On March 19, 1962, American folk singer Bob Dylan released his first album titled Bob Dylan. Dylan’s now famous first album was very different than any pop music at the time. Little did critics at the time know that Dylan would help to popularize and define folk music of the time.
In the early 1960s, “The Twist” was at the height of its popularity, with many charted songs at the time honing in on this dance craze and using it as the focal point of their songs. The Beach Boys had also started to peak in popularity with their charged surfer rock tunes. The Kingston Trio was the most well known folk group at this time, and Dylan sounded nothing like them. He had been performing in coffee shops in New York City for the past year, singing traditional folk songs in his nasal voice, which most didn’t believe would be plausible for radio.
Legendary talent scout John Hammond saw great potential in the young singer after he met Dylan at a recording session for Carolyn Hester in which Dylan was playing harmonica. Shortly afterward, Dylan received a rave review from music writer Robert Shelton in the New York Times. Upon seeing this, Hammond signed Dylan to a five-year contract and a month later, they were in the studio recording. Dylan’s whole album only took six hours to cut and cost $402.
The album contained a variation of old traditional folk songs which were standard in Dylan’s live sets at the time. The only two songs on the album that were original songs written by Dylan were “Talkin’ New York” and “Song to Woody,” which was a tribute to one of Dylan’s biggest inspirations and favorite folk singers, Woody Guthrie. Dylan later reported that he wrote the song a few weeks after moving to New York. Dylan made the trip to New York in part to meet his musical hero (Guthrie), who was living at Greystone Park Psychiatric Hospital in New Jersey.
Dylan’s first album was the only not to make it on to the Billboard charts, and some in the record industry began referring to Dylan as “Hammond’s Folly.” Though the album only sold 5,000 copies in the first year, Hammond was not discouraged and soon brought Dylan back into the studio to begin recording his second album. At this point, Dylan had more original songs under his belt and had shifted to writing about political topics. His songs spoke of the social unrest of the world, and Dylan became a cultural figurehead of the 1960s, chronicling the historical and political happenings of the time in his lyrics.