When the Ship Comes In
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|"When the Ship Comes In"|
|Song by Bob Dylan|
|from the album The Times They Are a-Changin'|
|Released||January 13, 1964|
|Recorded||October 23, 1963|
|The Times They Are a-Changin' track listing|
Joan Baez states in the documentary film No Direction Home that the song was, more or less, inspired by a hotel clerk who refused to allow Dylan a room due to his "unwashed" appearance (he was not famous outside of the folk movement at this time). The song then grew into a sprawling epic allegory about vanquishing the oppressive "powers that be". Another inspiration was the Bertolt Brecht/Kurt Weill song, "Pirate Jenny".
According to biographer Clinton Heylin, "When The Ship Comes In" was written in August 1963 "in a fit of pique, in a hotel room, after his unkempt appearance had led an impertinent hotel clerk to refuse him admission until his companion, Joan Baez, had vouched for his good character". Heylin speculates that "Jenny's Song" from Brecht and Weill's Threepenny Opera was also an inspiration: "As Pirate Jenny dreams of the destruction of all her enemies by a mysterious ship, so Dylan envisages the neophobes being swept aside in 'the hour when the ship comes in'." Dylan's former girlfriend Suze Rotolo recalls that her "interest in Brecht was certainly an influence on him. I was working for the Circle in the Square Theater and he came to listen all the time. He was very affected by the song that Lotte Lenya's known for, 'Pirate Jenny'."
Shortly after Dylan wrote the song, he and Baez performed it together at the March on Washington on August 28, 1963. Dylan later performed the song at Carnegie Hall on October 26, 1963; this performance is recorded on The Bootleg Series Vol. 7: No Direction Home: The Soundtrack (2005).
Notable cover versions
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- Peter, Paul and Mary covered the song in their 1965 album A Song Will Rise and also released it as a single.
- Arlo Guthrie has performed the song on his 1972 album Hobo's Lullaby as well as in concert, notably on the Live In Sydney album.
- Cindy Kallet, Ellen Epstein & Michael Cicone performed the song on their 1993 album Only Human.
- The Irish folk group The Clancy Brothers performed this song at Bob Dylan's The 30th Anniversary Concert Celebration. They also recorded it on their 1995 album Older But No Wiser.
- Irish punk rock band The Pogues covered the track on their 1996 album, Pogue Mahone.
- The Chieftains, joined by The Decemberists, covered this song on their 2012 album Voice of Ages.
- Scottish rock band Idlewild recorded the song as a b-side to their single "These Wooden Ideas".
- Marcus Carl Franklin covered the song in the Dylan-inspired movie I'm Not There. This version of the song can be found on the original soundtrack of the movie.
- The Hollies covered this song on their album Hollies sing Dylan.
- The Swedish singers Mikael Wiehe and Totta Näslund sing a Swedish version on their album Totta & Wiehe - Dylan.
- Hugues Aufray covered the song in French as "Le jour ou le bateau viendra".
- The British Group Folk Blues Incorporated covered the song as A-side on a single (B-side: Don't Hide), released in November 1966 
- Heylin, Clinton (2000). Bob Dylan: Behind the Shades Revisited. pp. 124–125. ISBN 978-0060525699.