The Beatles were at the forefront of social change in the 1960s. They opened the floodgates that popularized political music to the American public. Though their accomplishments in music are virtually unrivaled, it may not have been the same were it not for some of their inspirations, namely Bob Dylan. His music was political even before the Beatles’ was, though he wasn’t able to make it as popular. Like the Beatles, he called for social and political change in his songs. Most notably in his hit “The Times They are a Changin,” which many consider to be the most political song ever.
Dylan compares the social change to a flood with the line “And admit that the waters around you have grown. And accept it that soon you’ll be drenched to the bone.” What he is saying here is that society is beginning to accept African Americans and that this acceptance is spreading like a flood, and that if people become tolerant they will be fine, but if they resist the change society will leave them behind. This sentiment also is evident in the line “Then you better start swimmin’ or you’ll sink like a stone.” “Swimming” refers to becoming tolerant. Those who remain racist will not be able to cope with the new accepting world and will, according to Dylan “sink like a stone.” Dylan calls for “writers and critics who prophesize with [their] pen” to stop lying to and negatively influencing the public and to start being good journalists.
Dylan makes a number of Biblical references talking about how those that have been oppressed by those in power will soon be in power themselves, and that those who were in power will be powerless.
This song’s influence became clear immediately after its release. It was instantly used as an anthem for social change. Beyond the 60’s, the song has continued to have a lasting message of acceptance. This is because, despite originally being written about the Civil Rights movement, the general lyrics are universally tied to acceptance over intolerance.
The song is civic because it calls for people to strive for social change. Dylan was very rightfully disgusted by the treatment of African Americans in America at the time and was glad that things had begun shifting in towards equality. All things considered, this song can more or less be described as an absolutely scathing diss track directed at any racist or intolerant people. It was extremely effective in its goal to spur change, as it became somewhat of an anthem of acceptance.