Hear the Uncensored Original Version of “Hurricane,” Bob Dylan’s Protest Song About Jailed Boxer Rubin “Hurricane” Carter (1976)




Throughout his six-decade-long career, Bob Dylan has taken up quite a few causes in his songs. In the 1960s he was especially given to musical accusations of miscarriages of justice like “Only a Pawn in Their Game,” which he recorded less than two months after the assassination of Medgar Evers. But he kept it up even in the 70s, as demonstrated by his 1976 album Desire. “Here comes the story of the Hurricane,” he sings on its opening track, “the man the authorities came to blame for something that he never done: put in a prison cell, but one time he could have been the champion of the world.”

This “Hurricane” is, of course, former star boxer Rubin Carter, who’d been convicted for a triple murder at a Paterson, New Jersey bar a decade earlier. Today, many know the story of the Hurricane from the eponymous Denzel Washington-starring Hollywood biopic. By the time that film came out in 1999, Carter had long since been exonerated and made a free man, but when Dylan sang of his having been “falsely tried,” and “obviously framed,” the man was still serving a double life sentence. It was Carter’s autobiography The Sixteenth Round, written in prison, that inspired the literarily-minded Dylan to champion his release.


Written with songwriter-psychologist Jacques Levy, Dylan’s collaborator throughout Desire, “Hurricane” still today sounds as if it pulls no punches, delivering a host of can-he-say-that moments in its seven minutes. But in truth, says Far Our Magazine, “Dylan’s initial vision for the track had been a little different before the lawyers at Columbia Records began pawing over the lyrics. While many of Dylan’s claims of racial injustice are there in plain sight, the men in suits were more concerned with the lyrics implying that Alfred Bello and Arthur Dexter Bradley (the two lead witnesses of the original case) as having ‘robbed the bodies'” of Carter and acquaintance John Artis’ alleged victims. Given that they hadn’t been accused of stealing from any corpses, Columbia feared that the implication would draw a lawsuit.

Dylan had previously exhibited a devil-may-care attitude about such matters in his protest songs: “I should have sued him and put him in jail,” grumbled an aged William Zantzinger, the real-life attacker in Dylan’s “The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll.” But this time Dylan acquiesced to the lawyers. Returning to the studio with members of his Rolling Thunder Revue, he laid down a new version of “Hurricane,” censored but musically even harder-hitting (below), that did make it onto Desire. In the video at the top of the post, you can hear the original, which is longer, slower, and more raw in every sense. In the event, the expurgated “Hurricane” still got Dylan sued, but by a different witness: Patricia Valentine, who lived above the bar where the killings occurred and insisted that she did not, in fact, see “the bartender in a pool of blood.” Even a future Nobel Prize winner, it seems, isn’t safe to take a bit of poetic license.

Related content:

Watch Bob Dylan Perform “Only A Pawn In Their Game,” His Damning Song About the Murder of Medgar Evers, at the 1963 March on Washington

“Tangled Up in Blue”: Deciphering a Bob Dylan Masterpiece

Bob Dylan Releases a Cryptic 17-Minute Song about the JFK Assassination: Hear a “Murder Most Foul”

Bob Dylan Goes Punk on Late Night with David Letterman, Playing “Jokerman” with the Latino Punk Band, the Plugz (1984)

How Bob Dylan Created a Musical & Literary World All His Own: Four Video Essays

Pop Songs with Narrative: Pretty Much Pop (#69) Discusses Tunes Ranging from Bob Dylan’s “Hurricane” to “The Pina Colada Song” with Songwriter/Author Rod Picott

Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, and culture. His projects include the Substack newsletter Books on Cities, the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.


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Comments (14)
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  • Jonathan Collins says:

    “Hurricane” was as guilty as the day is long. Bob Dylan was suckered (probably willfully) by his tale of woe. Wasn’t the first, won’t be the last!

  • phil rigby says:

    You say Hurricane was ‘guilty’ yet the justice system eventually came to understand that, he was innocent! He was ‘fit-up’ as they say in Britain. Maybe the guilty were those in the ‘justice’ system ?

  • Tim says:

    Released due to procedural errors is not exonerated, so you are wrong actually. Read up on the events of that night and draw your own conclusion.

  • Anders Larsson says:

    So what were those procedural errors. Pleas inform me.

  • Don Benevento says:

    Carter was tried twice and convicted both times. Then a left wing black judge said his rights had been violated and ordered a third trial. By then Carter was old and had served many years so office released him rather than go for No. 3.

  • Steve Bonser says:

    You are abolutely correct. Rubin Carter was a twice convicted triple murderer. He was NEVER exonerated nor acquited or found innocent. I’ve been trying for several years to have a documentary funded which tells the full and truthful account of why Carter killed three innocent people (one a grandmother) and how an airtight case against him was made by Paterson, NJ police and the DA. Cal Deal, a former jounalist in Paterson has crusaded for DECADES trying to get the true facts out. Here is his excellent website: http://www.graphicwitness.com/carter/

  • Stephen Bonser says:

    No, the justice system NEVER found Carter innocent. A federal judge, for reasons which are unfounded and indefensible, overturned his two convictions.

    Cal Deal, a former jounalist in Paterson has crusaded for DECADES trying to get the true facts out. Here is his excellent website: http://www.graphicwitness.com/carter/

  • Alec says:

    It’s illegal to try someone twice for the same crime. You mean that he was tried, than he appealed unsuccessfully. This seems minor, but it’s not. There’s a big distinction between those two types of trials.

  • phil rigby says:

    Hello Tim
    at the time I only heard about his case through the brilliant Dylan song. I then read the ‘Sixteenth Round’, and some time later, ‘Hurricane, the life of Rubin Carter’ by James S. Hirsch which made me aware of the case. Eventually the ‘procedural errors’ were enough to return Rubin Carters freedom, the justice system finally had to concede his case was flawed, didn’t they? I mean, where’s the motive, what was the evidence? It was all ‘iffy’ and with great patience and perseverance from a whole group of people Rubin Carter was given his freedom.
    phil Rigby

  • GORDON PATLER says:

    Was my first LP I bought of Dylan’s .When it came out 1976, heavy radio play and this was my favourite song on that great LP. Such great memories of my younger self. I turned 70 recently and always loved this tune The Hurricane. Thanks for playing both versions. GYP

  • Septembersphere says:

    I supported the Association in Defence of the Wrongly Convicted (now Innocence Canada), when Rubin ‘Hurricane’ Carter was Executive Director. In fact, I arranged a private reunion between Rubin and Bob Dylan, which I was honoured to attend. I also met John Artis, Rubin’s co-accused, who died last year. John was offered a deal, to avoid jail time, if he implicated Rubin in testifying to being an accomplice. Mr. Artis refused. Years later he would return to Mr. Carter’s side, and care for him here in Canada, as he fought cancer. I will never understand the vitriol coming from those who never knew either of these men, nor were they associated with the crime or those murdered. True Crime gossipers (and likely racists) who’ve decided to jump on any internet story that mentions Rubin ‘Hurricane’ Carter — May all those who suffered in this story be in peace.

  • K.L. Stewart says:

    Sound like a Trump supporting bigot..
    “Left wing” “Black judge”..
    Yeah definitely a bigot. and of course a perfect example why we frown on multigenerational inbreeding.

  • k.l.stewart says:

    What’s your proof..

    I “left wing” then “black judge”

    Obviously a Klan member…

  • Nancy Fernandez says:

    Septemberspere has made an excellent point,I think a huge part of this is racism,easy to believe a black man was guilty,Paterson N.J is known for racist police especially in 60s and 70s,Dylan is very discerning about people and he does love boxing,but Bob knew Rubin Carter and studied his case, He knew Rubin was made an example, he wasn’t perfect, none of us are.I love Bob Dylan, have my whole life,but I use my brain to study so think Rubin was framed.

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