Late Thursday night, Bob Dylan unexpectedly released a new nearly 17-minute song—his first original track in eight years and his longest studio recording ever. The elusive singer and songwriter shared the song on social media just after midnight, writing, “Greetings to my fans and followers with gratitude for all your support and loyalty across the years. This is an unreleased song we recorded a while back that you might find interesting. Stay safe, stay observant and may God be with you.”
The track, “Murder Most Foul,” is an elegiac ballad about the 1963 assassination of President John F. Kennedy. Accompanied by soft piano, brushed drums, and strings, Dylan sings of that “dark day in Dallas” when “the soul of a nation” was “torn away.”
The song’s somber, reflective tone and themes of death and national turmoil feel in tune with our current moment, which may have prompted Dylan’s choice to release it now. As the highly referential song nears its rambling end, it not only mourns the loss of Kennedy but seemingly of whole eras of American culture, as Dylan pays tribute to a slew of other musicians including Patsy Cline, the Beatles, Guitar Slim, Bud Powell, Stevie Nicks, Thelonious Monk, the Who, Etta James, Jelly Roll Morton, John Lee Hooker, Stan Getz, Nat King Cole, Charlie Parker, and, perhaps more surprisingly, Queen, and the Eagles. In its last line, the song circles back in on itself with a request to “play ‘Murder Most Foul.’ ”
The song has already received widespread praise, with eyebrows raised at Dylan’s use of the plural “they” in describing JFK’s killer—an apparent reference to the many popular conspiracy theories that Lee Harvey Oswald was not a lone gunman.
Dylan’s last original album was 2012’s Tempest. Since then, he’s released several albums of standards and won the Nobel Prize in Literature, an award he eventually accepted. It’s unclear if the song is connected to a new album, though there were rumors of such a project earlier this year.