Inarguably the peak of modern protest songwriting, "Blowin' in the Wind" transformed Bob Dylan from hipster folky to cultural sensation and provided the growing protest community with an anthem equally applicable to every kind of injustice ever visited upon the Earth. Though it'd been brewing in Dylan's head for a while, "Blowin' in the Wind" was first heard in public on April 19, 1962. After finishing the lyric and tune that afternoon, Dylan took the song with him over to the nightclub Gerde's Folk City in Greenwich Village. He ran through it in front of Gil Turner, the host of that night's performances, and Turner immediately decided to add it to his set. After he played it that night, the audience went wild and gave the song an ovation.
Still, over a year passed before "Blowin' in the Wind" appeared on a Dylan LP. Finally, in 1963, the song was released as the first track on The Freewheelin' Bob Dylan. Even before it had hit the stores, however, Dylan's manager, Albert Grossman, brought an acetate to Peter, Paul & Mary. The trio cut the record themselves as quickly as they could, and the single hit number two by the summer of 1963. Stevie Wonder also hit the Top Ten with his version three years later. Folkies of all stripes (Joan Baez, Pete Seeger, the Kingston Trio, the New Christy Minstrels, the Chad Mitchell Trio, Judy Collins) have recorded the song, as well as other artists including the Hollies, Cher, King Curtis, Sam Cooke, Marianne Faithfull, Ray Conniff, Chet Atkins, Stan Getz, Earl Scruggs, Lou Donaldson, Bobby Darin, and the Searchers.
Of course, only a handful of performers -- Jimi Hendrix ("All Along the Watchtower"), the Byrds ("Mr. Tambourine Man"), Manfred Mann ("The Mighty Quinn") -- have done Dylan songs better than Dylan himself, so it's no surprise that the definitive reading is the first issued, from The Freewheelin' Bob Dylan. As with most of his other classics, Dylan makes a complex song sound deceptively simple; in each of the three verses, he asks three rhetorical questions (i.e., "How many roads must a man walk down, before you call him a man?"), and answers each time with the chorus: "The answer, my friend, is blowin' in the wind/The answer is blowin' in the wind." While the questions speak to the unending record of injustice in the long history of the world, the answers reflect the Taoist mantra that the solution is obvious to all who truly think about it, yet impossible to grasp with any type of standard (i.e., written or expressed) explanation. Though it's masked in naturalistic thinking, "Blowin' in the Wind" is an encapsulation of Eastern thinking within abstract songwriting that (surprisingly) made the charts and (not so surprisingly) became one of the most famous standards of the rock era.