‘Hurricane’ may well be one of Bob Dylan’s most beloved songs but it has hardly been played live by the freewheelin’ troubadour since 1976. The song’s controversy continues to swirl around his fandom to this day and it has always been pushed to the back burner but the power of the track is hard to deny and you simply must hear this original version.
The track, as many will know, was written for Rubin ‘Hurricane’ Carter, a boxer whose promising career was cut drastically short after he was convicted of killing two men and a woman at a bar in Paterson New Jersey, back in 1966. Below, we’re revisiting Dylan’s original recording of the song, and effort delivered before he was forced to re-record it by Columbia Records.
Dylan had become increasingly interested in the former athlete after he read Hurricane’s autobiography and his story. He decided to visit him in prison and after speaking at great length with one another, soon found himself convinced of Carter’s innocence of the crime.
Ever a man of the people, Dylan has a penchant for a protest song and, after deciding that the boxer was wrongly convicted, was keen to bring attention to his tragic situation and highlight the conviction as racially motivated. He decided to write a song for the boxer alongside Jacques Levy, nine years after he was imprisoned. It would go down as one of Dylan’s most potent numbers.
Many people would have found the track first of all on Dylan’s album Desire but, in truth, Dylan’s initial vision for the track had been a little different before the lawyers at Columbia Records began pawing over the lyrics. While many of Dylan’s claims of racial injustice are there in plain sight, the men in suits were more concerned with the lyrics implying that Alfred Bello and Arthur Dexter Bradley (the two lead witnesses of the original case) as having “robbed the bodies”.
With such an implication the lawyers put their collective brogue down and demanded Dylan fix the lyrics. Unfortunately for Dylan, the multitrack had too much leakage and therefore a vocal “punch in” was impossible. He bit the bullet and instead decided to re-record the entire song, despite such a vehemently brilliant first version of the song.
When Dylan chose to re-record the song he was already in rehearsals for his iconic tour, the Rolling Thunder Revue. It meant that the musicians for the tour were ready and waiting. Dylan asked violinist Rivera, guitarist Steven Soles, bassist Rob Rothstein, drummer Howie Wyeth, and percussionist Luther Rix to come into the studio and they recorded a much pacier rendition of ‘Hurricane’.
On that version, the track was down to eight minutes and was spliced from two different takes. The album recording of the song also contains a noticeable mistake as Ronee Blakely, who is providing harmony vocals, gets her lyric wrong: “Remember you saw (said) you saw the getaway car.”
Below is Dylan’s original take of the track. It’s a ten-minute long track and sees Dylan at a much more leisurely pace, providing his thoughts on an incredibly contentious subject. In this song, one might argue, he is given the space to do it more liberally. His diction is at it’s best and his message is all the clearer for it. That’s without even considering the lack of censorship on this original version.
So sit back and take a listen to Bob Dylan’s original take of his 1975 classic ‘Hurricane’. The way he intended it to be.