Hard Times In New York Town

Album: The Bootleg Series Volumes 1-3: Rare & Unreleased (1991)
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Songfacts®:

  • This is one of the earliest recordings of Dylan playing a Dylan original. He recorded it on December 22, 1961, in the midst of his first year in New York City.

    Dylan was born in Duluth, Minnesota, and grew up in Hibbing from the age of six onward, but he traveled to New York in January 1961. He went there to visit folk-music legend Woody Guthrie, who was Dylan's musical idol, and to plug himself into the city's music scene, where he was far more likely to be discovered and land a record deal. This ended up being the first chapter in his launch to stardom (and eventual immortality), but he returned to Minnesota twice during that first year - once in August and once in December.

    On that December visit, he recorded a few songs at the apartment of Bonnie Beecher, who was his friend and also the possible subject of "Girl From The North Country." That tape survived and went on to become known as the Minnesota Hotel Tape because Beecher's apartment was nicknamed the Hotel.
  • The way this song lines up with Dylan's real life gives the impression that Dylan himself encountered some very hard times in his New York visit, but that's not really true - at least, not to the extent that the song would indicate. Dylan found a warm reception rather quickly among the beatnik and folk community in New York.

    While Dylan undoubtedly met with his fair share of New York grit and rejection, the song's take on the "hard times" of the city was probably inspired more than anything by "Penny's Farm," which Dylan borrowed from heavily for this song. Specifically, Dylan used for his template a 1929 version of "Penny's Farm" recorded by the Bentley Boys. He maintained much of the Bentley Boys' guitar-style, melody, and tempo, and kept the opening lyrics identical:

    Come you ladies and you gentlemen and listen to my song
    I'll sing it to you right but you might think it's wrong
  • This was one of three Minnesota Hotel Tape songs to make it onto The Bootleg Series, released in 1991. The others were "Dink's Song" (released on the volumes 1-3 collection) and "I Was Young When I Left Home" (released on volume 7).

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