Changing of the Guards

Changing of the Guards
"Changing of the Guards"
Single by Bob Dylan
from the album Street-Legal
B-side "Señor (Tales of Yankee Power)"
Released 24 October 1978
Format Single
Recorded April 1978
Genre Rock, gospel
Length 7:04
Label Columbia
Writer(s) Bob Dylan
Bob Dylan singles chronology
"Baby, Stop Crying"
"Changing of the Guards"
"Gotta Serve Somebody"

"Changing of the Guards" is a song written by Bob Dylan, released in 1978 as a single and as the first track on his album Street -Legal. As an A-side single it failed to reach the Billboard Top 100. However, it was included on Bob Dylan's Greatest Hits Volume 3, released in 1994.



Musically, "Changing of the Guards," like much of Street-Legal, has a strange sound, certainly unique for Dylan if not unique in general. This is in part effected by a trio of female back-up singers, a prominent saxophone in between verses, and a hauntingly dynamic chord progression. The chord progression has a certain catch that is very noticeable: there is a repeating cadence, which, by landing on the dominant chord, "begs" for resolution. However, rather than resolving it with the tonic chord, it is resolved with the relative minor chord. This creates an almost tragic feel in the song: everything sounds as if there will be a normal, major and happy-sounding tonic chord; but instead, the song falls into the unusual and dark-sounding relative minor chord. Interestingly, the song speeds up slightly over the course of the song, only noticeable by playing the beginning and the end of the song back to back.

Lyrically, this song has provoked much critical insight, both positive and negative. According to Oliver Trager author of Keys to the Rain: The Definitive Bob Dylan Encyclopedia, "Changing of the Guards" has been criticized as a "song in which Dylan unsuccessfully and cynically parodies his anthemic self in haunting fashion..."[1]

But many have found much depth and meaning in the song's lyrics. Noted Dylan expert Michael Gray, author of The Bob Dylan Encyclopedia, commented that "Changing of the Guards" is a thorough description of Dylan's journey, from the beginning of his musical career, about sixteen years prior (the opening line is "Sixteen years"), through his marriage and divorce with Sara Dylan, up to his soon-to-be-announced conversion to Christianity.[2] Indeed, much religious and biblical imagery is readily apparent in this work, especially apocalyptic imagery—not new ground for Dylan). Dylan once commented: "It means something different every time I sing it. 'Changing of the Guards' is a thousand years old'".[1] However, even the song's critical supporters admit that there is a good amount of opacity in this song's lyrics: "Like much in 'Changing of the Guards,' the intended meaning of this passage is opaque..."[2]

The song is also lavish with imagery from the tarot. The initial reference to the number sixteen evokes The Tower, the 16th trump card. Other cards are referenced directly: Fortune (the Wheel of Fortune), the "cold blooded moon" (The Moon), the "heart shaped tattoo" (the Three of Swords), "cruel death" (the Death card) and in the last line, the King and Queen of Swords. In this context, indirect references such as "a messenger arrived" make more sense as references to page cards.

This is the only song in Dylan's repertoire making use of tarot symbols in this way, though in the liner notes of Desire, his previous album, he depicts The Empress, suggesting that in addition to his biblical studies of that era he was also experimenting with tarot cards.

Live performance history

"Changing of the Guards" was only played live during the tour following its 1978 release. This tour was documented on the double live album Bob Dylan at Budokan, though "Changing of the Guards" was not included.


"Changing of the Guards" has been covered by:

External links


  1. ^ a b Trager, Oliver (2004). Keys to the Rain: The Definitive Bob Dylan Encyclopedia. Billboard Books. pp. 104. 
  2. ^ a b Gray, Michael (2006). The Bob Dylan Encyclopedia. Continuum Books. pp. 220–223. ISBN 0-8264-6933-7. 

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