50 years ago today: Bob Dylan released his debut album

Bob Dylan, shown here on November 1, 1961, during one of the John Hammond recording sessions for Dylan's first album.

Story highlights

  • In 1961 Bob Dylan had been playing the coffee houses for a little over a year
  • It was Columbia record executive John Hammond who saw the huge potential in Dylan
  • On March 19, 1962, Bob Dylan's self-titled debut LP hit shelves
When Bob Dylan's self-titled debut LP hit shelves on March 19, 1962, it didn't sound anything like the popular music of the time.
It was the height of "The Twist" dance craze, and 11 songs on the Billboard Hot 100 chart had the word "twist" in the title, including "Dear Lady Twist" by Gary U.S. Bonds, "Twistin' The Night Away" by Sam Cooke, "Hey, Let's Twist" by Joey Dee and the Starlighters," "Twistin' Postman" by the Marvelettes and "Alvin Twist" by the Chipmunks. (A new California group called the Beach Boys reached a new high of Number 77 that week with their first single, "Surfin.'")
To most of America, the Kingston Trio were the embodiment of folk music. The clean-cut, sweet-voiced California group hit Number 25 that week with their cover of Pete Seeger's "Where Have All The Flowers Gone?" Dylan was also a fan of Seeger's, but he sounded nothing like the Kingston Trio. The 20-year old singer-songwriter from Hibbing, Minnesota had been playing the coffee houses in New York for a little over a year, mostly singing traditional folk songs in a nasal voice that was virtually impossible to imagine hearing on the radio.
It was Columbia record executive John Hammond who saw the huge potential in Dylan. The 51-one year old, who famously discovered Billie Holiday and countless other jazz legends, became acquainted with Dylan when he played harmonica at a recording session with folk singer Carolyn Hester. They met during a rehearsal in a Greenwich Village apartment. "We were all seated around a kitchen table, and John was seated next to Bob," Hester recalled to Dylan biographer Howard Sounes in his book "Down The Highway: The Life of Bob Dylan." "Bob starts in on the harmonica and John turns and looks at him and couldn't take his eyes off the great character." His interest grew when he learned that Dylan wrote his own songs.
Right around that time,