A Hard Rain's a-Gonna Fall

"A Hard Rain's a-Gonna Fall" is a song written by American musician and Nobel Laureate Bob Dylan in the summer of 1962 and recorded later that year for his second studio album, The Freewheelin' Bob Dylan (1963). Its lyrical structure is based on the question-and-answer refrain pattern of the traditional British ballad "Lord Randall", published by Francis Child.

"A Hard Rain's a-Gonna Fall"
Song by Bob Dylan
from the album The Freewheelin' Bob Dylan
ReleasedMay 27, 1963 (1963-05-27)
RecordedDecember 6, 1962
Songwriter(s)Bob Dylan
Producer(s)John Hammond
Official audio
"A Hard Rain's A-Gonna Fall" (Official Audio) on YouTube

The song is characterized by symbolist imagery in the style of Arthur Rimbaud, communicating suffering, pollution, and warfare. Dylan has said that all of the lyrics were taken from the initial lines of songs that "he thought he would never have time to write."[1] Nat Hentoff quoted Dylan as saying that he immediately wrote the song in response to the Cuban Missile Crisis,[2] although in his memoir, Chronicles: Volume One, Dylan attributed his inspiration to the feeling he got when reading microfiche newspapers in the New York Public Library: "After a while you become aware of nothing but a culture of feeling, of black days, of schism, evil for evil, the common destiny of the human being getting thrown off course. It’s all one long funeral song."[3]



Dylan originally wrote "A Hard Rain's a-Gonna Fall" in the form of a poem. The first iteration of the lyrics was written on a typewriter in the shared apartment of Dylan's friends Wavy Gravy and singer Tom Paxton, within Greenwich Village, New York City.[4] Significant edits occurred after this time, for instance, an earlier draft which appeared in both Sing Out and Broadside folk magazines contained "a highway of golden with nobody on it" rather than the final lyric "a highway of diamonds".

On September 22, 1962, Dylan appeared for the first time at Carnegie Hall as part of an all-star hootenanny.[5][6] His three-song set marked the first public performance of "A Hard Rain's a-Gonna Fall,"[7] One month later, on October 22, U.S. President John F. Kennedy appeared on national television to announce the discovery of Soviet missiles on the island of Cuba, initiating the Cuban Missile Crisis. In the sleeve notes on the Freewheelin' album, Nat Hentoff would quote Dylan as saying that he wrote "A Hard Rain" in response to the Cuban Missile Crisis:[2] "Every line in it is actually the start of a whole new song. But when I wrote it, I thought I wouldn't have enough time alive to write all those songs so I put all I could into this one." In actuality, Dylan had written the song more than a month before the crisis broke.

The song was recorded in a single take at Columbia Records' Studio A on December 6, 1962.[8]

Analysis and reception


Folk singer Pete Seeger interpreted the line "Where the home in the valley meets the damp dirty prison" as referring to when a young person suddenly wants to leave his home but then qualified that by saying, "People are wrong when they say 'I know what he means.'"[9]

While some have suggested[10] that the refrain of the song refers to nuclear fallout, Dylan disputed that this was a specific reference. In a radio interview with Studs Terkel in 1963, Dylan said:

No, it's not atomic rain, it's just a hard rain. It isn't the fallout rain. I mean some sort of end that's just gotta happen ... In the last verse, when I say, "the pellets of poison are flooding the waters," that means all the lies that people get told on their radios and in their newspapers.[11]

In No Direction Home, Martin Scorsese's documentary on Dylan, the Beat poet Allen Ginsberg talked about the first time he heard Dylan's music:

When I got back from India, and got to the West Coast, there's a poet, Charlie Plymell - at a party in Bolinas — played me a record of this new young folk singer. And I heard "Hard Rain," I think. And wept. 'Cause it seemed that the torch had been passed to another generation. From earlier bohemian, or Beat illumination. And self-empowerment.[12]

Author Ian MacDonald described the song as one of the most idiosyncratic protest songs ever written.[13]

Live performance


Although Dylan may have first played the song to friends, "A Hard Rain's a-Gonna Fall" was formally premiered at Carnegie Hall on September 22, 1962, as part of a hootenanny organized by Pete Seeger. Seeger recalled: "I had to announce to all the singers, 'Folks, you're gonna be limited to three songs. No more. 'Cause we each have ten minutes apiece.' And Bob raised his hand and said, 'What am I supposed to do? One of my songs is ten minutes long.'"[14]

Dylan featured the song regularly in concerts in the years since he premiered it, and there have been several dramatic performances. An October 1963 performance at Carnegie Hall was released on The Bootleg Series Vol. 7: No Direction Home, while another New York City performance, recorded one year later, appeared on The Bootleg Series Vol. 6: Bob Dylan Live 1964, Concert at Philharmonic Hall. Dylan performed the song in August 1971 at The Concert for Bangla Desh, organized by George Harrison and Ravi Shankar, for East Pakistan refugee relief (now independent Bangladesh) after the 1970 Bhola cyclone and during the 1971 Bangladesh Liberation War. On December 4, 1975, at the Forum de Montréal, Canada,[15] Dylan recorded an upbeat version of the song, which appeared on The Bootleg Series Vol. 5: Bob Dylan Live 1975, The Rolling Thunder Revue. That rendition was featured in the 2019 Netflix documentary Rolling Thunder Revue: A Bob Dylan Story by Martin Scorsese, and it also appears on the box set The Rolling Thunder Revue: The 1975 Live Recordings, along with a November 21, 1975 performance and a still earlier rehearsal. On May 23, 1994, Dylan performed the song at "The Great Music Experience" festival in Japan, backed by a 90-piece symphony orchestra conducted by Michael Kamen.[16] At the end of 2007, Dylan recorded a new version of "A Hard Rain's a-Gonna Fall" exclusively for the Expo 2008 Zaragoza world fair, scheduled to open on June 8, 2008, to highlight the Expo theme of "water and sustainable development". As well as choosing local-band Amaral to record a version of the song in Spanish, Dylan's new version ended with a few spoken words about his "being proud to be a part of the mission to make water safe and clean for every human being living in this world."[17][18]

Patti Smith performed the song with orchestral accompaniment at the Nobel Prize Award Ceremony on December 10, 2016, to commemorate Dylan receiving the Nobel Prize in Literature. During the rendition, Smith was overcome with emotion and missed several key lines. She apologized and explained to the audience that she was nervous about performing the iconic song. [19]



Other media


Photographer Mark Edwards took a series of photographs illustrating the lyrics of the song which were exhibited in many locations such as the United Nations headquarters. These were published in a book in 2006.[23][24] The song is also mentioned prominently at the end of Haruki Murakami's novel Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World.[25]

See also



  1. ^ Overbye, Dennis (July 1, 2013). "Timeless Questions About the Universe". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved May 24, 2018.
  2. ^ a b Friedman, Jonathan C., ed. (2013). The Routledge History of Social Protest in Popular Music. London: Routledge. p. 151. ISBN 9780415509527.
  3. ^ Dylan, Bob (2004). Chronicles: Volume One. Simon & Schuster. p. 85. ISBN 9780743272582.
  4. ^ "100 Greatest Bob Dylan Songs". Rolling Stone. May 24, 2016. Retrieved May 24, 2018.
  5. ^ Marqusee, Mike (2005). Wicked Messenger: Bob Dylan and the 1960s. Seven Stories Press. pp. 64f. ISBN 1-58322-686-9.
  6. ^ Shelton, Robert (2003). No Direction Home: The Life and Music of Bob Dylan. Da Capo Press. p. 152. ISBN 0-306-81287-8.
  7. ^ It was the final song performed in the set. It followed a rendition of "As Long as the Grass Shall Grow", which consisted of music written by Dylan and lyrics by the noted Native American poet/singer/songwriter Peter LaFarge, recounting the US government's violation of its longstanding treaty with the Seneca nation in upstate New York.
  8. ^ "Bob Dylan's Never-Before-Seen Draft for A Hard Rain's A-Gonna Fall". ArtDependence Magazine. August 25, 2015.
  9. ^ Gilliland 1969, show 31, track 4, 9:20.
  10. ^ "'A Hard Rain's A-Gonna Fall...'". This Day in Quotes. May 27, 2014. Retrieved June 6, 2016.
  11. ^ Reprinted in Cott (ed.), Dylan on Dylan: The Essential Interviews, pp. 7–9.
  12. ^ Ginsberg, Allen (2005). No Direction Home (DVD). Paramount Pictures.
  13. ^ Phillips, Jerry; Anesko, Michael; Meyers, Karen; Rangno, Erik V. R. (2010). Contemporary American Literature (1945–present) (2nd ed.). New York: Chelsea House. p. 34. ISBN 978-1604134896.
  14. ^ Heylin 2003, p. 102.
  15. ^ Set Lists:Forum de Montreal Archived April 10, 2013, at the Wayback Machine Bobdylan.com
  16. ^ Vigoda, Arlene (May 24, 1994). "Born To Be Wilde". USA Today. Retrieved July 24, 2013.[permanent dead link]
  17. ^ Llewellyn, Howell (November 23, 2007). "Dylan reworks "Hard Rain's" for Spanish expo". Reuters. Retrieved November 24, 2007.
  18. ^ "Expo Zaragoza 2008". Expo web site. Archived from the original on December 3, 2007. Retrieved December 2, 2007.
  19. ^ "Patti Smith stumbles then delivers at Bob Dylan-less Nobel ceremony". USA Today. December 10, 2016.
  20. ^ "BRYAN FERRY | full Official Chart History | Official Charts Company". www.officialcharts.com.
  21. ^ Bryan Ferry - A Hard Rain's A-Gonna Fall [Official] on YouTube
  22. ^ Schatz, Lake (December 21, 2017). "Laura Marling covers Bob Dylan's 'A Hard Rain's a-Gonna Fall'". Consequence of Sound. Retrieved December 29, 2017.
  23. ^ Mark Edwards; Lloyd Timberlake; Bob Dylan (September 2001). Hard rain: our headlong collision with nature. Simon Spotlight/Nickelodeon. ISBN 9780689850158.
  24. ^ "Hard Rain proves tough to weather", Rocky Mountain News, January 16, 1998
  25. ^ "They missed the Nobel, but Murakami fans seek solace in novelist's affection for Dylan". The Japan Times. Kyodo. October 14, 2016. Retrieved January 2, 2023.


  • Lyrics at Bob Dylan's official website