003, pp. 90–91
  2. ^ Scaduto 1973, pp. 130–131
  3. ^ a b Sounes 2001, pp. 111–112
  4. ^ a b c Scaduto 1973, pp. 163–164
  5. ^ Sounes 2001, pp. 130–131, 148
  6. ^ Scaduto 1973, pp. 129–130
  7. ^ a b Heylin 2003, pp. 116–117
  8. ^ a b c Scaduto 1973, pp. 165–166
  9. ^ Sounes 2001, pp. 130–131
  10. ^ "Focus on Folk". Billboard. May 25, 1963. Retrieved 2010-12-07.
  11. ^ "Dylan Skips CBS Over Birch Talk". Village Voice. May 16, 1963. p. 6. Retrieved 2010-12-07.
  12. ^ Scaduto 1973, p. 164
  13. ^ Adams, Val (May 14, 1963). "Satire on Birch Society Barred from Ed Sullivan's TV Show". New York Times.
  14. ^ Heylin 2003, p. 115
  15. ^ Shelton 2003, p. 154
  16. ^ Bjorner 1963
  17. ^ Bjorner 1962
  18. ^ Shelton 2003, p. 140
  19. ^ Escott 2010
  20. ^ The Bootleg Series Volume 9—The Witmark Demos: 1962-1964. Retrieved 2010-12-07. External link in |publisher= (help)
  21. ^ Gray 2010, p. 533
  22. ^ Heylin 2003, p. 744
  23. ^ Wilentz 2010, pp. 93–94
  24. ^ Bjorner 1964


External links[edit]